No homo is a phrase used as slang at the end of a sentence to assert the statement spoken by the speaker had no intentional homosexual implications. The phrase is “added to a statement in order to rid them of a possible homosexual double-entendre”. Most commonly used by males, it is, according to Associate Professor James Joseph Dean of Sonoma State University “a way of flagging one’s straight status and claiming its privilege”. It is a form of “identity construction in discourse via societal legitimization” for heterosexual males and a mechanism for which to distance oneself from any notion of homosexual intent. As Joshua R. Brown states in the "Journal of Homosexuality", “increasing prevalence in mainstream speech has caused critics to deplore no homo as outright homophobia”.
The phrase originated in American hip hop of the late 1990s as a way to quash any sexual and gender error or overstep within lyrics. As Brown states, “the phrase no homo arose in Hip-Hop lyrics of the 1990’s as a discourse interjection to negate supposed sexual and gender transgressions”.
The roots in American hip hop is where a cultural narrative of heterosexual masculinity as inherent law in contrast to homosexuality and femininity as being disparaged and violently rejected attributes created a cultural vernacular of discrimination. As Nebeu Shimeles states in the "Critical Theory and Social Justice Journal of Undergraduate Research", “the commercialization of hip hop as the site of a colonial encounter, with capitalism as the force undergirding its entrance into mainstream American consciousness, implications of the institution of violent masculinity and homophobia became rapidly apparent. With the rapid popularization of gangsta rap, homosexuality became a marker of inferiority within the culture that coincided with the emergence of a complicated relationship between hip-hop and the sexuality they were sworn to disavow.”.
The phrase no homo used in a lyrical context comes as a pre-emptive maneuver to deflect any attacks on the artist’s masculinity or heterosexual status. Within this context, “'No homo' is not necessarily addressing homosexuality, but creating a verbal defensive in the musical battlefield that is wrought with signifyn’ and bustin’. [Musicians] realize that a lyric, which is ‘inadvertently gay,’ is fodder for another’s verbal attack on their masculinity within hip-hop culture. In an attempt to divert their own demasculinization, musicians presuppose those attacks at their masculinity”. Hip hop and rap lyrics both constantly demonstrate heterosexuality and heteronormativity through excessively lewd and misogynist phrases while denying any likelihood of a sexually-geared encounter between two same-gendered (male) artists.
Hip hop and rap are not simply homophobic in nature, rather the compulsory violent masculinity and heterosexuality within the culture of hip hop heightens the struggle for identity within the context of white colonial culture. The prevalence of disengagement from homosexuality within the hip hop vernacular can often be attributed to the burdening struggles faced by gay African Americans; “being both gay and Black, caught between the pressures of the two ‘intersecting oppressions’”. White colonial culture of Western society attributed to the evolution and perpetual integration of the compulsory violent hetero-masculinity within hip hop. The growing popularity of hip hop among many American demographics has had severe ramifications to this regard. The record companies reward and perpetuate artists and lyrics who engage in “narratives of violence, homophobia, and misogyny, dominating the hip-hop industry with this limited voice of the culture...consequently, these values became normalized, acting as a standard for authenticity”. As Shimeles states, “connecting the desire for harsher lyrics with hip-hop’s emergence as a commodity, the role of the white gaze must not be overlooked as a root cause of a shift in musical content. Increasing access to a national spotlight brought hip-hop into the everyday lives of White America and the consumer power this demographic wields, making hip-hop subject to its consumption habits”. To this, the phrase no homo has emerged from a cultural need to distance oneself from femininity and homosexuality and has evolved into a social and cultural norm, being adopted and perpetuated by demographics outside Black American hip hop. “While the capitalist motives of the music industry did not create the gangsta rap narrative, they certainly instituted a cultural standard, forcing artists to live up to the violently masculine and homophobic rhetoric the music expresses. This pressure to conform to a rigid masculinity has had a profound impact on hip-hop culture”.
As with many attributes of hip hop culture, the use of no homo has become integrated into the mainstream North American vernacular. One reason for this as proposed by Brown is that the integration and reception of the specific phrase no homo into the conversational dialect of North American English was simple and due in part to its phonetic resonance. Due to its association to the display of hypermasculinity, the use of this phrase by young males can be attributed to the idea that “gender has constantly to be reaffirmed and publicly displayed by repeatedly performing particular acts in accordance to cultural norms”. This is why the insertion of no homo as a seemingly needless explanation of heterosexual, masculine dominance and priority has become common.
It is often viewed as humorous, particularly when in relation to a double entendre. This form of supposed humor among males, is described by Feminist linguist Deborah Cameron in "Performing Gender Identity: Young Men's Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity" where she states that a Western cultural analysis of men’s speech style reveals that “men’s talk is ‘competitive’” and that “men talk to gain ‘status’". This in conjunction with author and theorist Mary Louise Adam’s notion in her book The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality that heterosexuality automatically constructs a “gender hierarchy” which creates “widespread fear of effeminacy – crystallizing around the public image of the fairy – translate[s] into fear of homosexuality, thereby making heterosexuality a rule for the demonstration of manliness”.
As it becomes increasingly less acceptable within Western cultures to partake in blatantly homophobic lexicons, the phrase no homo is interpreted as a softer, less rigidly homophobic remark within heterosexual culture. “With an increase in LGBT sympathies comes an increased sensitivity to disparaging remarks in pop culture”. As Dean states, “alongside but qualitatively less homophobic than the epithet ‘fag,’ ‘no homo’ aims to reclaim straight status and privilege but avoid the hatefulness of the fag discourse...At its worst, ‘no homo’ is used as a homophobic insult along the lines of ‘fag,’ acting as another weapon to police expressions of masculinity and sexuality”. The performance of regulating and policing one’s own speech or that of another’s is in accordance to socially and culturally acceptable displays of masculinity or femininity. No homo has become the very phrase for which mainstream culture can do so due to it “function[ing] successfully as a self-regulating method for the continued construction of  masculinity”.
Masculinity and Heteronormative Construct
The use of no homo mainly by males to defend and attend to their status of heterosexual masculinity can be attached to the notion that “language is one of a number of cultural identities used by groups and individuals to identify themselves or be identified as members of a particular speech community, sociocultural group, or movement. It should come as no surprise, then, that one’s sexual identity and gender identity may be expressed through language (and silence) to both identify oneself with the group and also to disassociate oneself from other groups or even other members within the group”. The language of masculinity is built to dominate. As C.J. Pascoe states in the book Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, “masculinity [is] an identity expressed through sexual discourse and practices that indicate dominance and control”. Thus any form of language that could be construed as feminine is then interpreted as subordinate or passive; as male homosexuality has historically been viewed as feminine it can be seen that any statement not interpreted as masculine or dominate is inherently homosexual and thus the speaker must be homosexual by these standards.
Pascoe speaks to the notion of ritualization within the context of social affirmation, stating “sociologists and anthropologists have long noted that ritual is key to the formation and construction of society. Through rituals members of a society reaffirm shared morality and values”. Within the context of no homo, Brown also addresses this notion, stating “given the frequency of the phrase, it has become ritualized as a sort of incantation, protecting the speaker from interpretations of their own words”. It is a linguistic ritual to protect and affirm dominant masculinity. In most instances of the phrase’s use, the audience to the speaker would have had no basis to question the speaker’s sexuality. As Nic Subtirelu from the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University points out, “why though would a heterosexual man need to be on constant alert for possible misinterpretations of his sexuality when he is a member of a vastly better represented group?” to which he answers that “heterosexual men use homosexuality as a way of questioning the masculinity of other heterosexual men (and homosexual men as well)”.
This goes back to the notion of the fag discourse. As Pascoe states, “becoming a fag has as much to do with failing at the masculine tasks of competence, heterosexual prowess, and strength or in any way revealing weakness or femininity as it does with a sexual identity. This fluidity of the fag identity is what makes the specter of the fag such a powerful disciplinary mechanism. It is fluid enough that boys permanently adhere and definitive enough so that boys recognize a fag behavior and strive to avoid it”. No homo is a deflective mechanism used to avoid the identity of fag being placed upon the speaker. When the speaker adds no homo to the end of their sentence, it is because “the problem is not necessarily that [they] commit[ed] a sexual transgression, but that [they] have committed a gender transgression”.
This is why the use of no homo among women is far less commonplace. Brown states that “women can and do use ‘no homo,’ although the instances are markedly less in frequency” because it is not unacceptable for a female to commit a gender transgression or display femininity through their modes of speaking. Hip hop artist Nicki Minaj did use the phrase no homo in her song Baddest Bitch stating in the lyrics: “And if he want some pussy that’s a no-no/ I only fuck with bad bitches no homo”.
Homophobia and the LGBTQ Community
No homo perpetuates the notion that homosexuality and gay people are lesser than heterosexual and straight people. It renders all non-heteronormative structures or experiences as rejectable and unwanted and thus “’no homo’ is a way of propagating homophobia”.
There are those who claim that the phrase no homo is not homophobic because of its use among gay people. Though there are instances of LGBTQ people using no homo, it is most often done so in a more ambiguous or critical light and does not reduce the homophobic qualities. For instance, it could be used by a gay man “when complimenting a straight man on his appearance...distancing the compliment from a sexual advance, when a gay man feels threatened or seeks to protect himself from misunderstanding” or if “a homosexual man said ‘my fiancé (another man) and I are going to get married this summer, no homo’”. In these instances the phrase was used either as a protective measure for ones legitimate misunderstanding or as an ironic commentary on the phrase itself.
Several social commentators have criticized the use of no homo in hip hop and in the mainstream. It has been said that the phrase "uphold[s] an unhealthy relationship with homosexuality, a relationship based in fear." Fox News commentator Marc Lamont Hill encouraged the hip hop community to stop using no homo in its music.
At the same time, Slate columnist Jonah Weiner suggested the use of the phrase is somewhat more complex. Weiner notes several hip hop artists – such as Cam'ron and Lil Wayne – cultivate an extravagant and camp public persona while embracing homophobia, thus saying no homo can help expand established concepts of masculinity, and challenge the status quo.
- In 2004, Jadakiss rapped "A real man shouldn't have to say No Homo” in his "It Ain't Hard To Tell Freestyle."
- In 2008, rapper Lil Wayne used the term in his hit song Lolipop.
- In 2010, hip hop artist Nicki Minaj used no homo in her song Baddest Bitch.
- In 2011, The Lonely Island made a parody of the expression with their song "No Homo" published in their album Turtleneck & Chain. The song begins with standard usage of the term and expands to be said after more and more blatantly homosexual statements such as "I've been thinking about fucking a dude (no homo)"
- In 2013, Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers stirred up controversy after he used the term in a postgame interview following a playoff game against the Miami Heat. Hibbert was fined US$75,000 by the NBA for his comments. Hibbert said, “The momentum could have shifted right there if [James] got an easy dunk,” Hibbert said. “There was what ‑‑ was it Game 3 here? I really felt that I let Paul down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because he stretched me out so much. No homo.” Hibbert later apologized for the remark and another supposed obscenity he used during the press conference in a statement released by the Pacers: "I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night," Hibbert said in the statement released by the Pacers. "They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers' organization."
- Down-low (sexual slang)
- Homo hop
- African-American culture and sexual orientation
- Hip hop music
- Weiner, Jonah (2009-08-06). "Does This Purple Mink Make Me Look Gay? The rise of no homo and the changing face of hip-hop homophobia". Slate. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- "How to be a straight man: Reflections on "No homo" and metrosexuality - From The Square". From The Square. 2015-06-25. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
- Brown, Joshua R. (2011). "No Homo". Journal of Homosexuality. 58.3 – via Academia.
- Shimeles, Nebeu (2010). "I Love My Niggas No Homo - Homophobia and the Capitalist Subversion of Violent Masculinity in Hip-Hop". CTSJ: Journal of Undergraduate Research. 1:1: 1–26.
- Cameron, Deborah (2014). "Performing Gender Identity: Young Mean's Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity". In Coupland, Nikolas; Jaworski, Adam. The Discourse Reader. London: Routledge. pp. 47–64.
- "Why "no homo" is homophobic (in case you somehow missed it)". linguistic pulse. 2013-06-04. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
- Adams, Mary (1997). The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality. Toronto: U of Toronto.
- Pascoe, C.J. (2007). Dudue, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley: U of California.
- Matson, Andrew (2009-07-27). "The continuing saga of KUBE morning host Eddie Francis and American English's current homophobic lexicography". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- "Roundup: Kiss-Ins Spread, 'No Homo' Must Go". The Advocate. 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- Jeffries, David. "Review: Turtleneck & Chain".
- Garrison, Drew (2013-06-02). "Roy Hibbert fined $75,000 for post-game remarks". SBNation.com. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Golliver, Ben (2013-06-02). "Pacers' Roy Hibbert uses homophobic slang term in post-game press conference | The Point Forward - SI.com". Nba.si.com. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- "2013 NBA playoffs - Roy Hibbert of Indiana Pacers apologizes for postgame gay slur - ESPN". Espn.go.com. 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
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- That's Gay: No Homo, October 7, 2009, Current TV.