Thanks for raising this question Joy. I’ll see if I’m understanding it correctly. In addition to the homophobia in the world around us, there is of course the reality of “internalized homophobia” that leads many people to self-hatred, self-condemnation, and for some, suicidal inclinations. The culture’s power and pressure to conform is so strong that anyone who falls outside the dominant culture can begin to feel that they are inherently bad, wrong, a defect, etc. My partner actually is on the autism spectrum, so we have had many conversations about internalized cultural expectations, and we are constantly trying to reframe our experience as “the norm” for us, regardless of what the world tells us is OK. This is a difficult place to live in every day of one’s life.
For me, as I mentioned earlier, recognizing my sexual orientation and beginning to accept it happened within the crucible of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I was a student. I had had virtually no prior interactions with people whom I knew to be gay. I did not want that to be who I was. Few people, I believe, desire a life of oppression, ridicule and scorn (hence my belief that sexual identity is not chosen). So I entered a several-year process of self-condemnation, trying to force myself into society’s mold (dating guys), feeling like I was not worthy of love, but by this time well into my MDiv program. At the same time, the relationship I had with another female student during that time felt so deeply meaningful and satisfying, that I could not deny those feelings either. So I was in a conundrum. “Am I called to ministry or am I gay” felt like a real question for awhile. Do I leave and try to find work in a different field? Do I pretend this is not who I am and hope it will go away? Do I lead a double life? The double life was my answer for more years than I wanted it to be. But for a long time that was the best I could do to honor who I was and somehow still hold onto the belief that I could still be loved and called by God.
I think that the process of “coming out of the closet” is about simultaneously confronting the cultural homophobia AND our internalized homophobia. The two are inextricably linked, and the coming out process involves both the internal and the external confrontations in a sort of dance with each other. For some people with a very strong sense of self, and who may be less influenced by society’s expectations, coming out is a clear dismissal of any internalized homophobia. For others, coming out in safe and affirming places is a means of finding support to overcome the internalized homophobia. I’m not sure if this makes sense, or if it answers your question. Feel free to rephrase or follow up if I’m not there yet.