Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Letting Go of Your Internalized Homophobia - Revisited

AUTHOR COMMENT: This post is a re-posting of a piece I did several months ago that garnered a large number of e-mail responses and an inquiry from the editor of a "self-help" web site as to whether I would make contributions to the site on this issue. Because of the response at the time, I wanted to re-post the piece for the benefit of newer readers. Having watched Prayers for Bobby over the weekend, it also seemed like a good time to repeat this message which many LGBT individuals need to take to heart:
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The battle over Proposition 8 in California has not surprisingly made me think a great deal about the homophobes who are pushing for the measure's passage so as to deprive LGBT citizens full equality under the civil law. Those who hate us - they disingenuously claim that they don't but let's be honest, they do hate us - have been saying all kinds of hateful and divisive things about gays including how allowing us to marry "threatens western civilization." Or at least so says Tony "Klu Klux Klan" Perkins of the deceptively named Family Research Council.
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With all the hate being disseminated, I've also found myself thinking about the effort it was for me to finally put my internalized homophobia and self-loathing behind me as I made my journey through the coming out process. Suffice it to say, it was not an easy journey and included one nearly successful suicide attempt. But I survived it and now I can rightfully look with disdain/contempt on those who continue to preach hate and loathing against gays. Their goal is to not only make others hate us but to try to make us hate ourselves as well. So, how does one finally let go of the ingrained homophobic baggage accumulated over many years. For me, there were a number of things that I think allowed me to finally let go of my internalized homophobia. I will share them since I know I have many readers still going through the coming out process or living in the closet based on the e-mails I receive.
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1. If you haven't already figured it out on your own, do some reading and get yourself up to date on the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice. If you are religious, accept the fact that God/Allah (or whatever deity you worship) made you gay and it's not going to change. Why did it happen? You'll never know, so move on with your life and make the most of the hand you have been dealt.Most importantly, do NOT let others try to make you feel guilty about your sexual orientation.
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2. If you belong to a strongly anti-gay religious denomination, leave it. The sooner the better. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, other than being a Muslim, Mormon or Evangelical Christian, it would be hard find a less gay friendly denomination - particularly under the current Nazi Pope (not that the less than sainted John Paul II was any better). For me, the concurrent timing of the explosion of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal made it all the more easy for me since it highlighted the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the Church's leadership. In my case, I found the ELCA to be a much better church home for me. While it's not perfect, it is far better than remaining in a denomination that calls me "inherently disordered."
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3. Related to the second item, if you are from a strong religious background, do your own reading and research. There are many other interpretations of the Bible besides the ones claimed by the anti-gay Christianists. In addition, do some reading on Bible history and you will soon learn that there were all kinds of political and non-religious issues that shaped the Bible. It's not inerrant and it's not the literal word of God, so learn the historical facts to throw back in your detractors' faces (it will have the added bonus of driving them crazy).
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4. Get a good therapist. It's most unlikely that you can make the coming out journey all alone. In my case, I found two great individuals. The first, who is actually an ordained Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D. in psychology helped me deal with the religious guilt issue. The second helped me come to see that there was a future even after a horrific divorce where I was largely put on trial for being gay. Leaving you former life is not easy - especially when you do not know what will ultimately replace it. If you don't like one therapist, then find a different one who can help you with the transition.
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5. Make gay friends - and not just the bar and/or chat room crowd. Better yet, get involved in some gay causes and organizations where - based on my experience - you will meet some amazing people. Getting to know them and observing how at peace they are with themselves and who they are will help you to further let go of the indoctrination you have received in terms of what gays are like. I can honestly say that I have met more truly genuine and decent people in the gay community since I have come out than I knew in my closeted life in my artificial and supposedly perfect former neighborhood and social circles.
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6. If possible, live your life totally out. Remaining semi-closeted be it at work or with family will continue to subconsciously tell you that being gay is bad. After all, the message you receive is that being gay is so bad that your boss/fellow employees will not want you around. Likewise, thinking that "it'll kill my parents" or that "they won't love me anymore" is giving yourself a constant message that it's wrong to be gay. Admittedly, I was lucky in that my entire extended family accepted me and treated my ex-partner as part of the family. They are likewise embracing the new boyfriend. As the father of three children, I cannot understand any parent who would disown their child because they are gay. If your parents were to disown you, remember that it is THEM, not you, who has the problem.
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7. If you feel anger at times, do not direct it at your self. Harness it for constructive purposes whether it be in working on gay rights causes, writing a blog (which I find to be good therapy), or something else.
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8. Always remember that you are a good, decent person entitled to all the rights and respect that others receive and that the fact that you are gay doesn't change that. The goal is to be able to stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself "I'm gay and that's OK and I'm proud of who I am."

1 comment:

headbang8 said...

Thank you for that, Michael. A very practical, commonsense summary of a universal struggle for gay men. It's of particular importance to those who come out in later life.

It astonishes me how many queer people try to reconcile their sexuality with the teachings of a homophobic church. You're right--if your church hates you, get the hell out.