With June being Pride month, Facebook is filling up with rainbow-themed pictures (my own profile included) and the news is full of stories about transgendered actresses and marriage equality. I love this. I love Pride month and Pride celebrations, I love that we LGBTQ people are making such great strides in our fight for acceptance and equality. (I could wax poetic here about the need for people to vote on us, but that’s another blog.)
Gay Pride celebrations exist because of the homophobia we face daily. They are a chance for us to say to the world that we are just like you, there’s nothing wrong with us, stop oppressing us, stop diminishing our value, stop bullying us, stop hating us.
I personally don’t understand the fear that ‘gay’ inspires in people, but that does not mean that I haven’t internalized it. Every time I think about it before kiss my spouse or hold her hand in public, I am being homophobic. Every time I don’t kiss her or hold her hand for fear of how others will react, I am being homophobic. Every time I hesitate to clarify our relationship to someone’s parents’ friends because they might not understand, I am being homophobic.
Recently while visiting my in-laws, I was walking my dog with my father-in-law, and a friend/neighbor approached and introduced himself, saying he hadn’t seen me before. I had a moment of panic about how to tell him who I was in relation to my in-laws. Should this be a teachable moment? Should I just say I’m visiting and leave it at that? Do I say I’m ___________’s daughter-in-law? All of this angst over a simple introduction. Why did I care so much about this stranger’s, and ultimately my own, comfort level? Homophobia. Internal homophobia.
A seemingly small moment in time, an insignificant encounter, but this is what internal homophobia looks like. It’s the disconnect between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts. It’s the deep-seated belief, nurtured by years of external homophobia, that we are less-than. That we should hide who we are so that everything goes along smoothly. We have been conditioned to believe that it is better for us if we don’t own our truth. We won’t be judged, bullied, alienated if we don’t do or say anything that illuminates our differences. It is a survival instinct. And that, my friends, is sad.
When we got married last year in Iowa, people asked me if I felt any different. Surprisingly, I did. Oh, I didn’t feel any differently towards my spouse; as far as I am concerned, we have been married since 2004 when we had our commitment ceremony. What did change for me was that a level of internal homophobia that I didn’t even know existed was removed. It was one of those ‘didn’t know it was there until it was gone’ things. I was amazed. To be accepted and treated exactly the same as everyone else with regard to my relationship was a new and wonderful experience. To know that we are accepted is not something I feel in my everyday life. In fact, since we’ve been home (in a state where gay people are not afforded equal rights) some of that euphoric ‘I am as good as everyone else and they know it’ feeling has faded. When we travel and find ourselves in a state that has passed marriage equality, we always say to each other “hey, we’re legal here”. There is a lightening of spirit, a lessening of fear, and we are quicker to hold hands and steal that kiss.
This is my struggle, and while I know I am not alone in this, I do not presume to say it is the struggle of all LGBTQ people. But if it is something that you struggle with, then this year when you go to a Pride event put your focus on you. Go to show yourself and not the world that you are as good as everyone else, that there is nothing wrong with you. Go to stop the self-oppression. That’s what I’m going to do.