is internalized homophobia hijacking your health?

It gets better, doesn’t it? It’s true that outright homophobia may be rare in large metropolitan cities like Toronto, but many of us guys who like guys might still deal with internalized homophobia. To raise awareness of this issue, OurSpace held a workshop to discuss its negative effects and how we may combat it.

What is internalized homophobia?

Defined as “the involuntary belief” by gay people that the homophobic stereotypes about them are true, internalized homophobia comes from forming our identities in a society where heterosexuality is considered “the norm.” When the world constantly sends us messages that we are “less than” because we’re not heterosexual, we can internalize these messages and come to believe them on a certain level, even if only subconsciously.  


Racism and Sexism

Internalized homophobia can be compounded by other factors, such as racism and sexism. For example, because of the overwhelming presence of white gay men in LGBTQ and mainstream media, queer people of colour can sometimes feel invisible – even in queer spaces.

Sexist devaluing of male femininity can lead some guys to hyper-masculinity or muscularity as a self-defense mechanism. Self- or community-policing around gender can follow, so that we make sure our clothes, mannerisms, or friends aren’t “too fem.”  “Masc for masc” on dating apps is a prime example.

A creative exercise had us think about what our bodies define for us in our lives.

Effects of Internalized Homophobia

Research shows that internalized homophobia can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, as well as eating disorders or substance abuse issues.  It can also influence guys to engage in riskier sex (because “aggressive tops don’t wear condoms”), or severely impair our ability to build healthy, intimate relationships with other guys.

Combatting Internalized Homophobia

What are some of the ways we can avoid these negative outcomes?  Taking the time to get to know your real self is one powerful strategy to overcome internalized homophobia. It’s a challenging, evolving, life-long process, but the rewards are worth it.  When you know yourself, you don’t allow others to tell you who you are. Living authentically can also be “everyday activism” – it makes space for others to live outside of restrictive gender and sexual norms.  Celebrating all body types – sculpted or not – also encourages more diversity and creates “possibility models.”

Seek Support and Community

Many of us find our true selves by surrounding ourselves with the friends, groups, and communities that support and empower us.  Research shows that being proud of your gay, bisexual, or queer identity can be powerful protection against the harmful effects of internalized homophobia.  Looking outside of the bar to find the diversity of queer communities out there can help us find ourselves and our tribes. Undergoing counselling or therapy might also be a factor, as homophobia and heterosexism can affect your mental health.    

Having this discussion allowed the guys to recognize how far they’ve come in their lives, and to consider what role they could play in building community for themselves and others.

We hope to see you at our upcoming Pride Picnic on June 25!

Written by Liam McElheron

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