You are sitting in front of your mum at the kitchen table, unable to look at her, hands shaking, covering your face, telling her you are bisexual.
Sure, your mum is surprised, but she doesn’t judge you for this; to be honest, she doesn’t know why you are making such a big deal about this whole situation. She sits and watches you confused.
You can’t really judge her for her confusion, because you’re not really sure what your whole “deal” is either. You have the most accepting family in the world: a family who knows that you are your own person and whoever you are with does not define you. So why do you have to tell her?
You want her to know because not telling her makes you feel like you are keeping a secret as if you are ashamed.
The recent realisation that you are bi has shown you a person you don’t recognise, someone you don’t know. You couldn’t care less what gender your friends or anyone else is attracted to and who they sleep with, so why do you feel so much shame about yourself?
But it’s not only shame. You feel betrayed. This is internalised homophobia.
It would honestly be so much easier if you didn’t care so much; if you could just look on the surface of things instead of always thinking, overthinking. Playing back in your mind over and over again the negative words that people have said about LGB people, which you let wash over you. Not knowing that they weren’t washing over, they were being absorbed.
Looking back, you thought you’d dealt with this years ago. Coming to the conclusion that you were straight. You had become comfortable with the person you presented, but now you have to go through this all again and figure out who you are.
However, you need to remember that your identity is not just your sexuality. You may not recognise yourself right now, but you know you still hold the same morals you did two days ago; you still care about your friends and family. You are still you.
This was and still is my battle with internalised homophobia. The thoughts I have been scared to share, nervous about people I know finding out.
There is no one definition for internalised homophobia, so after scouring the internet, I have cobbled together a description which I think best sums up my experience: the involuntary belief by someone that their own sexuality is somehow wrong or abnormal, which is a result of external attitudes in society being internalised. This can cause the development of self-hatred and self-loathing.
It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, but it is very real.
This shame can be felt by many LGB people. Whilst some remedy this issue by coming out, many still struggle with it for years after. Some deal with it for their whole lives. It causes you to worry about your sexuality and it always creeps up on you when you just want to think about nothing. It comes out of nowhere — loud, but definitely not proud.
This internalised state is discussed as being the result of a person’s home life. But our home life is no longer just the people we live with. It is our family, friends, organisations we are a part of and worst of all, the internet. Sure, the internet can be a place of support, but as the lead up to Australia’s same-sex marriage plebiscite showed us, it can be a place of cruel vitriol and a source of bringing immense shame to those who are still oddly seen as different.
Internalised homophobia is thankfully not as common as it was even just a few years ago, because same-sex attraction is becoming increasingly normalised. However, even if society changes its attitudes overnight to overwhelmingly positive and supportive of LGB people (a girl can dream), internalised homophobia can continue to grow, as it has the ability to self-generate. Especially if someone is not only ashamed of their sexuality, but ashamed of suffering from internalised homophobia.
Another factor contributing to women’s struggle with internalised homophobia is that there is a pressure on us to not only embrace our sexuality, but to celebrate it. This celebration does not come naturally to everyone. For some, this is overcome with time and growing up, but for others, we don’t ever fully celebrate it. This adds another weight of shame to a situation where there is no need nor want for any.
Internalised homophobia has been linked to loneliness, depression and suicide. According to research conducted in the United States, LGB people are three times more likely to experience mental illness than those who identify as straight. So why is this issue not discussed more? We are in a country which no longer persecutes someone based solely on their sexual orientation, and same-sex marriage has finally been legalised. The positive social attitudes towards LGBTI+ people in Australia may not be perfect, but they are improving.
Maybe if I knew this was an issue which I wasn’t suffering from alone, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated, but that’s the twisted irony of internalised homophobia: it’s internal, where it can be hidden from the average onlooker.
Cover by Yoav Hornung