Despite the hard work of queer activists, the evidence of science, and the new visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender-variant and queer (GLBTQ) people, homophobic stereotypes persist. Fearsome and terrible notions of homosexuality still seize the popular imagination. They find continual expression in popular culture, politics and the law. Every queer person is forced to live with the knowledge that homosexuality is much more than the ordinary, enduring fact of same-sex sexual preference. Our difference is also a cultural construction that gathers a bewildering complex of allusions and associations. We can refuse these meanings. We can advocate for ordinariness, and look to the normalization of homosexuality for safety to live our mundane lives in peace. Or we can amplify the symbolic resonance of queer identities, explore and expand our capacities, and use these gifts to transform the culture that would confine us.

Contents of the Dictionary

This dictionary focuses on 35 Figures and Attributes that can be described as recognizable homophobic stereotypes. An image and a short text under each entry explore its symbolic content. Through links and the search function, each symbol can be studied in greater depth. Figures and attributes are listed alphabetically at right.

How Symbols Work

The system of symbolic meanings history has constellated around homosexuality cannot be explained away and disposed of. Symbols are illogical, unreasonable, and tremendously powerful. In the language of images, there are no equivalents. There is no “this” or “that” which can define an archetype. Attending to symbols uses our intuition and evokes our creativity, because symbols work through rhythm, rhyme, and paradox.

Homophobic stereotypes link a gay man with EFFEMINACY, and simultaneously represent him as man doubled, and hence more fearsome than other men, potentially a PREDATOR or PEDOPHILE. A lesbian is seen as a WITCH who represents women’s power and sexuality in ANGRY opposition to the patriarchal order. Yet through this very process she is seen as MASCULINE. Homosexuals are often represented as SUFFERING, and conversely we are described as CLOWNS. We are called UNNATURAL and also castigated as ANIMAL and WILD. All profound symbols have this quality of paradox; they simultaneously grasp opposites and refer to an interconnected whole.

Attending to symbols, we enter the illogical realm of unintentional content. Here the deepest insights cannot be thought up or deciphered. They must grow into the air of conscious understanding from forgotten depths, nourished by fluidity and connectedness.