Pride is a term commonly used and associated with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. It is a word used to communicate their message of love and acceptance concerning their sexuality or gender expression. Official Pride celebrations take place annually and are events that millions of people throughout the world celebrate. People fill the streets with rainbows, glitter, music, and fun, to advocate for their right to love and their right to exist without prejudice. It is a way to show the world that they are here, proud, and unapologetic.
However, pride is not a word that I would use to describe my sexuality. In fact, I would say, that this part of myself brings about extreme feelings of shame and guilt. I struggle with this intense, deep-rooted shame almost daily. Particularly during the month of June, Pride month. Internalized homophobia would be the proper definition to describe my lack of pride regarding my sexuality. I have internalized the stigma and shame that is perpetuated by society and culture regarding homosexuality. It is an ongoing, self-defeating, and internal struggle that is debilitating at best. Hating yourself for something that is out of your control sounds silly and redundant however, it is all-encompassing and affects every single aspect of my life. If I cannot show up in life as who I am, then I am forced to abandon myself and create a new self or identity that I believe society will accept. Internalized homophobia requires me to completely self-abandon and self-sacrifice an entire part of my identity for survival. What do we know about people who are obligated to give up who they are to become what they perceive as the correct way to be? It may seem as though this is a conscious choice however it is, a non-negotiable type of conformity to secure some form of safety. Sacrificing my own self, my own identity, is by far the worst decision I have ever made, and one that I continue to make. This journey of self-destruction may seem willful from the outside, but it is much more complex and deep rooted than one might anticipate. To fully grasp the concept of self-abandonment and self-sacrifice, one would need to understand why I would want to do that in the first place. Why would I willingly want to give up who I am?
Culture and societal norms, in my opinion, are the predominate force behind my behaviour. We, as members of a society, act in certain ways because we are trying to fit in and adapt to our environment. We are trying to be a part of our surroundings, successfully. To me, the best way to accomplish this is to be a chameleon and ultimately blend in with our environment, all while adopting the environments social norms and ways of life. It’s a simple A+B=C scenario. We see it play out every day within our society. Some view this as healthy assimilation to a culture, I see it as subtle but forced conformity to secure day to day normalcy and survival. If everyone is wearing yoga pants, then you will wear yoga pants if you want to blend in and get on with life. In fact, not wearing yoga pants would be the best way to get yourself ostracized and excluded, or at the very least, made fun of. You will even have people who do not like yoga pants who will ultimately sacrifice themself, their wants and needs, and wear yoga pants. This is because it’s easier to fit in and go with the flow than it is to stand out and deal with the consequences. I am by no means equating wearing yoga pants with my internalized homophobia. I am simply attempting to make sense of and articulate my own inner struggle with my sexuality as it pertains to my external environment in which I live. The power of societal influence and how it manifests in our everyday lives and decision-making processes is larger than we may think. Someone who hates yoga pants might decide that it’s easier to wear them and fit in rather than deal with the repercussions of possibly being criticized and harassed for not wearing yoga pants. The easiest route is usually the one that is most desirable because it is the path of least resistance, which is why we tend to take that route, despite the consequences.
In this case, the consequence is losing myself in the process of conforming to the heteronormative social norms of my environment. Heterosexuality is societies default setting, so to speak. Everything I was taught about relationships was through a heteronormative lens. Although this is slowly changing for the better, we still live in a predominantly heteronormative society where heterosexual relationships are valued as ideal. This takes place at a micro-level and a macro-level, with communication and implication being the drivers of this heteronormativity. For example, I am often told that my sexuality is a phase and that if I just found the right man that I would be fine and not have to be in a relationship with a woman. The communication in this scenario is implying that heterosexual relationships are what I truly want and need, and that my relationships with women are caused by a lack of having had good experiences with men. These day-to-day micro-level interactions with people often showcase the deeper and unconscious biases of the larger society. I used to be offended by these ignorant comments until I realized that it was more of a societal programming than it was an individual bias. This is evident in macro-levels of discrimination against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which tend to be in the form of religious indoctrination and the execution of religious practices against homosexuality. For example, conversion therapies were common and legal practices within religious institutions in Canada. These conversion therapies were used as a means of forcefully converting people to heterosexuality through horrendous and often inhumane “treatments”. It has only recently been banned in Canada and is now viewed as a horrific human rights violation. Another macro-level form of discrimination that is still oppressing the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is the severe lack of government protection for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community within various government institutions which ultimately affect the day to day lives of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. In terms of institutionalized discrimination, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are at increasing risk of being unemployed, homeless, and suffering from severe addiction and mental health related issues. This can be directly tied to the heteronormative status and identity of Canadian institutions and society. With heteronormativity being societies default setting, these discriminatory narratives, practices, and biases are bound to rear their ugly heads when confronted with homosexuality and its people.
The lack of acceptance for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is evident everywhere. I have experienced this hatred and discrimination firsthand from my own family, friends, city, and within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community itself. These experiences validated and cemented my shame and guilt about my sexuality. Growing up I attended a Catholic school where the narrative surrounding gay relationships and individuals was that they were sinners and an abomination. My family is old-school Italian and very conservative, so I knew where they stood on 2SLGBTQIA+ matters without it having to be spoken to me. My internal radar told me that I was wrong, and because I was wrong, I was ultimately broken and unworthy. This part of myself was not allowed to surface ever if I was going to survive and be a part of this world. Suppression became my greatest ally as I was able to mould into who society wanted me to be and fit in, and it became my worst enemy as I was destroying myself and losing my soul in the process.
Pushing my sexuality away became second nature to me. I drowned my sorrows in alcohol so I could forget who I was. Alcohol became the only way that I could be gay in a straight world.
Alcohol was my escape but also my courage. It gave me the ability to be who I knew I was but who I couldn’t be sober. The tug of war between who I was pretending to be and who I wanted to be was torture. It was a silent and isolated venture – I didn’t know anyone else who was ashamed or struggling with their sexuality the way that I was. My addiction continued to grow along with my disdain for myself and my life. I felt out of control and lost in a world that did not like me or understand me. It was the lack of feeling in control or having power over myself that was debilitating to me. I wanted to be in control of my own life. I wanted to be in control of who I was and who I wanted to be. It bothered me that my sexuality was non-negotiable or that it couldn’t be tampered with or changed.
My mindset was “if I cannot control my sexuality, then I need to be able to control something else”. The only way, in my mind, to gain back some form of control, was to create it for myself. This manifested in the development of a severe eating disorder along with disordered eating habits. Being able to control my body and what it looked like gave me a sense of freedom and power that I had never felt before! The sense of control that ran through me felt amazing and somehow my sexuality did not feel as important as it once did. I felt more alive and powerful than I had ever felt before. The feeling of power was liberating, for a moment. I had tried so long and hard to mould into the person that I believed I was supposed to be. I thought that the control I had gained over my eating and body image would dismantle that powerlessness that I felt regarding my sexuality and that I would be able to move on with my life. That delusion was short-lived, and in fact, the attraction grew stronger as I got older. You can only hide your true self for so long before you begin to deteriorate, and deterioration is what happened when I refused to accept myself and my reality.
After a near fatal overdose, stints in rehabs, incarceration, homelessness, and other devastating consequences that resulted from my self-destruction, I realized that self-sacrificing myself was not the answer to my problems. It took me almost losing my life to realize that, at the end of the day, the only way to tackle your demons is to face them head on. I, inadvertently, was creating more heartache and turmoil in my life and if I ever wanted to be truly happy, I had to tackle the demons within me no matter how hard it was. Of course, this is easier said than done and usually takes the help of a professional or two. I was able to achieve sobriety with the help and guidance of Alcoholics Anonymous and a great sponsor and began trauma therapy.
Therapy has helped me unpack years’ worth of trauma and identity issues that plagued me for so long. I am not perfect, I still struggle with disordered eating habits, specifically when I feel lost and out of control within my life. However, it is something that I continue to recognize and deal with in my recovery. My shame regarding my sexuality is still an ongoing struggle. I realize that healing from years’ worth of anti-gay indoctrination is not going to happen overnight and that patience with myself is key to my success. Recovery, in general, is a long and never-ending healing process that involves self-awareness, non-judgement, and a good support system. Radical acceptance, spirituality, and a sense of purpose has led me down a beautiful path of recovery. It was not easy, and it still is not easy at times, but it is worth it. If there is one piece of advice that I could tell my old self, it would be to not be so hard on myself and that I was doing the best I could with what I had. To anyone suffering with their identity, you are not alone. My story is now my wisdom, and my struggle is now my passion. I have dedicated my life to helping others who are dealing with the same struggles that I once did. If my story can help one person, then it is worth being told.