Pride, Joy, and Unconditional Belonging: Healing Internalized Homophobia
Updated: Jun 23
Religious roots... the beginning of internalized homophobia
I grew up steeped in religion. From kindergarten to eighth grade I went to a religious school in a very small town in rural Minnesota. The kind of religious that teaches kids that homosexuality is at the top of a short list of the worst sins one could ever commit, right next to murder. So when I realized that I was queer as a sophomore in college, there was a bit to unpack.
I knew that love couldn't possibly be wrong, and I held tightly to this belief as I communicated with my parents, my parent's pastor, and with myself. See, the problem is that when you're raised to believe a certain kind of person is bad, and then you find yourself to be that person, something has to give.
Many queer folks raised to believe that homosexuality is wrong, hold a dual belief system within themselves. One says that love can't be wrong, that who we are on the inside is exactly right, and that all the other people in the world that are different in same way, can't all be bad. This is internal wisdom... Truth with a capital "T".
The other, says that who you are must be bad and wrong since so much of the world believes it to be so. This is external worldly thought... truth with a lower case "t".
It is complicated and painful to hold both of these belief systems side-by-side, a constant, silent inner battle.
The hardest part about this whole process of coming out and coming to terms with the complexity of who I really am, was the distance it seemed to create and highlight in so many aspects of my life.
There were a great many kinds of distance.
The distance within myself...
This was the great divide between my heart and how I perceived the religiously shaped mind of American culture to see me... and consequently how I came to see myself.
The distance that made it feel impossible for me to talk about my relationships with friends or family if I wasn't saying something positive...
This feeling of needing to hide any imperfection in my queer relationships for fear they would be seen as inferior, fated for doom, and of course, simply a giant mistake. This carefully constructed set of self-imposed rules actually led me to stay in unhealthy relationships longer than I might have otherwise done, second guess my own desires, and further isolate myself from others.
The expanding distance from other people...
The biggest way the distance effected me was to continue to foster a growing sense of not belonging in the world. Being bullied as a kid did a number on me in this regard, but adding the pressure of coming out and seeing the shrinking spaces that would accept me for even more reasons, contributed as well. This growing sense of not belonging now moved into previously familiar spaces of home and the family church.
The distance from the larger global community...
This distance had an effect on how I saw myself in the world, and how safe I felt in being me everywhere I went. Seeing and hearing people argue and protest people who are being true to themselves, has a heart-wrenchingly divisive effect. It made me feel both separate and unwanted as part of the larger whole.
Silence isn't safety
I still find myself deeply aware of the reactions from others almost every time I come out to someone I don't know. I use the word wife in conversation, and then I brace myself for a sudden distance between us while hoping for continued connection. A constant cycle of coming out... bracing for their hate while hoping that it never comes.
As queer people, we don't just come out to our families, we are confronted with that choice over and over throughout our lives. The thing is, I find it impossible to only invite the acceptable parts of myself to dinner.
That is, however, what many people, even in my family, would've preferred. The queer part of me makes some people uncomfortable.
But silence doesn't keep you safe.
In fact, it has the opposite effect, damaging you from the inside.
Illness and internalized homophobia
I worked with a client and discovered that her internalized homophobia was one of the root causes of her chronic illness. In working together, I asked her if she hated herself because the world hated her for being gay. Without skipping a beat she said, "oh, yes, of course." In fact, she had simply considered this inner hate, her inner normal, not realizing that she didn't have to feel this way.
You see, these beliefs were so entrenched. By the time she realized who she was attracted to, she already had a clear understanding that the world hated gay people. Her mind's logical conclusion was to hate herself.
We need to belong
Belonging is one of the single most important needs we have as humans. We are born into a family and need to know that we are safe and loved unconditionally. If there are cracks in this belief system or if love or safety is conditional on how we behave, our physical bodies will reflect this lack of love in lots of ways ranging from illness to addiction. In truth, our need for love and safety... for unconditional belonging, is one of the primary drives in each of our lives.
Unconditional love is healing... you can feel it. In my experience, the lack of unconditional love, is actually detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
When someone grows up in a community of any kind and belonging is conditional on what you do or don't do, believe or don't believe, you are no longer in deep connection with those around you, but in a barter system of sorts for your safety and their acceptance... their tolerance.
When you are in this barter system for love, you are then no longer operating in your parasympathetic nervous system on a regular basis, calm and at ease with all that life hands you, knowing you are safe and loved. Instead, you are in fear and constant worry, having to somehow earn love. When you've been "good" you rest back into your parasympathetic nervous system for a bit, and then, just as quickly, find that you've moved back into your sympathetic nervous system, again feeling the need to earn more love, since it is conditional on your behavior.
When your so called "behavior" (which turns out to be who you are at your core simply being lived out in real time), is something that much of society looks down on, deep rifts and chasms can form in a person, believing that love will never be given or received without conditions and that safety will never truly be felt.
No one wants to be tolerated.
Everyone wants to be loved... for who and what they are... just as they are. There is a huge difference between tolerance and love. Why then, would we ask for anything less than unconditional love?
Tapping into true belonging
After working with the client I mentioned above, I realized that I too had some work to do in this realm. Her release was so powerful and the language I used in tapping with her was actually quite simple. I used similar language for myself as I tapped... weaving in my feelings of not belonging, the religious rhetoric from my history, and all the ways I'd turned the world's hate on myself. It left me with a feeling of peace and a deeper sense of unconditional love for myself. It was truly healing.
I used this work as the basis for my Pride and Joy program. Pride and Joy is designed to help people release internalized homophobia and transphobia.
I truly believe it's one of the most powerful tools we LGBTQIA+ folks have to help heal these deep rifts within ourselves... to heal this self-hate brought about by the hate of the world. It is a gift to release it.
All of the distance we experience is a perception of ourselves and the world... it is not the truth of who we are. We are not alone. We do belong, truly belong... as we are and as we envision ourselves to be. Even when the world wants to separate, to divide, to break everything and everyone into categories... we are all interconnected. We can never truly be separated.
Pride and Joy is a program designed to help you release internalized phobias and self-criticism, move from feeling like you don't fit to feeling like you truly belong, embrace your individuality, and begin to honor your true self.
Would you like to tap with me? Schedule a private virtual tapping session here.
I look forward to working with you!
-Angela Hed Vincent