Since I first began to check out Misty Irons this weekend, I’ve spent a certain amount of time looking over her site and blog. I find her search for truth refreshing and inspiring. Also, I admire her honest desire to create and facilitate dialogue. So when I ran across her three part series on how queers and conservative Christians “talk past each other, I was more than a little fascinated. For this entry, I’m going to focus on the contents of Part 1, where she talks about her initial difficulty in understanding gay pride.
In all reality, both my personal experiences and my observations have led me to conclude that gay pride is a difficult concept for most queers to understand when they’re first coming to terms with their sexual orientation. I remember the first year or two of my own journey where the whole idea made no sense. I remember telling my friends, “I may be able to accept that I’m gay, but I see no point in being proud about it.” I also argued that it made no more sense to be proud of being gay than it did to be proud that I had blue eyes.
Just as Misty had to get a clearer picture of the coming out process and the difficulty and self-hatred that is usually involved in the early stages of the coming out process to understand the subsequent pride, I had to go through that process before I could truly appreciate and even experience that pride for myself. And I’ve noticed the same lack of understanding in the handful of other gay people (mostly men) I’ve known while they’re going through that stage of their life again. So it only makes sense that non-queers would only be able to understand the idea of gay pride only after becoming familiar with the processing leading up to it.
This is where Misty notes that not everyone who is gay talks about this early period of self-hatred. In fact, she goes so far as to suggest that its discussion is practically forbidden in the gay community:
It was a strange thing, then, for me to learn that when someone who is gay makes such an honest admission, they are practically shouted down by fellow gays for ?self-hatred.? The very admission that helped to open up my mind and heart, just enough to encourage me to keep on digging, is considered a heresy in the gay community.
Again, based on my own experiences and observations, I am inclined to agree with her assessment. And like her, I find this state of affairs troubling — both for the reasons she mentioned and my own. To that extent, I think it’s important to consider what motivates this push for silence.
First, I think that we must face the simple truth that we as humans prefer to avoid that which causes us pain — or even makes us uncomfortable — whenever possible. The early stages in the journey to self-acceptance are often extremely painful. Even among those who were raised in “gay-friendly” family environments, there’s often still a certain amount of discomfort in the coming out process. For those of us who were raised in environments that took a much more negative outlook on homosexuality, the process can be downright hellish. I don’t think it’s any that wonder we might be a little hesitant to drudge that back up or put it on display for others.
Of course, this explains why an individual might not want to expose their own past pains. It does not explain why an individual would actively discourage another person from doing so. It does not explain why we are so quick to silence those going through the process and haven’t fully escaped that self-loathing or sense of resignation to move into actual self-acceptance and self-affirmation.
My personal theory on that one is that we silence them because seeing their pain reminds us of our own. Allowing those who are still on the journey to speak too strongly of these things reminds us of that past we’d like to move beyond and forget about. Unfortunately, attempting to silence them robs us of something the experience offers us: an opportunity for deeper, more complete healing of our own pains.
I also believe that in some ways, it’s a well-intentioned attempt at protecting the person who is hasn’t reached the point of self-acceptance. To put as fine a point as possible on it, admitting that one wishes one wasn’t gay is a pretty good invitation to the proponents of ex-gay therapy to offer you their alternative. That’s an alternative that many of us have tried and failed at, sometimes at great personal cost. So the thought of seeing someone else open themselves up to going down that road themselves can cause some pretty strong reactions. And it is not surprising, however unfortunate it may be, that sometimes, the reaction results in strongly discouraging someone from making such statements.
Ultimately, I think this kind of reaction is more harmful than good. Not only does it prevent would-be supporters from fully understanding us, but it also has negative effects on us. Not being able to be open about our experiences and feelings only inhibits us from finding healing and wholeness. Hopefully, this truth is something that we as individuals and a community will come to understand and seek to change the way we handle these issues in the future.