In 2020, social media influencer Bryce Hall came under fire when he questioned why everyone seems to hate “straight TikTok”, which is exactly what it sounds like. “We are on the cusp of ending homophobia and now we’re introducing heterophobia? What the f*ck in 2020?” Hall said in a now-deleted tweet.
Hall isn’t the first person to bring up the word “heterophobia”, and he probably won’t be the last. And while Hall’s usage of the term can be chalked up to as merely a poor choice of words, there is a sizable fraction of society that clings to the word for more concerning reasons.
Here, we take a closer look at the concept of “heterophobia” and answer questions like “Is heterophobia a thing” and “What is heterophobic behavior?”
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you:
What Is Heterophobia?
A heterosexual is someone who is attracted to people of the opposite gender. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “heterophobia” can be defined as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against heterosexual people.” In the literal sense of the word, it’s the antonym for “homophobia”, which is described as an aversion to and prejudice against queer people.
At face value, “heterophobia” is a seemingly innocuous word. After all, anyone fighting for equality hopes that everyone is treated fairly and without fear of discrimination no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, and this includes heterosexuals.
However, like the terms “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism”, heterophobia is often used in conservative, antifeminist, and white supremacist spaces as a way for reactionaries to push back against legitimate calls for equal rights and increased protections for marginalized groups. These terms are often used to serve a narrative of persecution for the values, culture, “freedom of speech”, and “religious freedom” of straight, white conservatives.
This narrative often involves the belief that LGBTQ people are asking for “special rights” or more privileges than heterosexuals and is fueled by and fuels fears that LGBTQ people will curtail straight people’s freedoms. However, these theories have been debunked time and time again, as LGBTQ people gaining the same rights and protections as everyone else doesn’t take away from other people’s rights.
As historian Rebecca L. Davis puts it, “Heterophobia is a pernicious idea, one that suggests that to question sexuality’s normative history is to hate people who sexually desire people of a different sex.”
“The term’s origins among antifeminist white supremacists reminds us, too, that these ideas reinforce one another on the political right, shaping alarmist declarations of an organized assault on white, cis, straight identities.”
Does Heterophobia Exist?
Is heterophobia real? The concept of heterophobia as a discriminatory and oppressive force is questionable. Whereas homophobia can result in the individual and systemic oppression of LGBTQ people, there is no evidence to show that so-called heterophobia has ever led to the curtailing of straight people’s rights and liberties.
If heterophobia – at least in the sense discussed above – exists, straight people should be able to answer yes to the following questions:
- Do you experience harassment/bullying/violence for identifying as heterosexual?
- Have you ever been discriminated against for being straight?
- Have you ever been rejected from a public or private place for being straight?
- Do you experience any legal or societal restrictions because of your sexual orientation? I.e. Can you serve in the military, get married, or adopt children without a hitch or without fear that your sexual orientation will hinder your chances of doing so?
- Are you ever afraid to be “out” as straight, fearing for your safety if you openly express your sexuality?
Is There Another “Heterophobic” Definition?
Can gay people be actually heterophobic in the sense of having a real, crippling fear of straight people? There aren’t very many studies about it, but it’s very possible for someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or non-binary to be afraid of straight people.
After all, countless LGBTQ people have and continue to suffer discrimination, violence, and death due to homophobia. Even in progressive countries, bullying is still rampant among school-aged children. Cases of teen suicides and incidences of mental health issues are much higher in LGBTQ youth (and LGBTQ youth of color) than in straight, white teens. Each year, dozens of trans and non-binary people are violently killed, their stories going largely unreported.
As such, many members of the gay community can be untrusting or unfriendly towards straight people they don’t know. Gay men may be warier about acting “soft” or effeminately around straight men out of fear. Trans people may be less inclined to “disclose” their transness (not that they’re obligated to, anyway) because they could risk getting hurt or worse. Gay couples may hide their personal life from their workmates to avoid discrimination and unjust treatment in the workplace.
So, what is the real heterophobia definition? It’s a difficult question to answer because the term can mean different things to different people.
The Bottom Line
There is a particular type of straight person that believes in a so-called “gay agenda” which “heterophobic” LGBTQ people are pushing to destroy the fabric of society, sow discord, and promote anti-Christian values. These folks believe that LGBTQ people are already privileged and want even more special privileges.
But for most LGBTQ advocates, the fight for equality is just that – the fight for equal rights and the ability to live in this world freely without fear of violence, hatred, and discrimination.
One oft-used phrase sums it all up best: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”