Photo credit: Levi Saunders
Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately (lucky you), you’re aware that its LGBTQ Pride month. The season of street parades and festivals, “Happy Pride” dominating your social feed, and rainbows, of course. Rainbows. Everywhere.
It’s also the time of year when corporate America co-opts a historic symbol of our communities’ resistance and resilience to sell everything from athleisure to mortgage loans. But that’s another piece.
I’m a Pride boy. I’ve loved it since watching the scene from “Madonna Truth or Dare” when the dancers attend the NYC Pride parade with everyone chanting “We’re here; we’re queer. Get used to it!” My 15 year-old baby gay self said “yes!”
Photo credit: Qweerty
I came out to my mother after watching that. Years later, I found out in Strike a Pose, that a whole group of us came out in the early 90s after seeing this and other scenes of gay men (and Madonna) on screen.
Fast forward a few years to my first pride parade in Houston. It was at night because, well, June in Texas, and I was with my boyfriend and my mom. I remember it being modest like an old school parade and not like what I saw on the big screen. I loved it anyway. The cars carrying drag queens, the gay bar sponsored floats, and the lesbians on motorcycles – I was in heaven.
At long last, I wasn’t alone. There were others like me. I felt like I belonged somewhere. Indeed, I felt proud.
Since then, my Pride experiences have run the gamut from doing the activist thing while working at the Los Angeles LGBT Center to clumsily stomping down Commercial Street in Provincetown wearing hot pants, gogo boots and a boa. I’ve also spent more than a few Chicago Prides in various states of drunken folly.
I’m always refueled and empowered by the energy of thousands of LGBTQ people and our allies gathering to take a stand for liberation, acceptance and equality. And doing that in our own queer way and with our signature gay style.
I love me some Pride. I’m missing our big gay celebrations this year. F!@$ Covid.
Why we call them ‘Pride Parades’ and not ‘Happy Parades.’
First of all, no self-respecting queen would sign off on ‘Happy Happy!’ as our official holiday greeting. ‘Happy Self Confidence’ and ‘Happy Self Worth?’ Um, no.
They're ‘pride’ parades because pride is the opposite of shame, of course. Shame is what all LGBTQ must grapple with and recover from in order to fully love, accept and live out loud as our true selves.
Our parades and celebrations are shame busters. They bust the causes – hate, discrimination, and oppression – and the effects - isolation, internalized self-loathing and feeling less than – of shame.
We come together for ‘Pride’ to counter the toxic shame and replace it with an undeniable spirit of liberation, hope, empowerment, and truth. It’s a collective and literal coming out from hiding to dance in the streets. Pride festivities are an outer way to express our inner worth, respect and dignity. In bold, loud, highly visible, and rainbow-colored ways, they’re how we both demand and also revel in social, cultural, and legal acceptance.
Marching for pride doesn’t always translate to living with it.
As empowering as pride parades are, they’re not enough to fully transform the negative feelings many LGBTQ people have to overcome. It’s too bad we can’t have a Pride celebration every day. How cool would it be to see an outer display of queer pride when you leave your place each morning?
Who am I kidding? The grumpy old gay man in me would be complaining of road closures and litter in the streets by week two. Scratch that idea.
The unfortunate reality is that the shaming, negative and critical messages of homo, bi and transphobia get wired into us at a young age. These messages tell us we’re bad and that we shouldn’t feel good about ourselves. And so we don’t. Until we’ve had enough, that is.
No amount of body glitter or dancing topless on floats can fully rewire the not good enough messages. That work is an inside job. It’s the inner display of pride.
In my almost 45 years as a gay man and more than 15 years as a therapist and coach supporting gays and LBTQs, I know firsthand how challenging it is to find the love inside and to feel proud of ourselves in everyday life. Not just of our sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression but of who we are as human beings and what we’re here to offer our worlds.
That’s the thing, though. That’s our thing. I’m not alone in thinking that one of the gifts LGBTQ people are here to teach our cultures and societies is how to embody self-love. Searching our souls to find our inner dignity and self-worth when few – maybe no – people around us are seeing it is the work that leads us to discover our gift.
Yes, it’s a slog. It’s painful. It’s often more like a battlefield than a parade. But it’s our calling. It’s our job to pick to up the phone and accept the challenge that the work is in the streets and in our own hearts.
Teachers of inner pride
It has been my experience that gay and lesbian people who have fought through their self-hatred and their self-recriminations have a capacity for empathy that is glorious.
The experience of being shamed, feeling unworthy and not good enough is universal. It’s the psychological pandemic of our times, and none of us is completely immune. Trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men just have a special brand of it, and thus something to teach others about self-acceptance.
This month alone, I’ve witnessed LGBTQ clients being teachers of inner pride by…
Accepting and expressing their bisexual identity in the absence of support
Dancing with friends even if it means possibly hearing “you’re acting like a girl”
Sharing their capacity for self-healing by facilitating guided journeys for others
Committing to coming out at their new job
Each of these clients have wrestled with demons and gremlins to discover/recover a place inside themselves that shame can’t touch. They’ve done and are doing the work. Their work. They’re now models for inner pride and generous teachers of it.
Since we all need more inner pride, here are some other ways to cultivate it. No parade required.
1. Talk to yourself. I know it sounds wacky, but you’re probably doing it anyway. The key with self-talk to generate good feelings is speak in 2nd person like “Buck, you got this. You can do it.” Saying this rather than “I can…or I am…” is more motivating because it brings the social part of our brain online. To our brains, it sound like someone else is rooting for us and we’re wired to respond positively to that.
2. Get into your body – It’s not rocket science; it’s neuroscience! So cheesy but I’m not deleting it. The research on neuroplasticity says that reorganizing our thoughts, beliefs and experiences is possible, but we have to get out of our heads and into our bodies for it to work. It not enough to think “I’m good” or hear others say “you’re good;” we also need to develop our capacity to feel it deep within ourselves. We need to learn to take in the experience of “I’m good; I’m worthy; I’m proud of who I am.” Otherwise, they sort of evaporate on the surface and into thin air. It’s the ‘one ear and out the other’ effect.
Ways to get into our bodies and access the deeper part of ourselves include mindful breathing, guided relaxation, music therapy, self-hypnosis, and other forms of ‘going within.”
3. Make a contribution – Any contribution. Self-pride is cultivated by a feeling that “I belong” and belongingness is fostered through participation and contribution. Shame and self-criticism often stop us from contributing with thoughts like “I have nothing to offer” or “everyone will be smarter.”
A workaround is mentally sidestep ‘what I have to offer’ and start with “who do I want to serve?” Asking yourself who you want to help makes it easier to get your foot in the door. Once you’re in, the “how” of your contribution will often be clear. For example, take volunteering for a local nonprofit - you just need to decide to help and show up. They’ll tell you what they need you to do. They’ll show you how to contribute.
A potent contribution if you’re building self-pride as an LGBTQ person is to serve in our community. It’s a big shame-busting move so you’ll feel resistance but don’t let that stop you.
4. “Make a connection not an impression” – This is a quote from Dr. Ron Siegel who says we start feeling good about ourselves when we stop trying to be the best. The game of measuring up and social comparison is not winnable, he says, so stop trying to win and find a way to connect instead.
5. Positive Core Belief Log – A barrier to feeling good about ourselves is constantly building the case for why we’re not. This is especially difficult when we’re actively hearing and seeing messages telling us “you’re not good or worthy, or you’re a sinner.” That’s what makes it even more important to build your counter case by tracking evidence of what you’re proud of and why you ARE worthy. Even if you don’t yet believe it in your core yet, by tracking your positive qualities of the kind of person you are, how you treat people and ways you show up in the world, you brain will start taking it in.
Part of the process of tracking is to include how it feels to be proud of yourself. Notice and feel small moments of appreciation, compassion and okayness, and then get those into your body (see above) by breathing them in and savoring the good feelings. Slowly, the positive beliefs will be anchored inside you more powerfully than the negative ones have been.
6. Practice inner compassion – I’m always going on and on about self-compassion with my clients. I get how it feels daunting to embrace yourself in a moment when your self-esteem is injured, but sometimes, you’re all you’ve got. Why kick yourself when you’re down? That’s conditioning from patriarchal BS and toxic masculinity telling us that being hard on ourselves is how we grow. The science shows otherwise. Go figure. Self compassion research says that taking a few moments to hold ourselves – even just a part of ourselves – in an embrace of kindness, good enoughness and acceptance will help us feel more ease and positivity toward ourselves.
7. Find a way to be loved – The longer I’m a therapist and coach, the more I see the purpose being to spend enough time in sacred relationship for my clients to feel for their hurt and hidden parts the unconditional acceptance, love and care I feel for them. This is the secret sauce that transforms “I’m not good enough” to “I’m really proud of myself.” This is especially true for my gay clients who grow up without being told from a young age “I love and accept you for being gay.” I’m a loving witness.
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Whether you identify as an ally or LGBTQ, my wish for you and my gift to you is to feel more inner pride. I haven’t figured out how to feel this all the time so the gift I give you may be wrapped in newspaper and painters tape, but it comes from my heart.
And my heart has a lot to give because it has gone to battle with shame and won. It also marches for Pride in gogo boots and a blond wig.
Happy pride y’all!