Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, February 8, 2013

Martin Kantor, _Homophobia: The State of Sexual Bigotry Today_

COINCIDENTALLY, THIS BOOK on homophobia early on praises the book on homophobia I had just finished: Kantor's introduction mentions Byrne Fone's "brilliant history of homophobia." Wait a minute; hold the...phone. Brilliant? It was a good, respectable book, but brilliant?

Kantor goes on to say that Fone's book shows that "the neuroses of the human brings who create that homophobia in the first place remain depressingly the same over the ages." Hmm.  I wouldn't say Fone shows that homophobia is always and everywhere the same; I would say that Fone assumes it is always and everywhere the same, which it might well appear to be if you are comparing a contemporary English translation of an ancient Greek text to a contemporary English translation of a medieval Latin text to a Victorian sermon. But what distinctions get blurred in those comparisons?

The other problem is that Fone's book is deeply Eurocentric, as we used to say in the 1990s. Its focus is on western Europe, with some attention to western Europe's cultural antecedents (Greece, Rome, the Bible) and some to western Europe's crazy cousin in North America, the United States. Compared to Louis Crompton's Homosexuality and Civilization (2003), which at least devoted chapters to China and Japan, Fone's book provides little foundation for universalist claims.

It was a good book, though. Kantor's, I have to say, strikes me as not that good. He is a (retired?) psychiatrist, and his main idea is that homophobia can be understood as an "emotional disorder or mental illness." A lot of his book is taxonomic, we might say, establishing categories of homophobic persons according to the structural similarity of their bigotry to OCD, or narcissism, or paranoia.

Fair enough.  One problem with the book, though, is that Kantor does not always make clear the nature  of the evidence he brings forward.  For instance: "Today, we mainly hear things like comments of the personal trainer who said that though many of his clients are gay, at least his clients know that he is a happily married man, so they never try to cross the line with him [emphasis Kantor's]." Was this personal trainer a former client? Someone Kantor read about in a study?  Someone he met at a party (the sentence has a reported-speech quality to it)? Is it a kind of composite fiction for the sake of illustration, as suggested by the tag "we hear comments like"?

We never learn. Kantor identifies many of his examples as former patients, and these examples are often illuminating and have a lot of good gritty detail, but too often the evidence seems impressionistic and ungrounded, the tone that of someone blowing off steam over an item in the morning's paper. Given that he is a medical man, his argument could have been more rigorous.

The other, more awkward problem with the book is while Kantor seeks to show that homophobia is an emotional disorder or mental illness, his tone recurringly reveals that he is angry at homophobes. "Grandiose sophomoric narcissists"--that's on page five.  "Overwrought, panicky, and defensive"--that's on page six. If a psychiatrist took that tone about his schizophrenic patients, or depressed patients, or OCD patients, wouldn't we think, "jeez, time for you to retire"? If the homophobic have a disease, is it OK to blame them or condemn them for it?

Kantor almost seems to want to have it both ways--one chapter is devoted to the "cognitive errors" of the "illogical ideology of homophobia." We are within our rights, I think, to blame or condemn people for relying on bad information, mistaken assumptions, and illogic, although there are obviously more and less diplomatic ways of doing that. But how does this jib with the claim that homophobia is an illness? Is Kantor saying that homophobia is a mental illness generated by a cognitive error? Or that it is a mental illness that generates cognitive errors? Which end of the stick should we grab here? Someone at Praeger should have made him think this through, because it makes the book's argument incoherent.

Still, there is a kind of poetic justice, homosexuality having long been subject to judgmental medicalization, in seeing homophobia getting a taste of the same medicine.


martin kantor said...

I seriously resent your nasty judgmental ageist blog about my book on homophobia.

The implication that I am retired or if not should retire and that my stuff is incoherent is just uncalled for and rude.

I think Fone’s book is brilliant; that’s a matter of opinion and yours is no more valid than mine.

You make your points by quoting me out of context. I wrote on page 5-6 that “many, if not most, homophobes have a sore spot for input of a homosexual nature. They tend to be surprisingly rational people until the subject of homosexuality comes up, at which point they become overwrought, panicky, and defensive.” You quoted the last words of my second sentence lopped off from the rest of the idea. Anyway, writing about histrionic anxious defensive responses to stimuli people perceive to be unpleasant is what psychiatrists do.

I didn’t make clear about the cause and effect role of cognitive errors? That should have stimulated my publisher to take me to task? The title of the chapter is “Homophobic Cognitive Errors.” Simple enough: they are errors that homophobes make and that constitute significant components of their homophobia Where is the incoherency?

I didn’t reveal whether my sources were patients or other contacts? I maintain confidentiality and change/omit many specific facts about my sources in order to protect their privacy. That’s also what psychiatrists do.

I wonder. What exactly are your qualifications for reviewing a psychiatric text, blog or no blog. You don’t seem to speak like an insider.

The reason I am responding to your blog is that mean-spirited stuff like yours spreads throughout the Internet and when they read it people don’t consider the source.
Dr. Kantor

Theobald said...

You are quite right that I have no professional qualifications as a reviewer of psychiatric texts. This would be clear to all, I think, since I make no claims at all to any expertise on my blog, which consists of a goofy title, a goofy pseudonym, and a drawing from Alice in Wonderland.

I'm not an insider--just a reader, and as a reader I thought your argument had some flaws.

The "incoherency" would lie in homophobia being called an illness in one place and an error in another. Illnesses and errors are quite different things.

I don't think you have much to worry about, though. My blog has very few readers.