I spent some time last semester talking about the phrase “no homo” as gender policing. My argument is that it verbalized patterns of behavior that were not generally sexualized. Quite often bringing sexual attention to something that was previously mundane. Consider rap intellectual Dallas Penn’s use of “no homo” to ensure heterosexuality is mapped when getting a compliment about his Polo scarf.
He didn’t introduce himself as a rapper, a graff artist or anything spectacular. All he did was compliment me on the ‘Lo scarf I was rocking. No homo, of course.
I have traditionally argued that “no homo” is simply gender policing. Making sure that people around you know that it is not acceptable for your version of a man to compliment another man on a scarf for instance. It seems like this is an extension of pathological homophobia. Not just fear of gay sex, but fear that non-sexual acts would be read as the precursor for gay attraction.
It seems like an interesting subject because it makes an easy map to see the boundary lines for modern masculinity. The rules for men-to-be-real-men are seldom as explicitly verbalized as with “no homo.”
I’m a fan of Michael Kimmel. I think he is a smart man who gets a lot of the power dynamics of gender. In the case of “no homo” he argues that this is a kind of linguistic development which marks a loosening of the boundaries of new heterosexual masculinity.
I think we’re a little less homophobic. There’s good evidence that young men are less homophobic than older men are. And I illustrate this often by the difference between “that’s so gay” and “no homo.” Because “that’s so gay” is a way of policing other guys, saying don’t do that, that’s gay. But “no homo” says “you can do it, no homo.” Or “I love you, no homo.” It gives us permission to say something but then back away from it. That’s really different than not being able to do it at all. It’s a small step. The next step is to be able to say it and then not back away from it at all. I think it’s a little bit progressive, not a lot bit progressive.
I think this is quite interesting. It seems as though the “permission-with-commentary” may come with substantial linguistic homophobic baggage.