June 30, 2023 (1:40 PM)

12 min read


Graphic by Anne Fabian

Imagine growing up hearing from your family and friends that being gay is a sin, that being gay is an illness, and that being gay is a crime, so your mere existence should be condemned and eradicated. Now imagine that you discovered at some point that you are gay. Because of that, you try to deny your identity by acting on what society should expect from you, even if it means hurting your people, afraid that your loved ones might find out and disown you. You look to the media for help understanding your sexuality, but all it shows is an inaccurate and harmful representation of gay people. With nowhere left to turn to and nowhere left to hide, chaos and self-hatred start to grow inside your heart.

This phenomenon happens when a gay person grows up in a homophobic home where they have become a victim of continuous abuse, discrimination, and harassment. Because of this, some would not take that gamble in showing their vulnerability if it means opening themselves to judgment. Others, however, became a product of retaliation where the oppressed became the oppressor. This is where the term “internalized homophobia” comes in.

According to a peer-reviewed article published by Healthline, internalized homophobia happens when someone is subject to society’s stigma, intolerance, and negative judgments of persons with same-sex attraction. People with internalized homophobia subsequently internalize those concepts, accepting them as fact, and hate themselves for being socially outcasted. As a result, it frequently causes someone to punish themselves for having queer ideas and feelings by cutting off any contact with other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and more (LGBTQIA+) individuals or people in general and thinking or speaking poorly about themselves. They would try to change their attraction or gender or participate in compulsive habits that would divert them from queer sensations and thoughts.

On a more sinister note, however, the constant accumulation of internal struggles can push some to the brink of externally joining the ongoing battle to suppress the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and denounce their presence and existence. Because of this, according to a 2020 doctoral study, many (but not all) homophobic hate crimes result from internalized homophobia: perpetrators in denial of their nonheterosexual identity, driving them to act out their self-loathing thoughts towards LGBTQIA+ individuals who are out and proud.

Praying the gay away

Religious conservatism is one of the leading causes of why a person internalizes homophobia.

Although the Philippines is becoming more progressive when it comes to enacting laws that encourage an inclusive culture and foster environments where people can express themselves freely, the country and its citizens are still firmly rooted in traditional Catholic beliefs. An Ateneo de Manila University report from 2019 describes how conservative Christian entities in the Philippines distorted the concept of religious freedom by opposing those who support same-sex marriage and gender equality and upholding prevailing views on sexuality rather than promoting individual liberties. 

Indeed, a heteronormative society’s perception of the LGBTQIA+ community and their ability to function in society is heavily influenced by religion. Some authoritative entities, scriptures, and doctrines may see them adversely, ranging from discrimination to discouraging self-disclosure directed at LGBTQIA+ individuals. Hence, compelling some to blindly accept and depend on the way they live their life into what is preached in their religion, lacking the independence to see what is right or wrong for them. Therefore, it undoubtedly leads to a confused individual still figuring out their sexuality to develop predefined unfavorable views or ideas about their identity. One example of this manifestation is the “Catholic guilt,” or the regret or conflict felt by those who identify as or were reared as Catholics when they believe they have transgressed the rules of their religion, making a person feel alienated from God and unworthy of reconciliation. 

One of the many members of the LGBTQIA+ community is an incoming 2nd-year student from Ateneo de Davao University under the alias Xylo. Xylo shared with Atenews that Catholic teachings would often point out that being queer is a sin, so they have constant battles with themselves that they should not entertain these feelings because it is wrong. Moreover, whenever they come across someone they like, they will often wonder if that person turns into the opposite sex, their parents will accept her right away. It is a constant bother, feeling like they are rejecting themselves to please others or convince themselves that everything is fine. In a nutshell, the question that has always been stuck in her mind throughout their journey in figuring out their sexuality: “Bakit mas appealing ang bawal?”

“As someone who’s very religious, even up until now, I still have that internal conflict about myself if I should pursue being right or what feels right, since I’m raised to believe that feelings of guilt and shame are indicators of how valuable you are as a person and that being gay is a sin for which you must repent.”

Be who you they are

Lack of social support is another major factor in the internalization of homophobia.

Xylo said that when they came out of the closet in 8th grade, their friends questioned if they were sure about that “decision” or because they could not find a romantic partner of the opposite sex, which made them second-guess themselves.

“This kind of mindset is so toxic since you assume that some people turn into queers due to not finding a significant other of the opposite sex.” 

However, their biggest heartbreak is coming out to their mom. 

“She merely laughed and understood it at first. But that same evening, when I thought the information was sunken in my mom’s mind completely, she scolded me and gave me the silent treatment with a sprinkle of “You are a disgrace to this family.”

According to Xylo, they treat their mother as their first friend so when their mom did not understand why they were the way they were, it made them die a little inside to the point of having suicidal thoughts. Yet, compared to now and then, they do not expect their mom to support them, but they have found a healthier circle who are more open and accepting of them and their sexuality.

According to a 2020 study that looked at the coming out experiences of young, middle-aged, and older Italian LGBTQIA+ adults, more than half of the participants who had come out to their religious group had experienced rejection, which could have been covert or overt—either the behavior was criticized, but not their personhood; in other words, “hating the sin but not the sinner,” or “correct” participants’ sexual orientation through coercive methods. 

For this reason, many LGBTQIA+ individuals would instead conceal their identity as much as possible in hopes of not being judged critically or outright cast out by their family, friends, and peers, especially if they are the only support system in their life. It creates a situation of unrest: a constant battle between your ideal self and your ought self and trying to compromise your actual self to fit the mold between the two.

Present but not visible

The media has a significant impact on how the public thinks as media sources have the authority to decide what they will portray as “good” and “normal” and, subsequently, what will be accepted, leading to a double-edged sword situation: to lead with inclusivity or to mislead with selectivity in mind, influencing how members of those groups see themselves and how others see them.

Although members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been given more exposure than in past years, there is still a danger of misrepresentation as more coverage does not necessarily mean better representation. 

Some LGBTQIA+ characters and plots have historically, and still do today, fallen victim to demeaning stereotypes; they are grouped based on their looks, their behaviors, or the issues they encounter. One example is the tokenization of LGBTQIA+ characters added to plots as an afterthought rather than being presented as unique stories and personalities with the same importance as heterosexual ones. This may also explain why LGBTQIA+ characters are often portrayed as comic relief or as the payasos (clowns) who add humor to a plot. While some may view this as progress, the fact that they are not taken seriously only furthers the LGBTQIA+ community’s discriminatory demoralization.

Growing up in the Catholic-centered country of the Philippines, Xylo expressed how there’s not much queer representation, and some of the things she heard about the LGBTQIA+ community is that “all of them are linked to HIV/AIDS” since that is what the media always puts out. In these recent years, they were incredibly blessed to have access to all types of media with the help of the Internet, which made them explore more about their sexuality and how they came to terms with it. From the usage of AO3, YouTube, Wattpad, Twitter, and other social media platforms, they began to learn and understand more about themselves, and they are glad the younger ones are privileged enough to explore themselves at a younger age.

As Xylo expressed, in a world where much needs to be done to foster a more inclusive society, what remains constant is that as people integrate their worldview and mentality into mainstream media, the lines between an innocent spectator and perpetrator are blurring.

“When I see the same thing over and over and over again in the media that queer people look like this and queer people act like that and how queer people are doomed to have a tragic ending that all of these I start to emulate later in life, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I was led to believe that all queer people share the same characteristics and fate, that I was imposing limitations on myself and assigning a role that does not define the genuine me.” 

Indeed, diversity in representation can help others like Xylo feel included, and their feelings validated that there is more than one way to be queer, that acting flamboyant does not automatically imply that you are gay or that being a tomboy as a child does not automatically imply that you are a lesbian. But more importantly, they, too, can experience a happy, fairytale ending.

Redefining the gay agenda

While these reasons give insight into why homosexual homophobes act the way they do, they are not justifications. Regardless, it also provides insight into how society can do better and to be better to become true allies for the community so that this kind of manifestation does not happen to fellow hidden LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Personally, I was told from an early age that there were only two genders, and that idea was exacerbated even more when I enrolled in an all-boys Catholic school. I knew I was different from all the other boys in my school. However, several people told me that: “Oh, a man should do this, or a man should do that,” or “Oh, why are you acting like that? That is unbecoming of a man,” and because of that, it changed me into something that I am not. Thankfully, I am in a much better place now because I have true friends that did not hesitate to call me out on my problematic behavior and who have helped me to be educated and informed about the diverse spectrum of SOGIESC.

Being knowledgeable alone is not enough to be a genuine ally or friend; you also need to take decisive action. Regardless of whether they did it knowingly or unknowingly if you notice your friends or other people making offensive remarks or jokes to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, you must call them out because by allowing yourself to be subjected to that toxicity, you invite unneeded tension, fear, guilt, and self-doubt to set up permanent residence in your life. But more importantly, you are contributing to the cycle of internalized homophobia by instigating that this type of conduct is “normal.” In other words, remaining silent is complicit, and there is no such thing as neutrality in the face of oppression—you are either with or against. If they are undoubtedly your friends, they won’t take this as a personal jab but rather as a humble rebuke.

All of these incidents involving myself and the interviewee are evidence that internalized homophobia is a persistent practice and not a single choice and that we continue to live in a heterosexist culture where members of the LGBTQIA+ community are still tolerated but not accepted. 

Before we end this Pride Month, we remind those with internalized homophobia that darkness will try to confound the depths of our hearts. Regardless, when we practice a breadth of self-love, we detach ourselves from the chains that bind us and, instead, give us the freedom to be unapologetically us, releasing the vividness of our identity and individuality. 

Changing the status quo of the LGBTQIA+ community will not happen in just a blink of an eye. It will take years for society to recalibrate its minds and redirect its steps toward an inclusive civilization, but you have a choice to live for and as yourself and to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. 

That is the Pride Spirit truth!

End the silence of the gagged!

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