The Power of Homophobic Labeling: A Post-Structuralist Psychoanalytic and Marxist Explanation

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Homophobia works in part and very powerfully through the medium of labels. By 'labels' I mean social categories, including the words, concepts, and attitudes that together make up the substance and meaning of those categories. And homophobia here includes feelings and judgments both of those reacting to the gay person and of the gay person herself ('internalized homophobia'). The specter of the label 'homosexual' (or 'gay,' 'queer,' 'dyke,' 'faggot'), all on its own, can and often does terrify or appal. I shall try to answer two related questions concerning homophobic labeling in this paper. The model I shall propose, to answer these questions, is drawn from cultural-political theory that was in vogue in the 1970s and early 1980s. At that time some influential syntheses of Louis Althusser's structuralist Marxism and Jacques Lacan's post-structuralist pyschoanalysis were developed. These syntheses offer a very fine-grained explanation of how social structures and meanings (Althusser) shape our most intimate psychology (Lacan). I shall try to show how this kind of explanation can illuminate both of the questions about homophobic labels.


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