INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA

INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA

At some point here on Kito Diaries, KDians began throwing about comments that implied that they believed the term ‘internalized homophobia’ was manufactured right here as a weapon to strike at any dissenting opinion to self acceptance. It was an overused weapon, I grant you that. But it certainly wasn’t coined on Kito Diaries. I remember telling some commenter who was making such a snide comment to go google it before forming an opinion about it.

And here, originally published on revelandriot.com is a piece on the issue. Check on it.

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You were just recently told by a friend to “deal with your internalized homophobia.”

 You force your partner to stay in the closet with you.

 You feel contempt or disgust towards LGBTQ people who don’t “blend in.”

You can’t come out, even in safe communities and settings.

You’ve tried to change your sexual orientation through conversion therapy, prayer, or medical treatment.

You cannot have emotionally intimate or romantic relationships, even though you desire it.

You think about committing suicide because of your sexuality.

These are just a few of the many signs of internalized homophobia, an issue that affects the vast majority of LGBQ individuals and belongs at the forefront of the fight for justice and equality. Working to overcome it can lead to immensely positive results such as emotional and physical well being, a stronger more effective political movement, and a more compassionate world.

THE DEFINITION

Simply put, internalized homophobia happens when LGBQ individuals are subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.

It has been defined as ‘the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.’ (Meyer and Dean, 1998).

Or as “the self-hatred that occurs as a result of being a socially stigmatized person.” (Locke, 1998).

PROBLEMS WITH THE TERM

Many LGBQ people do not relate to the expression “internalized homophobia” and as a result end up rejecting the idea before thoroughly examining its meaning. The word “internalized” presents the first barrier. “The concept suggests weakness rather than the resilience demonstrated by lesbians and gay men and keeps the focus away from the structures of inequality and oppression.” (Williamson, I., 2000) The word “homophobia” is the next complication – a difficult and seemingly illogical possibility. How can someone who identifies as LGBQ also have feelings of dislike, fear, and disgust towards themselves? So what can we do about the fact that the combination of words “internalized” and “homophobia” feel unrelatable for so many LGBQs?

Researchers have suggested that using ‘heterosexism’, ‘self-prejudice,’ and ‘homonegativity,’ in addition to the widely accepted term “internalized homophobia,” can help to add depth to our comprehension of the true meaning of the issue.

WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?

Internalized homophobia is a concept much more nuanced than its simple definition would suggest. It is clear that the word “homophobia” in this context, is misleading – the over simplified idea that it is individual acts of fear and ignorance diverts our attention from the much more pervasive systemic oppression that is at the root of the problem. The hateful and intolerant behavior of those closest to us often has the most profound impact (parents, church community, peers, partners). While they should be held responsible as individuals, the real culprit is an aggressively heterosexist society that is defining what is “normal,” and therefore what is “right” and “wrong,” through laws, policy, culture, education, health care, religion and family life. This systemic oppression is meant to enforce the gender binary, marginalize LGBTQ people, and keep heterosexual people and their relationships in a position of dominance and privilege.

When we see that homophobia is a result of a this larger system, we see that it is institutional; that it is impossible to exist outside of it; that the real definition of it is so much more than the dictionary simplicity of “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals;” that the root structure is vast, affecting every aspect of life and culture. All of these factors make dismantling heterosexism extremely complicated, and uprooting internalized homophobia even more so.

WHAT DOES INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA LOOK LIKE? HOW DO I KNOW IF I SUFFER FROM IT?

A few scales have been developed by psychiatrists and researchers to measure internalized homophobia such as Ross and Rosser’s “Four Dimensions.” This includes the examination of four key areas of a person’s LGBQ identity: public identification as being gay, perception of stigma associated with being gay, degree of social comfort with other gays and beliefs regarding the religious or moral acceptability of homosexuality. Another example is the IHP scale, developed by psychiatrists Meyer and Dean, which includes a long list of questions designed to be self-administered. While these scales might be useful on a preliminal level, we must also consider the issue well beyond the categories set forth by the psychological establishment and remember that the question of whether or not you suffer from internalized homophobia is one that is best answered by yourself. The manifestation of internalized homophobia, as well as the extent to which LGBQ people suffer from it, is as varied and layered as our identities, which makes recognizing it a complicated process. Below we do our best to explore many possible expressions and outcomes of internalized homophobia.

Secrecy / Dishonesty

‘The awareness of stigma that surrounds homosexuality leads the experience to become an extremely negative one; shame and secrecy, silence and self-awareness, a strong sense of differentness – and of peculiarity – pervades the consciousness.’ (Plumer, 1996).

The role of secrecy and dishonesty in cases of internalized homophobia, is significant. Some examples include:

  • Denial – ranging from aggressive and hateful behavior to denying yourself the life and love you desire;
  • Lying to yourself about attraction and sexuality;
  • The inability to “come out” if you want to, and if you can safely. (See more about “coming out” below);
  • Being selectively “out” (see “coming out” below);
  • Secret relationships;
  • Forcing others to keep secrets or remain in the closet;
  • Lying by omission

The emotional havoc that secrecy and dishonesty can create for an individual varies. While burdened with the symptoms of internalized homophobia, it is difficult to have a clear perspective of the harm we do to ourselves. This is why it’s often due to an accusation of a loved one that we are compelled to explore the concept in the first place.

Horizontal Oppression

Also known as horizontal hostility or lateral violence, horizontal oppression is one of the most damaging results of internalized homophobia. It functions as a cycle of abuse, and happens when an LGBQ person subjected to homophobia / biphobia / heteronormativity begins to discriminate against other LGBQ people, thereby colluding with and perpetuation heterosexism. Horizontal oppression can be found amongst women (horizontal misogyny) and amongst people of the same racial group (horizontal racism), and in just about every type of oppressed minority group. It destabilizes movements for justice and equality, and keeps us fighting amongst ourselves rather than focusing on the big picture issue of institutionalized oppression.

Horizontal oppression can manifest as anything from:

  • Deeply closeted politicians, religious leaders and “powerful” people who advocate and lobby against the LGBTQ community
  • Feeling disgust towards other LGBTQ people who don’t express themselves in a heteronormative way
  • Excessive judgment of other LGBTQ people
  • Anger and resentment toward other LGBQ people for being out, or proud of their identity
  • Transphobia, gender policing, shaming or harming LGBTQ individuals who do not fit into the gender binary
  • Anger or embarrassment that other LGBTQ people “represent” you
  • Believing that the movement for justice is a single-issue endeavor (usually marriage equality), and failing to remember that LGBQ people come from every type of background, often facing multiple, interconnected forms of oppression such as racism, cisgenderism, ableism, classism, sexism, etc.

To combat horizontal oppression, we must:

  • Respect the diversity of the LGBTQ community
  • Remember that outspoken, visible LGBTQ people have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement from the very beginning, and continue to face the most violence, and discrimination
  • Credit visibility as one of the key factors in the progress of the LGBTQ equality movement
  • See that policing the gender expression of LGBTQ individuals is a form of transphobia and heteronormative violence.
  • Be aware of the ways that we collude with heterosexism and therefore harm LGBQ people

Problems With Coming Out

In Beyond the Closet; The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life, being in the closet is described as a “life-shaping pattern of concealment.” Being closeted is linked with high-anxiety, low self-esteem, increased risk for suicide and general lack of fulfillment. Much of the LGBQ discussion about honesty centers on coming out. While it’s not an internalized homophobia cure-all, it is more often than not a step forward, and can be an incredibly empowering act for most LGBQ people. It relieves the pressure of having to live a life of secrecy; it is an act of self-love and recognition.

But coming out can also be dangerous. Being honest about your LGBQ identity can result in violence, rejection, loss of home, loss of employment. We unequivocally advocate for an approach that minimizes harm to the person coming out. The key is to recognize the truth of what kind of harm you’re facing and weigh the balance of your emotional and physical safety with your emotional and physical needs. What is more damaging – to face the disapproval of a parent, or to lose your partner? To lose your home or manage the stress of leading a double life?

When a person expresses fear or reluctance about coming out, many “out” LGBQ people have strong reactions, judgments, and painful memories. George Chauncey, professor of history and author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the making of the Gay Male World, discusses ‘the image of the closet’ and the judgment heaped on those who would not, or could not come out of it.

“Before Stonewall (let alone World War II), it is often said, gay people lived in a closet that kept them isolated, invisible, and vulnerable to anti-gay ideology. While it is hard to imagine the closet as anything other than a prison, we often blame people in the past for not having had the courage to break out of it . . . , or we condescendingly assume they had internalized the prevalent hatred of homosexuality and thought they deserved to be there. Even at our most charitable, we often imagine that people in the closet kept their gayness hidden not only from hostile straight people, but from other gay people as well, and, possibly, from themselves.”

Many critics of the you-must-come-out-of-the-closet doctrine argue that not only does it diminish the worth of the LGBQ lives from the past when it was not safe to be out, but overtime it has homogenized the LGBQ timeline into a 3 step process (in the closet, preparation to come out, out), and as philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler argues in Imitation and Gender Insubordination, the in/out metaphor creates an over-simplified binary: in = dark, regressive, marginal, false; out = illuminating, freeing, true.

We know that things are never as simple as that, and shaming those who remain in the closet is a mutation of heterosexist oppression. Also, as many studies have shown, internalized homophobia may never be completely overcome, and therefore may continue to affect LGBQ individuals long after “coming out.” It is true that coming out to important people in your life may indicate that you’ve overcome personal shame and self-devaluation associated with being LGBQ. But, a lack of outness should not be taken to indicate the opposite and therefore should not be seen as the primary symptom of internalized homophobia (Eliason & Schope, 2007).

Mental And Physical Health Issues

Depression / Anxiety / Self Esteem Issues / Self-harm / Suicide / Substance Abuse / Eating Disorders

Chronic stress has extremely negative consequences for the human body, such as, but certainly not limited to, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety disorders, increased susceptibility to illness, heart disease, and high blood pressure. LGBQ people, and in general, any minority or oppressed group, are likely to suffer additionally from what’s known as “minority stress,” a direct cause of internalized homophobia. “Minority stress,” arises from specific, negative events in a person’s life, as well as the whole of the minority person’s experience in the dominant, oppressive society. So, everything from fearing a family member’s judgment to hearing homophobic slurs at school, to being the victim of a hate crime, to pressure to come out of the closet, to not being able to get married (and therefore claim access to the over 1,000 legal protections and benefits that come with marriage licenses) can contribute to “minority stress.”

As a result of this immense and insidious stress, many LGBQ people develop more serious health problems, and often (due to internalized homophobia) do not seek (or, due to homophobia, are not provided with) the medical attention they need. And so the self-perpetuating cycle of suffering continues.

Many academic and medical studies have linked the existence of internalized homophobia to other health issues and behaviors meant to punish or control the physical body, such as suicide, excessively risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and eating disorders, particularly in those who are lacking the proper support structures, community, and coping mechanisms. It is more difficult still to quantify the unconscious effects of internalized homophobia, especially within those who reject the possibility of it. But while we wait for more studies and analysis from the medical communities, it is imperative that we shine a light on this issue, which is harming so many LGBQ people, and injuring even more around us.

Inability To Have Intimacy, Emotionally Or Physically

Internalized homophobia is directly connected to many negative outcomes in both romantic and non-romantic relationships. Examples can include, but are in no way limited to:

Low self-esteem / negative self-view that can lead to avoiding substantial relationships or others avoiding you

Dishonesty, which can prevent or destroy trust between friends and family

Secrecy, which contributes to anxiety and a lack of self-worth, which can then be internalized by partners and friends

Horizontal oppression (see section above on this topic)

Perpetual lack of satisfaction from emotional and/or physical intimacy

Verbal or physical abuse within friendships and romantic relationships

Deep shame about sexual experiences

Ambivalence, loneliness, isolation

Inability to have emotionally intimate sexual encounters

Preventing yourself from having sex even if you desire it

At the core of the prevailing stigma surrounding being LGBQ are unsubstantiated notions that LGBQ people are not capable of intimacy and maintaining lasting and healthy relationships (Meyer & Dean, 1998). The anxiety, shame, and devaluation of LGBQ people that is inherent to internalized homophobia is likely to be most overtly manifested in interpersonal relationships with other LGBQ individuals, creating intimacy-related problems in many forms. Empirical evidence supports these theoretical claims. With regard to romantic relationships, psychiatrists Meyer and Dean showed in a study that gay men with higher levels of internalized homophobia were less likely to be in intimate relationships, and when they were in relationships, they were more likely to report problems with their partners than gay men with lower levels of internalized homophobia. Similarly, in Ross and Rosser (1996) conducted a study showing that among gay and bisexual men, internalized homophobia was negatively associated with relationship quality and the length of individuals’ longest relationships. There are endless stories about love lost and relationships of all forms destroyed over the issue of internalized homophobia. For more reading on the topic, check out the references section of this article.

THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA

On The Self

Internalized homophobia can prevent us from leading fulfilling lives. It can keep us in a place of perpetual shame, stress and anxiety. It can keep us from having close relationships with people, or ruin the relationships we do have. It can lead us down a path of bitterness, anger, and loneliness. It can prevent us from coming out of the closet and allowing ourselves the opportunity to be seen and loved for who we are. It can prevent us from ever experiencing love with another person. It can contribute to long-term illness, mental health problems, substance abuse and self-harm.

On Others

Internalized homophobia, when left unchecked or unexamined can harm people around the suffering individual. It can lead to judgmental and hurtful outbursts. It can break trust between friends and family. It can cause years of heartbreak and struggle within romantic relationships, it can lead people in positions of power to make decisions that harm other LGBTQ people on a large scale. It can provoke shame, anxiety and stress, and impact the health of others.

On The Movement

When left to unconsciously dominate a person’s psyche, internalized homophobia can perpetuate violence, intolerance and discrimination. Most significantly, it takes the focus away from the true culprit, the main source of pain and struggle – which is heterosexism, enforced heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – by keeping us shortsighted and fighting amongst ourselves.

WHY ARE WE ALL IMPACTED SO DIFFERENTLY?

Despite the few common experiences that LGBQ people share, we are a group that reflects the diversity of all human beings on this earth. And every detail of a life, large or small can affect the way that internalized homophobia takes hold. For example, studies have shown that those who realize early in life that they are LGBQ are often more prone to serious internalized homophobia; they do not typically have the support of a community or access to information about their identities to properly shield themselves from parental ignorance or a homophobic society. By contrast, it is common for people living in regions with LGBQ equality to experience very little internalized homophobia if, unaware of their sexuality in youth, they realize they are LGBQ in adulthood.

Internalized homophobia is impacted by every aspect of identity, such as religion, race, class, geography, gender identity, family, friends, partners, as well all of the prejudices we carry. Additionally, many LGBQ people experience intersecting oppression, such as racism, transphobia, misogyny, and ableism, and thus are also vulnerable to multiple forms of internalized oppression.

While it would be impossible to describe everyone’s experience, recognizing commonalities, asking questions, and considering the feedback of our peers is an important step in getting a clearer picture of ourselves. An inevitable problem of a people so long repressed into invisibility is lack of representation, and due to this, internalized homophobia has an even greater ability to take hold in a person’s psyche.

HOW CAN IT BE OVERCOME?

Think critically about how internalized homophobia could be impacting your life, rather than rejecting the notion outright.

Read more about internalized homophobia. While this topic has less written about it than say, coming out, there is still a lot of information out there, especially moving personal accounts.

Building a support network is absolutely essential. The compassion of other LGBQ people and straight allies can be tremendously healing. Others who are at a different stage in the process can often offer valuable insight and solidarity.

Learn about the history of the LGBTQ rights movement. Find role models in the struggle. See all of the different identities and human beings it took to effect progress towards equality and justice.

Find an LGBTQ positive therapist, counselor or psychologist who can guide you through the reparative process.

Get away from toxic influences. This one can often be the most difficult. Typically, toxic influences include major players in our lives, such as family, religion, and friends.

If your religion is not accepting, consider leaving the church even for a time, or find a new church. If you refuse to leave, educate yourself. Refine your arguments. Learn about whether or not your religion truly teaches the immorality of gays, or if it is the interpretation of your religious leader. However, if your religious doctrine is perpetually in conflict with your identity, you may find the commitment more damaging than rewarding.

Clarify your perspectives by talking to friends and allies. Heterosexism and fear can skew our idea of the threats we truly face. For example, a person with an open-minded family, LGBTQ friends and enlightened teachers might still be overcome by crippling fear and internalized homophobia. Work to determine where you stand.

Practice self-awareness. Be aware of your negative reactions, critical self-talk and judgment of other. Each time you do it, examine the source.

If you can do it safely, come out of the closet. While it has potential to be painful, and most certainly will be repetitive and exhausting, this step can be immensely rewarding.

Try to overcome your fear of rejection.

Remember that internalized homophobia is not coming from inside of you. You are not sick, and you don’t need to be cured. It was forced upon you, in a suffocating and violent way by a homophobic society. If you have been accused of having it, or if you wonder about yourself, don’t feel guilty or shameful; just take the steps, one by one, to free yourself of this weight that keeps us all down.

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20 Comments

  1. Mandy
    July 09, 07:27 Reply

    Quite the read. Bits of these attributes characterizes the average Nigerian gay man.

  2. ambivalentone
    July 09, 08:28 Reply

    Well, who’d av thunk it? We have A LOT of work to do on ‘bisexuals’. Sifting the real ones from the chaff doesn’t sound like its gonna be a tea-party.

      • ambivalentone
        July 09, 09:19 Reply

        Serious about? I didn’t dispute that there are bisexuals after all. I am only alluding to the fact that IH has done a severe number on a lot of gay men causing a strong belief that they are bisexual…something we all know before

  3. Silver Cat
    July 09, 09:15 Reply

    Oh dear!
    I’ve got a very terrible case of Internalised Homophobia. I’m not suicidal but right now I’m fantasising about death; blessed end to all this strife, peace, endless peace ?

    • Santa Diaba
      July 09, 17:44 Reply

      Oh dear, have you tried reaching out to anyone? This is not OK.

  4. Dimkpa
    July 09, 09:17 Reply

    Brilliant article, I had to read it twice!

    If this were a course, this article would be in the compulsory reading section.

    This lecture suppose be for Monday morning though.

  5. Tobee
    July 09, 09:36 Reply

    Very informative write-up, puts the main points together nicely. ?

  6. Absalom
    July 09, 10:04 Reply

    A very comprehensive and balanced analysis on the subject.

  7. Delle
    July 09, 10:34 Reply

    Having read this, it is pertinent to note that anyone, directly or indirectly, who doesn’t want an association with the effeminate guy isn’t just femmephobic but internally homophobic. Seeing as the feminine guy is tagged gay, true or not, any gay guy who refuses association with them is suffering from chronic internalised homophobia.
    So y’all defending that guy who came on the blog to advertise house placements must now be convinced that he is a die-hard homophobic gay man and not just someone trying to shy away from prying eyes.

    Also, judging by the message passed from the post, a GAY man (and not bisexual) who rushes into the embrace of another woman under the umbrella of Holy Matrimony is internally homophobic. So let’s cut the sentiments and see it for what it truly is. The MGM thingie isn’t a welcome development in this movement.

    OAN, is it just me or was the ‘T’ conveniently displaced in the LGBTQ acronym in most places on the post?

    • ambivalentone
      July 09, 11:57 Reply

      LWTMB Nne, I dinnor wantu say all these before they we nao gaan censor my comment. But just to let you know, there is something called ‘preference’. Any gay man who doesn’t want to have anything to do with a femme, MAY not have a large dose of IH. It could just be his preference. At least we all have our straight friends who don’t mind having us around. It is when they-these supposed gay men, wait till under the cover of darkness to make moves….ehen!!!
      As for the rest of your comment…SPOT ON Hehehehehehehe

    • DarkSide
      July 09, 20:06 Reply

      Neither is committing suicide a better option. For those who feel trapped, you say don’t marry. You also say don’t kill yourself. Now tell me, what help can you offer? Talk is cheap…

      Oh boy, leave that mata.

      • Delle
        July 10, 12:00 Reply

        I’m very sure your wedding would be the talk of town for years to come. Congrats in advance.

  8. Peak
    July 09, 11:10 Reply

    Here we go again!

    How an article that is written in such simple and direct language could be lost on some people, beats me. It doesn’t get any simpler than A, B, C than this article. It doesn’t get any more comprehensive than a self acceptance 101 course than this piece. Unfortunately, some people are already nitpicking and pointing accusing fingers, rather than looking within and doing some self reflection.
    After reading this article, its safe to infere that we ALL have Internalised Homophobia, but with VARYING degree simple!

    This is one, if not the most crystalised read I have ever laid eyes on as regards LGBTQ issues. It pretty much covers the basics on self acceptance and relations to our society. A well rounded work. A bedrock of citations. I see myself citing this publication for future discourse on this blog.

    “He without sin, should cast the first stone” …these were the words running through my mind as I read through this piece. Thanks PP for this great find.

  9. Stone
    July 09, 12:55 Reply

    1. Who do you desire to be with and have as companion? A man or woman?

    2. All those times you’ve been with a man, do you always feel guilt after the encounter?

    3. If you felt guilt, is it because of what society says or what your religion says?

    4. Do you think gay men are demon-possessed?

    5. If you were not born into a seculo-religious nation like Nigeria, say you were born into a country and family that see gayness as a normal thing, what would be your take on the issue?

    6. Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if there was no religion?

    7. Do you really want to stop being gay, and why?

    8. If Nigeria and Christendom legalize “same sex unions”, what would be your take?

    9. Cats are born to hate and chase and eat rats ‘alive’. (a)Is it wrong for cats to eat another living mammal like them? (b) Will you say cats are wicked for killing and eating rats? (c) Do rats deserve to be killed because they constitute nuisance and lassa fever and other “nonsense”? (d) Was it wrong for the “creator” to create cats like that?

    10. Babies born with penises and vaginas are not from God?

    11. In a sentence, differentiate between religion and science. Which has answered the world’s problems?

    12. Do you need religion to make you a good person? (b) Define good.

  10. DarkSide
    July 09, 20:03 Reply

    Thank you, Peak. But I’m not surprised oh! It’s easier to look outside and judge another than to look within. According to dis article, we all have some form of IH. But the easy thing to do (which I assure you the majority will do), is to use to turn this piece into a handy weapon.

  11. kaytee
    July 09, 20:37 Reply

    a greatly rewarding read. ..I have been angry all day….. guess who I am angry with: family, (straight) friends and religious people. .

    cos I have been feeling boxed up

    • Pink Panther
      July 10, 05:50 Reply

      Do you have someone to talk to? Nursing anger isn’t healthy.

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