Most young people have witnessed some variation of the following scenario: a group of males are in conversation. One of them, the speaker, is either describing his admiration for another male or saying something purporting to be effeminate. Then he says, “No homo,” reassuring his compatriots that he is not gay.
The phrase is, of course, used on Facebook, as well. One girl I know had a profile picture of herself at the camera as a golden retriever licked her face. The caption said “rest in peace,” an homage to her deceased dog. Some guy commented “no homo cutest picture… again said no homo.” He felt the “need” to reiterate it twice. One of the girl’s friends later commented “you only say no homo if you say ‘cute pic’ to a guy.” To this, the male responded, “no I say no homo when something I say sounds homo.” He further explained that to say, “‘what a cute pic’ about anyone sounds homo, coming out of any guy’s mouth.”
Why do some males constantly feel the need to reassure friends of their heterosexuality? This phrase stigmatizes homosexuality and perpetuates a narrow understanding of masculinity. I am not saying that everyone who says “no homo” is stupid or hateful. But this phrase is a problem that must be addressed. “No homo” is an expression of insecurity and homophobia that males need to both stop saying and discourage others from saying as well.
The phrase was popularized by rap music, and has now seeped into dorm rooms and dining halls everywhere. Cam’ron, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West are all known for their prolific use of “no homo,” yet these rappers are highly flamboyant. Cam’ron and the Diplomats wear pink and purple furs, Kanye is a fashionista, and Lil Wayne has been photographed kissing his mentor, Baby. According to Jonah Weiner of Slate Magazine, the phrase “can seem a bit like a gentleman’s agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity.” To Weiner “no homo” is “still a concession to homophobia… in a way, it’s progress.”
I cannot agree. Using the phrase does not promote a more complete understanding of masculinity because it still tells a man he must explain himself for behaving in a way that could be considered “gay.” Furthermore, “no homo” is more than a “concession” to homophobia – it is an active promotion of it. Though Kanye West spoke out against gay bashing in 2005, he has contributed to the stigmatization of the LGBT community by using “no homo” in his songs repeatedly. Saying “no homo” implies homosexuality is negative, and that men must bash being gay to insure their place as hetero is inherently assumed. Despite the fact that the phrase can be cleverly inserted into their rhymes, rappers are upholding an exclusive, hateful, and limiting definition of masculinity by saying “no homo.”
People use “no homo” as a way to insulate their words from the scrutiny of common gender conventions, real of perceived. Guys sometimes use it as a disclaimer, for they fear that what they are about to say defies gender binary norms and will earn them ridicule from their peers. Or men use the “no homo” banner as a postscript, assuring their peers that they did not mean to imply anything but hetero-masculine feelings by their previous, possibly nuanced statement. But people who are confident with themselves and their sexuality do not feel the need to defend their masculinity by saying “no homo.” It is understandable why so many males lack confidence, especially when expressing warm emotions leads to taunting and teasing of potential homosexual feelings. Peer groups and the media constantly impose and reinforce unreal stereotypes of masculinity, especially on men of color. But using this phrase only serves to legitimize and perpetuate these unreal stereotypes, and make “no homo” users appear unsure of themselves.
Men are almost always the ones to say “no homo,” but sometimes women say it, too. Females using the phrase are no less damaging than males employing it. In addition to slandering gays and lesbians and imposing an unreal sense of masculinity on men, it reinforces restrictive female gender roles. “No homo” brands certain activities as exclusively feminine, which limits the range of acceptable behavior for women.
We must stop saying “no homo” because it is a phrase which promotes homophobia and a narrow understanding of masculinity. But not saying it is not enough to end its deployment. We must discourage others from proclaiming “no homo” by telling them why it is detestable. I admit that for years, I have only been silently irritated when I have heard friends of mine say “no homo.” But last night I saw “Phallacies,” a performance addressing many issues of masculinity, here at UMass. One of the skits, called “Masculinguistics,” defined sketchy terms used by men, and “no homo” was one of them. I learned my silence only enabled my peers to continue slandering homosexuality. We must confront homophobia and our culture’s narrow understanding of masculinity in all forms, including “no homo.”
Dean Curran is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]