Friday, April 20, 2007

A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia

I’ve long concluded that among those who are most hostile and demeaning of gay people are folks who are gay themselves, yet who have chosen to deny and/or repress their homosexuality.

In a commentary from last year, entitled “A Twisted View on ‘Flaunting’ Gay Identity,” Leonard Pitts, Jr. expressed this same conclusion (albeit rather flippantly) by asking: “Can’t we . . . safely assume that any conservative who rants about the homosexual agenda is a lying hypocrite gayer than a Castro Street bar?”

Georgia Mueller struck a more serious tone when, in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ official stance on ministry to “persons with a homosexual inclinations,” she observed that, “It is no secret to Catholics or non-Catholics that significant numbers of Catholic priests, bishops and beyond are homosexual persons. Their persistent inability to fundamentally love themselves lies at the heart of their twisted policies regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons.”

Internalized homophobia

Interesting that both writers use the word “twisted,” don’t you think? It’s actually quite appropriate, however, as such hostility, hypocrisy, and “twistedness” (i.e., inner discordance) are the result of what is known as “internalized homophobia” or “ego-dystonic homophobia.” This condition (which, incidentally, is more common among gay men than lesbians) is generally
described as “a set of negative attitudes and affects toward homosexuality in other persons and toward homosexual features in oneself.”

Wikipedia similarly defines internalized homophobia as “a prejudice carried by individuals against homosexual manifestations in themselves and others.” It’s a prejudice that “causes severe discomfort with or disapproval of one’s own sexual orientation,” and often results in the “pitting [of] deeply held religious or social beliefs against strong sexual and emotional desires.”

Obviously, the discordance that results from this internal struggle can significantly impede the self-acceptance process that many gay men and women must go through in order to “come out” and live well-adjusted and healthy lives. A number of studies have also indicated that the discordance and repression resulting from internalized homophobia leads to higher incidences of clinical depression, suicide, alcoholism, and other self-destructive tendencies, such as promiscuous and unsafe sexual behavior.

“How very dare you!”

It’s all very serious stuff. Yet British comedienne Catherine Tate has managed to highlight internalized homophobia in a very humorous way.

One of the numerous characters she has created for her popular
TV show (screened in the States on BBC America) is Derek Faye – a man who displays all the attributes of a stereotypical gay man yet who expresses deep offense when people assume that he is gay.

“How very dare you!” is one of Faye’s famous catch phrases, usually followed by another: “I’ve never been so insulted!”

I can remember in my first year of college being accosted by a man who asked if I knew where the campus’ “gay group” met. When I replied that I didn’t know, the man expressed surprise, noting that he assumed I would know. Even though, at the time, I knew within myself that I was gay, I had yet to come out to others. Accordingly, I was incensed at being outed in this, albeit, mild way. “How very dare you!” probably wasn’t far from what I was thinking!

This experience reminds me of the story of a young lesbian that I included in the recently published book I edited, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Youth: A Catholic Schools Perspective. This woman notes how being told she was a lesbian when still a teenager was like being jerked out of a psychological “closet” before she was ready to recognize and accept this fact about herself.

Is it fair, then, that I laugh along with Catherine Tate’s depiction of the gay and closeted Derek Faye?

But then I remember that I was nineteen when confronted with another’s assumption that I was gay. The lesbian whose story I shared was also a teenager. We were both still very much in process. It takes time, after all, to realize that one doesn’t have to fit the numerous and limiting gay stereotypes that our society so very much likes to highlight.

For instance, for years I thought that all gay men had to be like the fey character of
Mr. Humphries in Are You Being Served? There’s nothing wrong with such gay men, of course. What’s “wrong” is when this one way of being gay is the only way that is presented by the media.

I’ve since come to realize (and it was all part of my coming out journey) that in many ways we’re each called to discover, define, and express our sexuality within the context of the totality of our lives. We shouldn’t tailor our lives to fit a narrow understanding of, for example, the word “gay” as defined by others - be they gay or straight, conservative or liberal.

Cowardliness and hypocrisy

The character of Derek Faye is, of course, no teenager. He is a man in his forties or fifties. My sense is that Catherine Tate modeled this character, in part, on those real-life men who, tragically, never risk developing a holistic and creative perspective - one that empowers them to claim the word “gay” on their terms.

Related to this embracing of an integrated perspective is the reality that failure to deal with and move beyond the unconsciousness and timidness that is part of adolescent sexuality, inevitably leads to a dangerous and destructive cowardliness and hypocrisy in adulthood.

Accordingly, there are times when “outing” is both necessary and appropriate – especially when those who are closeted and mired in internalized homophobia are adults in positions of secular or ecclesial power. Consciously or unconsciously, many of these men (and remember, most of those who operate from a state of internalized homophobia are men) work against the well-being of their more healthy and authentic LGBT brothers and sisters. Such closeted and homophobic gay men do great damage not only to themselves but to others in both society and the Church. If outing the hypocrisy of such men can stop this type of harm, then so be it.

Genuine pathos

Interestingly, Derek Faye, when responding to the accurate observations of others that he is gay, invariably uses demeaning expressions and descriptions so as to distance himself from, and belittle, gay men. This tactic is also used by closeted gay men in positions of power. For instance, just look at the demeaning and uninformed language and presuppositions employed by those in power within the Catholic Church. For many people outside the Church, such language and presuppositions about gay people and gay sexuality are laughable. For Catholics like myself, however, they are experienced as both hurtful and embarrassing. Yet even I have to chuckle at times at the sheer inanity of some of the statements offered by the Vatican. Perhaps it’s a matter of “laugh or cry”?

With regards the character of Derek Faye, the humor, for me, isn’t so much in the “language and presuppositions” that he employs (e.g., “a back door Deidre”) but in his over-the-top displays of mortification, arrogance, and ignorance. Faye’s hypocrisy is so obvious and outlandish that it is hilarious.

Of course, there’s genuine pathos in the realization that this character is based on real gay men who are simply too proud, ignorant and/or fearful to live authentic lives. Yet thanks to Catherine Tate we can see the funny side of such men and their hypocritical reactions to moments of potential truth-telling.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common
Introspection: The Remedy for Hypocrisy
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Bishops’ “Guidelines”: A Parent’s Response
The Dreaded “Same-Sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
A Rich Laugh Fit for a Dame
Equality Riders Experience the “Great Dissonance at the Intersection of Catholic Beliefs”


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Anonymous said...

While I think it might be an oversimplification to state that anyone who disagrees with a progressive view is a closet, self-loathing, homosexual I very much see the point.

In fact, I tend to be frustrated when, in some angrier moments, our LGBT brothers and sisters in christ pin all the blame for anti-gay rehetoric and theology on straights.

On the contrary, my perception, right or wrong, is that there are an awful lot of self-loathing homosexual clergy out there that make life difficult for straights.

And in my more self-centered moments, that is part of the reason I support affirmation of a progressive agenda. i am sick of being ruled over by self-loathing gay priests who see all non-procreative sex as evil for obvious reasons!

But as I said, those sorts of thoughts come to me in some of my worst moments.

After all, Fr. Alison and lots of other incredibly impressive catholics are out-of-the closet!

episcopalifem said...

LMAO @ Faye...especially the last segment...Homolulu!! indeed!

Point well taken, though. The truth is often harshest when seen through the eyes of others, inspite of our best attempts to put on permanent blinders.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, as usual. Now, I know I'll catch that show on BBC America....