David Plummer examines boys' use of homophobic terms, their role in the dynamics of adolescent male peer groups, and their relationship to adult identity formation.
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David Plummer is Associate Professor in the School of Health, University of New England.
This paper explores the use of homophobic terms by boys and young men and the meanings they invoke when using them. Highly detailed interviews were conducted with young men from diverse backgrounds about their own experiences while growing up and their observations of schools, teachers, family and peers.
Homophobia was found to be more than a simple prejudice against homosexuals. Homophobic terms like ‘‘poofter’’ and ‘‘faggot’’ have a rich developmental history and play a central role in adolescent male peer-group dynamics. Homophobic terms come into currency in primary school. When this happens, words like poofter and faggot rarely have sexual connotations. Nevertheless, far from being indiscriminate terms of abuse, these terms tap a complex array of meanings that are precisely mapped in peer cultures, and boys quickly learn to avoid homophobia and to use it decisively and with great impact against others. Significantly, this early, very powerful use of homophobic terms occurs prior to puberty, prior to adult sexual identity and prior to knowing much, if anything, about homosexuality. An effect of this sequence is that early homophobic experiences may well provide a key reference point for comprehending forthcoming adult sexual identity formation (gay or not) because powerful homophobic codes are learned first.