gay shame

Gay Shame: 5 Ways Gay Men Compensate


Perfect Bodies. Expensive Clothes. Lavish Vacations. All these are great, but what if none of them makes the person who has them happy? Gay Men are notorious for being tastemakers and having their finger on the pulse of everything that is covetable. But did you ever wonder how this characterization came to be?

Growing up the different kid, being bullied or just feeling out of place can affect men in many ways, even after they have come out. The shame associated with these experiences manifests itself in daily life.

Below are five ways that gay men compensate for residual shame they have from growing up gay.

1. Trying to Attain the “Perfect” Body

Gyms in all major cities are crammed with gay men trying to attain a perfect body. Why? Masculinity, or the illusion of it anyway, drives men to attain what they think the perfect man looks like. Gay men may feel that if they achieve a certain look with their body it will override the shame they once felt for being gay. This can lead to body dysmorphia and impossible standards for fellow gay men or partners to live up to.

2. Excluding People Who Are Different 

Another way gay men can compensate for shame is by excluding other members of the community they feel do not fit their ‘masculine’ standards. Common phraseology  on dating apps like ‘No fats, No fems, No Asians’ illustrates this point. With this attitude some gay men feel they are presenting a curated section of homosexuality that is most palatable to others and often to themselves. To include other groups might upset the illusion in their minds and force them to look inward. This can be difficult as it reveals flaws or insecurities. Read Embracing Your Authentic Self 

3. Placing Too Much Value on Money and Status

In an effort to compensate for their internalized homophobia or shame some gay men achieve hyper financial success or create the illusion of it. Faking financial prowess by spending lavishly even if it means being eyeball deep in debt is another symptom. Trips to Mykonos, shares on Fire Island or expensive apartments crammed with beautiful things all help to create a smoke screen that blocks out the shame they feel internally.

4. Seeking Validation Through Sex

Using sex to combat shame is nothing new. From an early age, young gay men are told that the feelings they are having for other men are wrong. When they finally have a chance to express those feelings they can go too far. Bars, sex apps, and bathhouses all provide a hunting ground for gays looking to validate themselves in the eyes of someone else. Being chosen, if only for a few minutes, validates gay men to know that the feelings they have are ok. The problem is that validation is fleeting just like the encounters themselves. Shortly thereafter, the hunt for validation begins again.

5. Coping with Drugs and Alcohol 

Drugs are a potentially more destructive way gay men can combat shame and try to escape feelings of inadequacy. From circuit party weeks to small house parties, drugs are an ever-present element in many gay social circles. Attempting to have fun and attempting to forget can often feel like the same thing at 4am. In the most extreme cases, some men get sucked into the cycle of addiction and may never recover. Read 10 Ways to Moderate Your Drinking

These are just a few ways gay men compensate for the shame they have around being gay. It’s not to say that all gay men in the gym or every man who spends money on nice clothes or vacations is combating gay shame. However, it is important to acknowledge when these types of behaviors are negatively affecting daily life.

Ryan Jacobs - NYC Therapist

Ryan Jacobs - NYC Therapist

Psychotherapist at myTherapyNYC
Offers individual, couples, and group counseling in NYC. He facilitates the Gay Men's Therapy Group on Wednesday evenings. He specializes in LGBTQ, grief & loss, trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression, and relationship issues.
Ryan Jacobs - NYC Therapist

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5 replies
  1. nikki
    nikki says:

    Sometimes people do some of these things listed above without even realizing that they’re doing it. Identifying and acknowledging that these behaviors exist in your life is the first step toward positive change and increased self esteem and confidence!

  2. Jenny Williams
    Jenny Williams says:

    I find that shame can be one of the trickier feelings to identify in oneself. Sometimes people are so frequently thrown into a feeling of shame that they are unaware of it. Brene Brown’s book “The Power of Vulnerability” has a memorable description of the bodily / physical manifestation of this emotion (helping us to build awareness of when we are going into shame) and the powerful effect it can have on us. A great resource.

  3. James
    James says:

    Awesome blog Ryan. I agree with Nikki, sometimes these behaviors are acted out without being aware of them. Suddenly, finding yourself in a place that does not feel authentic, which will increase the unhealthy behaviors that are attached with the hopes of fitting in.

  4. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    A good reminder for self reflection and to notice the ways that lookism, internalized homophobia and pressure to adhere to a rigid and often exclusive definition of what it can mean to be a “gay male” in NYC can have on self-esteem and overall wellness.

  5. Matt
    Matt says:

    Shame is a huge issue in the gay community. I encourage people to recognize that we all have shame and that it hates it when we talk about it. The more we can put words around our shame, the more shame resilience we build. It takes courage to be honest about how shame shows up. This is a great biog.


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