Recently my friend, Shirley McMillan, asked me to write a few words about internalized homophobia. As someone who spent nearly 20 years in conversion therapy, I know firsthand how toxic self-hatred can be, especially when it is scaffolded by external hatred towards LGBTQ people.
For too long we have lived in a society that has treated us with contempt and shame. It is like they are hurling emotional bacteria at us, and that stuff is highly contagious. Just like a bug that gets spreads in a community, we can pick up homophobia at home, in school, on the bus, or even when hanging out with a friend. And like a computer virus, we can get it when we go on-line.
This contempt and shame is fueled by fear. That is how it gets its power. I got infected when I was young to the point I hated my own body. If there was any indication I was gay or expressed any gender differences, in the way I talked or walked, I hated myself all the more. Fear kept me in hiding and the terror of rejection from society gave the contempt and shame a breeding ground to grow.
Instead of fighting against it, I began to fight myself and beat up on my sexuality and my differences. If it went on much longer, I imagine I would have begun to attack other LGBTQ people too. Hurting people hurt people.
What contempt and shame hate the most is light—when we talk to each other about this stuff, suddenly contempt, shame, and fear begin to lose their power. When we learn about other LGBTQ people, their accomplishments, their strengths, their beauty, and their heroes’ journeys, we begin to feel proud of our people and by extension we begin to value and appreciate ourselves. Their example provides us with a path for our own liberation and self-celebration.
The Black gay poet, Langston Hughes is someone who experienced both homophobia and racism. He knew what it was like to be bullied and left out, and miraculously he refused to turn that hurt inward. In a world that devalued him, he found great value in himself and his people. In his poem, I, Too, he wrote:
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
Another source of inspiration I find is in reading fiction. Reading the work of queer authors like Octavia Butler, Truman Capote, and James Baldwin draws me into the world of imagination and gives me space to think of new realities.
Shirley McMillan recently published a novel that has a very pro-LGBTQ theme to it. Every Sparrow Falling addresses one community’s intolerance, and like in her book, The Unknowns, she provides models of loving, supportive, affirming, and liberated society.
What about you? In your journey of self-acceptance, liberation, and self-celebration, what have been sources of inspiration?