When homosexual people internalize society’s fear or hatred of homosexuality, they are hurting not only their own ability to live an authentic life, they are undermining other LGBT people who have shown courage in coming out of the closet.
I don’t “look like” a stereotypical lesbian and thus I could choose to “pass” for straight. I don’t because internalized homophobia is destructive. It depletes a person’s inner resources. Too much energy is spent on worrying about what other people think instead of focusing on one’s own happiness and well being.
Like many LGBT people, I have experienced homophobia. One notable time was in the mid-’90s when I was just “coming out of the closet.” I suffered immensely when someone used a personal essay I wrote for the Minnesota Women’s Press titled “kissing friends” in an attempt to get me fired from my lobbying job. I was traumatized, but I held my ground. I had the support of a heterosexual female boss who placed my incredible job performance during a difficult legislative session over the homophobic attitudes of some of the board members. Her support-and the step she took in informing the board members they’d be personally liable if I sued the organization-resulted in the bullies deciding not to risk their own money. I kept my job, but the closet was too confining.
Being “out” is not a choice all LGBT people make. Some who fear coming out of the closet rationalize that it is a personal decision. I contend that it affects more than the individual. An experience I had recently highlights this. The setting was a private birthday party for a lesbian friend, held at the coffee shop that her grrlfriend manages, during a time when the shop was closed to the general public. My grrlfriend and I were the first guests to arrive. We held hands and shared one or two brief, chaste, closed mouth kisses. The closeted lesbian host told me and my grrlfriend to “tone it down” because she apparently didn’t like us “making out” because someone might be “going by outside and see us and then decide not to come back later when the business was open.” She claimed that it didn’t matter if it was heterosexuals or homosexuals doing it, she didn’t like public displays of affection because “this is a business!”
Well, this remark is disingenuous. There is no comparison of the societal response to public displays of affection (PDA) between heterosexuals vs. homosexuals. Most people are not truly comfortable with PDA by homosexuals-partly because they so rarely see it. I don’t believe that most people would be offended by heterosexuals doing exactly the same thing we lesbians did. If it’s acceptable PDA for heterosexuals, then it’s acceptable PDA for lesbians. Anything else limits a lesbian woman’s freedom of expression. In this case, sadly, it was a more closeted lesbian seeking to “enforce” society’s homophobia on other more open lesbians. But if a lesbian woman can’t express herself affectionately with her grrlfriend at a private party given for a lesbian by a lesbian, then where is it safe for a lesbian to exist?
In spite of everything that I have been through-or maybe because of it-I refuse to lock myself in the closet now. I am offended that another lesbian tried to force me into her small one. Homophobia hurts everyone because it poisons the social environment. Being subject to someone else’s internalized homophobia feels like being stabbed in the back by a friend. When one woman tries to shame another because she believes the other’s conduct is “inappropriate,” she risks driving the rights of all women back into the Victorian era, i.e., “act like a lady.” All women must have the fundamental right to self-expression, or our social interactions are false, we don’t live authentic lives and we self limit our full potential as women.
Katie Nemmers is a lesbian mom living in St. Paul, and an attorney who practices family law. When not causing disruptions in coffee shops, she can be found at her precinct caucus, promoting the “gay agenda.”