I caught an interview with comedian Todd Glass last night. He was on the Tonight Show promoting his new autobiography which touches on amongst other things his coming out story. Much to my surprise Glass came out of the closet in early 2012. How did I miss this? I did some digging and discovered the podcast where it began. Listening to him speak was both fascinating and heart breaking. For more than a year I’ve wanted to cover the topic of internalized homophobia. I’ve sat down and starting writing posts numerous times but always end up erasing everything. Until now I never found a successful way to tackle the subject without coming across as judgmental or preachy. Somehow growing up I avoided the shame that so often accompanies homosexuality therefore I felt that speaking on the subject would come across as inauthentic. To be clear, I say I’ve had very little shame as a point of clarification not a way to brag. The space that shame would’ve taken up was filled with plenty of other issues. I don’t believe one experience is better or worse than the other. Everyone has their own process. When I heard Todd Glass speak it gave me a connection and insight into the struggle of being proud of who you are. It should be mentioned that everything I’m going to talk about is referring to grown adults. Young people in school have a very different set of circumstances to deal with and staying closeted is a much different decision for them.
Internalized homophobia is a big word that can be thrown around without explanation. When I use the term I’m simply referring to the deep feelings of shame, fear, and hatred towards one’s self that forces a person to hide who they are. Not everyone wants to march in a parade waving a flag. Some people just tend to be more private than others. It’s an understandable choice that doesn’t automatically imply an internal struggle. The problem comes in when someone makes that choice based on fear or shame. I’ll use the work place as an example. There is a big difference between being a generally private person and denying who you are. I keep to myself at my office and opt out of socializing with coworkers. I like having a clear separation between work and home. With that in mind, I’ve never felt the need to announce my sexuality because honestly it has nothing to do with my job and it’s really none of their business. Unfortunately “It’s none of their business” is also a common excuse people hind behind when they are ashamed of who they are. Pretending to be straight out of shame is where the internalized homophobia comes into play. In my case I would never pretend ordeny who I am. I have a picture of my BF at my desk and if someone asks I am more than happy to talk about him. Beyond the office, internalized homophobia is a concept that can rear it’s ugly head in many ways. Everyone has that friend who gets unusually uncomfortable by overly flamboyant gay men. He doesn’t understand that just because he’s not attracted to them/us doesn’t explain his embarrassment and discomfort. Sadly it has more to do with his own insecurities. Once a person gets to a place of total acceptance and comfort inside, he realizes that everyone elses actions have nothing to do with him.
This is the struggle I heard listening to the Todd Glass interview. He was obviously still terrified to make the big announcement. He couldn’t actually say the words “I’m gay.” The host had to do it for him. With the all the advances in equal rights coming out it still a very personal event. Many recent celebrities have come out in a more matter of fact way. Now a days by the time a celebrity talks openly about his sexuality he has worked through all his demons and issues. Telling the public is almost like the last pin to be knocked down. (Examples: Jim Parsons and Anderson Cooper) The lack of comfort is why I was drawn to Todd Glass. He talked about it while he himself was still in the midst of working through the process. This wasn’t a case where everyone behind the scenes has always known and he just put up appearances for the cameras. He was closeted to many of his dearest friends. He even maintained the classic ‘roommate’ lie. I was fascinated to hear a mature adult talk about his coming out process while he was going though it. You can hear the raw emotions as he tries to joke his way through his story. In an odd way I found his honesty very refreshing. So often coming out stories are told as a neat little anecdote from the past when all the emotions and pain have faded. It’s extremely rare to hear it as it’s happening and to hear his answers that are not always the politically correct script we are taught. I would love to hear him reflect back on the interview in five years and get his perspective. I hope by than he will have let go of so much of his shame and be more comfortable in his own skin. With his coming out Todd Glass shows the public another perspective of life as a gay man.