The complex issues of feminity and masculinity play a key role in the development of every gay man. Why are gay men ridiculed in our society?
Essentially they are criticized for expressing traits that are considered “feminine.” From an early age they learn that they way they walk or move, the way they cross their legs, the sound of their voice, or their personal interests do not match what is expected of men in this culture.
The process of unlearning these cultural “rules” of masculinity is an important task on the route to gay men’s personal growth. While it may not take long to intellectually understand that these judgments about how a man should act are arbitrary, unfair and unnecessarily restricting, the process of fully releasing these destructive voices may require some deeper attention.
In my LGBTQ affirming therapy practice gay men are often surprised that they still carry with them an inner homophobia that they assumed they had expelled years ago when they first came out. They see themselves as proud, out gay men and yet upon reflection, they discover that they restrict themselves from crossing their legs at the knee, or allowing their wrists to move as they want, or carefully monitoring how they are viewed by strangers or family.
The habitual self-editing can ultimately lead to an overall feeling of being tired, “less-than”, and insecure.
How can gay men let go of these deeply internalized, negative societal messages? Here are some suggestions:
- Seek supportive friendships with other gay men. Make contact with other gay men to fully heal the effects of inner homophobia. Look for friends who know how to support rather than criticize. Avoid or confront people who tease you “even in fun” for being “too gay.”
- Starting listening more closely to your internal dialogue. Where do you criticize yourself without even knowing it? When you catch yourself beating yourself up, take a breath, and then replace those statements with true, compassionate statements. (Read this blog post for more about how to do that.)
- Notice how you move in your body. Do you celebrate how you move or do you control and restrict yourself? Find a safe place and safe people with whom you can practice moving in any way that feels natural and good to you without having to edit yourself.
- Read affirming books about gay men. One of my favorite books about gay male development is The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs.
It is important that you don’t underestimate the power of the surrounding culture to impact your self esteem. Rejecting and reframing those powerful cultural messages is a process that requires ongoing attention.