Confronting Internalized Homophobia
By: Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker
I know right out of the starting blocks that this article is going to offend a great many people, but I feel very strongly that many LGBT people are seriously sabotaging the cause for full and equal civil rights by referring to themselves by the use of historically and current hateful epithets, using such terms as "Queer," "Dyke," "Fag," and other such demeaning and hateful words that have been historically used by their oppressors, and are still being used by their oppressors. Also, the many behaviors and images that are viewed by most potential allies as offensive, and that become public presentations of self, help reinforce the fallacious stereotype that Gay people are sex-obsessed deviant and abnormal hedonists, and these public images are doing tremendous harm to the struggle for, and the cause of acquiring, full and equal civil rights.
I'm Jewish, and not only have I never considered myself a "Kike," or a "Yid," I would verbally assault anyone who would dare use those epithets in referring to me or to any other Jewish person. It's a matter of honor! It's a matter of dignity! It's a matter of having a healthy self-esteem. It's a matter of self-respect.
And there are some Gay people who use self-denigrating and historically offensive epithets as self-identifiers and who articulate them to the world, and by so doing not only show themselves to be lacking in these characteristics, but they are also unwitting victims of a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome where, in this case, one helps provide the very ammunition that one's abuser can and does use to help maintain the oppression of the individual. By so doing, these Gay people are actually knowingly or unknowingly facilitating and enhancing the rage of the homophobes, the oppressive abusers, many of whom would even kill them if they could get away with it. Indeed, some homophobes do assault and kill LGBT people, all the while using these hateful epithets!
The reason that virtually no one would even think of publicly using words like "Kike" and "Yid" is because they know that all Jewish (and all decent) people and organizations would come down on them like a ton of bricks. (Is it even conceivable that any university in the world would have a course, program, minor, or major entitled, "Kike Studies?" Yet it is very common for faculty and students in universities to routinely use and normalize the word "Queer" when titling courses, programs, minors, and majors dealing with Gay issues.)
However, when people use hateful epithets in reference to LGBT people, they not only know that nothing like that will happen, that there will be absolutely no negative or threatening repercussions awaiting them, but they also see there to be nothing wrong with using these hateful epithets, as many of the people about whom they are publicly talking seem to revel in, and frequently use, those words themselves.
So, for example, universities think they are doing Gay people a favor by using those epithets, such as by entitling courses, programs, minors, or majors "Queer Studies" (apparently not realizing, or perhaps even caring, that a meaning of "queer" means "abnormal.") and think that they are thereby being "progressive."
Jews usually don't have self-loathing; LGBT people all too often do have witting or unwitting self-loathing, and use those historically punishing words on themselves in the name of "liberation," ignorantly (or stupidly) thinking that they are appropriating and neutralizing those words, even when gay bashers use those very words when bashing their victims and, furthermore, they even perpetuate and encourage further use of those words among university students when titling those courses, programs, minors, or majors, and freely use those words within the curricula as they do in other public venues.
Like Jesus says: "Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do." At least on the conscious level!
Sanam Hakim wrote an excellent article entitled, "Words you can't reclaim," on the subject of the use hateful expletives regarding certain minority groups. She concludes her article by saying:
"Words like 'nigger' or 'redneck' or 'bitch' or 'fag' were never words that were originally 'good'. They are words that were created solely out of hatred and it is not our responsibility to add fine print and use them in a different context. It is not our responsibility to convince black people that they actually are 'niggaz,' but that it's a good thing; to convince white working class Americans that they are rednecks, but that it's a good thing; to convince women that they are bitches, but that it's a good thing; to convince homosexuals that they are fags, but that it's a good thing.
"It is our responsibility to make sure when Tim McGraw asks if there are any rednecks in the house, no one cheers. It's our responsibility to stare blankly if DMX asks 'where my niggaz at?' It is our responsibility to make sure our children know these words, the history of where they come from and to make sure they don't ever use them, even if they mean it in a nice way."
She gets it!
As I wrote in a February 21, 2008 post entitled, "On The Need To Grow Up," on my blog, "A Christian Voice For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Rights":
"There is a point when one has to own his/her dignity, demand the respect due to any human being, demand full and equal civil and sacramental rights regardless of the negative messages and hostility that have been visited on that person in the past, or even in the present. And those goals will not be realized as long as the minority group accepts its inferior status, and revels in it by referring to its members by the very same terms used by the most virulent homophobes throughout history and in our midst.
"No self respecting person, Gay or Straight, stands for being treated as less than fully human; no self respecting person, Gay or Straight, uses negative self-identifiers that have been historically (and contemporarily) used by their oppressors. The slave mentality is blamed on others, but the fact is that it ultimately resides within each human being whether or not to accept that mentality."
I recently received an email from a good friend of mine who wrote me the following:
"I'm just thinking about some of the horrid monikers we've encountered on the 'Net: 'The Old Dyke.' 'The Angry Fag.' 'Queer Kid Of Color'. "Faggoty-Ass Faggot." Straight people see and hear these vulgar identifiers. What do they make of them? Do they feel they have permission to use them, too? What also occurs to me is that these names don't just speak to a shameful feeling about one's gender and/or sexuality; they speak to an obsession with it! … I've been called the 'b' word, the 'p' word, the 'f' word, and just about every dirty slur you can name. I could never in a million years get my mind around 'reclaiming' that kind of ignorance. Yet, I don't consider myself any different from any other Gay man who's grown up in a homophobic society. Why do I react differently?"
I then wrote him the following response, which I know seems harsh, but this issue is crucial enough to demand such harshness and confrontation if the goal of acquiring full and equal LGBT rights is to be realized, particularly when LGBT rights activists are trying to win the hearts and minds of potential allies, and when the future of civil rights for LGBT people, such as the most pressing and immediate issue of the future of same-sex marriage in California will be put to voters in California in November:
I responded to him with the following: "My answer to your question is that …you have integrity and dignity and refuse to be treated as a second-class citizen, and many of them revel in being second-class citizens; you aren't self-loathing; they are self-loathing; they love to vent by cursing the candle and loving the darkness; you want the light of full freedom, and outspokenly light that candle; they are apolitical; you see this as a political and religious struggle; they usually hate God and the things of God; you love God and the things of God; they love this world and the things of this world; you know that God wants liberation from yokes of bondage for all of His children; they frequently suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome; you definitely do not; you have a healthy self-esteem; they feel they deserve to be treated as 'outsiders'; you know you're 'normal'; they view themselves as 'deviants' and are proud of it. As I've said before, they are traitors and saboteurs to the cause of, and struggle for, full and equal civil rights, and you and I, and I'm sure many others, hate traitors and saboteurs to and of those things that anyone who is emotionally intact seeks for themselves and for others."
Regarding their being witting or unwitting traitors to, and saboteurs of, the struggle for full and equal civil rights, they have become mutual allies with the most reactionary homophobic forces in the religious and secular worlds. The religious right and other homophobic forces just love them, for they manifest their fear and self-loathing by engaging in rhetoric and behaviors that are wittingly or unwittingly designed to alienate potential allies in the fight for full and equal civil rights, and provide these homophobic leaders with their needed ammunition to shore up their base of homophobes, be they in the "religious" or political arenas.
All a James Dobson, a Ken Hutcherson, a Pete LaBarbera, a Pat Robertson, or any number of other religious homophobes have to do is exhibit one or more of countless images of blatant and public hedonism (fulfilling and reinforcing the ugly stereotype that Gay = Abnormal; Gay = hedonism; Gay = deviant; Gay = immorality; Gay = perverted, etc.) to show those who might be on the fence regarding the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people that their hateful rhetoric has been correct after all. One cannot present public images that are patently and frequently deliberately offensive and even threatening to potential allies and then expect them to embrace and support full and equal civil rights for LGBT people who are all too often solely identified with those images!
In essence, the professional homophobes, many of whom make a veritable career out of homophobia, can then say to our potential allies, while showing them such images, "See, I told you what homosexuals are like. I told you how destructive they are to the very fabric of society and to civilization as we know it. I told you that they are not fit to be around children. They even want, and sometimes even have, the right to adopt and raise children. They seek to destroy Christianity and our Judeo-Christian way of life and will succeed unless we fight against this evil. And they even want their perverted lifestyle sanctified by law by insisting that they be allowed to marry one another. Before you know it, these people will want to marry their own children. Would you put anything past them after looking at these pictures that represent only a fraction of what they do and what they are?"
And we are to make no mistake: that's exactly what religious homophobes do, and continue to do, by proudly presenting blatant exhibitions of hedonism by some Gay people, further exacerbated by the use of pejorative epithets as self-identifiers by many Gay people that merely reinforce the hateful stereotypes and hateful rhetoric of the homophobes in "justifying" to as many as will listen the evidence as to the "deviance," the "otherness," the "abnormality" of LGBT people.
These epithets and images thereby confirm and reinforce the hateful rhetoric that is spewed by powerful religious homophobes in all sorts of venues, from the pulpit to the media, and serves no better purpose than to provide these religious homophobes with further ammunition that they need and use to sway potential allies away from our cause for equal rights.
Hence, the use of these epithets and the projection of these images that are viewed as offensive (many of which are seemingly designed to be offensive) by most people who conceivably make up our pool of potential allies, makes the purveyors of those epithets and images collaborators with the religious reactionary homophobes; making them partners in the goal of preventing the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people and their families.
Of course, confirmed homophobes will not be persuaded to become affirming of LGBT people no matter what we do or what we say! However, our concern must be winning over potential allies, those who might be on the fence and confused about this whole issue of LGBT rights. And the rhetoric and images used and projected for public consumption by self-loathing traitors are sabotaging that goal, by their being witting or unwitting allies with those very influential homophobes, by helping to do the homophobes' work for them.
By portraying Gay people as Godless, hedonistic, sexually obsessed individuals who revel in being "abnormal," and who pridefully display depictions that seem designed to offend all decent and religious people, virtually guarantees that those who engage in these practices are the allies of the avowed enemies of LGBT rights who stupidly feel free to vilify and even ridicule and make jokes about LGBT people, knowing that they will be greeted with hearty applause and laughter by their audiences, be they homophobic or potential allies.
Regarding the dynamics of those who manifest self-loathing and the unwillingness or the inability to directly confront the enemies of full civil rights and civil liberties, I absolutely think that seeing themselves as being forever "outsiders" and who revel in that outsider status by manifesting counter-productive and even risk-taking behaviors gives them a sense of security! It enables them to avoid confronting the horrifying fact that they are viewed by the oppressor as inferior, and in order to anesthetize themselves from that reality, they find a seemingly "legitimate" reason to bond with other like-minded people in a subculture that they wish to make a counterculture so as to both affirm themselves (which is understandable) but also insulate themselves from the insults and, at least at this point in their lives, they don't have the ego strength or the will to directly confront their oppressor in a politically meaningful and constructive way.
Hence, not only the use of denigrating epithets about themselves and their very identities, and their often egregious public displays that are bound to offend potential allies, but their rage at anyone who would dare suggest that by so doing they are helping to destroy themselves and their right to be treated with dignity and respect by those oppressors; telling them that by so doing they are witting or unwitting allies of those oppressors.
Because that would mean coming out of their cocoon, confronting a very harsh and even frightening reality, and having to confront both their own homophobia as well as the homophobia that would be visited upon them in direct proportion to their public and consistent demands that they be treated with full respect and as fully equal to their oppressor, and demand the acquisition of the very same rights that their oppressor enjoys.
That takes guts, and ego strength, and too many feel themselves to be too vulnerable, too wounded, to engage in the necessary fight for full and equal civil rights. Hence, to not confront that reality, and to not admit that they are too cowardly to fight the necessary battles for full and equal rights, they create a world where they demean themselves and create the rationalization for that demeaning of themselves by stating that they are doing so to merely appropriate, reclaim (Although those hateful words have never been renounced by the oppressor in the first place.), and neutralize those hateful words, and thereby claim that they are "liberated."
It's a profound tragedy, no matter how we look at it.
But it's a tragedy that must be confronted, overcome, and renounced so that positive, coordinated grassroots activism can occur, in conjunction with the increased assertiveness needed by major LGBT rights organizations, so that increasing numbers of potential allies can be recruited in the fight for equal rights; other LGBT people can become emboldened to demand that they be treated with dignity and demand nothing less than full and equal civil rights that are enjoyed by every other citizen; political savvy and activism be substituted for the counterproductive use of hateful epithets and the assorted public displays of images that denote and communicate a patently offensive public persona virtually designed to drive away allies and thereby sabotage the movement for full and equal civil rights.
As I've written before, such grassroots activism on the part of LGBT people and allies would take the form of "picketing homophobic churches (and there are plenty to choose from!), writing letters to the editors of their local newspapers, having groups of Gay couples who seek to marry continuously demand the same marriage rights as their heterosexual counterparts, speaking out to neighbors and friends, boycotting businesses that in any way discriminate against Gay people, and other such modes of activism to aid and abet the cause of acquiring full and equal civil rights!"
Only then will the homophobic oppressor be forced back under the rock from which he or she came, and the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights will become a reality!
Rev. Dr. Jerry Maneker writes "Christianity and Society" a weekly column that appears in the "Sacramento Valley Mirror" in California. He blogs at A Christian Voice for GLBT Rights.
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