Internalized Homophobia is Just Heteronormativity in a Big Gay Package

BlogHer Original Post

A few months ago, we spent an evening babysitting our good friends' five and seven year old children. They're great kids, and as usual we enjoyed spending time with them; we played games, we fed them junk food, we read them books, we let them stay up pasted their bed was had by all. But unlike any of the other times we've babysat for them, that last time was a bit of an eyeopener. That evening, we got a glimpse at just how deep the tendrils of heteronormativity reach. Despite the fact that our friends are very open and accepting, and are teaching their kids to be the same, heteronormativity is so pervasive in our society that it is difficult to escape its clutches.

The evening started out innocently enough with a game of Life, and ended with me joking,"your mom and I are going to have to have a talk." While setting up the game, the oldest, we'll call him Peyton, told us it didn't matter what color peg we had in our car at the beginning of the game. I found that interesting and pretty progressive for a kid of 7. I would have expected him to have wanted the peg that would be associated with his gender. But hey, cool deal. So we all started the game with whatever color peg ended up in the drivers seat of the car we chose. And that's where progressive ended. When Betty Please hit the "stop and get married" space, I asked her what color peg she wanted. Peyton jumped in and told us that she since she started off with a blue peg, she had to have a pink peg because only a boy and a girl can get married.

I was completely surprised that statement came out of his mouth. These kids have known us their whole lives, so it really made me wonder. I didn't feel that it was my place to explain or push the conversation, but I did want to know why he thought that. He told me "two girls or two boys can't marry because how would they have kids. Geesh!" Later during the game, after a few other heterosexist comments, that he would have never learned from his mother, he told me that I (the in game me) needed to get a new career so that I could be home to make dinner at night for my family. That was point at which I told him, "your mother and I needed to have a talk."

I can't believe that Peyton has such heteronormative ideas at the age of 7. I'm sure my friends aren't intentionally teaching their kids heteronormativity, but as I wrote in last week's post, if that is what's modeled all around you, that's what you learn. So what can parents do to mitigate the lessons of heterosexism and heteronormativity that osmose in from the world beyond their front door?

Even the most liberal parent will pass on heterosexist ideas to their children unintentionally. One must make a conscious effort to expose children to families that don’t fit the traditional standard. In cartoons and most books they are more likely to see a mother, father and child, than two mommies, two daddies or a trans families. This erasure instils the idea that family must have a certain make up to be legitimate. Even the language we use speaks of our desire to have heterosexual children.
-read We Teach Our Children Homophobia, by Renee of Womanist Musings

Renee brings up an interesting point when she says the language we use speaks to the desire to have heterosexual children. From the time children are very young, opposite-sexed friends are often referred to as their "little girlfriend" or "little boyfriend." Parents often talk about their children marrying their friends or neighbors children. When parents talk to their children about sex and dating, it's about heterosexual sex and dating. But the problem is more than just the language we use, it's that there is an assumption of heterosexuality. This assumption leads children to think that anything other than heterosexuality is less than. And it's not just that others believe that we, the gay ones are less than, but that we also believe that we are less than.

One of the worst effects of heternormativity's reaches has nothing to do with how the heteronormative world at large treats us, but rather how it manifests within ourselves as internalized homophobia. If you thought figuring out your gay comes with joyous, not so much. Often it comes with internalized homophobia, which causes fear. Fear of losing everyone your life. Fear of being othered. It makes us to want to stay in the closet, to lie and to hide who we really are for fear of being judged.

I came out to myself over ten years ago, and at that point coming out to others was a scary process for me. I really felt like people would think differently about me once they knew that I was a lesbian, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. There was a lot of fear (and perhaps a mild bit of self-loathing) involved. Back then it was easier (and therefore better, I thought), to just sneak through life without giving away that bit of information about myself.
-read Gay Christian is the new gay, by Jen Austin of

It causes us to be overly critical of other gay people for fear that their actions will reflect poorly on all gay people.

It has stained me. Some of the stain is from being homophobia's victim. There are places I fear to go, people I avoid. Despite being out and proud, I still fear touching or hugging Beloved in public. At times in conversation I still use careful gender-neutral speech rather than out-right saying my partner is another man. I am harshly critical and angry with homosexuals who do ridiculous things or commit heinous crimes because I know I will be judged by their actions.
-read A Spark of Wisdom: I am a Homophobe, by Sparky (of Spark in Darkness) posted at Womanist Musings

It causes us to hide our relationships, and to think that they are of less value than those of heterosexuals.

Ignoring my pain, and not expecting our relationship to be honored by family and society only served to damage my relationship with my partner. Recently my partner and I have started working to repair the damage caused by internalized homophobia. To do this, we both had to understand how anti-gay attitudes hurt us and how internalized homophobia hurts our relationship. The work is difficult. We have to trust our wisdom and respect the wisdom of the other. Most important, though, we both have to come out of our fear. We have to release the fear of being alone. Stop being afraid of offending those who could care less about our happiness.
-read Coming Out and Coming to Life, by Deborah Lake of How Ethical Is This

Internalized homophobia causes us to do all kinds of crazy things that heterosexuals would never conceive of doing. Things that tear us apart inside, damage our relationships, and threaten to destroy us if we'd let it. It has very deep roots and is nearly impossible to completely eradicate, but it can be mostly destroyed.

I'd like to think that there will be a time when there is no shame in being gay, no internalized homophobia. But that day can only come if we can destroy the monolith of heteronormativity. How we go about doing that, I don't know.


Zoe is a BlogHer Contributing Editor (Life-GLBT). She sometimes also blogs her life most ordinary at gaymo.

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