The word faggot’s been on the national lips as of late, largely because of Isaiah Washington‘s tactless -and equally explosive – reference to Grey’s Anatomy co-star TR Knight. There’s been a rash of like-minded stories since then, most recently Tim Hardaway‘s less-than-friendly comments on the gays.

Considering these developments, one would think homophobia’s the next big thing. But what is that thing? What is homophobia? Sure, we know it’s a fear of gay people, but to earn the right of “phobia”, it would have to be an “extreme and/or irrational fear”. Is homophobia an actual fear or is it a choice?

That’s the question Desiree Cooper asks in her most recent journalistic offering, “Homophobia? Call it hatred” in which she recalls a reader’s reaction to her Hardaway coverage. Said reader writes: “Why do they call it homopho-bia? It’s not like it’s a mental disorder. We need another term.” Cooper agrees, thus leading her down a path that leads her from the late Andrew Anthos, who died after being attacked by a “homophobe”, to University of Michigan professor, Jack Kay. An expert on so-called hate speech, Kay tells Cooper:

Homophobia is a weasel word because it focuses attention on the wrong thing. It seems to indicate that there’s a pathological explanation, rather than it’s inappropriate, learned behavior.

As a learned behavior, rather than an innate disorder, “homophobia” is more closely aligned with racism. Thus, Cooper says, perhaps homophobes should be called “gracists” – an interesting suggestion, although we think “gaycist” has a better ring.

Refusing to get bogged down by semantics, Cooper concludes that there’s only one word for the person who attacked Anthos and his ilk: “monster”. True, but we’d like to make an amendment: “fucking monster”.

Related: What’s in A Word?

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