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JUNE 21, 2011 10:34PM

I'm Not All That Proud, Really

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June is upon us, and with that brings several things: the beginning of summer today, starting to harvest the spring-planted vegetables, and gay pride month.  

I'm always really conflicted about what is considered gay pride.  Pride, when taken at its standard definition, is "a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired."  Pride is one of the seven deadly sins in that it's a horrible thing to desire to be more important or attractive than someone else.  It's also similarly bad to deny the good parts of others and worse yet to have no humility.

Being gay is something else.  Being a lesbian for me isn't something that I've "become" or something that's an achievement.  Being a lesbian was something that I knew I was from the moment I hit puberty.  It was as natural for my feelings to develop for women that I assume feelings develop for the opposite gender in heterosexuals.  The only different thing I experienced was the curse of being the one girl that likes other girls when every other girl I was friends with liked boys.  It made me question why I liked girls instead of boys and caused years of confusion because I wanted to be like everyone else.  Even so, I didn't ever "accomplish" being a lesbian.  I always just was.  It's like being a brunette--sure, I love being a brunette without the assumptions of being a blonde or the maintenance of being a redhead but I surely wouldn't have chosen being a brunette on my own.

So where can I get off saying I'm proud of being gay?  My employer last year went the wrong way in saying that June was "Gay Heritage" month.  Big oops.  I'm sure that the rest of the gays I work with were happy to know that their gay forefathers were honored all throughout June since the 1970s.  I certainly feel as if I'm connected to other gay people somehow because of the struggle we mutually go through, but it's no more connected to the gay "community" than I am the customer service community, or the overweight community, or the survivors of child abuse.  It's one more facet that when put together makes up a whole person.

So then why in June every year do my fellow gays join in harmony to sing YMCA in a public park, women dressed in chaps, men dressed as Cher, to celebrate being something they can't help in the first place?

I understand that oppressed minorities need a community to feel acceptance until they become a part of the greater society.  Lesbians are notorious for being alcoholics among medical professionals--I hypothesize that it's because bars become our second home as a safe place to be gay as youth.  It's a gathering place to find others who might be into you or someone you know.  It's also notorious for drama (see the book Dyke Drama).  But as time goes on and we're accepted more for who are and we evolve from a psychiatric patient to just another guy, is there a need to disassociate from mainstream society and our straight counterparts?  And will there be a need for these community gathering houses when the rest of the community will accept us non-gay bars, non-gay community centers, and non-gay houses of worship?

I think it's an age-old debate about assimilation, not necessarily about pride.

So then, where does the pride come in?

I, for one, can say I'm really not proud to be gay.  I'm not proud to be in a gay community.  I'm more proud that I've survived abuse, I'm on the Dean's List, and that I'm on track for my BSN after years of indecision.  I'm proud to have a wonderful fiancee who loves me, even though I'm a crazy fat wobbly thing.  Basically, I'm proud of accomplishments and the accomplishments of my close associates.

I certainly haven't accomplished being gay.  Others may feel that way--being oppressed or coming out late in life.  I, though, want to assimilate into my greater community and be a whole package.  I don't want to be known as the gay girl.  I want to be known for all of the things I am instead of just one of the things I happen to be.  I would also hope as time goes on that other lesbians will realize that their whole personality doesn't revolve around being a lesbian.

After all, excess is a sin as much as pride.

But until we all have that safe place, while we're bullied and disowned, while we're disallowed rights, and while we struggle for our acceptance in the greater community, we might continue the fractionalization into our "communities" or special interest groups that envelop our entire lives, hobbies, and activities.  That goes for any marginalized group.  My hope is that when my children are being raised that we live truly like Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned--together in peace.  Truly together.  And my wish is that everyone starts to see that we're only really a fraction of what we truly believe we are consumed with.

I guess, for now, gay pride month will have to be around, if nothing else but to appreciate maybe the people who have or who are paving the roads that myself as the younger, safer generation of gays get to walk.  It's not causing much of a disservice to our community in most cases to have our places, our days, our month, or even our parades.  Although, I can say too many half-naked Bears on Bikes could scar anyone hoping for a simple, family-friendly parade.  Yep, I'll just go ahead and leave you with that image.  Happy "Gay Heritage" Month.

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As one of those who came before you... marching, arguing, organizing, getting threatened, fighting, being scared, overcoming, surviving, and thriving... you're welcome.
I don't detect a scintilla of hypocrisy in your essay. We are the sum of our parts, not just a part of our sum. You have done well to learn that so young.
As I know you're aware, in some countries, being gay is illegal and punishable by torture and death. In most countries, being gay means various degrees of discrimination and violence in every area of life: employment, family, marriage, housing, school, church. Sadly, bullies and bigots only see the gay girl. The "customer service community" does not have a long and bloody history of systematized oppression. People didn't get sent to Auschwitz because they were overweight.

Yes, absolutely, we need our safe communities and we need times and places to celebrate our survival in the face of so much ignorance and hatred. I think half-naked bears on bikes - and twinks and butch dykes and drag queens and bois - are beautiful, because of how they have upended normative cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity, and because of how brave it is to stand up even when you know that standing up makes you a target.

I think most lesbians and gay men and bisexual and transgender people know that their whole personalities don't revolve around their sexual orientation. We wish we could be seen as whole people, equal citizens, unsinful, worthy of respect and love for all our facets. But when you're a young person (or not so young) coming to terms with the realities of living as a second- or third-class citizen in this dangerous, imperfect world, realizing that you are normal and feeling pride, when your family, school, church and political leaders have abandoned you because of that sexual orientation, is essential.

As long as gay people have to do that complicated, instantaneous and never-ending calculation of whether it's safe to walk down a street holding their partner's hand, and as long as it's okay for President Obama to claim that his religious beliefs prevent him from supporting full marriage equality (separation of church and state, my ass), and as long as lesbians in South Africa continue to be the victims of "corrective rape," we need gay pride parades.
@FayPit: I appreciate it. That service allows me the opportunity to live a better life today than I could have years ago.
@Capt.America: You bring up interesting semantical arguments that I can fly with. I just can't say anymore how exclusionary my society is and/or will be towards homosexuality. That's yet to be determined, but I hope we do the right thing.
@alsoknownas: I am glad I had people before me who taught me as much. Thank you!
@Pontifica: Of course, being fat and discriminated against doesn't equal the kind of discrimination that some other queer people face in other countries or even some states in the US. And of course, there are horrible atrocities that can still occur. The pride I worry most about is becoming swept up in a needless insistence on being gay as an identity-defining status. That can cause severe disturbances (and did, for me) later in life when you're trying to figure out just exactly what other limbs you have to stand on when your community isn't necessarily all there to assist you. Imagine if you will a straight male whose entire existence is to get laid and be a straight man. Aside from wondering if he were indeed a gay man for being so overcompensatory, we'd also wonder what else he could be... like a Buddhist, or an animal lover, or a mama's boy, or a fisherman, or an avid gardener. Would this "man's man" even know? Of course, it's wonderful to have pride in an accomplishment--so let's actually get out and DO something about the atrocities being committed instead of just letting them happen and hanging out over here and celebrating our freedoms!
I can't ever remember thinking much about being heterosexual. I certainly never thought I had accomplished heterosexuality or chose to be so. I just went from thinking that girls were icky to being attracted, fascinated, mystified and finally obsessed with them. I guess you did too.
My wife and I walked out of a store in Asheville, NC where we were shopping, and where there is a large gay/lesbian presence into a crowd of folks walking along the side walk. Thinking maybe everyone was headed to a concert or something we walked for about 3 blocks before discovering that we were part of a gay pride parade.
Of course, someone from "back home" saw us. In fact several someones. We got a lot of "we never knew" comments.
It was really fun, actually. But then I don't know how much fun it would have been if we were part of a minority that felt conflicted, angry, or oppressed.
Nicely written. R
One other comment. We once lived in Springfield, MO. It's hard to imagine a more "other" hostile place. It was sort of a Happy Days suburb without a city.
Yer a grand lass indeed. Be proud that you are an American. Gay or not your voice counts. Stay strong and proud.
"It made me question why I liked girls instead of boys and caused years of confusion because I wanted to be like everyone else."

If you've overcoem that then you have something to be proud of.
The Heterosexual Dictatorship DEMANDS you like boys. It will settle for nothing less. It is an enormous act of personal conviction and bravery to take this sytem on.
When I came out 41 years ago, back when I was 19, gay bars were raided all the time and the names of the men arrested were published in the newspapers along with the names of their employers; gay men were subjected to aversion therapy (electrodes attached to their dicks and electricity sent through their bodies when they were shown pics of naked men); and lesbians routinely lost their kids. There was no mention of us on TV, no positive movies about us. We were considered diseased and perverted. Pride was a natural reaction to that kind of oppression. I helped organize the first pride march in Philadelphia, my hometown. Trust me, pride was an important tool for liberating ourselves from the crap we were fed all the time. While I find this century's version of pride a far cry from what we created all those decades ago, I still think we need pride to counter the hatred that still exists, it may not be as overt, but it's there, everywhere, why else would gay kids still be committing suicide after being bullied for being gay? Why else would the christian bigots still be spreading their venom against us? Why else would there still be gaybashings and anti-gay murders? I understand where you're coming from, but I ask you to remember where I've been and what I've experienced. Pride for me is not the commercialized and assimilationist parades that have replaced our defiant marches, but a statement about how, despite all the years of harassment, fagbashings (three or four in my younger days), discrimination, etc., I am still intact and fighting.
@Rodney Roe: And Springfield is just that still: the essense of a dream that will never, ever occur but still hopes and fails miserably. Glad to know someone else has suffered, too. :D
@Brian Donahue: THANK YOU! Finally someone got it. I thought all was for naught until your comment. And it appears that I am catching flack for the "lack of courage" I have because I don't look or dress the part of a typical lesbian as well as the fact that I'm brave enough to just be myself, which is a whole person made up of many parts. If only I could have the eloquence with words you have...
@Scylla the rock: I'm still here! Thanks.
@David Ehrenstein: Overcoming something is something to be proud of, certainly, but nothing to continue to cling to for self-identity and peer-relation to the exclusion of other identities.
@Tommi: Getting out and doing something about the homophobia is something to be proud of. Being a bystander, enjoying the benefits, and identifying with nothing else is what I'm against. I am certainly proud to be affiliated with such a group that would stand up and take on the injustices and fight for what is right in the world instead of idly standing by and letting things occur that are just not right. I'm indebted to you for your service to equal rights.
It's not a matter of "clinging" at all. When I came out back in 1961 teh American Psychiatric association still identified me as "suffering" from a "neurosis." it was illegal for gay and lesbians to congregate. Not only in public but in private. Tab Hunter was busted at a private party that the policefelt perfectly free to raid. Bars, which in New York were run by the Gambino crime family and the police were far from a refuge. The drinks were watered and overpriced. And if the payoffs were late or not large enough the cops would raid the place. That's what happend that night in 1969. The difference was we fought back.

When I found out that I was gay it was as if I'd won the lottery. All the people I most admired were gay. Frank O'Hara (most especially) Allen Ginsberg (who I later came to know personally) , Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal -- the list goes on and on. Being gay was being an outlaw. And to me that was very special and very wonderful.
Congrads on the Ep. You have so many achievements to be proud of, I liked your perspective of not needeing to be proud of who you are attracted to. I am not necessarily proud of being heterosexual, that is a tiny piece of who I am. You have shown confidence and stability within this writing. Maybe those gays who were closeted ,and now free to express, are proud that they now are more accepted to stand up!
Good post and thoughtful comments; I came out in high school and marched in many gay pride parades when I was younger. I was amazed in the first one to see 5000 marching with us, in Denver in the 70's. Now 100,000 and more march in that city, and I watch from the sidelines, proud of the legacy and the progress that those who went before have left for those who follow.
I am proud of this accomplishment as a gay person: I have remained true to myself despite the hate, detractors, violence, and being denied my rights as a US citizen for the entirety of my life. xox
Before "gay" became the word for homosexual, the world was too homophobic for any but the most flamingly queer people to be open about their sexual orientation, so unless gay people are taking credit for the fact that straight people are less homophobic, then as you say, there's nothing to be proud of.
This was a great read. I ran shreiking from the dykes and bikes and all those bare asses in chaps. My first gay pride parade was my last.
People should only be proud( or aspire )to be decent and ethical human beings.
I never understood this desperate quest for identity, and how so many cling to rainbow flags and just immerse themselves in their gayness.
There are smart and cool gays and there are moronic and rotten gays. Who wants to belong to such a huge and varied mass of humanity?
As much as I criticize identitarian politics as a direction for the left, I guess I've never thought of something like gay pride, or any of the self-defining constructions of minority communities, as anything other than a way for them to band together around a common experience of discrimination. But it must have positive elements, too. I'm sure that people who live in overwhelmingly gay local communities in big cities like Chicago or San Francisco or London must see this more as a positive construction than merely an oppositional one. And I'm not convinced that the limits of a kind of self-determined separatism, whether it's based on sexuality, or race, or gender politics, or other political or artistic sympathies, are so well defined. There's something to be said for it. A little bit of separatism, maybe, goes a long way. Good post.
"I'm sure that people who live in overwhelmingly gay local communities in big cities like Chicago or San Francisco or London must see this more as a positive construction than merely an oppositional one."

Indeed we do.

There's a truly superb documentary coming out this summer on the festival circuit We Were Here. It dealw tih San Francisco when AIDS hit, ad features four teriffic seemingly unremarakble gay people whose response to the disaster was nothing less than heroic. They don't act like heores, they act like gay men and women at our best. And because they were at the servie of a community that faced NOTHING BUT STEELY-EYED INDIFFERENCE FROM HETEROSEXUALS they had their work cut out of them. But they triumphed. I know others just like them in other ctiers struggling agains the tide of death an uncongealed hated.

And I am exceptionally proud of them.

You should be too, CC.
Participating in the Gay Pride parade and festival is important to me because it gives me the opportunity to say to the world, “I’m gay and I’m not ashamed of it”. We are constantly being bombarded by messages, direct and indirect, that being gay is bad, evil, perverted, and abhorrent and that we should be ashamed. We need this opportunity to show that being gay is not any of those things and we certainly are not ashamed of who we are, or who we love. And we need to constantly remind people of that. I want to someday live in a world where: I can display a picture of myself and my partner on my desk at work, just like heterosexual couples do, and not worry that I am jeopardizing my job; Where I can walk down the street holding hands with my boyfriend and not be called names; Where Sunday after Sunday my sexual orientation is not vilified in sermons in so called ‘houses of god’; and where I don’t have to worry about being beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead. Until that world exists we need Gay Pride and it’s important for every single gay person out there to attend.
This is so honest and I get it. I feel the same about being a black chick. Sure I love and accept who I am, but it's hardly an accomplishment. It just is.
Would you feel the same way if you were a black lesbian?
Very excellent post! I have the same conflict you describe. I've marched in a few Pride Parades, but moreso for the social components and not as a demonstration. Being proud of being gay makes about as much sense as being proud my eyes are brown. I am proud of neither. I am ashamed of neither. I like both.
@David Ehrenstein: I think you've finally gotten the point of my blog with your last comment about being a black lesbian--you're not JUST a lesbian. You can be multiple things and not be absorbed by one culture and one only. That's what I'm not proud of. I'm like @kitd here on this one who explained it so wonderfully: "I am proud of neither but I like both." I'm not ashamed or have any qualms with those who choose to gather and demonstrate or nor am I anti-pride parades. I am against defining one's life by one happenstance only. Being a lesbian wasn't and isn't an accomplishment for me, it's merely a part of the multiple things I am. That's the point of this blog... for those commenters that are starting to feel that I am a self-hating gay. I am not. I am merely making the point that I refuse to define myself as ONLY a lesbian, and not the sum of my parts as many of my gay counterparts do in my region and across the US.
"That's the point of this blog... for those commenters that are starting to feel that I am a self-hating gay. I am not."

If that's your story you stick to it!

" I am merely making the point that I refuse to define myself as ONLY a lesbian, and not the sum of my parts as many of my gay counterparts do in my region and across the US."

It is screamingly naive of people to iagine that they get to define themseleves and that what the culture that surround them has to say is of no consequence. You may be "part" of a lesbian, but in this society oyu're just a dyke, dear. The same way I'm just a fag.

Get used to it.
I think you underestimate yourself. its an achievement to be a contrarian. the main culture is straight. recognizing your identity at a young age is not easy. many dont figure their identity out until later in life during a midlife crisis or go thru their entire life on autopilot without much self awareness. self awareness is a achievement. on the other hand, I dont like what I call "in-your-face" gays-- or anyone else for that matter. the kind that take gayness as a sort of proseletyzing opportunity etc. ... they tend to be the ones that paint others as either in the closet or out of the closet and no comfortable in-between. gays & people of all sexualities need to confront that....
Great post! As a fellow lesbian, I could relate to many things you said and I agree with you on many counts!
I think you're misconstruing it.

There's a third meaning to "pride". From Dictionary.com:

(3) a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one's position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.

Think of the phrase, "injured pride". I believe it is this sense that is meant (or should be, anyway). Too often, being gay has meant shame. I believe it is about restoring your sense of self.

As a straight male growing up, accusations of being gay were a favored tool of bullies, used to diminish anyone who was different or vulnerable. I am proud of all of you who can overcome the slings and arrows of bullies, and take pride in who you are.

Because that is an accomplishment.
Perhaps the fact that you can see yourself as a complex composite of many things is a victory in itself. Who knows why Americans are becoming more accepting of gays and lesbians? In part, it is because you have come out and the average heterosexual can see that sexual preference is only one facet of who you are. Perhaps it is because the general public has begun to see that many of the most interesting, gifted, artistic, and generous people in history have been gay or lesbian. In large part I think that the AIDS epidemic made everyone see how much gay men cared for each other and how nurturing they can be. The fact that society has come to a point that it can see you for all of the things you are allows you to see yourself for all that you are and can be; that it can see the whole person.
I really enjoyed reading your post. You've really captured the dilemma us younger LGBTQs find ourselves in. Of course we appreciate the sacrifices and the battles that are still fought for our most basic civil rights, but personally I would rather people first know and identify me as a person rather than a bisexual. Kudos.
I am, I was, I will be. That's all you have to know in life. Be happy, be strong, be well. You are loved.
@vzn: I agree with you whole-heartedly. And thank you... I quite enjoy sometimes being a contrarian. :D
@Just Kay: I'm glad it rang home for you as a "sapphic sister."
@Bob Kearns: Great point. Granted, one's self-esteem shouldn't be wholly reliant on being gay. A lot of people have caused themselves heartache that way. I take for example a friend who challenged that she was a lesbian after a five-year relationship and nearly lost her entire sense of self worrying whether or not she was straight! I do take the antonym quite seriously, though, that gay should never equate shame or diminish the spirit. We've come a long way, yet we have a long way to go.
@Rodney: Interesting point about the AIDS crisis. The views on gay men have been helped AND harmed by the visibility of HIV and AIDS, I think. It characterized most gay men as promiscuous, yet showed that gay men are people, too. Had it not been for a blessing in disguise, how far would we be to this date?
@aquabrarian: I loved how you captured the essence of the problem... we're living in a more privileged place now (heck, Ellen talks about her wife on daytime TV!) and finally we can be seen as a whole person, yet many of our generation and younger don't know how to be anything but a queer person. Thank you for the comment and kudos! :D
@Elijah Rising: Thank you for such a sweet comment. It really makes more sense in six words than most of the complex elaborations we could try to extrapolate from it. All the best.
Very insightful and courageous post. I am not gay, but I hear where you're coming from. I grew up with the stigma of having a mentally ill mother, and felt a kind of discrimination surrounding that. it wasn't acceptable to get mentally ill in the 60s, and the cause of great shame to me and my brother. I'm not proud of being a survivor of a mentally ill mother either.
Wow! What wisdom and self awareness. I can't begin to imagine the suffering all you gays folks have endured. Life's been difficult enough being a heterosexual.
I have never understood the pride part either in the Gay Pride activities. What was there to be proud of? While not gay, I understood it was something you were born with. There is no heterosexual pride anything, so why would "they" single themselves out and promote it. Way over my head. I do applaud your post and wish you well in your life. You sound like you've got your head on "straight".
Every damned daya is Heterosexual Pride Day, Peggy. They're everywhere -- blatantly flaunting themselevs. Chattering on and on about thieir wives, husbands and children.

What horseshit. Angry sociopathic lesbian hates the celebration of rising above prejudice towards herself. Big fucking deal, but next time have a look in the mirror before calling anyone else a "psychiatric case".
Hey @oroboros: I'm calling no one a psychiatric case. You came over from Salon.com to bash me here without reading into the humorous diatribe I went into in the actual blog AND without knowing gay history. I am aware (and proud of the ACCOMPLISHMENT of having overcome) that in the past being homosexual was a psychiatric illness; this is the "psychiatric" I am making reference to. The point of this blog is that we as a gay community are standing on the sidelines and just enjoying being gay as an encompassing identity just to BE GAY which is getting us nowhere. I find it honorable and worthy a cause to want to pursue equality, but not in the sake of losing other identities. I would appreciate it if you would make an attempt to read into things before calling me a psychopath. Thank you and I wish you a good day!
I get you 100%, Calliope. I'm an out gay woman, legally married to my wife, who I've been with for more than a decade. I am out to all family, friends, coworkers (& I do believe being out is essential, personally and politically). I have been known to work phone banks, knock on doors, donate money and march in demonstrations for anti-bullying projects and LGBT rights, esp., marriage equality. At the same time, I do not define myself by being gay and I find I have little in common with people who do. It is one aspect, no more or less important that anything else. It certainly does not inform my taste in books, magazines, films, TV, music, friends or family structure. To paraphrase something I read: I champion LGBT rights not because of a need to rebel, but because of a desire to (and my right to ) belong.

I don't feel different from the "heteronormative" mainstream--they are my family and oldest and dearest friends. They strive for decent lives, happy marriages, solid families...I want all that too. I feel the same as them and that is why I am disgusted and enraged when I am denied the same rights they enjoy.

Thankfully, full equality (employment, marriage, military service, bullying protection, etc.) is coming. It's no longer a question of "if" only "how fast?" I have a happy, healthy, full, open life...so full and open, I can just be a person, rather than "a gay person." I owe all that to those who fought and suffered and died and I am eternally grateful.

But no matter how many LGBT folks disagree or misunderstand, I will not be defined by my orientation, I will not be ashamed of my "heteronormative" aspirations and I will not be stifled by a single identity or culture.

Rock on Calliope--there are more of us out there who feel as you do. Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch express it particularly well.
for gays, being gay is political, and worth talking about first. for the general community, not so. we mostly don't think it's important, or wish it weren't there.

fortunately, you can talk about your private concerns in public, and make them an issue in society. this will help assimilation, which you rightly point out should be the ultimate goal.

for the general public, we can join in, or skip over. but even if i have little to add, i can say "your cause is just, carry on."