Internalized homophobia: Is it an emotion?

Here's an email I received that sums up the emotions (shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger) that often accompany internalized homophobia:

Dear Michael: I am gay and have been out since I've been 18 (I'm now 25), but I gotta tell you: I hate the way most gay men act and it embarrasses me to be gay. I am not some macho "straight-acting" guy, but neither am I a man who wants to be called "hey girl". Do I have a problem or are most gay men just a mess?

Embarrassed in Hillcrest

Internalized homophobia is self-hatred aimed at ourselves for being gay/bi/trans men. While I respect the writer's preference for more masculine men, I question why more feminine men provoke his embarrassment and anger. If you think that your gay brothers are "just a mess", that says more about you than it does about them. Shame is an emotion that says: you're not good enough, Guilt says: you did it wrong and you must pay. Embarrassment says: You should feel bad about yourself. Anger says: who I am - or who you are - really pisses me off.

These emotions (and others) come on the wagon train of internalized homophobia. When we secretly feel bad about being gay/bi/trans, a lot of difficult emotions are bound to surface. Most of us have some kind of anti-gay/bi/trans feelings inside us, but what do we do with them? We start by telling the truth about what we think and feel. This is the first step on the path to freedom. We stop fooling ourselves. Even if we convince others we're cool, what really matters is what we say to ourselves. Our own self-opinion is much more powerful than what others think of us. This is why our own unspoken homophobia has great destructive power to mess with us consciously and - especially - unconsciously. 

For example, if you say you want a certain kind of partner or job or career, but you feel bad about your sexual orientation, you'll probably find lots of subtle ways to subconsciously sabotage yourself. Haven't you seen all these huge, overly muscled gym bunnies who can never get big enough to assuage their internalized fears of being too "feminine"? A very wise, older friend of mine used to say, "The bigger the muscles, the smaller the self-confidence." I'm not saying that this is always true, but it's worth thinking about.

Gay/bi/trans men come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions and degrees of masculinity, androgyny and femininity. If really masculine men annoy you, then figure out why. Is it envy? Is it because you haven't yet expressed that side of you? If really feminine men make you uncomfortable, do the same: figure out why. Is it envy that they can be so emotionally free? Would you like to be able to express that side of yourself but find it makes you cringe? Most of us are "triggered" by other gay/bi/trans men in some ways, and these "triggered" emotions are the little alarm clocks I spoke of earlier that are encouraging us to "Wake up and pay attention! There's something here worth investigating."

When homophobia shows up in your life, don't stick your head under the pillows and hope it will simply go away. Instead, wake up and take a look at what's going on. We all have little bits of homophobia that tend to linger: it's part of living in this heterosexist world. So when homophobia rears its ugly head, let's identify it and own it so we can - ultimately - let it fade away back into the heterosexist craziness from where it originated.

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