The Secret that Lives in the Closet

How Internalized Prejudice/Homophobia Limits Diversity

Darren Stehle
Oct 16, 2019 · 6 min read
“In the Closet, Again” – marc falardeau

Identity suppression should be a hate crime. For every government, culture, or religion that has attempted to suppress inborn human characteristics and freedom of expression, there is a person who is dying inside. There is a person who has been killed by political or religious ideology in the hands of close-minded, indoctrinated, faith-based individuals. There is a person who has taken their own life after years of trying to fit in — after years of trying to hammer themselves into a square slot as a misfitting cylinder. — Source

In 2018 I published a post titled, “The Internalized Homophobia Of “Straight-Acting” Gay Men”, which was a nod to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (#IDAHOTB) — a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

That article was definitely on the side of creating division, and I’ve certainly changed my approach since then. Gay men who struggle with their gayness, and or present purposefully as straight-acting need empathy, in most cases for themselves. For more on this subject, listen to, Forgiveness and Acceptance of Internalized Homophobia — LOP039.

How does internalized homophobia in gay men affect other LBTQ individuals?

We are taught that we are other, that we don’t belong, that we can’t cross the gender divide. To do so is a form of weakness. Straight-acting gay men are struggling with self-acceptance and personal forgiveness, but they are trapped on the surface level of both physical appearance and mannerisms.

Beauty, they say, is fleeting. And if physical beauty is ephemeral then we best focus on the quality of our nature and seek to be the best version of ourselves.

“Straight-acting” hurts us all and is a powerful reminder of masculine dominance and privilege, and the resulting emotional distance that men are taught to keep from other men. Many straight-acting gay men are just as hateful, defensive, and afraid of difference as their hyper-masculine, straight male counterparts (and anyone else who challenges gender and sexual norms).

The puzzle of who we are

When we look too closely at a single puzzle piece of a partially completed puzzle, we can’t comprehend what the completed picture will look like. It’s like the expression, not being able to see the forest for the trees. We can’t perceive all the pieces working together in perfect harmony. A single piece of the puzzle may be but one of a thousand, hardly representative of the whole.

Being creatures of habit, we know, trust and expect that all the pieces of the puzzle should be in the box. That we should be able to connect all of the pieces, thus completing the puzzle. We need to step away from the individual pieces, from what we’ve assembled, to see the bigger picture.

Each puzzle piece is unique and different from all the others. No two pieces will fit perfectly in the same spot. What makes us unique as individuals are how we are put together. We are a wonderful and complex puzzle, each of us!

We further connect and integrate as members of a group, a tribe, society, or a nation. We are the pieces that make up the fabric, the pieces, of that community. Without all the pieces fitting together as a whole, we can’t witness the complexity, the beauty, and the uniqueness that brings us the satisfaction of having figured it all out.

A melting pot culture doesn’t celebrate diversity. By fitting in you are disappearing yourself into the status quo. Fitting in is anything but queer. Integrating; bringing your uniqueness to benefit the greater whole, and belonging; being accepted for who you are without judgement or limitation, is how we embrace diversity.

“Open the doors, we do not belong here.” — Emanuele Spies

Diversity may be initially uncomfortable, and that’s okay.

Discomfort means you are challenging the status quo, which is paradoxically never fixed, as much as hegemonic ideologies would prefer it be stuck in time and place. But people change and the times, yes the times are always changing.

A completed puzzle is like a metaphor for life.

Each piece comes together to help make us who we are. This is not to say that we are as simplistic as a fixed number of pieces that make up a puzzle. Certainly, the status quo wants us to have as few variants as possible and would like to keep us contained within the proverbial box.

When we pull back far enough — from only seeing the shape that defines each piece — we begin to see the entire picture. We no longer see the individual pieces or the separation of the spaces in between. We see the picture as a seamless whole. In this way, we might have a sense of how our life pieces fit together — our history, our stories, our family, our experiences, our life-changing moments, our loves, our losses, and so on.

When someone meets you for the first time they only see the picture of who you are from a distance. They see the landscape that makes up the uniqueness that is you. It is within this landscape of possibility that we want to explore what it means to live out authentically and the best of who we are as LGBTQ people, to use our creative uniqueness to make an impact as evolutionary leaders of a better, more loving humanity. In other words, our freedom lives outside the box, with each of our pieces intimately connected proudly displaying all that we are.

Darren is a coach, podcaster, and writer for LGBTQ thought leadership. He is currently working on the project, “The Way of Queer Leadership”. You can follow his ideas here on Th-Ink Queerly, and discover more about his coaching at

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Think Queerly is a thought leadership publication that…

Darren Stehle

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Coaching Queer Leadership. Download my free book, “Think Queerly: Meditations & Critical Reflections On Liberating Humanity” —

Th-Ink Queerly

Think Queerly is a thought leadership publication that disects social & idelogical norms through critical analysis and personal narrative. Think Queerly’s mission is to create a more loving world by elevating human consciousness and liberating those oppressed by the status quo.

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