At what age does one’s internalized homophobia fade away?
I was struck by this thought on the train to work last week. Commuting in London can make one irritable at the best of times. It was one of those days when everything and everyone was annoying me. Including myself.
‘Don’t sit with your legs crossed like that, David. It looks really gay.’
It was the little censorious voice in my head: the one that reminds me to check myself with alarming regularity. Sometimes I listen to it. Sometimes I don’t. Either way, I rarely question its actual presence. It seems to have always been there.
‘Oh, shut up!’ I thought to myself on this occasion. ‘I’m really not in the mood for internalized homophobic bullshit this morning.’
It got me to thinking about the fact that I still find myself feeling awkward or embarrassed about my sexuality at times. I still think twice about behaving in a ‘gay’ way in front of strangers: of catching myself as even labeling things as ‘gay’.
A product of my age and upbringing, I still carry around some of the residual shame that the wider world planted within me when I was a kid. Shouldn’t I be beyond that?
I’ve been ‘out’ to friends and family since the late 1980s. I’ve marched in three decades’ worth of Pride parades. I edited the most widely read gay magazine in the UK for several years and been interviewed on radio and TV about gay issues. And yet – still – I sometimes find myself mentally checking myself over whether I appear ‘too gay’.
I still carry around shame. And I feel incredible shame in admitting that shame.
No wonder I get a little irritated with myself at times.
‘If someone invented a pill to wipe away internalized homophobia, I’d be the first in line for a prescription’
When I was much younger, coming out for the first time, someone asked me, ‘If there was some miracle pill you could take to turn you straight, would you take it?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘I’m happy with the way I am.’
And I am. And yet – never mind PrEP – if someone invented a pill to wipe away internalized homophobia, I’d be the first in line for a prescription.
Why is that internalized anxiety still there? Maybe because homophobia is still there. And because we can still perhaps never predict how someone might react to finding out the fact that one is gay. Because we place undue importance on their opinion of us, we want to control how they find out’ disclosing when we think it’s safe.
And aside from the wider world, gay men are also quite good at being in homophobic to one another – attacking those they think are ‘letting the side down’; being too camp, loud or sex-obsessed (as if acting upon sexual impulses is the preserve of gay men only).
And because I care just a damn too much about what other people think of me.
So I find myself agonizing over the way I sit. Or what I post on social media. Or maybe what I choose to wear or how I decorate my home. And much of it is down to that stupid little homophobic voice inside my head.
To clarify: When I talk about internalized homophobia, it’s directed inward, at myself, not outward to others. I salute and admire all those with the nerve or obliviousness to live their lives as they please without giving two hoots to the judgments of others.
My pondering leads me to a little experiment. The next time I catch myself criticizing my thoughts or behavior with ‘that’s so gay’; I correct myself to ‘that’s so David’.
They are, after all, my desires and preferences – why externalize them in a box called ‘gay’? Why not own them?
As a psychological act of reclamation, it proves surprisingly powerful. Two days later, I’m sat talking to someone I barely know. We’re at a center where we both do occasional voluntary shifts in the evening. We’re grabbing a break and asking questions to find out a little bit more about each other. I’m exhausted after a very long day at work. I’m slouched, legs crossed, head cocked sideways in my hand.
My poise reminds me of that famous poolside photo of Faye Dunaway the morning after she scooped her 1977 Oscar.
And I suddenly find myself thinking – about the pose and the fact I so effortlessly conjured up a Faye Dunaway reference – ‘So gay’.
Instead, I correct myself: ‘So David’.
Suddenly, my self-consciousness dissipates. I continue to slouch, relaxed.
How exhausting it must be to constantly check one’s self and mannerisms
It makes me angry and it makes me sad that gay people still tie themselves up in knots like this.
Some people appear to be completely unshackled by such internalized bullshit. If you’re one of them, I envy you.
Others are shackled to a far greater degree. I have friends who are still not out to their families, although – admittedly – those families tend to have ties to countries and cultures that are all the more condemning of LGBTI life. How much louder and more restrictive those censorious voices in their head must sound. How exhausting it must be to constantly check one’s self and mannerisms.
At what age does it fade away? I don’t think it does until you make a conscious decision to start ignoring that little voice in your head.
God knows there’s already enough homophobia in the world. You don’t want to be adding to it. Not to yourself.