Why Won’t “No Homo” Die?
By Tom Hawking on Jun 3, 2013 4:03pm
If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve surely heard that Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert was fined over the weekend for dropping an ill-advised “no homo” joke in the press conference after Game 6 of the Pacers’ series against the Miami Heat. The conference and its punishment have caused something of a controversy, with some arguing the fine was sufficient, and others contending he should have been suspended for tonight’s series decider.
That’s a discussion for another site, but for what it’s worth, Hibbert is one of the more likable dudes in the NBA, and I don’t think he was being consciously homophobic — to me it sounded like his remark was reflexive, a joke after realizing that what he’d said (“LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint because he stretched me out so much”) was laden with potential double entendre. But, see, that’s just the problem with “no homo.” It’s a reflex rooted in a perception that men need to defend and clarify their masculinity, and by association it ascribes negative connotations to things that can be considered “homo” — effeminacy, physical weakness, and every other gay stereotype that’s been used over the years. And it needs to stop.
It’s not surprising that this is particularly prevalent in the world of sports — (male) sports in general walk a strange and anthropologically interesting line between being pretty impressively homoerotic and doing everything possible to deny this fact. It’s because of this that most male athletes who have come out have done so either once they’ve retired or as a way of bringing their career to a conclusion. Sometimes the results have been tragic.
Hibbert apologized on Sunday, and also got fined $75,000 for his comments (although considering that his salary this year was $13.67 million, it’s probably fair to say that he’s not exactly going to be missing that money). Still, it’s probably worth reiterating that “no homo” is inherently homophobic — it implies that one needs to clarify to the world that one is not gay, because to be homosexual is less desirable than being heterosexual. In other words, by implication it denigrates homosexuals, and does so with a nod and a wink that trivializes the denigration it conveys.
So far so obvious. The question is why this is still happening in 2013: after all, it’s been nearly half a century since Stonewall, and the gay rights movement has made a heap of progress in that time (and especially in the past few years). The world is a far better place to grow up gay than it was, say, a generation ago, and America is a far better place to be gay than many other places in the world. There is, of course, a long way to go — but we’ve also come a long way in a relatively short period of time.
This, I’d argue, breeds a sort of complacency. We’ve seen this with the women’s rights movement, where the achievements of feminism mean that, perversely, the cultural pendulum has swung back toward misogyny — a breed of demagogues who argue against “PC” arose in the 1990s as a kind of conservative bulwark against social progress, and it’s not at all uncommon now to hear “men’s rights” activists arguing that things have “gone too far.” We’re now in an age where a significant minority will argue seriously that feminism has achieved its goals and should wither away, or that women are no longer oppressed.