Teenage boys sitting on each other’s laps, exchanging back rubs and dolling out hugs: This was the sight that researcher Mark McCormack found when he went to a British high school to research masculinity.
It was a shocking departure from the aggressive homophobia that he himself observed as “a shy, geeky, closeted teenager” in the late ’90s and early 2000s. For his new book, “The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys Are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality,” McCormack spent the year observing social interactions and collecting data from three high schools in the U.K. Over and over again, he saw the same surprising scene: young straight men being physically affectionate and emotionally expressive with one another. What’s more, he found that homophobic behavior is a rarity and that when someone does express anti-gay beliefs, they “are reprimanded by other students.”
His message — which builds on that of his Ph.D. advisor, Eric Anderson, author of “Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities” — flies in the face of a spate of horrifying stories stateside of bullied gay teens committing suicide, but McCormack says the U.S. is a decade behind the U.K. on this particular front. That said, he also believes that recent attention paid to gay teen suicides doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of homophobia in America today, or how much progress has been made: “We need to look beyond the worst-case examples to see what is happening in the majority of schools,” McCormack writes. ” We do no-one any favors if we only fight prejudice that is, for some, yesterday’s battle.”