Almost all the discussions I have read about homophobia contain a statement to the effect that the term "homophobia" is inaccurate because homophobes are not really phobic. For example, Terry Stein ( 1996) says, "The term [homophobia] has been criticized as imprecise, too general, and inaccurate because it does not refer to a true phobia" (p. 39). And Richard Isay ( 1989) says, "I use the term 'homophobia' . . . reluctantly since it signifies the phobic avoidance of homosexuals, rather than the aggression that the anxiety evokes. Most important, the term is inaccurate, because this hatred of homosexuals appears to be secondary in our society to the fear and hatred of what is perceived as being 'feminine' in other men and in oneself, and not of homosexuality per se" (p. 78). However, I feel that the term homophobia is a good one even when used in its literal sense if it is applied selectively, and only to true homophobes -- to those homophobic individuals who are actually phobic of gays and lesbians. In this chapter I will describe the characteristics of these individuals, and try to show how they are true phobics at heart -- that is, how they fear, dislike, and then avoid gays and lesbians much in the same way claustrophobics fear, dislike, and avoid being in closed spaces.
True homophobes actually become anxious in the presence of gays and lesbians, much as bridge phobics become anxious in the presence of the need to drive over a bridge. For such homophobes homosexuals represent a trivial prompt-trivial because the prompt makes them anxious not for itself but because of what it signifies: something personal and highly symbolic, such as the femininity of which Isay ( 1989) speaks. Phobic homophobes avoid homosexuals to reduce their level of discomfort,