It’s utterly flabbergasting to belong to a social group that is both mightily derided and highly celebrated. On the one hand LGBT people are condemned by several religious and political forces, yet on the other hand, we have earned the love and respect of more enlightened groups and individuals.
The 1960s were harsh, often terrifying times for LGBT people, especially those of us who, then, were children and adolescents trying to find our place in society. In addition, throughout most of modern history just being LGBT was taboo.
The moment you realize that who you are, at your deepest core, is considered deplorable, you experience an inner earthquake. This state of mind might be described as “existential shame”. You come to the realization that to avoid condemnation and outright rejection, you have to treat your nature as a secret. If your deep, dark secret is revealed, you open yourself up to ridicule, overt bigotry, hatred, and the threat of violence. This type of existential shame is more commonly known as “the closet”.
When you couch your non-normative sexual orientation within the context of another taboo subject, human sexuality, you find yourself in a double bind. Even in today’s supposedly liberated state, sexuality, in general, is still an awkward subject for most of us. In much of the world, the subject is forbidden territory. In some countries, being LGBT is thought of as being worse than being a murderer.
Imagine how deep and dark the closet must be for millions of LGBT people around the world. Think of how many people are disowned by their own parents. How about the ones who are harmed by brutality. Think of those who are murdered just for being who they are.
On top of this existential shame is the existence of misguided and unethical authority figures who understand the power of exploiting the taboo for political and religious advantage. They know that sexuality is a sensitive issue for most people. When the subject of sexuality is used as a political or religious tool, it’s like playing with fire. Arson, in a real or figurative sense results in tragedy.
So, with such powerful internal and external forces arrayed against you, how do you remain sane? With much of the world being dead set against you, how do you maintain dignity and build self-esteem?
You hit upon, as other oppressed peoples have discovered, the powerful mental force of pride. Pride is a word with two opposing definitions. Pride is frequently condemned by religious leaders in its negative meaning. That version of pride is akin to hubris, egoism, and overblown sense of self. The Abrahamic religions think of this type of pride as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The other definition of pride is that of a positive emotion. Classical philosophers thought of pride as the crown of the virtues. Pride, in this sense, is a result of nobility and integrity of character.
Gay Pride or LGBT Pride is all about the classical definition of pride as a crowning virtue. When you come to terms with your own true nature and fully accept who you were born to be, you have more moral integrity. This type of pride is essential sustenance for the soul.
Attaining LGBT Pride is hard won and fraught with confusion and anxiety. If society wishes you didn’t exist and even your family disowns you, you’ve got your work cut out for yourself. Achieving gay pride is a process, not an overnight sensation. Like all existential matters, pride requires frequent care and maintenance once it is realized.
If you can face the forces that are lined up to literally destroy you from the inside out, you become a stronger person.
The day I realized that my closet kept me hidden away and encouraged dishonesty, I understood that I had to break down the door. If need be, I’d risk becoming a social outlaw in order to save my soul.
Once I mustered up all of my courage, I told my best friend. That resulted in more people being told and finding out about me through the grapevine. After awhile, it was no longer a big deal. I found out that life is full of great, wonderful things. Things that I had denied myself of experiencing. Most of all, I finally felt worthy of giving and receiving love.
If you’ve ever felt denigrated for an inate, personal, human trait or characteristic and have come to a satisfactory resolution of its consequences, you understand the positive meaning of pride.
So, when you see the news stories about LGBT people marching in the streets and rainbow flags on display, I hope you’ll have a better understanding about LGBT Pride. This is the time of year we affirm who we really are and let the chips fall where they may. This is also a time when we celebrate the compassion and kindness of our allies and all their generous displays of support.