Internalized Homophobia Meaning: How to Overcome Shame and Self-Hatred

Internalized Homophobia – Unlock Your Real Self

Is Internalized Homophobia Real or Are You Imagining It?

Oh yes it’s certainly real! Many of us have experienced it in some shape or form, some more closely than others; maybe it happened within ourselves or our closest closeted friends. Unfortunately, internalized homophobia is not a fruit of our imagination, and fortunately we are mentally sound.

We were thinking clearly when we were bullied in school, and as a result we felt ugly and worthless on the inside for being secretly attracted to our classmate, to our same sex best friend.

And we are still thinking clearly when we are haunted by the thoughts and beliefs of others around us. We are programmed by the prejudices of people who have conditioned us with their narrow minded idea that being lesbian and gay is wrong. Perhaps the conditioning was gentle and subtle or it could have been loud and strong. Yet no doubt today many of us still feel ashamed within ourselves to publicly hold hands with someone else.

What Is Internalized Homophobia?

Internalized homophobia is when a lesbian or gay person was told homophobic myths and stereotypes about themselves, and then believes them to be true. Internalized homophobia is the self loathing and shame that gay people often feel toward themselves.

Due to growing up learning or absorbing the ephemeral idea that being attracted to the same sex is a sin or a bad thing, gay people often feel self loathing and shame toward themselves. This is internalized homophobia which is extremely common in the LGBTQ+ community, as many of us are dealing with it to some degree. Why take society’s condemnations on board when we don’t even agree with them?

What Does It Feel Like to Experience Internalized Homophobia?

  • It feels like wanting to hide rather than revealing to a new friend that you’re a lesbian or gay.
  • It feels like being self conscious about how you act, “Do I look, speak and move feminine or masculine enough? Does my girlfriend act and look feminine enough? Does my boyfriend sound and act masculine enough?”
  • It feels like not daring to hold your partner’s hand in public even when you know it’s safe to do so.
  • It feels like performing the straight character role in the horror movie of your life. It’s growing up not really knowing who you are or what you desire and need because you’re pretending to be the perfect person that you believe everyone wants you to be.

From a Queer womans’ perspective, internalized homophobia feels like:

  • Avoiding to hug your friends for fear that people will think that you’re trying to make a move on them.
  • Telling your friends you’re disgusted by the idea of two women having sex. Not realizing you’ve been subconsciously programmed to believe LGBTQ+ people are either mentally ill or evil because it’s abnormal, and you’re defending those false claims and outdated beliefs simply to convince yourself and others that you’re not one of them. “No, me I’m straight”, that’s what you claim to be. Yet, deep down you know how much you repress your embarrassment when uncontrollable feelings arise in you when you’re around someone of the same sex that you fancy, when you feel chemistry and you stare at their body parts… those you shouldn’t be seen staring at. And now you hope to God that nobody noticed, “God, am I a lesbian? No I can’t be! Please don’t let me be gay.” Soon after, you’re laughing it off, “I must be crazy, they are not my type, I am so NOT gay!”
  • Declaring, “I’m not gay, so why would I care about fighting for gay marriage?” While you are secretly following your country’s marriage equality case and LGBTQ+ rights progress in the news as you are dreaming about a world where you could hold hands everywhere you go and safely in public without feeling inner subtle shame, and without a lingering fear. Nonetheless, after your news scrolling session is over, you clear your browsing history and remove any trace of your true self because you’ve made a pact with yourself of never telling anyone of your gayness. Internalized homophobia feels like swallowing yourself whole with the intention of never emerging. That’s why you disguise joy by wearing long hair and dresses that feel like costumes instead of the masculine clothing and short hair style you are really drawn to. Because, if you were to do so, that would prove the rumors about you being gay as true, and you don’t want to risk that.
  • Trying to boost your failing straight woman profile, you have even laughed when your brother shouted “FAG!” out of the window to a passer by. Sometimes you even think that you should live only if you are straight and you hate yourself for existing. You’re also disgusted by the stereotype image of the lesbian; low voice, overweight, car keys clipped to belt loop with climbing carabiner clip, short hair, short nails, Carhartt baggy jeans and Docs.
  • With the lights off, you’re listening to “Tracy Chapman – Fast Car” on low volume and you’re praying that your family won’t hear.
  • Coming out of the closet: you went through a string of failed attempts at relationships with the opposite sex, but now you’ve finally met the lover you’ve been waiting for all your life. You’re so in love, you desire to scream it from the rooftops. At long last… you want the world to know who you really are. The thing is your sweetheart happens to be of the same sex, and in certain situations, this makes you feel uncomfortable.

At the same time you are not completely honest about that fact. You struggle to be completely intimate with your partner because the internalized homophobia in the back of your mind is whispering at you at the most inopportune moments; when you’re in public, when your parents come around unexpectedly, or when your partner wants to move in with you… Suddenly you need some space to breathe and more time to think. How can you think clearly with a non-stop self talk that is programmed to remind you that what you’re doing is wrong? By facing the fact that you can’t hide from it.

By facing the fact that your partner is left devastated each time you don’t fight the self-talk, and submit to the homophobic coercive influence of society because of your fear of disappointing your family. After all, you walked that path for so long, for years you perfected your straight speeches, moves and looks to be accepted and perceived as “normal”.

Perhaps, at times you do think clearly in some snapshots of your life you realize that when you tried to run away from your demons, you were chasing your own tail. You were stuck in the middle of a three-way war, as your emotions fought against your beliefs which fought against your self-hatred. You tried to despise your gayness so forcefully as if it would make it go away. Eventually, you realized you couldn’t kill your gayness without killing yourself too, so you decided to accept and love both facets of yourself instead.

So you started working through all those suppressed feelings, and entangled the rotten dreams that were waiting for you to wake up and see that to stand up for yourself is the only way to truly feel love and pride.

Now you know, nobody else can love you until you love yourself. Meanwhile, someone is out there for you and they are also feeling incomplete without you. Trust in that knowledge, for they are the one who can authentically love you and all your inhibitions exactly as you are.

Is It Possible To Be Gay and Homophobic Too?

Yes, unfortunately it is. Although it’s getting better, internalized homophobia isn’t at all uncommon. In fact, some of the most homophobic people turn out to be gay. They angrily protest about homosexuality because they’re in denial about their own sexuality. As if by tormenting gay people’s lives, they’re somehow proving how not gay they are.

We’ve seen it expressed by some preachers and politicians who publicly criticize homosexuality and even campaign against it, and then we found out that those people had hidden homosexual affairs.

“It is time that mental health establishments and major universities invest ample resources to better understand the devastating effects of internalized homophobia and its societal consequences. I’m no expert, but I have observed enough anti-gay activists in person to believe that a sizable portion is gay. I also believe that suppressing their sexual orientation has possibly led, in some cases, to mental health issues.

How else do you explain men like Rekers who are obsessed with homosexuality and have written thousands of pages denouncing homosexuality – and then turn around and hire young male sex workers? It seems they can’t stamp out their own desires, so they lash out at the entire LGBTQ+ community. 

It is difficult to accept, but the majority of anti-gay bigotry may be a product of those who do not accept themselves.” Excerpt from: George Rekers Delusional Downfall Is A Familiar Tale.

“As we grow up we are taught the values of our society. In our homophobic, heterosexist, discriminatory culture, we may learn negative ideas about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. Like everyone else, LGBTQ+ people may be socialized into thinking that being non-heterosexual is somehow “mad”, “bad”, “wrong” or “immoral”. This can lead to feelings of self-disgust and self-hatred. These feelings can lead to “internalized homophobia” also known as “internalized oppression”.

Internalized homophobia manifests itself in varying ways that can be linked to mental health. Examples include:

Denial of your sexual orientation to yourself and others.

Attempts to alter or change your sexual orientation.

Feeling you are never good enough.

Engaging in obsessive thinking and/or compulsive behaviors.

Under-achievement or even over-achievement as a bid for acceptance.

Low self esteem, negative body image.

Contempt for the more open or obvious members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Contempt for those at earlier stages of the coming out process.

Denial that homophobia, heterosexism, biphobia or sexism are serious social problems.

Contempt for those that are not like ourselves or contempt for those who seem like ourselves. 

Sometimes distancing by engaging in homophobic behaviors – ridicule, harassment, verbal or physical attacks on other LGBTQ+ people.

Projection of prejudice onto another target group.

Becoming psychologically abused or abusive or remaining in an abusive relationship.

Attempts to pass as heterosexual, sometimes marrying someone of the other sex to gain social approval or in hope of ‘being cured’.

Increased fear and withdrawal from friends and relatives.

Shame or depression; defensiveness; anger or bitterness.

School truancy or dropping out of school. Also, workplace absenteeism or reduced productivity.

Continual self-monitoring of one’s behaviors, mannerisms, beliefs, and ideas.

Clowning as a way of acting out society’s negative stereotypes.

Mistrust and destructive criticism of LGBTQ+ community leaders.

Conflicts with the law.

Separating sex and love, or fear of intimacy. Sometimes low or lack of sexual drive or celibacy.

Substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs.

Thinking about suicide, attempting suicide, death by suicide.

We can see how internalized homophobia affects many on online LGBTQ+ forums with people asking questions such as: how to stop themselves from being gay and how to change their sexual orientation because they hate being gay. It’s highly likely, we’ve also all met gay people in our own lives who are not in denial and are proud of their sexuality, and still they are homophobic.” Excerpt from:

Sadly, in the gay community, there is also some condescension for effeminate men, and that is called “Sissyphobia”, which is a form of homophobia that intersects with sexism; a wicked mix of the two. And this is the true shame, because we should all know better.

How To Cope With Internalized Homophobia?

Find a therapist or counselor who can help you realize that there is nothing wrong with you.

Develop some friendships with like minded gay and lesbians, ideally locally or at least online.

Move somewhere more LGBTQ+ friendly; immerse yourself in an environment that is accepting of people like you, where being gay is normal, where you can be authentically you.

Until you can get into a more supportive environment, online videos, blogs of inspirational LGBTQ+ stories and communities can bring you some relief from bouts of anxiety. Also check out The Trevor Project if things get too much at times.

You can write a lot about your experiences and make drawings related to your feelings. These are healthy ways to release traumatic or upsetting experiences through creativity.

“Pride is the opposite of shame.” Quote by James Finn.

Remind yourself that you are gay and that it’s totally fine. There is nothing wrong with you. Remember: it’s OK to be gay! So take pride in it. With time and work, you can overcome this by slowly accepting yourself. The sooner you feel you can be yourself and not hide who you are, the sooner you start to heal. Good luck on your journey of self acceptance and stay safe.

Scroll to Top