Internalized Homophobia is something that virtually all gays have to confront (or have yet to confront) in their lives.
The simple definition is that internalized homophobia refers to negative feelings that we have towards ourselves because of our homosexuality. The forms it may take can vary from outright shame, denial, or self-injury, to hating on other gay people and more unconscious behaviors as well.
Internalized homophobia happens for some of the same reasons that straight people are homophobic – namely ignorance, often because of religion and then of course, because of negative stereotypes and misinformation that we hear about in our families, schools, and society.
However, with gays, negative attitudes become “internalized” because we are the subject of these prejudices! Whether we realize it or not, we are affected and hurt by hate and discrimination. It’s never a conscious choice to have internalized homophobia, but it must be a conscious choice to change it.
Here is a general overview of the spectrum of behaviors that exhibit internalized homophobia. Everyone has a unique life history, personality, and set of circumstances that inform their place either on or totally off of this list! :
1. Aggressive Denial. Some people feel so strongly that they should not be gay that they will repress their feelings and desires and speak out with some of the most hateful and homophobic language you will ever hear. You often see this happen with fundamentalist religious figures, like Ted Haggard. This never ends well. (Usually it ends with a gay sex scandal, talk show appearances and a lot more denial.) This is the worst kind of internalized homophobia because the hateful rhetoric and actions that these “aggressive deniers” exhibit really hurt other gay people and the movement.
2. Denial. Some people simply deny that they are gay, try to lead a straight life, may even get married and have a family. Many of these gay people in denial lead secret gay lives, or possibly worse, spend their lives feeling unfulfilled, lonely and unknown to everyone they love.
3. Closeted. A closeted person is someone who has gay relationships, but hides that fact from everyone that they know and love. 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 (though closeted people rarely admit to not being fulfilled while they’re in there, though they always remark about it when they finally come out!)
4. In the closet with the door open. Many people are only partially closeted. They have gay relationships, and don’t completely hide their sexuality, but they make a point to not talk about it with family, friends, co-workers or, if they are public figures, the media. Sometimes gay people do this for their own safety, for example, if they know they could face possible violence at work or lose their home if they are living with homophobic family members.
There can be a practical side to being careful with your disclosure. However, many gays have gay friends, gay friendly (or at least loving) parents and still they remain silent. Often they say things like “it’s not anybody’s business,” or “we don’t talk about those kinds of things,” when questioned. The root of this avoidance and secrecy is shame, fear to disappoint, fear to face actual homophobia from people or to not be accepted. This kind of internalized homophobia really encourages subtle and systemic discrimination in our society.
It makes a statement that even gay people believe that gays should be marginalized and gives straight people permission to ignore us. When we do not advocate for ourselves and others who need support, we are weak as a movement. Additionally, the people found in this part of the spectrum are often the most avid deniers of the existence of ‘internalized homophobia.’
5. Out, and generally fine with other gays, but really dislikes ‘dykes’ and ‘flamers’. Many gay people are out and open and educated and “perfectly wonderful” gays, except for the fact that they vocally dislike flamboyant gay people. If you are this person, there are a few things you should consider.
- These outspoken, visible minorities (a.k.a. someone who does not or cannot pass as straight) have been on the forefront of the gay rights movement from the very beginning. They take the brunt of the homophobia, face the most violence, and through their differences have created greater visibility for LGBTQ people in the world. After all, if no one could see us, how could they know we existed?
- Every group of people has extreme examples and stereotypes. We encounter straight people all the time who are so ridiculous, they could be cartoons. And yet, we accept these differences to be within the acceptable range of human weirdness and expression.
- It is important to distinguish between a flamboyant person and an annoying person. The reason you dislike someone may have everything to do with the fact that they are irritating, and not as much to do with the fact that they are queer.
- Some of the hate directed at extremely masculine lesbians or extremely feminine gay men, is actually a form of gender discrimination. We need to take into account that gender expression is something that happens in conjunction with sexuality. Many people with non-traditional expressions, are experiencing the brunt of internalized homophobia and transphobia, even if they’re not trans. Lots of straight people want to put sexuality in a box, but lots of straight and gay people want to put gender in a box. Gender, like sexuality, is a spectrum of expression.
Since the elections and the strong feelings on the issues especially since the wrench that was thrown in the mix of the review of the buggery law by the opposition People’s National Party, PNP in the leadership debate who have since won the poll on December 29th, the JLP who since the mention of the suggested buggery law review by the PNP leader and Prime Minister designate Portia Simpson Miller have employed devious homophobic methods on the campaign trail to capture the Jamaican audience’s attention which seemed to have led to voter non interest and a low voter turn out with core party supporters returning the PNP to power while the undecided basically stayed home.
For purposes of this post let us exclude the outness of persons but zoom on on the community conflicts pre and post the election results, LGBT persons who openly supported the Jamaica Labour Party before the buggery law review suggestion have found themselves the object of serious scaving bordering on homophobic slurs and innuendos some with very threatening tones as if to suggest if those who support the JLP must be crazy and they can stay and be killed in the process by the systems. The social network spaces especially Facebook have become ablaze with persons trading insults and long argumentative threads with the very words used against LGBT people by homophobes also being employed to psychologically intimidate persons. The cynicism to those persons has remained high since the results and smacks on a kind of elitism that seemed to have been hidden but making its way to the fore as the opportune time presents itself.
The contemptuous tones are worrying to myself and a few others and speaks to the overall struggling health of our LGBT community, how can we ask the rest of the nation for tolerance when we can’t even tolerate each other with differing views? I firmly believe we have to get our act together and express opinions and thoughts without descending into the very bowels of nasty homophobia that we are all wanting to escape I hope from the religious right and sections of the mainstream. It is shocking this kind of intolerance so much so that persons find the time to carefully prepare several well worded posts and blackberry messages/broadcasts two or three times a day cursing swearing and aiming venomous putrid hate at other LGBT people just because they supported the JLP, I too have come in for some slight criticism which I welcomed but my critics and I argued the issues based on my open view of the situations in this election and then agreed to disagree but others have not been so lucky, trouble is the posts as mentioned are sometimes open and directed at unnamed persons but it is clear who the intended targets are, to even be so vaguely loose and contemptuous is also troubling and smacks on a kind of psychological manipulation to influence thoughts and professional hypocrisy. The IH does not only come from individual profiles but also several LGBT Facebook groups as well including several where members of the advocacy structure are a part of, these vitriolic exchanges go unchecked with these members obviously seeing them and no reprimand or call to a check on how we are treating each other.
Are we ready then to embrace rights and or privileges when we are at this stage of our community lacking moral fibre, scruples or just basic respect for each other? seeing that we can’t be out relatively speaking and the perils of homophobia is this the release mechanisms we resort to by castigating each other in anger?
Is it insecurity within oneself here that causes these outbursts even from persons who wouldn’t normally be involved in such activity? after all Jamaica politics usually brings out the animal in some persons.
Time will have to tell.
Peace and tolerance