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What is Internalised Homophobia

Updated: May 26, 2023

Internalised homophobia is the experience where a person has been frightened by the idea of being recognised as gay that they actively change their behaviour to appear "straight" and also express indifference or discrimination towards gay men. This article will discuss more about how this can arise, and how we can work through this and remove it from ourselves.

Where does internalised homophobia come from?

And you might be wondering, how is it that internalised homophobia is even a thing? How is it that the gay community can suddenly turn on itself after years of judgment and persecution from people around them? Well, the answer is actually, in the persecution and how we adapt to survive when we were children.

If we were in an environment where we didn't have parents who approved of us being gay, we had people at school who didn't approve of us being gay, or we were made to feel that being gay was, in any way, shape or form, undesirable, something that was not supposed to be, something that put us at an extreme disadvantage we create an idea as to what being gay is, we understand it to have certain qualities and distinguishing features. And we don't want to be associated with that, even if we are gay. What occurs is we protect ourselves by blending in and trying to be similar to the people around us.

Something to note here is that human beings are incredibly sophisticated. When we want to survive and adapt to any given situation, we will. And one of those ways is also by protecting ourselves to make sure that we're able to get the connection and also the feeling of security within a tribe of people. So internalised homophobia occurs when we recognize that we don't like the idea of being associated with other gay men. And what that can occur in men as they're growing up, if they are gay, is that they don't like necessarily hanging around other gay men. Their fear of being gay is an image that these men have created in their head and this fear is typically seen in the world of dating.

Example of Internalised Homophobia So moving into early adulthood, a man has come out and recognizes that he's gay. He may go onto a dating app and express his internalised homophobia with his dating preferences. You'll often see the derogatory language of: "don't want fem or camp guys". Essentially, this man does not want to be with a man who's in any way, shape or form feminine, or might suggest that he's gay. And the reason for that is because at the back of that man's head, is that image; that being gay is in any way, shape, or form, not a good thing. And that particular idea of being gay is in some way, shape or form, weakness or is somehow less than than him.

So what we might see, outside of dating, is the man starts to develop a lot of behavior that pushes him further and further away from that idea in his head. What he will do is often overcompensate in other areas of his life. For example, what he might do is try and build up a very successful career, have a lot of money, and also develop a really good, masculine body. The reason for this is that he tries to strive for the image of what is opposite to the one that he's got in his head. He might want something of security, strength, stability, and also a sense that he's got his stuff together.

Returning to the world of dating, the challenge for a lot of these men is that, due to their internalised homophobia, they're looking for something that's similar to them. They often come across a lot of men who are may appear or acting straight, who are trying to fit in to protect themselves against the broader backdrop of the gay community. These men will be attracted to men with very large bank accounts, with a great job going on, maybe someone who's very physically athletic and well built.

And the difficulty is that these surface level attractions will sometimes entice them into very short lived relationships, because what they're missing out on are fundamental qualities of what a relationship is all about. These men are scared of the idea of being connected within themselves to who they really are, and recognizing that a relationship is built, not on assets, but on fundamental values and compatibility.

Curing Internalised Homophobia

So what can we do in order to take away internalised homophobia? Well, we have to recognize that it's in us. Many men who suffer internalised homophobia actively judge a lot of gay men based on assumption and stereotypes without really wanting to get to know the individual. Collectively, we have to start thinking about why we're doing this.

In relation to helping us work through this, a book that I found that was really practical for allowing greater self awareness and also correcting our own behavior and action was A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. Going back to the idea in men's heads that makes them terrified of gay men is part of our protection mechanism that allows us to survive in those early periods of childhood well into adulthood: our ego. The ego is a very sophisticated part of our brain that helps us in many ways through those formative years of school, but its role is outdated once we are no longer in an unsafe environment. And the ego doesn't serve us when we crave to have meaningful and authentic connections with others, or ourselves.

So a way of dismantling the ego, the idea in our heads, is to start questioning ourselves when we start to think and act in a way that has behavior of internalised homophobia. If we catch ourselves saying something about another person we don't particularly like who we think is gay, we have to take a step back and go, "why am I saying that?" And the question behind that is, "was there something that caused me to feel this way?" And the answer is usually a combination of events from when we were growing up as children. And when we start to unpack these early memories we can realize that that idea that we had in the back of our head is just that; an outdated idea. And it can be replaced with a better idea. How about it can be replaced with the idea that: there are so many loving, wonderful evolved men in this community, who would gladly be partnered and connected and looking to connect on a similar level with a partner who doesn't reject a major part of who they are and their brothers in the community.

Internalised homophobia is a form of not accepting oneself and in order to have a successful, meaningful romantic relationship, one must accept all parts of themselves.

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