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What are the evolutionary origins of homophobia?

Male coalitions tend to denigrate and exclude effeminate men because they perceive them as physically weak liabilities - argue Bo Winegard, Tania Reynolds, Roy Baumeister, and E. Ashby Plant. Homophobia does not stem from sexual disgust, but low value in armed combat. The authors begin by noting four key trends:

  1. Men (not women) are chief perpetrators of homophobic slurs and attacks;

  2. Military, construction, contact sports (i.e. male coalitions) are extremely anti-gay;

  3. Homophobia is strongest against men (not women)

  4. Effeminate gay men are especially likely to be attacked.

Historically too, effeminate men have long been slammed as 'faggots'. Although the Ancient Greeks permitted homosexuality, they nevertheless denigrated those on the receiving end. “Real men” were perpetrators and protagonists.

This all goes back to evolution. For millennia, men have banded together to protect and consolidate their turf. We've been using projectile weapons for over 50,000 years. Men who built successful coalitions were obviously favoured by evolution. Losers left no trace.

So how did men become victorious? By joining forces with other strong men.

Now here's where the homophobia kicks in. Effeminate men tend to be perceived as physically weak. This triggers anti-gay prejudice, especially when it comes to combative sports.

This is a ground-breaking theory of homophobia! It helps explain one of the fastest social shifts in human history, the rapid rise of support for gay marriage.

Pew Research, 2013

Before now, others speculated things like:

The authors differ! They argue that as societies become peaceful and prosperous, men no longer need violent male coalitions in order to gain prestige. Instead they can ally with women or even even effeminate men. Now, if we look around the world, we see that's not quite right. The Gulf is dripping in oil wealth, stability and homophobia. Latin America has high crime, middling wealth, but surpasses Russia on LGBTQ. Clearly there are mediating factors - like female employment, religion and democracy. Caveats aside, the authors are onto something brilliant. Their emphasis on physically violent coalitions also explains Western pockets of persisted homophobia, i.e. the military, construction, and combat sports. Rap is especially anti-gay. I suggest this is because it celebrates the culture of America's inner cities. Where men join gangs for organised physical combat, they remain exceptionally homophobic.

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