We've all heard it spoken lazily, tacked onto the ends of compliments, declarations of love, and hypothetical romantic scenarios. A sort of oral punctuation, it fits in smoothly when it's necessary. "Okay, Chris Pratt is really hot. No homo," says one guy to his friends. I bet you can guess which part of that comment I'm talking about.
What we see here is much more than a half-joking, convenient clarification. We see disguised homophobia wading at the surface in its most literal form: an explicit fear of homosexuality. Whether this homophobia has long been etched into their perception of sexuality—that being gay equates to feeling shame, inferiority, and embarrassment—or a way to avoid ridicule from certain "friends," people who use “no homo” are alarmed by the idea of being perceived as gay, and don't want to be associated with anything besides straightness.
For cishet male users, a new form of toxicity comes into play: it's not manly to show their love, appreciation, or positive acknowledgment of other men, and so they must be compensate if they do display such admiration, because in their minds, only gay men are that emotionally aware.
The fact that "no homo" is a part of societal vocabulary makes it a societal problem. Whether it is something compulsory or forced, its use sheds light on the systemic heteronormativity that we must strive to eliminate. We can't continue to teach our children that not being straight entails exemption from acceptance. This notion, both a cause and consequence of heteronormativity, is the reason why "coming out" is even a concept. If being gay wasn't projected as something invasive to the equation of normalcy, we wouldn't need to distance ourselves from it.
Our world may be working on projecting messages of acceptance, but by using seemingly harmless phrases like “no homo,” we denormalize being gay, thus perpetuating homophobia and prolonging the fight for equality. As long as wedding ring ads show heterosexual couples, and as long as we ostracise men who don’t fit our strict mold of emotionless masculinity, a fear of homosexuality will continue to permeate our world.
The next time you say (or hear) that cursed phrase, think about why exactly you're saying it. Is it to make sure no one thinks you're gay, to cleanse yourself of the remnants of something "wrong”? As Hillary Clinton stated in a speech to a United Nations summit in Geneva, "Being gay is not a western invention. It is a human reality."
Being gay should not be viewed as extraneous, but as one of many forms that love comes in. It is not the weird, fun, or wrong form of love; it is a normal one. Society's sexist and homophobic restrictions on emotional expression can become our own if we indulge too heavily in them. If you presently have a negative bias toward gay people, remember to acknowledge and accept the fact that gayness is all around you, and that you're not getting away from it anytime soon.
Don't worry, though. No homo.