Coping with Internalized Homophobia
Coping With Internalized Homophobia – You may believe that you are lesbian or gay. In addition, you also may fear that you are lesbian or gay. You may also wish that you weren’t lesbian or gay and that there was a way to deny these feelings. What would your family think? What would your friends think? What would the world think? And also, how do you feel about being lesbian or gay?
Homophobia is the term that refers to not only a fear, as the term phobia implies, but also a hatred of homosexuality and those who are homosexual. The American culture does not support homosexuality as a whole and many people hold assumptions and negative perceptions of those who are homosexual. While there has been some improvement (e.g. gay characters on television, actors coming out, legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts), many people continue to think negatively and continue to be uncomfortable about the idea of homosexuality. By being a product of this culture, you too may have negative ideas and thoughts about being homosexual. It is known as internalized homophobia. Just because you have identified yourself as lesbian or gay does not mean that those negative thoughts about homosexuality that you have heard and internalized for years just disappear.
Part of the coming out process is recognizing that you likely have negative thinking about being homosexual and as a result feel negative and even ashamed about yourself. Your self-esteem may plummet and you may feel anxious, depressed, or perhaps even have feelings of hopelessness and despair. In addition, you may feel isolated and have no one to talk to because you may be afraid to tell those closest to you that you are gay or lesbian. You may decide to continue to deny your homosexuality, but that too will lead to anxiety and depression about having to hide your authentic self, your life, and living in fear of being discovered. So how do you cope with these feelings and what do you do to raise your self-esteem and feel good about yourself? The good news is that you can make it through this process and that you can feel good about yourself again. You may not be able to change how others feel, but you can change how you feel.
- Get a piece of paper and a pen. Write down as many negative terms and ideas that you know about homosexuality and homosexual individuals (e.g. labels such as fag, butch, and ideas such as gay people are crazy, gay people are child molesters, etc.) Next identify and mark with a star any ideas that you believe or that you have heard often from those around you. Also put a star next to any ideas or labels that you have expressed or thought. Indicate how you feel when you think about or say the starred items.
- Next to each starred label/term, write down a positive term or label. Next to each negative idea, write down any concrete evidence to support that idea and evidence to disprove the idea. For example, if your idea is that gay people are sick and crazy, you could write that in 1973, the psychiatric profession determined that homosexuality was not a mental disease. Therefore, even the ‘experts” of mental health don’t think that being homosexual indicates that a person is sick or crazy.
- On another sheet of paper, write down as many positive things that you can think of about homosexuality or homosexual individuals. It may be helpful to think of anyone that you know who is gay or lesbian and characteristics about them. If you do not know anyone, you can think of and list the accomplishments of some celebrities that have come out such as Ellen DeGeneres, Lance Bass, Greg Louganis, Portia De Rossi, Melissa Elthridge, Elton John, and Martina Navratilova to name a few. Look at your list of negative ideas, and see how many of them apply to these people.
- Do some research about homosexuality and homosexual individuals. You could go to your local library and do some research on books about gay history and culture. If you live near a university library, you may find a bigger research base and selection. You could also go to your local Barnes and Noble and spend some time looking at the books in the Gay and Lesbian Studies collection. Or, you could go to an exclusively Gay and Lesbian Bookstore, such as Giovanni’s Room at 348 S. 12th Street in Center City Philadelphia. See the list of our recommended books. As you do research, notice the feelings that come up for you. Do you feel encouraged and do you enjoy reading about the history? Do you feel sad or depressed that there is a lot of information that you never knew? Do you have any negative feelings or reactions to what you have read and discovered? Also list the positive things that you have discovered about gay and lesbian history and individuals.
- Actively remind yourself about the positive things that you have learned or discovered about homosexuality and homosexual individuals. Read your list of positive things and characteristics. Remind yourself that many of the negative ideas about gay and lesbian individuals are not factual and are based on hateful attitudes and misinformation. Read the evidence that you wrote down against many of these negative ideas that you listed.
Dealing with internalized homophobia is often an ongoing process. Remember, you have been experiencing and absorbing negative labels and ideas about homosexuality for many years. Thinking and feeling differently cannot happen overnight or in a few weeks. Even if you came from a family that did not speak negatively about homosexuality or even actively supported it, you still heard and absorbed a lot of messages from the culture as a whole. Coming out is a significant change and process in your life that is likely to have you experiencing many different types of feelings that are both positive and negative. Whatever the feelings, you can effectively learn to experience and cope with them.