“Humans don’t like injustice, and when they cannot easily fix it, they often engage in mental gymnastics to make the injustice more palatable. Blaming victims for their suffering is a classic example.” —Dr. Grainne Fitzsimons, Dr. Aaron Kay, Jae Yun Kim
“The worst homophobes are simply at war with their own secret internal nature.” —Dr. Scott Lankford
When I was studying in college many years ago, I knew a fellow student who went out of his way to show himself as an “exaggerated hetero-masculine alpha male”: He womanized, rode a motorcycle, and acted as an all-around “tough guy." I learned later that he was secretly questioning and struggling with his sexual orientation.
Internalized homophobia can be defined as the tendency of some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals to regularly invalidate, marginalize, and/or oppress their own or other LGBTQ members’ sexual orientation, sexual identity, self-worth, individual expressions, and human rights.
Often, those with degrees of internalized homophobia are consciously or unconsciously socialized into believing that members of the LGBTQ community are “abnormal”, “shameful”, “undesirable” and “unacceptable”, and should be regarded with disdain (self-rejection) and contempt (self-loathing).
It is important to emphasize that internalized homophobia typically occurs in the context of a hetero-centric society that often stigmatizes, denigrates, and condemns LGBTQs. It is also significant to note that while some people with internalized homophobia are “out of the closet” and openly dealing their own sexual orientation/sexual identity issues, many others are still “in the closet” (to themselves and/or to others) and secretly struggling. Many closet LGBTQ individuals grew-up in traditional, conservative environments where “anti-gay bias” and “gay bashing” are the norm in family, social, educational, religious, media, social media, and political environments. To cope with and compensate (overcompensate) for their inner conflict, some closet LGBTQ individuals may openly reject and even lash out at the very sexual orientation/identity group they secretly belong in order to gain acceptance, suppress inner turmoil, and deny their true selves. It is a classic example of gaslighting, where a perpetrator (in this case a hetero-centric, homophobic society) convinces the victim that she/he/they are much less important and worthy than who they truly are. The victim in turn gaslights oneself and often other LGBTQs. Internalized homophobia is a form of social and psychological brainwashing.
What are some of the most common signs of internalized homophobia? Following are 10 characteristics, with references from my books: Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery! and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People. While some LGBTQ individuals may occasionally dabble in the following behaviors, which might not be a serious issue, someone with strong internalized homophobia will routinely engage in one or more of the pathologies (dysfunctions) below, while remaining largely unaware of (or unconcerned with) the tangible and psychological damage done to oneself and others.
1. Denying one’s own sexual orientation and sexual identity, either to oneself and/or to others, even though one’s thoughts, emotions, and natural instincts indicate otherwise.
2. Conforming to the dominant heterosexual culture while suppressing one’s own individual expressions. Feeling the need to constantly monitor oneself to “act straight” and avoid being “exposed”. May suffer stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, or other mental health issues due to the fear and consequences of being “outed."
3. Avoiding and disassociating oneself from other LGBTQ individuals, especially in the presence of heterosexual company. Privately and often secretly, however, one may stay connected with LGBTQs.
4. Feeling ashamed or embarrassed when seeing LGBTQ individuals “being gay/bi/trans/queer” in daily activities, social interactions, popular media, or social media.
5. Feeling self-conscious or anxious when expressing oneself or engaging in activities in an environment of heterosexual privileges and norms (i.e. showing affection in public, disclosing sexual orientation/identity to healthcare providers, requesting housing, financial, legal, wedding, childcare, child education, or other services as LGBTQ).
6. For some LGBTQs, struggling with having healthy, long-term committed relationships. Allowing oneself to consistently be in inequitable, dysfunctional, neglectful, unstable, unfaithful, and/or abusive relationships.
7. Putting down and disempowering oneself and/or other LGBTQ individuals. For instance:
- Refusing to acknowledge homophobia exists or is a significant issue in LGBTQs’ lives.
- Regularly making negative self-depreciating remarks about one’s own sexual orientation/sexual identity. (Encoding to desensitize the effects of discrimination notwithstanding, regular negative self-depreciation is still a reflection of internalized homophobia.)
- Judging, belittling, or making-fun of other LGBTQ individuals based on homophobic bias and negative stereotypes (gay bashing).
8. Displaying intolerance and discrimination toward other oppressed and marginalized groups (discrimination transference/projected discrimination).
9. Defending, justifying, and excusing individual acts of homophobia in family, friendships, school, at the workplace, or in other social or institutional scenarios (learned helplessness).
10. Defending, justifying, and supporting societal, institutional, religious, political, and/or cultural bias and oppression against the LGBTQ community. Openly rejecting pro-LGBTQ initiatives and attacking advocates and leaders who fight for LGBTQ rights. Condemning and blaming LGBTQs for causing their own victimization (internalized oppression).
For tips on how to handle internalized homophobia related stress, whether from oneself or from others, see references below.
© 2020 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
Ni, Preston. Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery!. PNCC. (2017)
Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)
Ni, Preston. How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions. PNCC. (2014)
Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters and Stop Psychological Bullying. PNCC. (2017)
Ni, Preston. How to Reduce Anxiety & Increase Certainty in Difficult Situations – A Practical Guide. PNCC. (2016)
LGBTQ Resource List
LGBTQ Support Services
Practicing Cultural Humility: Using Gender Pronouns
Fitzsimons, Grainne; Kay, Aaron; Kim, Jae Yun. “Lean In” Messages and the Illusion of Control. Harvard Business Review. (July 30, 2018)
Kornhaber, Spencer. “The Shame of Pete Buttigieg”. The Atlantic. (February 29, 2020)
Pardee, Skip. TEDx Talk video “Proud to call you my transgender son”.