On the surface, Do I Sound Gay? seems like a lighthearted exploration of the “gay voice”. With commentary from notable gay celebs like David Sedaris and Dan Savage, the 2014 documentary registers as little more than a comic peek into gay life.
However, director David Thorpe’s film is about more than “sounding gay”. It’s about the feelings and cultural phenomena that have led us to believe “sounding gay” was even possible. Internalized homophobia is explored so often in the film it could be billed as a co-star. And fun documentary aside, it’s just as present in the everyday lives of many gay men.
After the Pulse Orlando massacre, the web was flooded with think pieces about internalized homophobia and the role it played in the deaths of 49 innocent people. Omar Mateen, a straight-identifying married man, was a regular at Pulse Orlando. He was even rumored to have profiles on several gay dating apps.
Though we’ll never know the answer, was it possible that Pulse was a result of Mateen’s inner struggles? “Could he have been driven to hate and hurt others because he hated himself?” asked BBC News writer Jasmine Taylor-Coleman.
What Is Internalized Homophobia?
For gay men, and for those who are still grappling with their sexuality, one of the greatest obstacles to living a fulfilling life is how they feel about themselves. In short, internalized homophobia is self-hate as a result of believing that homosexuality is wrong.
The Rainbow Project says it happens to those gay men “who have learned and been taught that heterosexuality is the norm and ‘correct way to be’”. It starts as shame but manifests itself into a destructive pattern of behavior, which can ruin your life or the lives of those around you.
Aside from the cultural dominance of heteronormative behaviors, men who’ve grown up in strict religious households or environments prone to toxic masculinity are vulnerable to internalized homophobia.
As per research conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this brand of self-hate is viewed as a minority stressor which requires its own set of coping mechanisms. If it goes on unaddressed, it can lead to negative outcomes in both romantic and platonic relationships.
How you feel about yourself won’t just affect your love life—it’ll impact every person you interact with. Given time to grow, internalized homophobia morphs into the most dangerous kind of instability. Luckily, there are ways to overcome it.
How to Overcome Internalized Homophobia
In February, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld partnered with LGBTQ Nation to share his views on internalized homophobia. He likened it to addiction and suggested that, like addiction, this internal condition needed its own 12-step program. Through a series of studies and testimonials, he established common ways that gay men exhibited their internalized homophobia.
Some of the behaviors included low self-esteem or body image, contempt for gay men who were out of the closet, and constant attempts to “pass” as straight. He named more than 28 common behaviors and stressed that “we must stop eating our own”. Blumenfeld was right. Intervention is needed to stop this issue that’s having detrimental effects on our community.
There are many ways you can dissect your internalized homophobia, but here are a few places to start.
Be honest about your emotions
As with addiction, you can’t change your behavior until you acknowledge it. This isn’t about judgment or knocking yourself down a peg. It’s about honesty. How do you feel about being gay? If you feel ashamed or hostile, take note of it. At least you know where you stand, and you’ve got a starting point in moving forward.
Internalized homophobia is often the result of external influences. Think about your upbringing and your current environment. Were your parents anti-gay? Were you bullied in high school? Do you work for a conservative employer? Have you witnessed poor treatment of other gay men? Your feelings are no fault of your own. They stemmed from something or someone in your life. Take some time to reflect and find the root of your feelings.
Talk to someone
Up to this point, your journey has been entirely internal, save for acting out. But this doesn’t have to be an experience you go through alone. Talk to friends or family members you can trust. Seek therapy, so you can speak openly in a safe environment. To stop internalizing homophobia, you need to speak out.
Commit to yourself
Your life’s journey is about being the best version of you that you can be. Make a commitment to yourself that you’ll focus on this, and not on what others think of you. Know that some people won’t agree with your sexuality, and that’s okay. Their opinions shouldn’t factor into how you feel about yourself.
Internalized homophobia is often tied to masculine constructs. Know that you don’t need to be a straight man to be masculine. And at that, masculinity is not as simple as society has made it out to be. You can be a gay man and be masculine. And, you can rewrite the definition of masculinity as it pertains to you.
Find great examples
You need to see proof that life gets better once you accept and love yourself as you are. Seek out examples of gay men who’ve embraced their sexuality and flourished as a result. Befriend other gay men, date kind men who love themselves, and read or watch inspirational stories about gay men who’ve gone through what you’re experiencing (i.e. It Gets Better). The more positive examples you see, the more you’ll start to understand how great it is to be yourself.
Internalized homophobia is dangerous not only to you but those around you. It deprives you of the life you deserve, and no gay man should ever be held prisoner by his own beliefs. Through honesty and emotional hard work, you can learn to love yourself and let self-hate go.