How Do Issues Like Internalised Homophobia Really Affect LGBTQIA+ People?
CW: This article mentions the topic of suicide which could be distressing for some readers.
Pexels by Marta Branco
Sexuality and Labels
Queer identities are indeed now more widely accepted across the world, but we are not where we need to be. We are far from it. Conversations have opened up across society where sexuality and gender identity are spoken about in much more positive lights, allowing for people to feel more comfortable in expressing themselves. This growing freedom takes more weight off the shoulders of the queer community. However, the fight for true freedom will only come once a person who is not straight and cis can walk down the street without fearing for their safety. This is not about a matter of opinion in regards to what is 'right or wrong'. This is a matter of education, awareness, and respect. How long will it be until all people are truly encouraged to accept and love who they are so that they are free to love without judgement?
An important thing to keep in mind when thinking about sexuality, is that, like many other forms of identity, it is a spectrum. This means that sexuality does not follow the binary ideals of merely 'straight or gay'. Medical News Today lists different types of sexuality and their definitions, such as:
Bisexual - A person who identifies as bisexual can be of any gender. Bisexuality means that a person feels attraction toward their own gender and other genders or toward anyone regardless of their gender.
The site also explains that the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for:
questioning or queer
It is important to remember that while some people find labels validating and empowering, others feel restricted by them and prefer not to be bound by them. This is completely okay, and acceptance of others' preferences is vital in creating safe and comfortable communities for queer individuals. The amount of different labels out there can feel overwhelming anyone, whether part of the community or not, but not rushing the learning process can help. Being patient with yourself and others means that we can all help each other to learn and grown, bettering our understanding and thus the treatment of each other.
The Damage Caused by Internalised Homophobia
The Rainbow Project explains that:
As we grow up we are taught the values of our society. In our homophobic, heterosexist, discriminatory culture, we may learn negative ideas about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. Like everyone else, LGB people may be socialised into thinking that being non-heterosexual is somehow “mad”, “bad”, “wrong” or “immoral”. This can lead to feelings of self-disgust and self-hatred. These feelings can lead to “internalised homophobia” also known as “internalised oppression”.
The idea that there is a right and a wrong way to be is incredibly damaging. For a lot of people, sexuality is a big part of who you are, and if this is believed to be incorrect and "bad" or "immoral", then an individual can turn on themselves. The hate and judgement shown by others towards LGBTQIA+ people may be internalised, and the "self-disgust" and "self-hatred" that can be caused by this is detrimental to an individual's journey to self-discovery. If someone is afraid that they are not/never will be accepted by others, then they may find it much harder to accept themselves. In severe but sadly not uncommon cases, this can lead to individuals looking to escape their lives through suicide, due to feeling as though they are tainted by their sexuality and inadequate as human beings. The NHS reports that:
According to a research project conducted by Youth Chances, [...] 44% of the LGBTQ people reported suicidal thoughts, compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans respondents. In a study by Stonewall, it was also found that 13% of LGBT people aged 18-24 attempted to take their own life in the past year.
This is amongst many other mental health problems that LGBTQIA+ people experience as a result of the struggle to accept, understand, or come to terms with their sexuality, highlighting just how important it is that as a society, we work strenuously to help. It is important that LGBTQIA+ safe spaces continue to be maintained as well as new spaces created, and people should also be further educated on the topic of sexuality. It is vital that people are aware that not ridiculing, excluding, or berating someone because of who they are can potentially be the difference between life and death.
While some people 'just know' what their sexuality is, for others it is more complicated. Some people spend lots of time trying to 'figure out' their sexuality, while others do not give it much thought. On top of this, some people know since they are young and others only realise once they are older. The point is that everyone is different, therefore, we cannot assume anything about anyone. Some people will be very open about their sexuality, and others might choose to keep it private. It is important that people have the right to make these choices (about how open to be) and when/how/if to embark on their journeys of self-discovery.
Self-acceptance inspires confidence and allows you to be the unconditional support pillar for yourself, without feeling the need to rely on it from other people. Accepting all parts of yourself means you would be more likely to feel free to express you natural self, leading to increased happiness. However, while this is still absolutely possible as an LGBTQIA+ individual, the societal shoehorning of these people into straight, cis customs makes self-acceptance much more difficult.
Love Is Love
As this well-used slogan implies, ultimately, the fight is for acceptance and freedom to love who you want to.
People deserve to be in relationships that are honest, happy, and healthy (and age-appropriate!), so as long as these apply, it should not matter whether two females are dating, or a male and their non-binary partner - whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual etc. people deserve the freedom to be who they are, and love who they love. Judgement will always be a problem amongst humans as people experience feelings like jealousy, but no one deserves to be judged for their sexuality. We all deserve to embark on our own journeys to self-discovery without internalising judgement and hate.