Recently, a high school in Troy, Michigan made the news when the Detroit area Lesbian and Gay Community Center created a sign depicting people from all walks of life, with the heading, “Gays and Lesbians are Everyday People.” Some parents wanted it taken down because it “promotes homosexuality.” Thankfully, the Troy school board is allowing it to stay up.
These parents are sending the message that there’s something wrong with showing gays and lesbians as everyday people. Even if it were “promoting homosexuality” (which it’s not), what’s wrong with that? And how do gay children and teenagers feel knowing that some people want it—and by extension, them—removed? This only encourages those gay teenagers to stay in the closet, hiding not just their sexual and romantic orientation. There is much more at risk.
As Gay Pride Month approaches, with festivals, parades, dances, bar and movie nights, those dust bunnies lingering in our closets cause some sneezing. Most gays and lesbians don’t realize that just because you come out with your sexual and romantic orientation doesn’t mean you are finished coming out. Also locked away in your closet is internalized homophobia, which takes many forms—and Gay Pride celebrations can bring them out quickly.
Clients tell me they’re depressed and unhappy that coming out hasn’t been as good as promised by pridefests and National Coming Out Day. They go to Gay Pride events, but don’t enjoy them. They wrongly assume it’s because they have come out, which is not the real issue. In reality, those things locked away in their closets before they came out are causing the problems. Gay pride can be bittersweet: It can feel good and celebratory, but also be troubling and bring up unresolved feelings about being gay.
When gay males see other shirtless males proudly exhibiting their torsos, the dust bunnies start to fly bodies. Many of my gay clients feel inferior about how their bodies look, and seeing so many hot guys triggers their low self-esteem. Other gays and lesbians complain about “stereotypical” behavior such as men cruising one another, some dressed as drag queens or kings, dykes on bikes, leather daddies, effeminate gay men and masculine lesbian and say folks at these events are “giving gays a bad name.” These internalized homophobic dust bunnies need a good vacuuming.
Others see lesbian and gay youth at the pride celebrations and regret for not having come out sooner. It’s normal to regret how long it took you and be aware of your normative grief, but to beat yourself up over it is more about your unresolved dust bunnies.
Some couples go these events and feel tempted to cheat or flirt excessively, causing problems in their relationships. Concern about one’s partner’s eyes wandering too much can cause tension and difficult feelings. After attending a pride event, many think about breaking up with their partners, believing that from what they saw at the festivities, there are better chances out there.
And finally, if you are gay or lesbian and single, not having met someone after all of the celebration can make you think there’s no one out there right for you, and that you’re destined to be single forever.
These illusions arise from celebrations that try to unpack a lifetime of repression in a day, a weekend or even one month! Here are some ways to care of yourself during gay pride events:
If you persist in feeling badly about yourself, , leave the festivities for a while—or for good. Comparing your insides with someone else’s outsides can never benefit your self-esteem.
If it bothers you to notice your partner’s eye roaming, tell him or her. If the conflict persists, take a time out to talk about it and decide—together!—if you should both stay or leave.
Keep your drinking to a minimum. When alcohol is involved, people do and say things they’d never dream of ordinarily. Pace yourself and use booze to enhance the celebration, not become it.
If you have a strong reaction—either positive or negative—to others at the celebrations, remember that it’s most likely about you. Strong reactive judgments are usually 90% about you and 10% about whomever you‘re judging. Explore what this reaction says about you.
Volunteer for one of the gay organizations’ booths. Keep focused on how Gay Pride is about moving forward to keep gay spirit positive.
Go with friends. If feelings grow difficult, even overwhelming, you’ll have someone to talk to.
Joe Kort, MSW is a psychotherapist and author in Royal Oak, Michigan.