Main | Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The S-L Word

There's an adage in internet culture called Godwin's Law, the essence of which is this: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. According to Godwin's Law, a person that invokes such comparisons has instantly lost whatever argument he is making.

For the last couple of years I've been noticing a similar situation arising around usage of the pop psychology term "self-loathing". Lately, if one describes a gay person as self-loathing, usually meaning that you believe that person's actions or opinions are reflective of their regret over their homosexuality, often the term is dismissed as archaic, no longer valid in modern discussion of queer culture.

Gay Republicans in particular reject the term, saying that just because they may support an administration that loathes them, doesn't mean they loathe themselves. I've noticed lately that if you judge someone's motivations as being based on self-loathing, you are often quickly denounced as a gay ghettoist, one who can't picture a gay person as having motivations or opinions unrelated to their homosexuality. Calling self-loathing on someone is now the gay version of Godwin's Law.

But just as I believe that Godwin's Law is often used to silence those making completely valid comparisons between the rise of fascism and the current American administration, I feel that self-loathing is a completely apt term in describing certain aspects of gay behavior. In my opinion, self-loathing is the defining negative characteristic of modern homosexuals. There are many, many positive defining characteristics: creativity, artistry, empathy, intuitiveness, generosity. But on the flip side of all of that, self-loathing stands starkly alone.

From the moment we know what gay is, and that it's what we are, we endure and internalize an incessant, heavy, debilitating, enervating barrage of anti-gay messages from our families, our churches, our teachers, and our leaders. Every bit of popular culture, from sappy Lifetime romance movies to saccharine hit singles on the radio, underscores our outsider status, our otherness.

Processing these messages, exorcising our internalized homophobia, is a lifelong exercise. We are never done working through it. Never. Just as coming out, once begun, is a never-ending experience, we must always work towards becoming self-actualized, to make the most of our unique abilities as gay people. Only a completely self-deluded queer can ever sit back and say "That's it. I'm done. I am now totally free of self-loathing and my being gay no longer has any influence on how I see myself and my place in the world."

Evidence of self-loathing is rampant is modern gay male culture. You can see it in the hypermasculine leather and bear subcultures where fear of appearing feminine informs every aspect of image and action. You can see it in gay men who falsely profess an interest in sports, because they think it makes them seem straighter, and therefore: hotter. You can see it in the online hook-up world, in the words "straight acting" and "no fems". You can see it in the rampant eroticizing of straight men and the hetero-fetishizing world of and You can see it, in boatloads, in the way that some gay people marginalize and reject feminine men and masculine women. You can see self-loathing in drug abuse, in male body dismorphia, in unsafe sex. And you can see it in gay bashing, the most tragic manifestation of self-loathing.

Self-loathing defines us, and all any of us can do is own that, and work towards evolving to a better place. I remember when I first came out, seeing drag queens proudly strutting on the stage and hearing audience members shout out "Own it, honey! OWN IT!" What those queens were "owning" was their own unique expression of their homosexuality and I envied them for it. I still do.

Sometimes I play a little game with friends. I'll say, "You are standing in front of identical twins. Everything about them is the same, their personalities, their livelihoods, their mannerisms. They share the same unique DNA and even their mother cannot tell them apart. They are handsome and sexy and have great bodies. They are totally your type. One of them is gay and one of them is straight. Which one do you want to have sex with?"

The conversation that follows their answer is always very interesting.


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