Masc4Masc: Internalized Homophobia in Gay Men

Richard Clark

“Why do you have to be so gay?” … “I’m gay, but I’m not a stereotype.” … “Stop being so flamboyant!” Whether directed at others or coming from themselves, comments like these are present in the gay community. These statements appear meaningless and unimportant, but they have a dark origin. One of the root causes of these off-handed or derogatory comments is internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia is when a gay man begins to view this identity negatively after being exposed to anti-gay sentiments in society. This causes the individual to have a poor sense of self-worth, along with other internal struggles.

A study conducted by Thomas Kelley and Richard Robertson at New College of Florida and published in 2008 in the Journal of Aggressive Behavior found a relationship between men’s levels of internalized homophobia and their feelings of being targeted by other gay men. The study’s findings suggest that men who have higher levels of internalized homophobia feel victimized and attacked by other gay men more often. What this study seems to bring up is are two conflicting ideas. The first is that these gay men with higher levels of internalized homophobia feel more victimized, because gay men really do tend to verbally attack one another more often. The second is less intuitive it is the idea that these gay men who have higher levels of internalized homophobia are more vulnerable to and critical of their interactions with other gay men.

This and other studies have found an interesting trend. Some gay men report fearing negative gay stereotypes. They mention how they threaten their sense of strength, and masculinity. These people feel pressure to not conform to these stereotypes. This is a key issue with internalized homophobia. It makes gay men feel they have to be a certain “type of gay” in order to fight these internalized ideas of what they should look like, dress like, and act like. In a culture that has told gay men that being same-sex attracted is wrong and that deviating from “normal boy” behavior is unacceptable, these men ultimately hide their non-conformity and reject much of their own gay identity. The manifestations of this are not always blatant as well, as in online dating when certain gay men feel the need to put down and/or exclude men who engage in more non-conforming behaviors by putting things like “Masc4Masc” (Masculine for Masculine) or “No Fems” (No guys that display stereotypically feminine characteristics) on their profiles.

This behavior can be very detrimental to a gay man’s mental health, physical health, as well as his relationships with others in his community. Research suggests internalized homophobia can be correlated with depression, substance abuse, and high-risk sexual behaviors. This study illustrates the harmful effect of internalized homophobia and highlights how feeling consistently victimized leads to hardship and trauma. Gay men with higher levels of internalized homophobia may fear identifying with these negative stereotypes so much that this fear turns into pain and affects their relationships with others. Existing research about internalized homophobia suggests very harmful effects. The question left to ask is: How can gay men rid themselves of internalized homophobia and be allowed to be who they are?

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