Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
– James Baldwin
Internalized homophobia is a natural consequence of living in a heteronormative society. It can be defined as ‘the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.’ (Meyer and Dean, 1998). Repercussions of internalized homophobia have been linked to anxiety, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and abusive relationships. It is a tough battle for a queer individual to overcome false notions propagated about their own identity and avoid plummeting into the pitfall that is internalized homophobia and the associated mental and physical dangers.
Manifestations of internalized homophobia can include: denial of sexual orientation to oneself and others, attempts to alter or change one’s sexual orientation, discomfort with other gay people, unsafe sexual practices and other destructive risk-taking behaviours, including risk for HIV and other STIs. Internalized homophobia also causes feelings of shame in young homosexuals which can contribute to unsatisfactory relationships. Furthermore, people identifying with different queer identities, have their own unique challenges with battling internalized homophobia. People who identify as bisexual often find themselves in an ambiguous position, facing marginalization from both straight and gay communities. This marginalization usually includes same-gender oriented friends urging bisexual individuals to adopt a gay lifestyle and heterosexually-oriented friends pressuring them to conform to heterosexual standards. Internalized homophobia is thus a phenomenon that exists at several degrees among various sections of social groups, and is rooted at misunderstanding.
Navigating one’s identity formation in India is especially difficult for a queer individual because of the associated stigma. From bullying in schools, to ostracization from the society, and outright violent crimes against the queer population, self assertion itself can be a risk of life in many regions in the country. It is also extremely difficult to confront one’s own feelings about their homosexuality when it is something that is barely acknowledged or fairly represented in the society. The Indian linguistics with its lack of vocabulary to encapsulate the queer spectrum further complicates the challenge of individuals trying to communicate their concerns. Being a socially marginalized group, the queer Indian population is prone to minority stress, due to various sources such as exclusion from private and social establishments, like marriage and family.
It is crucial to identify, acknowledge and address internal homophobia, for it is linked not only to a queer individual’s sexuality but to their sexual and mental health, risk taking behaviour and may also further perpetuate homophobic notions in the society.
If you’re someone who’s battling internalized homophobia, or want to help someone who is, here are some tips to overcome the challenge:
- Critically evaluating your thoughts – By identifying negative thought patterns and behaviours that increase homophobic tendencies and behaviours, it becomes easier to start working towards a positive self image.
- Finding a community – A supportive group or community that celebrates homosexuality can help you to become more accepting of yourself. Being exposed to this environment can be a powerful reminder that you are not alone.
- Distancing yourself from toxic influences – Keeping yourself at a safe distance from sources that promote homophobic attitudes can help reduce feelings of anxiety.
- Seeking therapy – A queer positive therapist may be able to guide you in your journey towards self acceptance.
- Be part of the movement! – Gaining information on the origins of the LGBTQ+ movement, and the various LGBTQ+ activists along with putting your own efforts into raising awareness can be an extremely rewarding experience.
- Get out of the closet: While this step can require a tremendous amount of courage, accepting your sexuality publicly may help you feel more confident.
- Remember: It’s not you! – The internal confusion that you may experience is a result of a wide array of social factors, that are constantly being propagated. You are not to blame.
- Set, Z., Altinok, A. (2016) In Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Individuals: Attachment, Self-compassion and Internalized Homophobia: A Theoretical Study. Journal of Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy and Research 2016; 135-144
- Larson, E. (2014) Internalized Homophobia: The Next LGBT Movement After Same-Sex Marriage. Mashable India.
- Ross, M.W., Rosser, B.R., Smolenski, D. (2010) The Importance of Measuring Internalized Homophobia/Homonegativity. Arch Sex Behav.
- Ranade, K. (2018) Growing Up Gay in Urban India: A Critical Psychosocial Perspective.
- Sanjeev, K. (2019) LGBT Community in India: A Study.