The phrase, internalized homophobia, sounds like such a clinical term for something that is so insidious and works within so many gay men.
“Internalized homophobia refers to negative stereotypes, beliefs, stigma, and prejudice about homosexuality and LGBT people that a person with same-sex attraction turns inward on themselves, whether or not they identify as LGBT.”
Growing up in the 1970s, the things I read about homosexuality conjured a world that I did not want to be part of. In my teens and twenties, I felt the world of homosexuals was something seamy and on the margins of society. Men picked up other men through furtive meetings in rest stops, parks, and bars. Cruising had a language all its own that I found difficult to navigate. Love was not part of the picture, it was all about sex.
As a young man, I thought would have to work in the theater or some other gay appropriate job if I were to come out. This began, at age 15, my desire to find a way to change from homosexuality, and led to years of wasted therapy and hiding.
Now, in my mid-50’s, I have come out fully in my life and done battle with my fears and old buried beliefs about the gay world in order to do so. But I should not forget the power of all the years in hiding, and how remnants of those years live on within me.
For so many years gay men were made to feel deeply ashamed for who they were by a society that found their lives and sexual practices abhorrent. Last week, sitting at the HRC National Dinner with 3,500 other guests, the power and beauty of who we are in 2015 was clearly evident. The keynote speaker was Vice President Joe Biden and he spoke movingly and beautifully. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, was presented with HRC’s Visibility Award and gave a powerful acceptance speech. Ellen Page, who received the HRC Vanguard Award, also spoke beautifully.
For me the power of the evening was palpable. The wave of support for LGBTQ from the Vice President and the other business, sports, and arts leaders made clear that the corners of our soul that still feel shame at our same-sex attractions were false gods that need to be wiped away.
When I came out at work in April of 2014 many people told me how much they respected my courage. For me, it was not about courage, but rather it was about honesty, integration, and healing. I desperately felt that I needed to be an integrated human being, no longer divided with a hidden personal life and a different public life. But as I learned recently as I planned to bring my boyfriend home to meet my parents, there remained hidden depths of fear and shame that I still needed to do battle with.
It is not easy to wipe away forty years of hiding who you are. Even though I have come out in all parts of my life, I know there are ‘fear hills’ I still need to climb. That, in part, is why I want to be involved in the LGBTQ world in Washington, D.C. The HRC National Dinner is one of many examples where the power and the beauty of our lives come through with a roar and fights the hidden parts of our soul that might still harbor remnants of shame and homophobia.