Undoing the Velcro Effect of Internalized Homophobia
Internalized homophobia is a certain kind of fear-based Velcro Effect (explained below) that mainly LGBT people experience. Internalized homophobia refers to societal negative stereotypes, beliefs, stigma, and prejudice about LGBT people that are consciously or unconsciously internalized by a person who is LGBT. The degree to which someone is affected by these ideas depends on how much and which ideas they have internalized.
Sometimes internalized homophobia shows up as outright self-hatred. “I hate myself for being gay.” In other situations, where one has worked through self-loathing to a large degree by coming out and gaining acceptance from friends and family members, the internalized homophobia is much more subtle, appearing like a shadow projected onto others who are perceived to be judgmental towards you, a LGBT person. “I accept myself but they don’t accept me.” That’s still a lack of self-acceptance, no matter how cleverly the mind tries to disguise it as someone else’s problem
In the Living Inquiries, we use the term “Velcro Effect” to describe the experience of thoughts (i.e., words and pictures) feeling stuck to bodily energies (i.e., emotions and sensations).
Let’s say you are sitting with a friend and he criticizes you, calling you lazy. You instantly feel defensive as his critical words replay themselves over and over in your head. You find yourself swimming in stories of self-judgment and anger for the rest of the day. You hear thoughts like, “He doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about,” “I’m not lazy,” and “Maybe he is right, maybe I’m depressed.” As those thoughts arise, you feel tightness in your stomach and anger in your chest. The experience of those thoughts arising with the bodily energies of tightness and anger is the Velcro Effect. The Velcro Effect is, essentially, self-identification. It’s old conditioning resurfacing, often as a response to a trigger happening in your immediate environment.
Growing up gay, before coming out, I experienced the Velcro Effect quite often, in sometimes very palpable and scary ways, when I felt uncomfortable in my own skin about being gay. That was more like the “outright self-hatred” version. But I also remember, long after coming out, walking into restaurants with my boyfriend in the Midwest and feeling as if the eyes around me were judging us. This kind of internalized homophobia wasn’t as obvious. It didn’t look like my problem. They were judging ME. The thoughts and feelings were much more subtle. Truth is, I was judging myself still. This was internalized homophobia, too ugly for me to accept within myself, so I projected it onto others.
Some of the people around me may have been, in fact, judging us. But why did it bother me so much? It triggered me because of a deficiency story that was still running in the background, which was “There is something wrong with me.” I believed it on some level or I wouldn’t have felt that uncomfortableness. With the Living Inquiries, we work with Internalized homophobia by putting a name to the deficiency story that is running in the background, creating the outward projection of feeling judged by others. The story could be anything: “I’m not good enough.” “I’m wrong,” “I’m bad,” “I don’t belong, “I’m unsafe,” “I’m unlovable” or “I’m not acceptable.” These are not always conscious stories. Sometimes we don’t even know they are operating. But in those moments of feeling judged by others, we have a clear shot of putting a name to that sense of a deficient “me” and then using the Unfindable Inquiry to see through it.
All of the inquiries contain three elements and one question. The three elements are always words, pictures, and bodily energy. The question changes with each inquiry. Using the Unfindable Inquiry, you look for that seemingly fixed, objective self however it appears. Let’s say it appears as “the one who is wrong.” You look at each set of words, each picture, and each bodily energy, by itself, to see if it is “the one who is wrong.” The question is, “Is that picture itself me” or “Is that energy by itself me – the one who is wrong?” You go through everything that arises around this internalized homophobia, sifting through mental pictures from as far back as age six to as recent as yesterday, and allowing every painful and scary emotion to be as it is. In not being able to find that self who is wrong, the story is seen through, the emotions are released, and the outward projections can then relax or even stop arising at all. Plainly put, freedom and acceptance stop being things you strive towards and start being your experience moment by moment, no matter where you go or who you are around.
Because internalized homophobia is fear-based, the Anxiety Inquiry can also be useful. With this Inquiry, you look through the same three elements but ask a different question. The question is, “Is that the threat?” Anxiety that arises in social settings involves the perception of a threat, either conscious or unconscious, that is not in fact real. For example, let’s say you are attending a party full of people that you feel will not accept you as a transgendered person. With these thoughts, you experience anxiety in your stomach. That’s the Velcro Effect. Your life is not in danger at the party in most cases (unless you are being physically assaulted), but your mind and body responds as if it is, producing a fight, flight or freeze response. The body and mind doesn’t distinguish well between an actual threat (being chased by someone with a knife) and a perceived threat (feeling judged at a party). You can use the Anxiety Inquiry to look at each set of words, each mental picture and each bodily energy, by itself, looking for the actual threat. In not finding the threat, the anxious energy is allowed to release on its own, without words and pictures stuck to it. The threat cannot be found. This tool, alone, has the capacity to penetrate through internalized homophobia in a very clean and direct way.
The Inquiries work on either kind of internalized homophobia – the outright self-hatred or its more subtle cousin, the outward projection of “others who don’t accept me.” In each case, there is a deficiency self story operating. It’s all “you.” The Inquiries are not about making others accept us or stop judging us. That’s their work. If you are experiencing internalized homophobia, give the Inquiries a try. It’s best to work with a facilitator at first. The facilitator can help you learn how to use the inquiries in the correct way, to avoid bypassing emotions and all sorts of other traps that people experience when they don’t sift through everything in their experience. To set up a session with a facilitator, visit the LGBT facilitators page.