Friday, December 28, 2012

The Insidiousness of Internalized Homophobia

I've written about the struggle that many of us in the coming out process encounter: overcoming the insidiousness of internalized homophobia.  Letting go of all the religious brainwashing and stigma ingrained in us from the surrounding society that until recently had only a 100% negative message about being gay.  For me, it took years of therapy to undo the Catholic Church had done f*cking up my mind.  And that was just the beginning of the process.  But it isn't just LGBT individuals who have to overcome this internalized homophobia.  One friend who is an amazing LGBT ally and an Equality Virginia "legend," has spoken about how she had to "come out" to be an active and open ally to the LGBT community.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the realization by a straight actor that he too suffers from internalized homophobia.  Here are some excerpts:

I am not gay. I have no shortage of gay friends. My uncle is gay. I've marched in a gay pride parade. More than half of the roommates I have lived with are gay. I support marriage equality.

So it comes as a shock to me when I realize that, actually, if I am honest with myself, I'm not comfortable with kissing another man on camera. I really don't want to book this part.

I don't want people to think I'm gay. And I'm even more uncomfortable because that isn't a thought that I want to have.

Acting is a curious profession. The Oscars tend to award actors who transfigure themselves. Think of Charlize Theron in Monster or Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. And most actors actively want to stretch outside of themselves. That is, after all, why we tried to make a career out of pretending. But people tend to assume things about you after they have seen you onstage. The character and the person are conflated.

Still, I wouldn't turn down a commercial that required me to pretend to slap a child, or one where I played a Nazi. And—assuming the ad wasn't advocating child abuse or Nazism—I don't think I would feel odd about the audition.

I ask my theatrical agent if there is any industry stigma about doing a gay role. "No," he says, "not since Will and Grace in the '90s."  I call my commercial agent to ask him the same question. "No," he says. "Ikea was doing ads with gay couples in the '90s. Will and Grace really changed things." "But you had to ask me two times if I was comfortable," I protest. "We would do that on any spot where you have to kiss," he tells me.

Gigi Nicolas, the director of on-air promotions at Logo, tells me that at least I was not alone in my discomfort. "We had to do a second round of casting," she says. "Far fewer people auditioned than I expected. Most of my top choices just didn't show up."

There is a long history of discomfort within the industry on gay actors playing straight roles and vice versa. Perhaps more significantly, there is a long history of discomfort within the industry—and across the globe—that gay people exist at all.

The number of straight people playing wildly lauded roles where the character is gay or vice versa seems to corroborate my agents' contention that any stigma these roles may once have had has disappeared. Tom Hanks, Neil Patrick Harris, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Portia De Rossi, Heath Ledger, Ian McKellen, Michael K. Williams, Cynthia Nixon, Eric McCormack, Ving Rhames, Sean Penn, Michael C. Hall, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, and so on.

While there is no ready tool or survey to measure homophobia or its absence within Hollywood, it seems that I can't blame my own discomfort with the Logo commercial on the prejudices of others. 

If you ever want to feel really wretched about what a big jerk you are, there are worse ways to do it than logging onto Harvard's Project Implicit. Psychologists at Harvard created a series of tests that measure your reaction time when you associate positive and negative concepts with different social groups. The results give you an indication of how racist or sexist or agist or generally prejudiced you are on a subconscious level.

I take some solace in the fact that my preferences are only moderate. But even if it's temperate about it, my subconscious is essentially racist, agist, and homophobic. It is the backwater redneck of my brain. And, apparently, I'm prejudiced against backwater rednecks.

The essential, uncomfortable, flaw with all the progress on gay rights is that even after legislation is passed and everyone's rights are equal on paper—which still sometimes seems a long way off—there is the longer, trickier work of trying to divest each person of the ugly human prejudices we all inherited when we were born.

I, at least, am sorry. You don't have to believe in a Judeo-Christian god to find something redeeming in confession. I am sorry that I balked at the idea of pretending to be gay. I am sorry that my uncle went home alone all those years. I am sorry for the whole ugly human history of slights and hate crimes and exclusion.

In contrast to the author of the article, the Christofascists are not the least bit sorry for the hate they sow and harm they do.  Indeed, the professional Christians and the child rapist protectors in the Catholic Church hierarchy revel in the stigma and bigotry they strive so hard to keep alive.  It's beyond ugly.  Meanwhile, the ruminations of the author may give straight readers of this blog an inkling of what we gays go through and have to face every single day.  It's no wonder many of us have psychological issues to overcome.  The hate merchants have been all too successful in creating a toxic world within which we must live.  The good news is that things are getting better, albeit not quickly enough for some - like the LGBT youth who continue to take their own lives.  As things improve, we can expect the Christofascists and Catholic Church hierarchy to become even more foul in the lies that disseminate against LGBT people. 

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