By Cailin Crosby
As the month of June and many Pride events come to a close, I am feeling reflective. Personally, I am reflecting on navigating through the world as a white, cis, able-bodied queer woman and what that means during Pride and the rest of the year.
Growing up, there were few representations of identity or relationships that didn’t fit into the heteronormative mold of our society. When we don’t see ourselves or our identities reflected in our environment it can be confusing and distressing. Unsurprisingly, one often comes to the conclusion that something is “wrong with me” or that I am “less than” because I don’t fit into the only visible structures of love, identity, and relationships I see available. Over time, these thoughts about being “wrong” or “less than” can entrench themselves into our core beliefs and become a part of our inner dialogue. This negative self-talk and shame can develop into internalized homophobia or internalized transphobia, something that many in the 2SLGBTQ+ community carry with them.
It is important as a society that we acknowledge and understand that the feelings of internalized shame felt by 2SLGBTQ+ people does not have to do with being 2SLGBTQ+; it is a result of existing within a culture and systems that inherently makes us feel this way.
This is a topic I often work with, professionally and personally, and the following is my approach and some thoughts regarding these concerns.
Internalized shame can be approached in a similar way to how anxious thoughts are approached. We know we can never completely rid ourselves of anxious thoughts – anxious thoughts will come and go and some days will feel better than others. We also know that we can work on and develop our ability to cope with and manage anxious thoughts so that we feel less overwhelmed and more in control over our responses when they do arise. In the same way, we can acknowledge that due to our experience and environment we may never be able to fully rid ourselves of internalized homo/transphobia, but we can challenge it, be curious about it and manage it. We can learn to quiet the negative voice when it does come up until it is a whisper, just popping in from time to time, making it easier to invalidate and dismiss.
One way I have found helpful in challenging and quieting this voice has been through recognizing and cultivating places of safety; safety within relationships, safety within community, and a sense of safety in loving and fully accepting oneself. When we have the safety to be authentically and unapologetically ourselves, we open up a whole new world of possibilities. We give ourselves permission to practice self-compassion and self-love. We allow a different voice into our head that says:
“You are valid”
“You deserve more”
“You have a right to exist”
“You have a right to be out”
“You have a right to love yourself”
“You have a right to love who you love”
And as that voice gains traction I find the other, negative voice rightfully loses its footing.
While we can work to cultivate safe spaces, we’ll often be put in situations that we need to assess as either safe or unsafe. And sometimes, protecting ourselves might look like withholding or not disclosing our identity in a situation we deem as unsafe. This sometimes-necessary act can be hugely conflicting and distressing given our fight to be out, visible, and proud of who we are. Experiences such as this can contribute to a different stream of negative self-talk, admonishing oneself for ‘not being out enough’, ‘not being queer enough’, ‘not being trans enough’, or ‘not being proud enough’; these thoughts represent the pressures that we can feel even within our own community.
When this happens, it is important to remember that your queerness is not less than if you get misread for ‘straight’ or ‘cis’ without correcting this if it feels like the safest thing to do in that moment. Your queerness is not eradicated if you are in a hetero-appearing relationship. Your queerness is not less than if you are only ‘out’ to some people or even 'out' to no one. These things do not take away from your queerness; in fact, I think they exemplify the experience of being queer because surviving, adapting, and challenging norms is what we do – in whatever form that takes.
If you’re struggling with negative self-talk or internalized shame, I want you to know that:
· You are not alone
· You are not a “bad” 2SLGBTQ+ person for struggling with this
· There is support out there
If you're interested in getting professional support, let's book a call