“People are not provoked by those who are different. What is more provoking is our insecurity: When you say, ‘I am so sorry but I am different.’ That’s much more provoking than saying ‘I am different,’ or ‘I have something to tell you, I can see something that you cannot see!’” (Norwegian Trans activist Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad)
Early in 2000, Paul Flowers and Katie Buston (both very capable researchers) interviewed twenty young gay men in South Yorkshire, England. Paul and Katie were attempting to get to the heart of the gay experience by asking the following simple (and yet somehow profound) questions:
- How did you know you were gay?
- When did you realize you were attracted to the same sex?
- How did you feel about realizing you were sexually attracted to men?
Instead of saying that they knew they were gay the first time they were turned on by another man (or some other sexually-predicatable answer), every guy questioned said his first understanding of being gay was tied up with feeling “different.” Does that ring a bell with you? It did with me. They guys in the study said:
“I knew there was something wrong, something different in my life…”
“I remember going home at night and crying myself to sleep because I knew that I was different, and I was terrified of being different…”
“I felt different and yeah I suppose I knew I was gay, but I fought it, I really did fight it…”
Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Looking back, don’t most of us remember feeling different before we understood what that difference was?
Like many of us, I spent a long time trying to hide my difference. I didn’t want people to know I was gay. In my insecurity and shame, I didn’t want to explain myself. I didn’t want to provoke questions, so I stayed quiet.
When I finally came out, I felt the need to insert some version of “I still love Jesus” into every coming-out conversation. I was insecure – afraid that people would associate being gay with being anti-god – so I re-affirmed my Christianity as a way of apologizing for my sexuality.
As Benested said in the quote above, these were my ways of saying “I am so sorry, but I am different.”
For some LGBT folks, “gay pride” means being “proud” that they are gay… or lesbian… or bisexual… or whatever. For many, having “gay pride” is like having a winning football team, a 4.0 average, or a kick-a$$ chocolate cake recipe. It’s a badge of honor.
Honestly, I don’t feel that kind of pride. I don’t really even understand it. I’m not particularly proud of being gay. I didn’t do anything extraordinary to earn the right to like boys. I was just born with it. Like having brown hair or big ears or small hands, it’s just part of my package. Ta da.
For me, being proud is simply the opposite of being ashamed. It isn’t bragging about being different… but it’s also not apologizing for it.
While I agree with Benstad that people are provoked by our insecurity, I think they’re also provoked by our ego. Maybe our voices would be better understood if our pride reflected our confidence (“I not ashamed of being different”) rather than our conceit (“pay attention to me because I am different”).
Flowers, P., & Buston, K. (2001). “I was terrified of being different”: Exploring gay men’s accounts of growing-up in a heterosexist society. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 51-65.