Matter of Pride – Live Out Loud
The unnamed wish at the heart of a gay pride celebration, underneath all its extroverted activities: a gay, mind-blowing, soulful life of meaning.
If you look up “pride” in the dictionary you will find these synonyms: self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth, dignity, healthy ego. Esteem infers highly regarding, valuing, or admiring. As a gay man (or lesbian, bisexual and transgender person) what is the status of your self-esteem, self-valuing, self-regard?
The 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, that historic moment when LGBT individuals fought back against police harassment, was a pivotal first step in fighting back the status quo of soul-destroying heterosexism and homophobia, a revolt that began answering the call of Homosexual Eros with its promise of gay self-realization— a most worthy vision to be cultivated.
We’ve experienced 35 years of rights gained in the arena of basic human needs, a better understanding and appreciation of our rich identities, greater visibility and acceptance, and important attempts to love and relate on our terms versus heterosexually defined expectations that otherwise render us invisible. A lot to celebrate!
And yet, healthy self-regard comes not only from sociopolitical advances or being able to be out and proud. Healthy self-regard also comes from that most numinous relationship a gay man, for instance, has with one’s self—having an attitude that says, “I am willing to look inside with courage and honest self-appraisal,” rooted in the desire to feel “I am worthy, lovable, and valuable because I am gay.”
“I’ve never really believed in myself to do more with my life other than buying new clothes, taking trips, having sex hook-ups—all ways I’ve tried to avoid how bad I really feel about myself. Only recently have I finally been strong enough to admit how much I have been controlled by internalized homophobia and shame.”
Growing up in a homophobic environment, this gay man has been able to explore the effects of all the subtle and not so subtle negative messages he grow up with as a young gay boy. He describes that in reality every day he walked out the door or walked back into his house he was not being seen for who he was—that he was being molded into a heterosexual boy even though it was obvious how much of a gay boy he really was. He knew he couldn’t hide this, was picked on horribly at school and felt terribly rejected at home, especially by his father. Where his gay heart wanted to go with his creativity, his crushes on other boys, his different view of the world— contrasted with the unspoken demand that he not be true to himself as gay, but in fact be an “as-if” person with a false self—leaving him depressed, highly anxious, and lacking confidence in so many aspects of his normal day-to-day functioning, that here he is in midlife struggling to find meaning and purpose.
Many people experience low self-esteem, but for a gay man, much of what has caused this unhealthy self-regard is because his gayness is an affront to heterosexist gender conformity demands that pathologize his richly imagined fantasies of same-sex love, fantasies that can be seen as symbolic representatives of a deeper possibility of a gay mind-blowing soulful life of meaning. Wouldn’t this unnamed wish be at the heart of a gay pride celebration, underneath all its extroverted activi-ties? And yet, the gay community is still so deeply wounded around having healthy self-regard and valuing.
A very successful gay business executive reflectively describes his journey: “I grew up in a strict religious family, with parents who were highly critical perfectionists, where rejection was always around the corner unless I towed the line to meet their expectations. I now see I was neglected around not just basic needs, but especially my needs for love and attention as a gay kid. So I learned to adapt. I became the popular guy, the one everybody liked and laughed with, the tops in everything I did. But I ended up running and running. I’ve never been able to stay still long enough to let another man get close to me.”
He angrily describes how he surrounded himself with people, par-ties, and daily workouts because he is actually terribly lonely. Through sobriety and therapy, he sees how he let crystal meth become a way to bypass this loneliness providing a fleeting, although mind-altered, sense of intimacy. His low self-esteem not only led to drug abuse but to getting infected with HIV, which has added another layer of shame and fear of rejection he contends with.
A NEW VISION
Are we looking at individuals who just need to get over it and take control of their lives? Many gay men with low self-regard try to get over it, and many are highly controlled in different ways—but as defenses we could say, to looking within.
Taking care of yourself is the foundation of healthy self-regard. As we’ve seen, most of us were trained NOT to take care of ourselves actually. Self-esteem is a feeling that comes from within, and cannot be found by external and often compulsive attempts to get satisfaction and fulfillment, only temporarily felt.
Healthy self-regard comes not only from sociopolitical advances or being able to be out and proud. Healthy selfregard also comes from the relationship a gay man has with himself.
Healthy self-regard infers believing in yourself, your own worthiness as a gay man. And, often the first step in healing is admitting how much you actually don’t have these feelings about yourself. That level of courageous honesty is a paradoxical answer to that feeling of your value and worth as gay—a Gay Spirit—that whispers invitingly in your ear to look within.
There are many aspects of taking care of yourself including the care of your body with good nutrition, sleep, exercise. But we also need the soulfulness of emotional and psychological self-care.
Having self-empathy in what you endured to survive a still fiercely homophobic culture is vital for reclaiming a new vision for yourself. This starts with valuing your feelings as signposts into understanding what your real needs are, something we were trained NOT to do, yet is crucial
to regarding yourself meaningfully as a gay man. What can be lifetransforming is learning that to go into a relationship with your feeling life supports you as a gay man in a way that nothing in your external world can do, and is what would most support a healthy relationship with another man.
A powerful tool is to imaginatively start to relate to that long neglected inner gay boy inside, listening and dialoging with this inner child who holds all your often buried feelings. You can come to experience healthily the depths of the hurt/rage about the ways in which your birthright as a gay man was stolen from you. You can bravely learn to identify your own Inner Critic’s homophobic negative shaming judging messages that have kept you lonely, isolated and stuck—and that through your engaged feelings you confront this attacker and its lies.
These are important first steps, among others, to be taken in reinvigorating for yourself the fiery promise of the early days of gay liberation. Its vision of depth and meaning in the power of Homosexual Eros is not only the way into authentic romance that gets your heart racing and your groin aching, but is a fierce advocate warrior and gay buddy to the self within that deserves to finally and most lovingly be regarded and esteemed.
Published on: The Fight Magazine
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© 2016 Thomas Mondragon