What is Gay Shame?
They call it “coming out of the closet,” for a reason. When you are gay, messages from the media, and those around you, dictate that it’s better (and safe) to hide away. But hiding away creates gay shame and this is a recipe for unhappiness.
To pretend to be something you are not. This is gay shame.
To take the innermost and truest parts of yourself and tuck them away. This is gay shame.
Something as essential (and beautiful) as who you are romantically attracted to and how you express yourself, unfortunately becomes full of shame and self criticism because of society – not because of you.
The biggest problem with gay shame is that it comes from society (externalized homophobia) but it directly harms you and limits your life dramatically (internalized homophobia). This is why coming out and becoming your full self is so important.
There Is Nothing At All Wrong With You
Being gay is natural and beautiful. It is estimated that in animals, same sex attraction happens in at least 450 species and as more research is done, seems to be over 1000 species and still counting. So being gay is firmly established in nature as being natural. So there truly is nothing to be ashamed about being gay.
Yet society has problems. It’s wrong (very wrong!) that this experience of gay shame is still all too common in gay people in the year 2022. But this gay shame is not the fault of gay people, but rather a society that is still homophobic and doesn’t treat gay people as equal. That being said, while it isn’t your fault that society isn’t more celebrating of gay people, it still is each person’s responsibility to take action and make their lives better.
Yes, the world has come a long way in terms of tolerance, but at times, that’s all we get. Tolerance. Like our very existence is just tolerated. Not accepted. Or celebrated. But merely there. Of course, that isn’t how everyone views those in the gay community. There are plenty of ally’s out there who support AND accept members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but there are also many toxic and homophobic people out there who aren’t supportive and knowing this causes gay shame to increase. Coming out is the antidote to gay shame.
Hiding yourself away from the world (and yourself) can be a very harrowing and saddening experience. Here are just some of the reasons gay shame hurts you in the long run.
1. You Never Feel Like You Can Be Yourself
When you are hiding yourself away, you are almost putting on an act. To the outside world, you try to appear as xyz when in reality you’re more like abc (or lgbtq+!). But the outside world doesn’t want you to be this way.
Even among your friends or family who do know you are gay, you may still feel on edge much of the time. As if secretly, they are just tolerating your presence.
It can be very challenging to contend with. And completely exhausting when you put so much effort into this front that others require of you.
2. Your Life Doesn’t Feel Like Your Own
We all want to feel like we have control over our own lives. That our choices are ours. Our mistakes are our own. And that for better or worse, you are doing things in the best way that actually works for you and gives you joy.
But unfortunately, when you are gay, that isn’t always the case because of society. So much of life is tied into others perceptions of who we are. So when you are hiding your truest version of you away, you are sacrificing the control over your own life.
Your life becomes a script that you follow to make other people feel better. This is why many gay people struggle with excessive people pleasing. If I can just act the way people want me to act, then I’ll be accepted. But the problem with this false logic is that if you don’t accept yourself and live in a way that you want to act, you will never feel like you are living your life, but rather someone else’s.
3. Bottling Things Inside Negatively Affects Mental Health
When we have to hide, we end up hiding far more than our sexuality. Hiding that you are gay, leads to hiding your feelings about being gay. You never feel like you can talk about how you are really feeling inside. About your worries, what stresses you out, and the things that cause you deep pain. When you are hiding yourself away from the world, you are likely not sharing your troubles with others. How can you connect with others (and yourself) when you aren’t able to share your feelings? You can’t.
Because of this, you are more than likely experiencing great amounts of stress and anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common yet treatable mental health conditions. It is estimated that in 2021 alone, 45% of adults were dealing with some type of anxiety disorder.
And that is just the ones who went and sought help. But members of the LGBTQIA+ community are less likely to seek help due to the fear of their doctors or therapists not understanding who they are. And as a result we either don’t get the support and help we need and deserve OR we settle for something less and justify it by saying, at least they aren’t hostile towards gay people.
Can I Heal From Gay Shame?
Is It Possible To Overcome Gay Shame And Show The World Who You Are?
Absolutely. How this looks for everyone will be different. For some, it’s coming out to one or two people closest in their life. For others, it’s beginning to break the mold that people set for gay people in America (both the ‘straight world’ as well as the ‘lgbtq community’.
And for others? It begins with small steps that begin with the inner self. You may not be ready yet to take the leap of faith and show the world who you are. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Coming out and sharing who you are should always be on your terms and in your timing. But you can begin to take some steps to build yourself up and gain the confidence you will need to someday do that.
That’s why working with a life coach who is also a therapist and is also a fellow gay person, can be really helpful. From my training as well as personal experience, I can show you how you can honor your truest self by taking small steps to get there. If as a gay man or member of the lgbtq + community, you are looking for support from a gay therapist, please reach out to my Honolulu or London clinic for a free test drive session of my services. Click to learn more about therapy for gay men.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the USA and an Accredited CBT Therapist in the UK with over 16 years of experience. I specialize in therapy for gay men, anxiety, and teaching the tried and tested techniques of self compassion for LGBTQ+ people. I have also received advanced specialist training in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy which have been shown to be very effective and which I have found to be super helpful for many of my gay clients over the years.