When you live in a society that undervalues you in medicine, education, politics, religion, policing, and general societal rhetoric, as a gay person, it becomes quite easy to internalize such negative beliefs. Internalized homophobia is the internalization of negative beliefs about oneself or one’s group, specifically homosexuals. It leads to a person hating or disliking themselves and others for being attracted to the same sex.
Why does it happen?
Social scientists have coined a term called label theory. Basically, it states that when society negatively labels a person or behavior, it can end up having an effect on that person and how they view themselves. Our society, because of its heterosexist ideals, reinforces heteronormativity throughout various institutions (as mentioned above) which influences society to determine what’s good and bad, right and wrong.
Most people want to be good and do right by others. So if society says that being a homosexual is what’s wrong in society, it’s understandable that members of a marginalized and ostracized community will internalize the harmful beliefs that are directed at them. This can lead to internalized homophobia.
What does it look like?
Internalized homophobia has various manifestations such as:
- Denial – ranging from aggressive and hateful behavior to denying yourself the life and love you desire.
- Lying to yourself about attraction and sexuality.
- Being selective about coming out or an inability to come out at all
- Attempting to alter or change your sexuality
- Secret relationships; as well as attempting to pass as heterosexual, sometimes marrying someone of the other sex to gain social approval or in hope of ‘being cured’.
- Forcing others to keep secrets or remain in the closet;
- Lying by omission
Effects on self
Internalized homophobia can lead to mental health issues such as:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Self-harm/suicidal thoughts
Effects on others
These internalized homophobic manifestations can lead to one affecting others:
- Participation in homophobic behaviors like bullying and ridiculing other LGBT people.
- Becoming psychologically abused, abusive, or remaining in an abusive relationship.
- Disdain of openly gay people, as well as people who don’t follow heteronormative roles.
Not everyone will experience internalized homophobia. Age, the era in which one grew up, one’s support system (i.e. friends, family, and peers), geographical region, local laws, as well as local LGBT resources and organizations can affect one’s likelihood of internalizing homophobia.
It is important to recognize this issue within the gay community to not only recognize perhaps some of these qualities that you might have but to recognize these qualities that others might have. When we recognize and acknowledge this mental health issue, then we can find steps to minimize it.
How to address internalized homophobia
In order to unpack such negative thinking, it’s important to be honest with oneself. You need to be prepared and willing to get uncomfortable before it gets better. Finding an LGBT positive/ally therapist is a good step. It also helps to find positive friends within the LGBT community. Learning more about the LGBT community, its struggles, history, and diversity within the community can also help one humanize and find connection with other LGBT people.
It’s also essential to understand that not everything that society deems as right and wrong is accurate. What’s deemed wrong (or even criminal) has often been from the perspective of those who are most privileged.
Lastly, not everyone will be tolerant and accepting of you. That’s the unfortunate reality of the world that we live in. Sometimes it’s best to keep those people at a distance, including family. We only have one life. Our mental health and well-being are crucial to having a fulfilling and satisfying life.