Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spark of Wisdom: Internalized Self-Hate and the Horrible Baggage

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

And now I'm going to have a rather personal ramble on internalized self-hate and the horrible baggage it leaves. Which, in turn, is why I am slightly obsessive when it comes to demanding decent gay representation in the media (that and the sporks. I hate being spoked I do and it's nigh impossible to avoid if you turn a television on).
When I was growing up I had one series of books that contained a gay character - and they were written by Ann "tent peg" McCaffrey. Television was scarcely much better, the recognisable gay characters being people like John  Humphreys and Lieutenant Gruber - caricatures that existed so straight people could point and giggle at them, comic characters who were funny ONLY because they are gay and simply being gay was just so screamingly hilarious. 

My family didn't talk about anything remotely related to being gay except in the most heavily euphemistic terms (often with strong slants of distaste). The closest they ever came was pouring venom over my uncle Henry. 

I remain the only person in the family who refers to him that way. My great uncle Ralph never married. He lived with Henry for 30 years. The family always referred to him as "Henrietta" though he never identified by that name nor in any way as female. And when uncle Ralph died they pushed him out of the funeral and spoke bitterly about how 'Henrietta' got all of Ralph's money (thankfully Ralph was sensible enough to make a will). I've often wanted to meet him, but after Ralph died no-one kept in touch with him, no-one even knew his last name. 
I've already spoken about some of the badness that hit when I came out/was outed at school.
There was a whole lot of negative there and I absorbed most of it. 
In short, I entered the big bad world of dating rather messed up. I hated myself and had a twisted, broken idea of what it meant to be gay. I had no positive ideal of myself or what I was. 

I thought love was impossible, an alien concept, something reserved for others. Gay men only wanted sex. All the time. Any time. And that it was dirty and shameful and wrong and sick. It was unnatural and perverse. I didn't understand or recognise affection even though I craved it - and hated myself more for not being a 'proper' gay man. And I expected various badnesses to be normal and acceptable among gay men. 

Needless to say, this was not a particularly healthy attitude. It certainly didn't lead to many constructive relationships. 

My dating history is a trainwreck of disasters. Decent guys were usually too young, inexperienced and just unable to deal with my subscriptions (I had graduated beyond issues). Some became frustrated and angry which didn't help over much. 

Guys as messed up as me lasted longer - and we indulged in a happy fun ride of spirally disaster and mutual destruction. This was not helpful to either of us. 

And there were guys who were very happy to find a young, vulnerable, emotionally needy, malleable and easy to please and willing to tolerate just about anything. And that wasn't helpful either.
And I didn't look for help. Because I knew what would help. I would have to magically become straight - or live with it. Those were the choices - because the problem simply had to be my being gay. And, of course, there were no shortage of powers that be that were happy to agree with me there - and smugly take any tales of a dysfunctional gay relationship as proof for their own homophobia. To this day, I dislike discussing even moderate relationship issues I have with Beloved, let alone my past trainwrecks. I cannot describe how hard it makes it to find help when you know that any indication that a relationship is less than perfect - let alone outright destructive - then it will be blamed on your sexuality, on who you are. 

It took a lot of work, dedication and love from a lot of good people and great friends and a whole lot of rage to put me back together again, build a sense of self-worth and try to shed some of my gross misconceptions about what it meant to be a gay man - and that that's not a bad thing to be. Well, insofar as I have been put together again. 

Looking back, I have a strong sense of being cheated, of years wasted and lost while I sorted my head out. And I have a whole lot of rage - and no small amount of that against myself for allowing myself to be a victim when common sense and logic should have opened my eyes. (And yes, I know I wasn't working on logic at the time, I don't think anyone is, but knowing that doesn't make it accepted or any less enraging). 

But I'm also angry at the negative message. The negative messages that saturated the world that I absorbed and the positive messages that are silenced, diluted and overwhelmed. I am angry when I see stereotypes and caricatures, I am angry when I see people using "gay rights" to push gay fetishisation, I am angry when I see the life-affirming It Gets Better campaign being gradually overwhelmed by celebrities looking for a higher profile, companies using it for marketing, politicians using it for campaigning and an inordinate number of straight people looking for those tasty ally cookies. 

And I am angry because there's still a vast number of people out there who cry "censorship" every time we protest hate speech. I am angry at the vast number of people who yell "think of the children!" every time we demand that GBLTQ youth see positive representations of themselves. I am angry every time someone says "don't you have anything better to worry about?" when I complain about media depictions or erasure or the near universal heterosexist nature of advertising or the hate speech spouted by religious leaders, by politicians, by celebrities and yes, even high profile nobodies with 10 minutes of undeserved fame ranting off on their twitter feed.
Because - and I say it again knowing I've said it so many times before that I'm not even a broken record any more because a broken record would have worn out by now - the message matters. The message can make and break lives