Homophobia comes in many forms. Internalized homophobia is one of the most underestimated types of homophobia that exists. When we think of homophobia, we tend to think of reactions from others that are based in fear, yet in many ways, dealing with internalized homophobia is more challenging to cope with. Although it is difficult to identify and work through, it is a common problem to overcome for young gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to reach a place of self-acceptance.
Internalized homophobia is based in a fear of one’s own sexual orientation. Although this is not necessarily caused by others, it certainly is influenced by societal, anti-gay biases. Men and women get attacked based on their sexual orientation, children are bullied and abused. People deal with organizational forms of discrimination such as the “lavender ceiling effect“. Some families disown their children, while others “allow” them to come around, but are still ashamed of them. For young, impressionable, gay and lesbian people, this does not promote a high self-esteem. For many, this fear does not stop at adolescence. It continues on throughout their early adult lives, and for others this extends into later adulthood.
The biggest challenge with this type of homophobia is that it is difficult to recognize. It can often manifest itself in the form of denial. Many believe that they can counteract their same-sex attractions through conforming to heterosexual norms. This is often based on societal pressures and a lack of education about sexual orientation.
If you are someone who is dealing with such a fear, it is important to remember that no one can read your mind or know what you are thinking. Therefore, you can ask yourself questions and process through this without anyone knowing. What is most scary for you? How would accepting this impact your life? This internal dialogue can help you ease into a position of increased self-acceptance.
To cope with such a fear, it is best to embrace accept the feeling, rather than run from it. Remind yourself that it is fine to be scared and intimidated. In fact, this is quite natural at this stage. It is also important to know that you’re not alone in this either. You can find support in various forms. Many cities have support groups or even community centers to help. You likely have some friends who will be open, who you can confide in. As you gain more confidence, you can confide in others as well.
If you are dealing with an internal struggle to accept your sexual orientation, finding a therapist who is gay-affirming is also a good idea. This professional can help you walk through your fear in a confidential setting so that you can better accept yourself and create a plan on how to tell those who who you are close to (when you are ready to do so).
Internalized homophobia is a difficult process to overcome. Although it is common, it should not be an underestimated part of the process of coming out. If you are someone who is at this stage, understand that you are not at all alone. Also, understand that there is nothing that can be done to change this part of your life. It is not a preference, no matter how much you may hear that it is. Also, it is not your entire identity. Like anyone else, it is a part of who you are. Through seeking out education and support, you will live a content life, and be able to see beyond the societal biases that are currently influencing this fear.