Homophobia and the Oatmeal

A recent tweet by the Oatmeal seemed to cause some controversy the other day on Twitter. I follow the @Oatmeal on Twitter, and a tweet the Oatmeal posted elicited accusations of homophobia:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/Oatmeal/status/92651954089627648″]

If you follow the link in the tweet, it takes you to this artwork by the Oatmeal (for copyright reasons, I can’t embed the artwork in this post).

The artwork laments Matthew Inman’s (the Oatmeal’s creator) Google search status:

The second search result is the result that Inman laments: “matthew inman gay.” Now, I do not know if Inman is gay or not (and it’s none of my business), but since I started following his work a few years ago, I have never known him to be homophobic. If you look through the Oatmeal, I doubt you will find artwork that is clearly homophobic. Much of his work is satirical and observational addressing societal and cultural issues. In addition, I’ve never considered Inman’s work politically correct nor would I ever want to see his work become politically correct. He is part entertainer, part artist, and he’s excellent at embodying the role of a satirist.

When Inman was accused of being a homophobic bully, I was surprised because I’ve never seen anything to support such an accusation. Here’s the accusation retweeted by Inman:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/Oatmeal/status/92667309742755842″]

After Inman retweeted this accusation by @shanaqui, a barrage of vitriol exploded between those who considered Inman’s tweet and artwork homophobic and those who did not. Inman has a loyal and active fan base who revel in the chance to attack anyone who disagrees with the object of their worship. Despite the obvious danger of sicking your fans on unsuspecting people, the larger issue that requires attention is defining homophobia.

Why some considered Inman’s artwork homophobic and some did not is an important question, and I think it illustrates how some in and outside the LBGT community define aspects of discrimination, homophobia, and gay rights differently. I posted a poll in my Twitter and Facebook feeds for 24 hours regarding the Oatmeal’s tweet:

By “this work,” I’m referring to the Oatmeal’s alleged homophobic work (for some reason, Twtpoll wouldn’t embed the link in the results). Since I only left the poll up for a short time, I didn’t get as many results as possible; however, I just wanted to get a sense of what people thought. I’m not sure if the poll results would change dramatically if it was disseminated over a larger population, but I do find the results interesting. Overwhelmingly, those who responded found Inman’s artwork not homophobic. (Full disclosure: I do not find the work homophobic, and I recused myself from voting in the poll.)

According to Dictionary.com, homophobia is defined as an “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.” So, is Inman’s artwork homophobic based on the current definition? I would say, no. Inman’s artwork doesn’t seem to exhibit “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward” the LGBT community, yet some people clearly considered it homophobic. What is the cause of this disconnect?

I think that definitions are moving targets, and they only have the meaning we give to them (Kenneth Burke, anyone?). It’s easy to believe that some may have different definitions of homophobia than others. Everyone grows up differently; they have different life experiences and different perspectives, which influence their world view. I don’t consider Inman’s work homophobic, but that doesn’t mean others don’t consider it homophobic. Unfortunately, for those in the minority, the burden of justifying why Inman’s work is homophobic is on them. They have to prove that it is homophobic; otherwise, they’ll just be accused of being too sensitive.

Inman is an artist, social critic, and comedian rolled into one, but a homophobe? I don’t think so.

What do you think?



  1. A few (not so) quick points in reply, since this is easier than a billion replies on twitter.

    – Please take the links to my girlfriend’s twitter out of this. Even her name. She does not wish to engage in this discussion anymore. I’m the one who made the original accusation anyway.

    – I will repeat this as often as I need to: just because it is a joke or he is a satirist or he isn’t usually politically correct does not change the joke, it’s content or the fact that I (and others) find it homophobic. Intent != result. You can mean well and still come across homophobic.

    – Your poll is horribly biased and therefore pointless. The behaviour and privilege that were exhibited by the oatmeal and his fans is a nigh on intrinsic part of being a straight person in Western society. The fact that your poll was probably pretty much filled in by straight people therefore renders it pointless. It’d be like asking a bunch of hooligans whether hooliganism has ruined football. Of course they’ll say no.

    – I shall also explain this once more: why I thought it was homophobic and why it isn’t even his first offence. It is perfectly alright for a straight man to deny his being homosexual and to affirm that he is straight, but in no way does that require such a massive post or joke or whatever you want to call it. It felt, to me, very defensive and pointless, as if the very idea of him being gay was some horrible accusation. That, to me, is homophobic. As for other cases where he did it, go look at his post on men sitting down to pee and how it makes them “sissy bitches”. Not homophobic, but clearly sexist. They do something women do, so clearly they are weak and not Real Men. More? How about his claim that men who like twilight are gay? Oh, oh, but it’s just a joke! No, it isn’t. It’s yet another use of gay as an insult. Because gay is a ‘bad’ thing to be. And what is that behaviour? Yes, that’s homophobic.

    Homophobia doesn’t just show itself in far out behaviour like the “God hates fags” brigades or people who beat you up because you dare to be openly gay.
    It’s just as much the casual insults like “that’s gay”, jokes about so-called gay stereotypes and this almost base need to defend one’s heterosexuality lest anyone think you might be gay.

    Lastly, the burden of proof. The claim that it would be entirely up to us is absolutely ridiculous. It is, if anything, up to all of us. Of course nobody can wildly claim that things are homophobic (or sexist or racist or…) without at least some reason, but it is up to all of us to examine our behaviour. Leaving it entirely up to the already unprivileged group in the discussion is simply a tool to allow the privileged to ignore it, to sweep evidence under the rug and define their opinion or view as the only possibility since anyone else is just too damn sensitive (or an attentionwhore trying to make it all about them, or on the rag, or whiny, or…)

  2. I am not a homosexual, and I don’t think there is anything ‘wrong’ with being homosexual. I think people are on a continuum, but usually are born with one preference or another.

    I don’t find the post to be homophobic. Inman doesn’t describe homosexuals or make any accusations about the value of homosexuals. He just wants it to be clear that he is not homosexual. Better phrasing would be for him to say what he IS instead of saying what he isn’t. The connotation of saying he ‘isn’t gay’ as opposed to saying that he ‘is straight’ does leave room for negative interpretation of his intent. But I think his intent is to be seen as what he is. Straight people need to know who other straight people are in order to find mates. It would be more difficult for any man to find a girlfriend if women think he’s not interested in women. Ideally, everyone should be able to state their interests without any judgement from others.

    TL;DR: I don’t think the post was homophobic, but the phrasing could have been more positive.

  3. Its not homosexual he was just afrimming everyone knew that and about the big joke thing every one has their panties in a bunch over. That’s his job its how he makes his living if he contently corrected stuff but didn’t make it funny no one would read it

  4. This is baseless outrage. I’m gay and a big fan of Matt Inman, and have never once felt any of his postings to be homophobic (not even the “sissy bitches” comment). It behooves us all to distinguish satire from abuse, and innocence from malice. Perpetually seeking ways to play victim hinders any fight for acceptance.

  5. I’m about 99% gay, and having been inaccurately labeled as heterosexual by others for much of my life, 100% sure that Inman’s frustration over being labeled as gay isn’t homophobic. If anything, he’s playing his own insecurities for a laugh, as the best humorists do.

    His comic is #1 in the “matthew inman gay” search results now. (I know, because asking Google the question was how I found it.) And this blog entry is #3. Which came first, the search rank or the comments? I guess we’ll never know.

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