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It’s said that a prophet is without honor in his own country. We gays and lesbians don’t have our own nation, let alone recognized “prophets” in our communities. As a group—leaders, organizations and businesses— we dishonor each other. I hear gays and lesbians say things like: “Isn’t it great that straight business is reaching out to the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] community,” and literally in the same breath, “Can you believe that GLBT businesses are trying to make money off us?” and “Who does that business think it is, trying to be in the forefront of the gay community?”
This is internalized homophobia (hereafter, IH), which occurs whenever GLBT people direct external homophobia at themselves and others in their community. IH is growing as more and more GLBT businesses courageously hang their shingles as “out and open.” IH makes us distance ourselves from others in our community, dismissing them as too gay-acting, too out, or too political.
For years now, we’ve seen GLBT organizations experience internal conflicts and “disorganization” with each other. These organizations argue—internally and externally—about who has the correct ideas, direction, concepts and plans. Differences in opinion lead to some individuals splitting off and creating their own organizations, which then compete with the original one.
The psychological and social reasons for this originate in how we GLBT’s learn our sense of belonging, identity, and competence. Many other minorities have the same tendency to attack one another for similar reasons. This is called lateral discrimination: The minority group internalizes the presumed superiority of the larger society and individuals in the group act out toward one another.
From childhood, we gays and lesbians are denied a sense of belonging. Having to conform to heterosexual models, we don’t automatically learn, as do our heterosexual counterparts, to establish community and togetherness amongst each other.
Other minorities have families who support them and give them a sense of belonging amongst their own minority. Oprah Winfrey talks about the first time she saw the Supremes on television and yelling to her family, “Colored people are on TV, colored people are on TV!” She and her family watched these three beautiful black women singing and wearing beautiful clothes in ways that African-Americans weren’t usually depicted on television.
At least Oprah had her family to run to and feel a sense of belonging. Unlike other minorities, we have no one to provide that support! In our own families, we are still a minority. We’re born into an enemy camp, heterosexual families, and go to heterosexual boot camp for at least 18 years.
Understandably, we humans label ourselves—and each other—as a way to achieve a sense of identity. And within these labels—particularly gender labels--we are expected to act and think a certain way. GLBT children don’t get the same support as heterosexual boys and girls. The girls hear, “You have to wear this dress,” and the boys are told, “Don’t act like a girl.” When I was young, I used to put my sister’s black tights on my head and sing into a hairbrush, pretending I was Cher! My mother grabbed those tights off my head and told me, “Little boys cannot be Cher.” The bottom line is, we have to establish our identities on our own, with no help from others in learning to be who we are.
Our differences are not respected from childhood. Therefore, we do not accept each other’s differences as adults. How then can we be expected to accept each other’s differences within our GLBT community and businesses?
One of the biggest factors contributing to negativity toward gay businesses is the wound gay and lesbian children receive around the competence stage of development. Everyone needs to feel that what they think and do is worthwhile. If children don’t get this impression from caretakers and/or authority figures, they often grow up to feel incompetent and/or uncompetitive. Gay children are taught that the way they think, act and feel is wrong. How can we support each other if we have no confidence in ourselves?
The other way competence wounds are acted out are by becoming competitive. I am not talking about healthy competitiveness--I am talking about fierce, vicious competition. One business might come out against the other, overtly or covertly doing subtle things to undermine the company. I often see this among gay and lesbian businesses, and the worst part is that there is no need to feel threatened or competitive. The competitiveness demonstrated is from that person’s or business’ past wounds.
The Enemy Among Us
It’s wonderful that our community has multiple organizations, businesses, and support groups. The answer is not necessarily to join together and create a single one, but to allow communication and dialogue among the various businesses. We need to honor our own competence and each other’s, and support one another by checking on dates of each other’s events, national and local, held by businesses similar to our own when we can. We should talk to each other about how to stand together for our common good and not feel threatened by one another. What an impact our GLBT businesses could make if we put our heads together and supported each other, allowing for more than one reality and honored each other’s viewpoints. Isn’t that exactly what we’re asking from those outside of our community?
I’d like to end this article with a quote from author and motivational speaker Alan Cohen: “Instead of going to scare city [scarcity], have a bun dance [abundance]!”
Joe Kort, MSW, is a psychotherapist and coach in the Detroit, MI area and author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.joekort.com.
Joe Kort, MSW is a psychotherapist and author in Royal Oak, Michigan.