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9.2.04

The Real Sodomites

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the best known supposedly anti-gay passages in the Bible. It has given us the word sodomy, which while technically just meaning "weird sex," almost invariably conjures the image of homosexuality (specifically that between two men). There have been countless articles debunking the idea that the Sodomites' real crime was homosexuality -- indeed, no less an authority than the Bible itself says that their sin was that "She and her daughters [i.e. the people of Sodom and Gomorrah] were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me."

But I think we can go further. Not only do homosexuals not commit the sin of Sodomy, but homophobes do. The Reverends Phelps and Falwell are the real Sodomites. The core of what the Sodomites did is often described as "inhospitality." They weren't keen on having outsiders in their city, and so they came to rape -- and possibly kill -- the angels who were staying with Lot. They did this not because they were horny, but because they were "arrogant" and "haughty." They thought that they were better than those dirty foreigners, and they wanted to put them in their place. To be raped is the ultimate disgrace for a man in a patriarchal culture. Similarly, homophobia is a practice that affirms to the homophobe that he is better than homosexuals, that they are outsiders to "normal" society. Homophobic words and acts are designed to put them in their place.

When the angels first arrive in Sodom, their initial plan is to spend the night in the square. Lot meets them at the city gate and begs them to come stay at his house. In part, this is just an example of his hospitality, since it's better to sleep in a house than outside. But it must also reflect Lot's knowledge of what would happen to the angels if they found themselves outside when the Sodomite mob got wind of their arrival. The city square is a sort of common area, open to anyone to use. Had nobody in Sodom been feeling particularly hospitable, the angels should have been able to take advantage of the square for the night. But of course, they wouldn't have gotten away with it. The Sodomites were unwilling to share their institutions, like the commons, with "outsiders" or people who were different. Similarly, homophobia is based on an unwillingness to share the institutions of public life -- ranging from marriage to the ability to talk about one's love life in public to being a member of the church -- with people who don't fit one's idea of what the core membership of society is like.

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