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When I came out in mid-life one of the biggest hurdles I faced was overcoming the homophobia I had internalized from my religious upbringing and the larger society. Thankfully, by leaving the Roman Catholic Church and seeing two exceptional therapists, I was able to let go of the religious brainwashing and the associated self-hatred that went with it. Many in the LGBT community, including some friends I know, however, have not been able to let go of their internalized homophobia. These individuals continue to be plagued by religious based guilt, some refuse to enter into committed relationships, and others go out of their way to avoid being around other gays out of fear that their "secret" might be discovered. It is a soul killing phenomenon. A piece in the Dallas Voice looks at the issue. Here are excerpts:
Scott and Alan agreed to interview with Dallas Voice on the condition of anonymity, and during three meetings, they discussed their secret relationship and Alan’s closeted status and internalized homophobia, which he denies harboring. The contact was made through a mutual acquaintance, a Marine Corps officer, who has known Alan for three years.
“I don’t think I had ever heard of internalized homophobia until now,” Alan said. “It’s not something I have, so I don’t agree that’s the problem. I’m not out simply because of my job. Coming out would probably ruin my career.”
An executive with a Dallas-based professional sports organization, 32-year-old Alan has never been to a gay bar, has never attended a social event with a same-sex date and will only do things publicly with Scott that won’t be interpreted as a couple’s thing.
“We can go to a sports bar and have a beer, but we can’t go for a walk together,” Scott said. “I live with a long list of rules.”
Mental health professionals who treat LGBT issues would stamp Alan with one of the signs of internalized homophobia, regardless of his thoughts about it. In Beyond The Closet: The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life, author Steven Seidman describes being in the closet as a “life-shaping pattern of concealment.” Seidman writes that the closet seems to be on the wane, but it’s not gone, and its profound effects, including shame and homophobia, linger.
“Alan doesn’t realize it, but he’s put me in the closet, too,” Scott said. “I can’t go on a date with him because no one can see us out together like that, but I can’t go on a date with anyone else, either, because I’m with Alan, which makes no sense. This isn’t the way I want to live. I don’t do well with concealment.”
Sociologists and mental health professionals who treat and write about internalized homophobia say gay men and lesbians often use the demands of their jobs as an excuse not to pursue romantic involvements. They believe it keeps them safe from the toils of dealing with who they are.
“Most of us are concerned at one time or another with feeling bad about being gay or lesbian,” said Candy Marcum, a community counselor and president of Stonewall Behavioral Health. “It has to do with incorporating messages that say it’s not good or it’s even bad to be gay or lesbian. Those messages come from our families, the church, friends and the media, and they can linger into adulthood.”
Internalized homophobia takes root in those messages and leads to being closeted and a profusion of other traits that ravage a person’s self-esteem, among them contempt for the more open members of the LGBT community.
The issue also is complicated by the LGBT community’s many facets. Tension between gay men and lesbians sometimes surfaces, and there are individuals in both camps who are opposed to drag queens and trans people. In that regard, gays and lesbians are no different than the heterosexuals who burden the community with hate, counselors say.
“Internalized homophobia leads to gay-on-gay acts of meanness and rudeness,” Marcum said. “Those people tend to hurt other gays and lesbians.”
The development of a scale to measure that internalized homophobia, written about in the Oxford Journals, suggests four dimensions to the issue: public identification with being gay, perception of stigma associated with being gay, degree of “social comfort” with other gay men and beliefs regarding the religious or moral acceptability of homosexuality.
One high-profile woman can relate to both Scott and Alan. Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the case that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule parts of DOMA unconstitutional, spoke publicly shortly after the decision, explaining her own struggle to speak honestly about her marriage with colleagues. “Internalized homophobia is a big bitch,” she said.
One additional thing I will note is that the longer that I have been totally out socially and professionally, the easier it has become to simply be who I am. No excuses, not pretense. If some do not like me, that's their loss. But over all, I have found that most people could care less - this includes my Hindu and Muslim clients and some of the old money crowd at the yacht club we joined last February.