Gay-on-Gay Bullying: Such a Shame
I've made bullying prevention one of my top priorities, including cyber-bullying and anti-LGBT bullying. In all my advocacy and research, I seem to have missed another important subset of bullying: gay men bullying other gay men ("gay-shaming" or "gay-on-gay" bullying). It never occurred to me that LGBT persons, who have been victims of bullying themselves for many years, would then turn to bullying members of their own community. That is until I was the target of such bullying.
Bullying Stems from Insecurity
Someone bullies another person in order to achieve some sense of value or worth. The bully harbors a particular insecurity—whether consciously or subconsciously—and compensates for that by devaluing others. A bully tries to "tear down" the perceived value of his target with the hope of artificially inflating his own value. In other words, if the bully can't increase his own self-worth, he will attempt to decrease the self-esteem of his target so that he feels better by comparison. This gives the bully temporary, superficial relief from his insecurity.
In a sense, bullying creates a vicious cycle. If the bully is successful at deflating the target's self-esteem, then the target may be susceptible to feelings of insecurity. Over time, continual barrages of bullying may reduce the target's self-worth such that he then projects his insecurity onto others, becoming a bully himself. The typical gay man is never at a loss for insecurity (myself included); so, it's somewhat natural that he may be prone to bullying.
Breaking the Bullying Cycle
The bully's weapon of choice is shame—the "intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." Bullying is effective when it evinces a feeling of shamefulness in the target, thinking that he is "unworthy" of social connections. In my recent experience, the bully was telling me:
"You are so flamboyantly gay and your failed attempts to seem masculine are so transparent that you are not worthy of acceptance or respect, and deserve ridicule and humiliation instead."
The bully was trying to make me feel ashamed for being who I am. Although it was ambiguous as to whether the intended target was me or my boyfriend sitting across from me, the bully's tactics didn't work on either of us (partially because his observations weren't actually true).
The solution for rendering a bully ineffective is quite simple: know yourself. Even though it's easier said than done, consciously knowing your own self-worth is the best way to overcome a bully's methods. When the bully tries to tell you that you're "unworthy of love or belonging," you reply with:
"No, you're wrong. I am fully aware of who I am as a person and am just as deserving of acceptance and respect as anyone else."
As a Community, Standing Up to Gay-on-Gay Bullying
Most of the time, we observe more bullying against others than bullying directed towards ourselves. As I've discussed in a prior post, stopping a bully requires more than just the intended victim standing up for himself. It takes a community. It takes each of us to recognize bullying when it happens and admonish the bully for projecting his insecurities on an innocent stranger.
To those who rallied around my boyfriend and me, I'd like to thank you. Even though we refused to let the bully deflate our self-worth, the collective action of the larger community is what will prevent him from bullying in the future.
The LGBT community has been attacked and bullied throughout much of history—and some of the community is still being attacked and bullied. For a group that has been the target of so much hatred in the past, it is imperative that we recognize and prevent gay-on-gay bullying in the future.
For more information on how you can prevent bullying, check out these resources: