Dr. Frankie's Love Seat

Advice from the Lesbian Love Doctor


Dear Dr. Frankie:
My girlfriend is terrified to hold my hand in public because she doesn’t want to make others feel “uncomfortable,” and she thinks people will judge her.
Is this internalized homophobia or a legitimate concern?


Dear Puzzled:
Yes and no.

It sounds a bit like internalized homophobia *and* it sounds a bit like a legitimate concern. It all depends on context.

If your girlfriend believes she is reasonably protecting you or herself from apparent violence in public or perceived issues of discrimination in employment (such as if she is employed by the military), it might prove to stay safe by not holding hands. This is a very situational context. However, if your girlfriend is choosing not to hold your hand because she is afraid of what others may think, or how they might feel by seeing two women holding hands, it could be internalized homophobia.

Researchers have defined internalized homophobia as, “a person’s appraisal of an environment as threatening, due to expectations of rejection and the wanting to conceal one’s sexual orientation in an effort to cope.” Your girlfriend may feel ashamed to be a lesbian and having to hold your hand is too “out” of an activity for her. She may be so afraid of having to deal with other people’s reactions, that she is incapable of holding your hand. It may have nothing to do with how she feels about you, but is simply too scary for her to do.

The answer here is about you: What is acceptable to *you*? If it’s only a minor irritation for you that she won’t hold your hand in public, then maybe it’s not as big of a concern.

If it bothers you more, then perhaps it’s something you need to consider—Are you ok with having to control the impulse to hold her hand because she feels afraid? Are you ok with living in a somewhat closeted relationship? These are questions you need to ask both yourself and your girlfriend. Perhaps it’s just something that your girlfriend needs to hear is important to you. Asking her about it could be an excellent opportunity to learn more about your girlfriend and how she feels. However, if talking about it doesn't seem to work and it appears more serious, a professional therapist may need to be consulted on working with your girlfriend and her feelings of shame.

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