Pride month is in full swing and celebrations are kicking off all around the world. What a fantastic month for us members of the LGBTQIA++ community! This is a month in which we remember those who fought so tirelessly for our rights and paved the path for future generations. It is through these efforts that we’re able to more fully embrace who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. While pride and joy do absolutely abound for many of us this month, June can also be a source of tremendously painful self-reflection, regrets, and “if only’s”. For many of us, the wounds from our pasts can be closely tied to our own coming out processes resulting in this month feeling like a double-edged sword of joy and pain.
I recently had a conversation with a good friend and colleague about our thoughts and feelings on Pride month. He shared that, although he does feel a tremendous amount of joy and happiness in seeing the ‘younger generation’ embracing their identities earlier in life, he wrestles with feelings of jealousy, resentment, and regret. He went on to share his coming out story in saying that he didn’t ‘come out’ until his mid-thirties – six years into his relationship with his current husband. “Back then, it wasn’t safe to tell people that you were gay so I had to keep my secret.” We both bonded in our shared experiences and started down the path of ‘if only I was born later, I wouldn’t have had to hide myself from the world’. As I chewed on this, I found myself thinking about the vast amount of other individuals who have had similar experiences and how this life of secrecy has impacted all of us.
Even though the social acceptance and support of non-heterosexual identities have tremendously improved over the years, I still find myself shocked when I hear stories of the blatant phobias that abounds in this day and age. Today’s teens are caught in a very interesting time. They’ve heard the support from the community and are finding comfort in embracing their identities at younger and younger ages yet there are still sects of the community that continue to try and push them down and force them back into the closet. In sessions, I hear clients tell me that they’re encouraged to ‘be who they are’ yet receive notices and threats that they can and will be ousted from: school, sporting events, church groups, their own homes, etc. if it is learned that they are ‘out’. What terribly confusing messages these young people are hearing today! It’s pretty fascinating to me that the sentiments experienced today have so many similarities to the overt sentiments experienced by older generations - “go ahead and be who you are, just do it within these specified parameters and spaces.”
So where does that leave us? I know this is really going to date me, but I’ve got Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” running through my head - ‘secret secret, I’ve got a secret...’. As far as we’ve come as a community and as a society, we’re still being taught to keep secrets. We are told to embrace who we are yet are expected to hide our very truths. We’re encouraged to find our happiness yet only act on that happiness as long as it falls in line with others’ ideologies. The message from decades ago of “you chose this lifestyle so just accept the consequences that came with your decision” is still being regurgitated today. So continues the cycle of shame, guilt, secrecy, and the search for pseudo-happiness. I don’t know about you, but this leaves me feeling all kinds of yuck!
As an empowerment and relational therapist, I can’t help but say this has GOT TO stop. We all are beautiful individuals with amazing stories, gifts, and attributes. Yes, we’ve all experienced the ‘yuck’, pain, and shame that accompanied our own identity journeys but these wounds don’t have to define us, rather, they can reinforce us. The word ‘celebration’ often accompanies Pride month and, prior to my conversation with my friend and colleague, I interpreted that word as one of: happiness, joy, partying, and cutting loose. Somewhere inside me though, there was a shift and I now hear that word as a signal to celebrate the challenges, struggles, and yuck that we’ve gone through. These experiences have helped to shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. The ideas of joy and pain do not have to take the shape of a double-edged sword, rather these two ideas can come together as a two-armed hug – embracing and celebrating who you are, all that you’ve waded through, and all that you have yet to live. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it, love yourself for you’re the most important person in your own life!!! Happy Pride month everyone!!