Homophobia persists in all societies in every institution, from media and education to the law and religion. It can be overwhelming to exist in a world that has normalized homophobia to this extent. Due to fear of invalidation, lack of support and education, people can try to ignore, dismiss, and push away from their own same-sex attraction even if it’s a real part of their identity.
Most people are socialized by these institutions into thinking that non-heterosexual relationships are wrong and immoral for mainstream civilized society, and unnatural in God’s eyes. It can take a serious mental toll on a person who is dealing with their own sexual identity, thus leading to inherent guilt and shame.
Internalized homophobia and gay shame can be tough to deal with, so let’s take a closer look at it for better reflection.
What is Internalized Homophobia?
Internalized homophobia can occur with bisexual, gay, lesbian, and pansexual folks, and even heterosexual persons! They may have learned over time that heterosexual relationships are the “correct way to exist”. Consistent adherence to false narratives and negative depictions of the LGBT community can lead queer folks to internalize such negative messages. The mental distress from this can be stressful and frustrating to deal with when the values, virtues and unique diversity of the LGBT community are overshadowed by fear.
What Causes Internalized Homophobia?
There are many factors that can cause internalized homophobia, such as:
- Family: Homophobic aggression, biases and LGBT intolerance shown by family members can result in adapting homophobic beliefs and ideas from family elders.
- Religious Conservatism: Political ideologies and conservative religions can result in guilt and shame. Cultural frameworks established by blending Church and State may feel excluding to LGBT folks. Some religious communities even go so far as to send queer kids to conversion therapy camps. This type of counterintuitive “treatment” often uses harmful and unethical techniques that result in further shame and internalized homophobia.
- Low Exposure to Non-Heterosexual Identities: Low and mis representation in media and overall less exposure to non-heterosexual people can create stereotypes and unhealthy depictions of the LGBT community in the minds of people.
Mental Impact of Internalized Homophobia and Shame
Internalized homophobia and shame in your identity can negatively impact your personal worth. Many people even hide their sexual identity for a long time out of fear of being rejected. But more than that, some don’t even fully come out to themselves for the longest time either.
One research found that, on average, men realize their sexual orientation at the age of 12. However, they don’t confide in anyone about it until the age of 17. Identity formation in teenagers is a normal process of human development. These adolescent-teenage developmental years are crucial in people acknowledging and understanding their sexual identities too. The absence of support and guidance can make Internalized homophobia hard to process and deal with during this time.
Moreover, men who haven’t come out to their friends and family can have an even higher level of internalized homophobia.
Delaying coming out can lead to increased secrecy and dishonesty. Queer folk often have to hide their relationships and identity, so they have to take on the extra burden of maneuvering around their friends and family. Mainly, it can feel quite unsafe for them to come out due to fear of rejection, ridicule, and stigma. Therefore they sometimes see the outside world as the “others”, creating feelings of loneliness.
A study found that people who have shame can develop an avoidant and anxious attachment style as well as internalized homophobia. A lot of gay men report that they aren’t always easily accepted when they first come out as gay. This can lead to a significant impact on how one copes with a relationship.
This can affect how a person acts in a relationship. It can lead to toxic and unhealthy relationships since intimacy is negatively impacted. Without processing your unhealthy coping habits with a therapist or through reflection, all relationships can be impacted due to internalized homophobia.
Another paper found that internalized homophobia can lead to self-destructive behaviors like punishing oneself at a deeper level. Their sexual desires can be viewed as abnormal, disgusting, and dirty by others, which means they may choose bad partners, indulge in drugs, seek out dangers, and more.
Some people can be impacted by gay shame in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is associated with obsessive thoughts (i.e., fear of being outed or becoming gay) and compulsive or rigid behaviors (i.e., avoiding friendships with men, etc.)
Another study found that bisexual and gay men were more likely to engage in compulsive sexual behaviors or pay for sex. It can also lead to unsafe sex, resulting in an increased risk of STDs, HIV, and other health concerns.
Internalized homophobia and shame can also have a huge impact on the physical and mental health of a person. Dealing with such intense feelings of shame can lead to anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, anger outburst, self-esteem issues, and substance abuse.
It can also lead to chronic stress that can lead to high blood pressure, illness, sleep issues, headaches, digestive issues, and heart issues. Sometimes, even when LGBP folks notice physical issues, they may not seek help. They may not even be provided help due to medical homophobia.
Internalized homophobia can lead to queer folk being homophobic to other queers too. They may not want to socialize with other gay folk or to gay events. You may avoid gay men at work since people might think you are gay. Denial of their sexual identity may result in hateful and aggressive behaviors to avoid living their authentic identity. You might try to force your partner to keep the relationship a secret, avoid coming out, or lie about relationships.
Internalized homophobia and shame can negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health. It can affect their relationships with friends, family, partners, and even themselves. The guilt and shame can weigh down on a person. It is important to address it with a professional or a therapist so that you can lead a healthy life.
Angelina Valentin, LCSW-R
Angelina offers counselling services and has worked with clients from all sorts of backgrounds, welcoming clients of all sexualities, genders, race, and more. Angelina runs the Q Therapy podcast which you can also find on YouTube.