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Reflections on Gay Pride

Ade: Around the world, the Gay Pride season has truly begun! When you think of Pride what comes up for you?

Darren: Pride for me has always been synonymous with being within a large group – a sense of being the ‘majority’ for a day. I remember the feeling of walking on the marches with thousands of other LGBT people and looking at members of the public on the pavement and thinking ‘the roles have been reversed’.

It created such a wave of confidence in me. How about you?

Ade: Yes, I feel the same. I always equate Pride with ‘the day being gay is celebrated’. I went to my first Pride in 1995 in London. I was still in the closet and had tagged along with some gay friends – out of curiosity. I remember calling them to ask if I could come along and feeling a sense of shame about asking. On getting there, I wanted to be ‘Out & Proud’ like everyone else, but remembered feeling unworthy and deeply flawed about being gay… 12 months later, I was out and proud, and a steward at the 1996 London Pride – from Shame to Pride!!!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADarren: I love the energy that exists when groups come together like this – I’ve experienced it at many different kinds of rallies and marches. The idea of being proud on a personal level however can be more challenging when I’m alone or I feel like I am the odd one out.

Ade: It is always such great energy and a feeling of connection – and to an extent, it does feel intimate…

Why do you think that we as gay men have no problem with Pride, but still struggle when it comes to talking about Shame?

Darren: Well, the obvious answer is that one sounds positive and one sounds negative and I think we want to be associated with the former. We don’t want to think of ourselves as ‘damaged’ in any way (who does?) so it makes engaging in a conversation about shame difficult. We all want to be seen as balanced, healthy and happy and admitting shame doesn’t fit into that picture.

Ade: Indeed. Pride is all about the light – images of joy, celebration and togetherness – all those things that we as human beings long to have more of. Shame on the other hand is something that many gay men know only too well. For me and many others, shame is that thing that I spent years running away from and then when I could not escape it, learnt how to bury it…. When I found Pride, it felt like the ultimate sign that I had left Shame behind (little did I know then, that it was still lurking in the corner).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADarren: And that’s the problem… Shame is there whether we want to acknowledge it or not and it has a massive impact on our lives. I think I have done a great job at convincing myself that I don’t carry any shame around being gay, but my behaviour tells me otherwise. As Brené defines shame as ‘ the fear of not being accepted ‘, I am starting to become conscious of just how alive that fear is for me.

Ade: Yes, Brené’s other way of explaining Shame is the ‘fear of disconnection’ – that really threw me, because I am very often in the place. A lot of the time operating from my default of longing for connection and doing my best to avoid disconnection. In those moments when I am going on automatic I am playing small or holding back because I am afraid of disconnection. In my mind at that Pride when I was a steward, I felt going on the march meant that I was leaving shame behind and all was now okay – it took many many years to discover otherwise. Pride sadly became a way for me to numb the shame… Today I feel more integrated in my response to Pride, when I have gone to those in Amsterdam, I bring all of me along – including the remnants of the shame I still carry.

Darren: I know what you mean – for me there was a desire to feel free, connected and expressed but when I got to the Pride celebrations I actually felt awkward, anxious and confused a lot of the time! I ended up drinking and taking recreational drugs to relax and feel the connection I longed for! It took the edge off. Rather than feeling like ‘Utopia’ Pride is often a double-edged sword for me- on the one hand exciting and powerful and on the other scary and difficult. Staying conscious at Pride can be challenging for me

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAde: That’s a very good point that you raise. I have noticed over the years that many ‘numb’ out at Pride – either through drink, drugs or sex. Come a certain time of the day, it’s a struggle to see anyone conscious. Not sure what that is – perhaps the realization that after the music stops all our stuff is still waiting for us. At the Pride where I was a steward in 1996, I remember as the evening was coming to an end desperately not wanting to spend the night alone and ended up going home with someone I did not really want to go with  – after all that connection (Pride), I did not want to be disconnected (Shame).

Darren: Yes! We usually all piled back to my house and spent the evening in the garden together. The connection came from the small circle of good friends around me. If we arrived together I felt I belonged but as the day wore on and people wandered off and the group disintegrated there was a growing feeling of being surrounded by thousands but at the same time completely alone. By re-grouping at the end of the day we often managed to stave off those feelings of being disconnected. I think it is important to have arrangements in place so that at the end of the day we don’t have to suffer the feeling of being all alone which can be very painful and sometimes leads us to extreme and damaging behaviour.

Ade: Yes, it can be such an amazing day if friends make plans to spend it together. The last London Pride I attended was about 8 years ago, I went with friends and we went for a meal together afterwards. It was really nice and we continued the conversations, as the afternoon carried on. I think for people who live in countries where being openly gay is illegal or a big taboo, seeing images of Pride on television can certainly be liberating and I guess for many it enables them to one day have the courage to celebrate being who they are.

Ade and DarrenDarren: In that sense Pride is a symbol. It symbolises confidence and expression and for those in repressive or restricted environments it offer hope, some light, and a glimpse of possibility.

Ade: Indeed. It is a milestone in a journey, and not a representation of the destination. A milestone that says ‘we are okay exactly as we are’, ‘we will no longer hide in the shadows like many of our brothers and sisters were forced to do many years back’ and ‘today, we celebrate who we are’.


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