Category: heterosexism

Liberation from Internalized LGBTQ Self-Hatred, Homophobia, and Transphobia

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.

Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

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.

Langston Hughes

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:

“ Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
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?

(Featured Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash)

 

The Need for a Straight Pride March & Other Myths.

Over at Facebook I have many different types of friends (like 2200 friends) and of course they have friends who represent many perspectives. Today on a friend’s wall posting about wearing purple in support of LGBT youth two straight folks raised objectives revealing that they felt “bullied” into showing support of gay kids. In frustration one of them said, “We need to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade.” The other agreedMr. & Mrs. Salt & Pepper.

Now I know a lot of straight people. Some of my best friends are heterosexual. In fact, I come from a distinctly heterosexual family that I love. I know that some straight folks feel put upon by all of the recent news about gay. lesbian and transgender suicides and bullying. “Why do we have to hear about THEM all the time?” Hmmmm. Welcome to my world where I constantly have to go out of my way to hear about anything other than straight lives.

Lately I have been thinking of the subtle powerful force of heterosexism, like high blood pressure, I consider it the “silent killer” insistent and constant in its messaging that heterosexuality is NORMAL, the idealized norm, what everyone is expected to be, an identity that is celebrated, rewarded and represented to the exclusion of all others.

Like a low-grade fever or undetected high blood pressure, non-straight, non-gender normative people live with a steady barrage of pro-heterosexual messages mixed in with anti-LGBT messages. Even in US states where they offer “gay marriage” everyone knows it is not the same as a straight marriage because of the federal protections granted to heterosexual couples and denied to all others. But beyond the legal protections or lack of protections in the household, on the job and elsewhere, we get a deluge of pro-straight messages in pop songs, commercials, movies, religious ceremonies, proms–shoot even salt and pepper shakers! I know that there is a growing movement to include LGBT lives and voices in the media and on the agenda of the board of education, but it’s spotty at best and is often drowned out by the heterosexism that exists in almost every encounter silly and sublime.

Here’s an example of straight pride & privilege.

Marueen says, “My husband Bill & I got together w/ our two daughters & their husbands to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and Cindy & Todd’s first baby. At church the pastor said a blessing over the family & we recommitted our vows.”

And everyone says, “Oh, that is so nice.” And it is and there are gifts and cards and photos and public sharing on Facebook and beyond revealing pride and affirmation and celebration of Bill & Maureen’s successful heterosexuality.

Of course most don’t think of Maureen & Bill expressing “Heterosexual Pride.”

It’s just “normal.”

Change is Possible? Of Course!

Exodus International, the ex-gay umbrella organization which is fast fading from any sort of prominence, has often proclaimed the bold and yet obscure mantra, “Change is Possible!” To the many of us who suffered under the weight of homophobia & the pressure from family, friends & society who valued heterosexals over others they treated as sub-classes of human, we wrongly assumed “change” meant transformation from gay to straight. Once on the inside, program leaders informed us that such a change was not actually possible. They have since come out in public with similar statements. We now understand that such a change is not neccesary or healthy to pursue.

The journeys many of us have travelled in churches and with our faith & sexuality took unexpected twists & turns. I look back at that 19 year old I once was in NYC engaged in saving the world beginning with myself, and I recognize myriad changes (extreme thinning of my hair being one of the many physical changes.) My faith, my worldview, my understanding of my sexuality have drastically altered, yet I still see shades of the same person, who in many ways carries the similar values, insecurities & hopes.

Which brings me to some questions for you!

-In looking back on your own odyssey, in what ways have you changed? How have you remained the same?

-If you could send a message back in time to your younger self, what would you say? What advice, insight or encouragement might you share?

Gratitude

This week will mark six years since the premiere of my play, Doin’ time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and the begining of LGBTQ activism that has shaped, challenged and aided me in my own recovery from the Ex-Gay Movement and a life of rotting under the weight of homophobia and heterosexism.

How lovely to walk in the light, to be a peace within myself about who I am and how I am wired, to get beyond the crime of trying to fit in to please other people in the name of God.

Thank God I am gay. What a gift to be given! I once would have sold my soul to be straight. How I begged God to fix me or at least to collude with me to reject a part of me. It proved unecessary. No need for all that violence against myself. I am a man who desires men and who presents in what some say is in a feminine fashion. This is not only normal for me, and many others, but a most excellent way to be wired.

Today as I prepare for my play about transgender Bible characters I experience joy and gratitude.

Another Homeless Gay Teen

About once every six weeks I get an e-mail about a young person in Connecticut who needs a home because their parents no longer want them in the home because the teen is transgender or bisexual or lesbian or gay or even just questioning. Families are complicated, and no doubt other reasons come into play, but in almost every case the deciding factor to eject the child from the home is because they are too queer for mom or dad.

Robin McHaelen, the director of True Colors, sends out the requests via email. I just received one yesterday about a 16 year old lesbian who needed a home (and as a result of Robin’s efforts, the teen has found two homes to choose from!). I just received another request today.

This young man just turned 18. He is bright, responsible, caring and homeless. His mom listened in on the phone last week and heard him come out to someone. The mom’s response was to put him out. He has been staying with a friend since then, but can’t remain. We would love to find him a place in Windsor Locks or very close so he can finish school (He graduates later this month).

(If you live in Connecticut and are queer, you know how to contact Robin).

My mom spoke to me a few times about parents and how I need to be patient with them around LGBT issues. They grew up in different times when it was not imaginable to be a happy, healthy homosexual. And that most queers get the snot beat out of them every other day. This advice has helped me a great deal when speaking with worried parents who fear their children will end up lonely and unhappy and in trouble. These concerned parents often need to hear new stories to replace the assumptions they have.

But I cannot understand a parent who feels so strongly against same-sex attractions and gender differences that s/he would actually push their child onto the streets. Of course not all parents respond the same way. Some force their children onto the streets, others into ex-gay programs, and others keep their sons and daughters within reach.

A friend of mine in Boston has worked a lot with youth and is a licensed sex educator for the Boston Public School system. She said she noticed a pattern in responses by parents of LGBT children when the parent has a problem with having a queer child.

She said among parents who are white, the response has typically been something like, “You might be gay (or lesbian, etc), but not in MY house!” Then they kick their kids out. The young people stay with friends for awhile, going from house to house, but in many cases they end up on the streets. Among Black parents the response is different: “You are not lesbian (or gay, etc) and you are going NOWHERE.” The son or daughter stays in the home, watched carefully and perhaps silenced, but not destitute.

Last week I received an e-mail from a FTM transgender friend of mine. He is still college-age and is only just coming out to his parents. When he shared with them that he is trans and that he hopes to transition, their immediate response was to withdraw all financial support.

Again I understand how a parent may have concerns or be confused or need educating, but to react by impoverishing your offspring troubles me. Is this what we learn from living in a capitalist society that teaches people can and should be manipulated by money? How about talking? How about spending time together trying to understand each others’ needs and concerns? Rather some seek to silence, contain and disenfranchise their loved ones..

I wrote about parents and their fears in my post, Can My Gay Child Change? The short answer is YES. If you treat them like dirt, if you disrespect them and push your agenda on them without opening your heart about your real fears and concerns and listening to theirs, your child will grow distant from you and even hostile. Then when they need you the most, (and you need them) you will have positioned yourself far far away.

Why Did You Even Try to Change?

Ex-gay survivors have many reasons for wanting to change from gay to straight. Some we have never fully articulated, but recently I got to understand yet another reason why I so desperatly sought to change my sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

During this current trip to Europe, I had a long conversation with a conservative Methodist woman from the US (who now lives abroad). I have thought long and hard about the ecounter and after journaling about it some, I decided to write the essence of it here.

After sharng with this women in detail my ex-gay saga–the steps I took, my heart to please God, and the damage the process caused emotionally, psychologically and spiritually–the woman proceded to tell me that she felt the scripture was clear on the matter and that we should not give God a timeline of when we want him to work. She then asked,

But why did you even try to change? Perhaps it was God’s will for you to bear
the burden of your gay feelings as your daily cross. We all have burdens to bear.

ME: Do you realize what you are saying? That I would go all of my life without the prospect for a companion or lover or partner. That I would even have to be concerned about having a male roomate because I might fall in love with him. Do you understand how hard such a life would be?
SHE: God can always do a miracle!

ME: Like change me? See change is essential. If not, you will live your life shut off from intimacy. Look at the Catholic Church and what has happened with so many of the priests.

SHE: I don’t want to look at the Catholic Church.

ME: You need to. They suppressed their sexuality and it came out all twisted. I grew up Catholic and some of the most bitter men I ever met were priests.

You are a divorced heterosexual woman. You may never remarry, but you always have the hope that you will find a nice man and settle down. If not, you can always get a roomate to be a companion to you. But you will deny me that hope and insist that I live a celibate life without a partner, unless of course God does a miracle. I sought God for nearly two decades for that miracle and it nearly destroyed me.

Jesus spoke about this very thing when he condemned the Pharisees saying,

You put burdens on men’s backs that you will not bear yourselves and make them
twice the sons of hell as youselves.

I finally suggested we pray together because I found her words abusive, and we were not getting anywhere. Also, I knew I had to stop the dialogue before it got any further and ugly. I found it difficult because I felt she wasn’t hearing what I had been saying and instead she said many of the same things I told her that I had told myself for years.

We prayed, but I left haunted by the memory of years of hoping, longing, praying for change, knowing instinctively that if it did not come, (and for most I met, it never did) then I looked at the prospect of a lonely lonely life.

Is Change Possible? Is this the Right Question?

People so often ask all the wrong questions. The press has been doing this for years in regards to ex-gay programs.

They display bold headlines, Is Change Possible? Exodus leaders and other Christian spokesmen assert that YES it is possible, while gay activists counter NO it is not possible. And so it goes round and round.

People ask the wrong questions. Few ask, What does this change look like that is supposedly possible? I have spoken with leaders at Exodus in the US and others in South America and Europe. Over and over I hear from them that they understand people with same-sex attractions will most likely have these attractions for the rest of their lives. In many perhaps (most cases?), they will not develop attractions for the opposite sex.

I remember how disappointed I felt when I first heard this at Love in Action, where I attended for two years. I spent 15 years trying to become a new creature in Christ Jesus to then show up in what had long been considered the Cadillac of Ex-Gay Ministries only to find that such a change was not a realistic goal.

So the change is not in orientation but in behavior and identity. Perhaps a tiny percentage insist they shifted in their orientation, which of course is something we have to just take at their word.

When looking at most Exodus testimonies, we hear stories of people who lived as sexually addicted, miserable, lonely, faithless, confused people (who also overindulged in drug and alcohol abuse, illegal activities and unprotected sex). They found Jesus and the church, and they changed their lives.

They became celibate, began to develop healthy relationships, changed their lifestyle–not to a straight one, but to one far less reckless and destructive than their previous life.

This is not exclusive to people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Lots of straight people, (in fact many more than gay folks), pursue irresponsible, reckless, self-destructive lives, and they would do well to change. Most likely they will be happier, healthier and feel closer to God and others once they do (they may find themselves with more money in their pockets too. Decadence is pricey.) So yeah, that sort of change is possible and can be sought after if needed, but one does not need an ex-gay program to do this.

In fact, I believe that over time attending most ex-gay programs prove harmful for most gay people. In many ex-gay programs (and conservative churches) the leaders teach that many of clients’ problems stem from being gay and that even without the reckless lifestyle, they have to daily reject a part of who they are and deny themselves love in the way that makes the most sense and is most authentic to them. These ex-gays will almost always be at war within themselves, a war not sanctioned by the Bible but one declared by the world around them.

Which brings me to the two major questions I rarely hear the press ask or asked by people considering going into an ex-gay program.

Why is change necessary and at what cost?

Sure we can choose to no longer identify as gay. We can deny ourselves relationships with LGBT people. We can even marry someone of the opposite sex and have children. This is no great miracle. Men and women have done this for centuries with and without the help of Jesus.

Why is it necessary to change? Mostly because life would be easier for many of us. Parents would treat us better. Society would gift us with privileges and affirmation. We can feel normal for a change, for a time.

But at what cost? This is one thing that the ex-gay programs never ask. They never follow up to see what happens to people after they have been through programs. They only stay in touch with their successes, who typically have to be quiet about many of their internal struggles.

The ex-gay leaders do not meet the people Christine and I meet through BeyondExGay or the people who pull me aside after one of my talks or shows. The costs of putting ourselves through ex-gay experiences are very very high. In many cases depression, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal tendencies, discouragement and loss of faith all regularly occur for many who have been through ex-gay experiences.

At bXg we say if someone is happy as an ex-gay, that is fine. But such a life was not possible or healthy for us. Also, such a life is not necessary.

Is change possible? Yes, our societies and churches and families and laws can change so that people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same-sex can be fully accepted and affirmed and celebrated just like heterosexuals. This change takes work and love and listening and painful realization, but well worth the effort.

It’s About Heterosexism, Silly

Yesterday was IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia. I celebrated it here in Lund, Sweden at the Smålands Nation student group and did my Homo No Mo play to a packed house. I head off to Umeå in the North to do another presentation.

Exodus International president Alan Chambers wrote a blog entry in support of IDAHO (no not the US state of Idaho but the actual anti-homophobia day).

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia. And, you might be surprised to learn that I support this effort. Homophobia does exist. Irrational fear of those who are gay or lesbian is a real problem in our culture. While I believe we have come a long way, I still see true homophobia at work each and every day.

He concludes,

So, when it comes to the evils of homophobia, bullying, name calling, hatred and violence where those affected by homosexuality are concerned, I stand with all decent human beings who are fighting and praying for an end to the ignorance and ungodliness that cause them.

This is not the first time I heard an Exodus leader (current or former) speak about the mission to inform and reform the often anti-gay church. No doubt when an Exodus member goes into a church to give testimony of their dramatic deliverence from the gay lifestyle, in addition to depicting in details the horrors of that lifestlye, they do challenge some folks to think about gay people as not simply evil and sinful and worthless dangerous human beings.

Ex-gay leaders have confessed to me that they even experience homophobia at times within the churches they attend and the Christian organizations where they work with lots of straight people who either avoid them all together or treat them differently from “normal” men and women.

I imagine it gets confusing for some of the straight folks in the church when they hear messages about how wild and out of control gay people live in our unsaved state coupled with the exortations to treat LGB and maybe even T people a little bit better. This is especially true when leaders, like Alan, on the one hand state he stands “with all decent human beings who are fighting and praying for an end to the ignorance and ungodliness that cause” homophobic attacks, and on the other hand he publicly opposes hate crime legislation that would protect LGBT people (like it protects people attacked because of their religion.)

While I applaud Alan for taking a stand within the church and using his platform in order to point out the prejudice, fear and hatred that exists, in addition to the mixed messages he sends, I think he is missing the point, but then so many of us do when it comes to these issues. I spoke the other day before the screening of Fish Can’t ‘Fly and began my talk by saying,

Heterosexism has affected me much more deeply than homophobia.

I have never been physically attacked by a homophobe and only on a few occasions been verbally assaulted because I am gay, but I suffer the negative effects of heterosexism everyday. Heterosexism most simply defined is the belief that heterosexuality is the preferred, idealized norm for society and anything other is deviant, weird, dangerous and subversive. The people at Wikipedia put it this way,

Heterosexism is a predisposition towards heterosexual people. A related term is Sexual Prejudice, a negative attitude toward someone because of her or his sexual orientation. [1] This bias is not the same as Homophobia, but rather is the discrimination towards or against non-heterosexual behavior due to a cultural or sociobiological bias. Heterosexism suggests that the basis for this bias is not found in the individual per se but rather has a broader cultural or biological basis that results in weighted attitudes towards heterosexuality over other sexual orientations.

While homophobic attacks happen daily, heterosexism happens by the nano second. A young child gets the message over and over again in books, TV ads, teacher’s examples and even heterosexually paired salt & pepper shakers, that anything other than heterosexual pairing is just not right. Growing up in such a world, with virtually no positive examples of same-sex couples, queer and questioning young people begin to develope a negative sense of self and can even grow quite isolated and suicidal within a society where they do not see themselves reflected or accepted.

Heterosexual privilege in our society makes it clear that some citizens are more valuable than others. This not only affects LGBT folks, but also unmarried heterosexuals, particularly women. McGill University’s Equity Subcommittee on Queer People provides a list of how heterosexual privilege works. Of course most heterosexuals do not see these things as special privileges. They just seem normal. Ah, but if you are not heterosexual (or one practicing heterosexuality in a marriage or other romantic relationship) you sense the significance of these privileges. Here is the list of some heterosexual privileges. Heterosexuals…

  • Show affection in public safely and comfortably, without fear of harassment or violence
    Openly talk about one’s partner and relationships to others without considering the consequences
  • Benefit from societal “normalcy”: the assumption that heterosexual individuals and relationships are valid, healthy, and non-deviant
  • Assume that all people and relationships are heterosexual, unless otherwise known
  • Do not face rejection from one’s family and friends because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Easily access positive role models and media images for one’s gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Cannot be asked to speak on behalf of all heterosexuals
  • Use gender specific pronouns when referring to one’s spouse or partner without discomfort or fear of reprisal
  • Have automatic recognition of one’s spouse as next-of-kin in emergencies
  • Easily select reading or viewing materials in which heterosexuality is the predominantly reflected orientation
  • Have families similar to one’s own represented in children’s literature
  • Raise children without fear that they will be rejected or harassed by peers because of their parents’ sexual orientation or gender identities
  • Receive support and validation from a religious community
  • Not risk being denied employment, housing, or other services because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Not be seen as needing therapy to “cure” one’s sexual orientation or gender expression
  • Marry

Standing against name calling and violent acts against homosexuals (as we are known by some) sounds like a good thing for a religious leader to do. But when a leader like Alan Chambers also stands against hate crime legislation and marriage equality for lesbian and gay people, it reveals the hollowness of his words.

True, compared to folks like say, James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, Alan Chamber’s words sound progressive and thoughtful, but words without actions, just like faith without works, and all sorts of fine sounding words without love are really dead, clanging, clashing gongs that do no more than distract and confuse and contribute to the problem.

UPDATE: Do you want to see heterosexism in action? I just read some comments over at Alan’s blog, and Mike Ensley, the assistant to Exodus’ Director of Student Ministries, wrote

The fact is, heterosexuality is innately superior. Only heterosexual partners enjoy the complimentary aspect of their physiology, and only they can produce children.