Dismantling Internalized Homophobia

Written by Logan Adams
Logan graduated from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky in 2018 with a degree in Human Services and Counseling. Logan is currently serving at a local non-profit in Louisville, KY.  

“Hey, do you want to march in the Louisville Pride parade with me?” After reading this text a few weeks ago, panic and shame ensued. My friend who works at a local coffee shop was marching the parade and stated she was allowed to bring a friend. This thought of openly and proudly proclaiming my LGBTQ+ identity made my internalized homophobia spike to an all time high.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was instilled in me that any identity outside of straight and cisgendered was something to feel shame for due to it ultimately not lining up with my family’s deep-seated belief in God. This ideology consistently permeated all spheres of my life as my family attended a very devout Southern Baptist church and I was enrolled in a private Christian school. Around my high school years, I began to notice my pastor stating all sins were equal, but I noticed him spending more time exhorting those who were homosexual and engaging in premarital sex. I knew that I was homosexual around the age of 14, but I knew that I could not say anything due to fear of being kicked out of my house, retaliation from my private high school (as they had previously kicked out students who openly identified LGBTQ+), and social isolation. Since I was not able to confide in anyone and having poor coping mechanisms, I began to internalize the feelings of shame and hatred for my truest self. I played out many scenarios in my head of how “perfect” my life would be if I could openly state that I was homosexual, date other men, and enjoy learning and participating in my culture. I longed for those scenarios to materialize so that my I could let all facets of myself flow freely and without fear of judgment.

Looking back now, I remember how I yearned for time to pass so that I could openly proclaim something I knew to be true. Even though I longed for a feeling of authenticity, I knew that I could not continue living in a state of taking for who I am. The shame I internalized through being so deeply entrenched in the cycle of attending church and negativity regarding the LGBTQ+ community in my social spheres. This shame started to take root in my mental space. This feeling took hold in the form of changing the pitch of my voice when around certain people, not wearing the types of clothes I wanted to due to fear of social judgement, and not speaking up in conversations regarding LGBTQ+ rights. I began to sort through this overwhelming sense of shame through journaling. I journaled about how I felt, why I felt, and how my upbringing ultimately played an incalculable factor in my ignominy. I vividly recall a conversation with a professional mentor where we were talking about our upbringing not defining who we are currently. She stated that the only way one can truly do this is through comparing and contrasting our beliefs versus the beliefs we were raised see as true. She stated, “If you say, ‘I believe this just because I do,’ it’s not a real belief.” After that meeting, I really began to contemplate if what I believed, regarding sexuality, was true for me or just true because that is all I had known. I eventually landed in the mental space that there is no shame needed. No shame automatically attached. No shame inherently given. While there is some amount of societal shame in identifying as LGBTQ+, how much we internalize, perpetuate, and permit it to inhibit us is within ourselves.

I have slowly and painstakingly been attempting to rid myself of the shackles known as internalized homophobia. By no means has this sense of shame been completely vacated from my mind and heart, but it is just not as loud. When one is continually fed information about who they are fundamentally is wrong for nearly 20 years, that sense of shame and self-hatred does not go away overnight. I equate it to playing an instrument. You start off slowly; learning techniques and fundamentals. You start to implement these skills to improve performance. You soon enough to get to a point where you master the simple steps and it’s no longer a thought and your muscle memory comes ones. I suggest you look at it through this lens. To pick up small skills to decrease this sense of shame and work to strengthen them so that inner voice of self-doubt slowly diminishes until it’s a mere whisper. It has not come easy, but it has proved to be more useful than anything else. It has been long nights of quiet contemplation, intense conversations with family, or simply journaling. If you are reading this and finding this is your struggle, too, I implore you to rid yourself of internalized shame through positive self-talk, motivation, and connecting to fellow LGBTQ+ folks.

Happy Pride Month!

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