“Masc 4 masc”. “No fem”. “Discreet only”. These are phrases you’ll see a lot on hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff. And while most users will attribute it to a matter of “preference”, some argue that this aversion to outward manifestations of homosexuality is a symptom of a much larger problem: internalized homophobia.
But what exactly is internalized homophobia? Why do homosexuals experience it? And how can you overcome it?
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What is internalized homophobia?
Internalized homophobia occurs when bisexual men and women, lesbians and gay men experience negative social attitudes and beliefs towards gays and the gay community. In turn, they internalize them and develop feelings of self-hatred. This usually manifests as homophobic behavior towards themselves or towards other people in their community.
Other terms for internalized homophobia
Not everyone agrees with the term “homophobia” to describe these negative perceptions and attitudes towards homosexual people. After all, homophobia is not a phobia or fear per se, but rather a pervasive set of prejudices, stereotypes, and negative attitudes toward gay people. As such, some people prefer to use different terms to describe internalized homophobia, including:
- Internalized homonegativity
- Internalized sexual stigma
- Sexual prejudices
- Anti-gay bias
- Internalized oppression
What are the causes of internalized homophobia?
We live in a heteronormative society. Heteronormativity is the assumption that everyone is or should be heterosexual. This assumption leads to a stigma that prevails around those who challenge or go against what is considered “the norm”.
As such, most of us are socialized from an early age thinking that sexual minorities (anyone who is not cis or heterosexual) and everything related to them are weird, “abnormal.” or even morally wrong – and that such people should be avoided or made ashamed for their same-sex attraction and sexual behavior.
Here are some of the main factors that contribute to internalized oppression:
Growing up around homophobic religious conservatives
Most religious institutions condemn same-sex sexual behavior, deny LGBTQ people into leadership positions, and fail to recognize same-sex marriage as a legitimate union. Some religious groups will also offer conversion therapy camps for those who want to get rid of their same-sex attractions.
However, studies have shown that not only conversion therapy ineffective, it is also deeply harmful and can lead participants to experience psychological distress, depression, anxiety and even suicidal tendencies. According to a study on religious affiliation and internalized homophobia among bisexuals, lesbians and gays, exposure to an “unstated religion” is associated with higher internalized homophobia.
Lack of LGBTQ representation
You’ve probably heard that portrayal matters, whether it’s increased portrayal of people of color in movies and on television, or more positive portrayals of LGBTQ + people in the media.
But why is representation important? In one piece for Psychology today, Dr. Jennifer O’Brien notes that when LGBTQ people see themselves represented in the media, it can “foster a greater sense of assertiveness” and can stimulate positive feelings of self-worth. On the other hand, when you don’t have LGBTQ role models worthy of admiration, or if you don’t see yourself in the media you consume, you may develop the feeling that you are ‘invisible’, that you ‘don’t. doesn’t exist and you don’t matter ”, or that there is something wrong with you.
Have a limited support system
Because an LGBTQ person is more likely to become a socially stigmatized person, it is important for them to have healthy relationships and the support of their friends and family. Without the right support, bisexuals, lesbians and gays will find it more difficult to overcome their personal shame.
What does internalized homophobia look like?
Here are some examples of how internalized homophobia can manifest itself in gay and bisexual men, according to the 1996 book Rose therapy:
- You deny your sexual orientation or gender identity to yourself and other people.
- You have very low self-esteem and feel that you are not “good enough” for the people you respect and admire.
- You feel that you can resist your homosexual desires and change yourself into a completely heterosexual person.
- You can obsess over ‘coming across’ as straight, believing that passersby are better than those that are ‘obvious’, and monitor every aspect of your beliefs, behaviors, manners, and language to avoid being ‘caught’. .
- You try to distance yourself from LGBTQ people who are out and who are effeminate.
- You have very little interpersonal relationships with LGBTQ people, not wanting any personal or social involvement with them.
- You try to outdo yourself because you think LGBTQ people need to prove their worth in society.
- You have suffered from depression and anxiety because of your shame.
- You resist your sexual feelings to the point of engaging in unprotected sex, such as having same-sex sex without protecting yourself or knowing their HIV status.
- You reinforce certain stereotypes about LGBTQ people to feel superior to heterosexuals (for example, you think “gay men have a better sense of fashion than straight men”).
- You tend to be drawn to unavailable straight men, perhaps out of a deep fear of continuing a stable relationship.
- You prefer short-term relationships and avoid commitments.
Internalized Homophobia Scale
If you’re looking for a way to measure internalized homophobia or understand levels of internalized homophobia, you can check out a handful of scales developed by psychologists.
A commonly used scale is the IHP scale, which was developed by John Martin and Laura Dean in 1995. Here is the “Women’s Version” of the IHP:
- I tried to stop being attracted to women in general.
- If someone offered me the chance to be completely heterosexual, I would take that chance.
- I would like not to be a lesbian / bisexual.
- I think being a lesbian / bisexual is a personal gap for me.
- I would like professional help to change my sexual orientation from lesbian / bisexual to straight.
- I tried to become more sexually attracted to men.
- I often think it’s best to avoid any personal or social involvement with other lesbian / bisexual women.
- I feel alienated from myself because I am a lesbian / bisexual.
- I wish I could develop more erotic feelings towards men.
How Does Internalized Homophobia Affect LGBTQ People?
Internalized homophobia can impact LGBTQ people in different ways, which makes it so worrying. Here are some ways that internalized homonegativity can affect gay people:
Mental health problems
LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied than heterosexual cisgender youth. They are also more likely to have attempted self-harm and suicide than their peers. Rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health problems are also higher among gay men and women than among their heterosexual peers.
According to a 2009 study, internalized heterosexism has resulted in poorer relationships between lesbian women, gay men and bisexuals.
This stigma of non-heterosexual identities can be seen and felt in places where we are expected to feel safe and accepted, from home to school to our close friend groups and the workplace. When we feel that we cannot trust our loved ones, we may develop an inability to form and maintain lasting, healthy relationships.
Higher risk of STIs
STIs and HIV are among the major health problems affecting lesbians and gay men. There is a negative stereotype that adults from sexual minorities, such as gay and bisexual men, are more “promiscuous” and therefore more likely to contract an STI.
However, many don’t realize that the shame and stigma surrounding same-sex sexuality, anal sex, STIs, and HIV in general lead many to keep their status a secret. Because of this, LGBTQ people become more likely to get sick and don’t get the care they need.
How to deal with internalized homophobia
So, that being said, how can we fight internalized homophobia and the cultural and institutionalized heterosexism from which it stems?
According to Daniel Lyons in a play for Psychology today, the first step in dismantling “deep-rooted system homophobia” is to recognize that everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender or socio-economic status, is capable of thinking or acting in a way that is homophobic path.
Today, more and more people are questioning jokes and stereotypes about LGBTQ people, including those shared by members of the community.
For example, drag queen Kim Chi performed the original song “Fat, Woman, and Asian” in her season finale. RuPaul’s Drag Race. The song is a biting commentary on internalized homophobia in the gay community and plays on the aforementioned “preferences” that gay men will use as an excuse to discriminate against the more effeminate members of the community.
Filmmaker Jamal Lewis did the same, but a documentary rather than a song. Entitled No fats, no women, Lewis’ film features five black people of diverse origins as they discuss how desire enters queer blacks may be rooted in “problematic conceptions of different identities”.
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Internalized homophobia is a deep systemic problem – a symptom of the heteronormative society in which we live. But this should not continue to affect us. We just need to learn to recognize the signs and commit to uplifting one another.