Michael Hamar

Letting Go of Internalized Homophobia

Filed By Michael Hamar | May 21, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: coming out of the closet, gay parents, George Rekers, internalized homophobia, parents of gays

With all of the media coverage of the George Rekers rentboy.com hands.jpgscandal I once again got to thinking about the self-loathing homophobes like Rekers who make careers out of pushing measures and disseminating lies in order to deprive LGBT citizens full equality under the civil law. Those who hate us (and themselves in the case of Rekers) - disingenuously claim that they don't hate us, but let's be honest, they do - say all kinds of hateful and divisive things about gays including how allowing us to marry "threatens western civilization," that we are unfit to be parents, or that we would diminish the cohesiveness of military units.

With all the hate being disseminated, I've also found myself thinking about the effort it was for me to finally put my internalized homophobia and self-loathing behind me as I made my journey through the coming out process.

Suffice it to say, it was not an easy journey and included two serious suicide attempts. But I survived it and now I can rightfully look with disdain/contempt on those who continue to preach hate and loathing against gays. Their goal is to not only make others hate us but to try to make us hate ourselves as well.

How does one finally let go of the ingrained homophobic baggage accumulated over many years? For me, there were a number of things that I think allowed me to finally let go of my internalized homophobia. I will share them since I know there are many readers still going through the coming out process or living in the closet based on the e-mails I receive and comments left on my personal blog.

I make no claim of being an expert, but here are my thoughts:

1. If you haven't already figured it out on your own, do some reading and get yourself up to date on the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice. If you are religious, accept the fact that God/Allah (or whatever deity you worship) made you gay and it's not going to change. Why did it happen? You'll never know, so move on with your life and make the most of the hand you have been dealt. Most importantly, do not let others try to make you feel guilty about your sexual orientation.

2. If you belong to a strongly anti-gay religious denomination, leave it. The sooner the better. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, other than being a Muslim, Mormon or Evangelical Christian, it would be hard find a less gay friendly denomination - particularly under the current Nazi Pope (not that the less than sainted John Paul II was any better). For me, the concurrent timing of the explosion of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in 2001-2002 made it easy since it highlighted the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the Church's leadership. In my case, I found the ELCA to be a much better church home for me. While it's not perfect, it is far better than remaining in a denomination that calls me "inherently disordered."

3. Related to the second item, if you are from a strong religious background, do your own reading and research. There are many other interpretations of the Bible besides the ones claimed by the anti-gay Christianists. In addition, do some reading on Bible history and you will soon learn that there were all kinds of political and non-religious issues that shaped the Bible. It's not inerrant and it's not the literal word of God, so learn the historical facts to throw back in your detractors' faces (it will have the added bonus of driving them crazy). John Shelby Spong has a great book called Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture

4. Get a good therapist. It's most unlikely that you can make the coming out journey all alone. In my case, I found two great individuals. The first, who is actually an ordained Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D. in psychology, helped me deal with the religious guilt issue. The second helped me come to see that there was a future even after a horrific divorce where I was largely put on trial for being gay. Leaving you former life is not easy - especially when you do not know what will ultimately replace it. If you don't like one therapist, then find a different one who can help you with the transition.

5. Make gay friends - and not just the bar or chat room crowd. Better yet, get involved in some gay causes and organizations where - based on my experience - you will meet some amazing people. Getting to know them and observing how at peace they are with themselves and who they are will help you to further let go of the indoctrination you have received in terms of what gays are like. I can honestly say that I have met more truly genuine and decent people in the gay community since I have come out than I knew in my closeted life in my artificial and supposedly perfect former neighborhood and social circles.

6. If possible, live your life totally out. Remaining semi-closeted be it at work or with family will continue to subconsciously tell you that being gay is bad. After all, the message you receive is that being gay is so bad that your boss/fellow employees will not want you around. Likewise, thinking that "it'll kill my parents" or that "they won't love me anymore" is giving yourself a constant message that it's wrong to be gay. Admittedly, I was lucky in that my entire extended family accepted me and treated my ex-partner as part of the family. They are likewise embracing the new boyfriend. As the father of three children, I cannot understand any parent who would disown their child because they are gay. If your parents were to disown you, remember that they, not you, have a problem.

7. If you feel anger at times, do not direct it at your self. Harness it for constructive purposes whether it be in working on gay rights causes, writing a blog (which I find to be good therapy), getting involved in an LGBT chamber of commerce or community group - or founding one if there isn't one in your area as I did with Hampton Roads Business OutReach ("HRBOR") - or something else.

8. Always remember that you are a good, decent person entitled to all the rights and respect that others receive and that the fact that you are gay doesn't change that. The goal is to be able to stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself "I'm gay and that's OK and I'm proud of who I am."

Again, I am no expert, but this approach worked for me - it might even work for George Rekers.


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An extremely good list - one I would add that was important for me personally (especially since I had less religious conditioning so the escaping religion was less vital to me) is - BE ANGRY.

It's ok to be angry. Homophobia, heterosexism and plain old straight privilege are WRONG and it's ok to be angry about that. It's REASONABLE to be angry about it. It's right to be angry at being treated as less.

Hey Mike-
GREAT article!!! "Reformed Catholic" here so I know where you are coming from!!
My FAVE is number six. My partner and I have been COMPLETELY out for 20 years at work at home and everywhere. The niece and nephews who are in their early 20's..cannot understand homophobia?? WHAT??? It has always been "Uncle Jim and Uncle Dave" We are in rural Ohio and we have spread anti-homophobia everywhere. I can honestly say that I have NEVER had anything negative happen..it has all been positive. I think people appreciate honesty. Seriously, it spreads like wildfire. If more people would come out and tell their stories then homophobia would evaporate.
I did a rant on this on YouTube last fall:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCB5pJEVjnk
Thanks,
Jim

Hey Mike-
GREAT article!!! "Reformed Catholic" here so I know where you are coming from!!
My FAVE is number six. My partner and I have been COMPLETELY out for 20 years at work at home and everywhere. The niece and nephews who are in their early 20's..cannot understand homophobia?? WHAT??? It has always been "Uncle Jim and Uncle Dave" We are in rural Ohio and we have spread anti-homophobia everywhere. I can honestly say that I have NEVER had anything negative happen..it has all been positive. I think people appreciate honesty. Seriously, it spreads like wildfire. If more people would come out and tell their stories then homophobia would evaporate.
I did a rant on this on YouTube last fall:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCB5pJEVjnk
Thanks,
Jim

ARGH..sorry it appeared twice..jsohio has some computer issues!! :) Anyways..thanks for such a GREAT and informative article-the best I have seen about coming out in a LONG time!!! We need more Michaels in this world!
Jim

Thank-you Mike,

Your article was really encouraging. Being authentic with your sexual identity can be so hopeless. I'm newly out, just graduated from college, and moving to LA. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming to leave behind the life and people I've clung to for so many years. I have an identity with those I know, a persona I've lived, outwardly displayed, and tried to internalize for so long. But I know that person just isn't me. What irks me is that even if I want to try to find myself apart from my religious, closeted, life, I'm not sure where to begin.

Who am I apart from all the things that hold me back? It's like I don't know who I am without the stuff that I need to leave behind to be true to myself.

I suppose it should be liberating, knowing that I can make myself whatever I want to be...but right now it's just paralyzing. I'm sure it gets easier, and maybe it's simply part of life to be unsure, if it is I just wish that part was over.

I've made my choice to be true to my sexuality and I've followed through with my commitment. But how long does it take to really feel that freedom I know I have?

Excellent.

I think it is important to recognize that the coming out process for mature men is different than it is for younger men. I didn't come out until I was forty. Having lived "straight" for all of the years involved many entanglements, indlucing the church.

But there is hope of deconstructing that old reality and re-constructing a new one.

A. J. Lopp | May 22, 2010 11:37 AM

Although I only took time to skim this post, I can see it is excellent --- and, boy, does the LGBT world need advice like this!

I'm glad to see that, at this point in my life, I am already following all eight of your tips. But I will never totally get rid of internal homophobia, because it gets re-enforced by the world around me daily. But stick with the program anyway.

And by far, #7 and #8 are the hardest tips to follow day-in and day-out.

Chitown Kev | May 22, 2010 3:36 PM

Excelent post.

We often get really caught up in our social/philosophical/political debates here that we forget that lots of LGBT people just coming to terms with their identities and sexualities and genders find this site too. Thanks, Michael.