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We may have ‘Gay Pride’, but when will we realise our true self-worth?

True pride and self-worth as a community won't come until each one of us overcomes our collective shame and trauma.

Ever since coming out at aged 19 I’ve openly declared myself “a proud gay man”. But having since found myself on the path of self-destruction a few times, I can now see that my own delusional expectations around ‘gay pride’ were part of the problem. Despite thinking I was proud of who I was, I actually wasn’t. Far from it. What I in fact felt was a constant need to be ‘more’ than myself…

The word ‘Pride’ has become synonymous with gay culture and the gay community. It originates from the gay rights movement, when queer men and women risked their lives and fought for equal human rights. Without these brave individuals we would not be where we are today, and for that I am so grateful.

But nowadays ‘Pride’ is more heavily associated with the commercialised celebration of queerness. It is ubiquitous. It has it’s own holiday season. It’s own logo. Parades, parties and rainbow merchandise.

Businesses are now all aboard with taking to the streets and pledging their allegiance to the LGBTQ+ community. They no longer fear the social and economic repercussions of minority association, which is great. Celebrating diversity in the mainstream is a beautiful thing and allows individuals to more easily ‘be themselves’, whether at work, at home or in public.

‘I am proud to be LGBTQ+’ has become somewhat of a slogan, even a cliché. It’s almost a prerequisite now that you should be so proud of your sexual orientation that you openly align yourself with your so-called ‘tribe’. So proud, that you’d want to distinguish yourself from other sexual orientations, which by nature, suggests an unintentional declaration of self-imposed superiority.

From a marketing point of view, ‘I am proud to be X’ certainly does a great job at proclaiming resilience in the face of our adversity…. but does it bring us closer together as human beings? Does it bring us closer to knowing who we are as individuals?

‘Pride’ in its true essence is a complex human emotion. Can you actually be ‘proud’ to be gay? What does it actually mean?

But ‘pride’ in its true essence is a complex human emotion. Can you actually be ‘proud’ to be gay?

‘Pride’ by one definition means fully recognising your self-worth and personal achievement

So does being ‘proud to be gay’ mean I feel more worthy?

To some extent yes, now I feel accepted. But worth and value based on the opinion of others isn’t self-worth. And self-worth can’t be derived from sexual orientation. So where does self-worth come from?

I am certainly proud for achieving what I have DESPITE my adversity.

But does ‘being gay’ automatically make me accomplished?

Perhaps, if I personally helped drive policy change, fought for equal rights or contributed to the enriching of queer culture, then yes.

But for most of the gay community, there is the belief, and the hope, that by coming out, finding acceptance, and being celebrated in public is what finally gives you a sense of personal value and self-worth. And maybe it does for a bit. But how long does that feeling really last? How real is it? When the parade ends and its time to go home, when the glitter comes off, how do you really feel? Do you feel worthy?

If ‘self-worth’ is so easy to acquire and maintain, then why are there still such high rates of addiction, mental illness and suicide in the lgbtq+ community?

If we are so proud to be part of this ‘community’, then why do many of us still feel the need to suffer alone?

If we are so proud to be part of this ‘community’, then why do many of us still feel the need to suffer alone?

32% of LGBT people have felt as though life was not worth living according to the latest Stonewall report.

From the statistics, it appears that ‘pride’ (self-worth and value) is ironically exactly what’s lacking within the very community that the word is now synonymous with.

Could it be, that what many of us are actually feeling is a false sense of self-worth and achievement? And what we’re in fact feeling is merely ‘self-acceptance’ for being gay and elation for no longer having to live a lie?

As Quentin Crisp says, sexual orientation is a non-choice related personal trait, there is no actual ‘achievement’.

“I don’t think you can really be proud of being gay because it isn’t something you’ve done. You can only be proud of not being ashamed.” Quentin Crisp.

“I don’t think you can really be proud of being gay because it isn’t something you’ve done. You can only be proud of not being ashamed.” Quentin Crisp.

Could it be then, that what we think is ‘Pride’ for being ourselves… is actually more of a celebration for no longer feeling ashamed of to be gay?

Perhaps what we think is ‘Pride’ for being gay, is actually a strong attachment to the feeling of finally ‘belonging’ to a community?

This desperate need to ‘belong’ can largely be attributed to the challenges around love, acceptance and fear of abandonment that we wrestled with as a child. In many cases, the adverse experience of growing up gay in a straight world has resulted in trauma.

It feels to me as though we are unfortunately, as a society and a community, applying a giant rainbow coloured ‘Pride’ plaster over these incredibly deep internal wounds. The more the word ‘pride’ gets bounced around and used in its current form, across buildings and t-shirts, the less true meaning it has. And the further we get from actually realising it. The more we make everything look ‘fabulous’ through multi-coloured lenses, the more difficult it gets to resolve important life-threatening personal problems.

According to psychologist Jessica Tracy, ‘authentic pride‘ (v hubristic) is “the product of doing rather than simply being“.

To obtain authentic pride in yourself demands effort and work. It needs nurturing and comes from investing in yourself. It requires patience, self-compassion and unconditional acceptance.

To obtain authentic pride in yourself demands effort and work. It needs nurturing and comes from investing in yourself. It requires patience, self-compassion and unconditional acceptance.

As a gay person…

How do you treat, nurture and invest in yourself?

Do you talk to yourself with compassion?

Do you accept yourself unconditionally? Exactly how you are.

Or, do you instead sometimes look in the mirror and think that you need to be ‘more’ or ‘improved’? Perhaps you think that you need to be someone else in order to be loved. Someone richer, fitter, more successful and handsome… And you need to be that person NOW.

Status imbalance a major factor in stress in gay men. Do you feel a pressure to keep up?

I certainly did. (You can read more about my story here)

Can you whole-heartedly say you are ‘proud’ of who you are? Or do you admit that it’s a ‘work in progress’?

If the latter, congratulations. The hardest part is recognising the work that still needs to be done. Remember that transformation requires both creation and destruction.

The next challenge is pressing pause. Perhaps changing direction. And finding true pride as a collective and a community – not in ‘being gay’, but in overcoming our shame, our trauma, our adversity, and becoming authentically ourselves. There you will find your true self-worth.

It takes work but it is possible to regain it. 

No one is free until we are all free.” Martin Luther King Jr. 

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