Pride and Shame

Pride is a word which we cannot now separate from the LGBTQ+ experience. Political marches and celebrations are branded as Pride events. We are encouraged to be “loud and proud” of who, and what we are. However both the events branded Pride, and pride in being LGBTQ+ seems to cause problems for some.There are many who agree to tolerate LGBTQ+ people, so long as they keep everything they do behind closed doors. That word, tolerate, always speaks of how little tolerance there actually is. Tolerance so long as you are not seen to celebrate, or even express who you are, tolerance as a base line, I do not think you should be dead, or criminalised.

Then there are demands for “straight pride” and claims that by being visible LGBTQ+ people are taking up too much space. The wonderful word tolerance is instead turned into a mealy mouthed, you may exist so long as there is no evidence of your existence.
Simply not being ashamed or closeted is presented as the acceptable “tolerated” position. Pride in oneself, in the form of self esteem is a step too far.

It could be easy here to make light of such ideas. If being queer is so attractive that simply mentioning it turns straight kids, then clearly the entire cis het world is doomed. However the reality is that low self esteem, self hate and shame are toxic. Low self esteem draws us into those darker corners, where abuse and exploitation lie. The sexual exploitation of LGBTQ+ teenagers is a topic which many shy away from, although there are honorable exceptions such as the Albert Kennedy Trust. Their research shows that homeless LGBTQ+ young people are far more likely to be victims of sexual exploitation. It is rarely one factor which makes a person, young or old, vulnerable, but internalised ideas about self worth play a huge part.

Organisations such as Respect Yourself recognise this, although often their campaigns are sometimes reduced to almost victim blaming soundbites. It is an area where we have to proceed carefully, and with nuance. Research shows that children and young people with good self esteem and positive self images are far less likely to be targeted for exploitation. Many survivors talk about the almost forensic way a perpetrator will spot them, see the fears, doubts, and yes, lack of pride, they are carrying inside.
Even if there is no abuse or exploitation low self esteem and a negative idea of our own self worth can be incredibly damaging. The vicious circle of believing we do not deserve to be treated well can also mean we do not treat ourselves well. A thousand articles on the importance of self care are a drop in the ocean when someone is consumed with self hate.

The opposite of pride is not being quiet, or keeping things private, it is shame. Shame is the feeling we are not good enough, that we do not deserve to be treated well. It is not the same as guilt. Guilt says we have done something wrong (although we may have work to do on our definition of wrong). Shame says we are wrong. The greatest counter to shame is being our authentic selves. To be our authentic self however we need to have self worth and good self esteem, we need to have pride.

Every year the media has letters demanding councils do not fly LGBTQ+ flags, and stories of schools demanding rainbow pins be removed. To some it seems that simply wearing a badge or flying a flag is so shameful that  if anyone sees it, they will be harmed. So often the argument is not in front of the children, as with this story, where a parent believed even knowing words would harm her child.  If you believe that it might be a problem for children to know LGBTQ+ people exist, then you are positioning being LGBTQ+ as harmful. This is the promotion of shame as the acceptable position, the desired position for LGBTQ+ people. Every time someone says homosexuality is OK, just not in public, in front of the children, on a Sci Fi show, they are saying the authentic queer self is unacceptable and must be replaced with shame.

This comes across most in the idea that children must be protected from LGBTQ+ identities, as they are inherently shameful. A child is presented as only being authentic if they are cis and heterosexual, thus we see celebrations of pretend cis het weddings but all other identities being seen as inappropriate for children to know about. This inappropriateness is a shaming of LGBTQ+ identities, presenting them as somehow dangerous. The shameful must be hidden, and only accessed at an arbitrary age which we declare to be “adult”. Adult (in the sexualised sense of the word) is a designation where we say “this may be shameful but you are considered old enough to decide to access it”

We may have moved a long way from the first Pride marches, which loudly demanded the right to exist, but LGBTQ+ people are still fighting the idea that there is nothing shameful about being LGBTQ+. They do not need to hide who or what they are, neither should they be told that hiding is the only acceptable way to be part of the wider community. We still need pride, in ourselves, and the messy, complex, overt series of events where people shout out “I am not ashamed of who I am”.

A version of this post first appeared on The Queerness

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