There is a fairy tale we are all familiar with. A young LGBT person struggles silently with their identity. It’s a battle, a journey, a heroic epic filled with gut wrenching pain and daring feats of self-exploration and acceptance. Eventually the protagonist of our story comes to that climax moment known as “Coming Out” - they tell everyone who they really are. Maybe there is glitter and rainbows and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga playing in the background. Everything after that is supposedly Pride festivals and happy endings. They beat the dragon of heteronormative society. They did it. The struggle is over.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble but that’s not the entire story.
It’s called internalized homophobia and absolutely no one is talking about it but, so far, I see it as everyone’s part two.
The war with ourselves leading up to coming out is a nasty one, and unfortunately that battle leaves scars. We know that people believe it to be a mental illness or unnatural or a choice. After hearing these ideas our entire lives, we believe those things too.
As a young woman in the LDS faith, I denied it for years. Part of it was naivety - not really understanding the feelings I was having. But the other part, a bigger part, was those beliefs of it being wrong and unnatural. I strongly believed I had a sex disorder. Sometimes I wondered if it was from that time I fell off the counter and hit my head at two years old. Or maybe I am possessed by demons... that’s what my Sunday school teacher told me anyway.
It sounds silly and I know it but I had no frame of reference for it being any other way. In order to combat these ideas I found logical reasons, research, and personal stories that confirmed all these opinions were simply not true. As time progressed, I became hopeful that as I continually came out to people these beliefs and ideas would fade away. Eventually, I would be 100% okay with who I am and this little part of my identity.
This quest for self-acceptance even led me to my current position as the LGBTQA+ program coordinator. I was, and still am, eager to help others who are struggling with this very thing. I sit across from students who struggle with their identity while trying to hold on to their faith and I grieve with them. I know how difficult that process is. The outcome is always unknown.
I am here to report that I still battle my own homophobia. There were times when I would be cuddled up with a girl I was dating and suddenly a voice in my head would say “Wow. You’re gross. This isn’t right.” There are times where I look at my partner now, who is a man, and think “Bisexuality isn’t real. That must have been a phase”, or “You just like sex so much that you’ll do it with anyone”.
I question my identity all the time because of those harmful and toxic ideas I learned about myself as I was growing up. Even though I know it’s perfectly alright, I’m perfectly alright, they persist.
But, what sucks the most about internalized homophobia is that the mere idea of talking about it with someone, anyone, is so terrifying because I’m worried my own doubt will cause others to doubt or really dig into their own homophobia.
I mean, if I’m second guessing myself, what stops the other person from second guessing me? I fought with myself and others for so long to claim this identity, claim this pride in myself - I don’t want any of that struggle to be invalidated. Are my students going to trust me or take me seriously? Will my family just play it off as a cry for attention or something fake?
Enough is enough.
I want to talk about my self-doubt and these stupid, harmful ideas that are stuck in my head. I want to stop feeling alone in my struggle for self-acceptance. I want my students and my friends and my community to know I am right here with you. I haven’t figured it out either.
This is not just an LGBT thing. It’s not just about internalized homophobia. We all have something about ourselves that we are struggling to claim. We are all fighting to become who we truly are in a world that loves conformity and status quo. We all want that identity that is ours and ours alone. And we want that identity to be validated by others and most importantly ourselves.
I believe that if we all took a moment to realize that we are all struggling with our own self-acceptance, and that our “self” is fluid and ever changing, we could bridge so many gaps and disparities in our community. We could finally come to terms that we are ever-growing souls with stories of struggle and triumph and sadness and joy.
I want that to be the narrative. To recognize there are multiple climaxes. Multiple struggles. Multiple sides and ideas and anecdotes and reasons to cry/laugh/scream.
I need to remind myself that my story does not end and neither does my struggle. That this very thing is what makes life so unbelievably amazing. I must break away from the fairy tale expectations, appreciate the good days where I am sure and steady, and become vulnerable and honest when I’m not.
I invite you to do the same.
Will you join me?