Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Steps to Love Yourself When You're Gay--Summary

Today, I completed and published the fifth and final post in the "How to Love Yourself When You're Gay (and When You're Not)" series.  For the benefit of those who haven't read one or more of the five posts, I thought I'd take a moment to summarize briefly why I wrote the series and what's included in it, with the hope you might find something that interests you.

Why I wrote this series?

I don't think any of us can deny many gay men are filled with self-loathing.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  If you think about it, it makes sense.  Ever since we were children, we received the message, in many different ways, that being gay is bad, immoral, an abomination.

Maybe your parents said something negative about gay people; or someone in your church said homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God; or kids bullied you at school, calling you a fairy, a homo, a faggot; or you heard someone on the news say homosexuality is a sin.

Over time, as you began to realize you were gay yourself, you made the connection between homosexuality being bad and you being bad.  In other words, you internalized the messages, accepting they were true about you and affecting your self-worth in the process.

Self-worth is at the core of self-esteem.  If you don't have a sense of your self-worth, your self-esteem is lowered.  And, instead of loving yourself, as we all should, you hate yourself, leading, in the case of gay men, to all manner of dysfunctional behavior, including promiscuity, risky sex, and substance abuse.

I believe the greatest opportunity we have as gay people is to recognize what has been done to us for decades, to take responsibility for ourselves, and to do something about it.  Sure, let's continue the fight for our human rights, but let's accept the greatest battle we may face is to love ourselves.            

Five Steps to Love Yourself

In this series, I identified five steps that were instrumental in helping me many years ago to raise my self-esteem.  Direct links to these five steps are found below.

I hope something I wrote above resonates with you, and that you'll take this opportunity to read the information in some or all of the posts.  Most of all, I hope if the love you have for yourself is not where it should be, you'll accept the challenge to work on yourself, thereby improving every facet of your life.

If you'd like more information on the Five Steps, please see:

1.  Step #1:  Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change) (click here);
2.  Step #2:  Live Consciously (click here)
3.  Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action  (click here)
4.  Step #4:  Take Baby Steps Forward  (click here)
5.  Step #5:  Believe in Yourself  (click here)

18 comments:

  1. Rick I sure hope this comment posts. I still don't know why the previous ones didn't. I wanted to comment on your series as a whole and i also want to say again that it isn't my purpose to pick a fight. I am not condemning or judging anyone because it's not my place to do that. Someone i know made a statement yesterday that really made me think. She said if people are born gay and it's so great to come out and admit you're gay then why aren't there people out there who want to get in on it and be gay too? It probably doesn't make sense the way I'm saying it so I'll try to explain. You have written a very detailed series on loving yourself. When i read it I felt like this self esteem thing was a pretty widespread problem among gay men. So here's my question. If a loving God created you to be gay then why is there such an issue with self esteem and acceptance and all that? The God I know isn't like that. He is the giver of all good things and i think we can all agree on that. The God I know isn't up there picking and choosing who will be gay and who will be straight. I've asked this question to my gay friend and he can't answer it. Can you?

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  2. Hi, realitypursuit. Unfortunately, your comment didn't attach to this post, but I received it in my email. I'll paste it below and answer in a separate comment box.

    Rick I sure hope this comment posts. I still don't know why the previous ones didn't. I wanted to comment on your series as a whole and i also want to say again that it isn't my purpose to pick a fight. I am not condemning or judging anyone because it's not my place to do that. Someone i know made a statement yesterday that really made me think. She said if people are born gay and it's so great to come out and admit you're gay then why aren't there people out there who want to get in on it and be gay too? It probably doesn't make sense the way I'm saying it so I'll try to explain. You have written a very detailed series on loving yourself. When i read it I felt like this self esteem thing was a pretty widespread problem among gay men. So here's my question. If a loving God created you to be gay then why is there such an issue with self esteem and acceptance and all that? The God I know isn't like that. He is the giver of all good things and i think we can all agree on that. The God I know isn't up there picking and choosing who will be gay and who will be straight. I've asked this question to my gay friend and he can't answer it. Can you?

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  3. realitypursuit, first, please don't worry about picking a fight. You have been respectful of me and my blog, and your questions have all been good ones. I'm sure other people have the same questions, so, by answering yours, hopefully I can help them to understand, too.

    Although you think you've asked the same thing in two ways, I see two specific questions I want to address individually.

    1. You wrote: "If people are born gay and it's so great to come out and admit you're gay then why aren't there people out there who want to get in on it and be gay too?"

    I'll answer this by using my coming out story as the example. Coming out for me was not about saying, yippee, I'm glad I'm gay. It was about, yippee, I don't have to hide anymore. I don't have to be ashamed of being gay anymore. I don't have to obsess about being gay in a heterosexual world anymore, where I know many people think I'm an abomination. I can get on with living my life, like straight people do, including finding the right person for me and settling down together. Coming out usually happens after a long and extremely difficult process of coming to terms with being gay and accepting what you are. That is what's so great about coming out, not that you're gay. Does that make sense?

    2. You wrote: "If a loving God created you to be gay then why is there such an issue with self esteem and acceptance and all that?"

    What a GREAT question. The answer is the difference between the loving and nonjudgemental God you and I worship, who accepts me as I am and leaves my self-worth in tact. And some hateful and ignorant human beings, who use their interpretations of God's word as justification for judging me (and others), who insult and bully me, call me bad names, and teach me to hate myself because they believe being gay is deplorable and an abomination.

    As I see it, the problem isn't God at all. The problem is some human beings who think they are better than me, who think they know better than me, who think themselves God.

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  4. Also, if I could add for Reality Pursuit, we've done away with some things that were in the Old Testament that aren't acceptable or necessary in today's world: We no longer have permission to kill our neighbour if he doesn't observe the Sabbath. We no longer own slaves, nor are we allowed to sell our own daughters into slavery. It isn't an abomination to eat shellfish, or to wear mixed fibres, or for men to shave their beards. It's time to realize that the part of the Bible that spoke about homosexuality is as irrelevant in today's world as the admonitions about shellfish and shaving are. I'm not saying this applies to you, but there are a lot of Christians out there who are using a few lines from the Old Testament to condemn an entire group of wonderful people, and those wonderful people sometimes take that message to heart, and as Rick said, it's that lack of acceptance from society, not from God, that is so hard on them.

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  5. Sarah, you have an extraordinary way of showing your support of gay people, and of simplifying what I often find difficult to put into words (and I'm the writer?), perhaps because I'm so close to it (or I'm trying too hard).
    As a recovering Catholic, I was not aware of these passages in the Old Testament because Catholics don't study the Bible. I hate to say it but, if the Old Testament makes such ludicrous comments related to the acceptability of selling daughters into slavery (obviously because girls didn't have much value back then), it's not difficult to imagine where equally ludicrous statements about gay people came from.
    What mortifies me is how supposedly religious people use a literal reading of the Bible to justify everything from passing judgement on others to murdering them, all in the name of God. I can only imagine what God must think when He sees what's been done with His word (is it His word, or man's?), and how He will hold them to account on their final judgement day.
    Just love one another, everyone. That's all God has asked us to do.
    Again, my sincere thanks for your contribution to a better understanding of my blog, and for helping RP. I really appreciate it.

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  6. It's interesting, there is a man who comments on another blog I read, and not only is he a self described "Christian," but he is against universal health care in the States, because he doesn't want to "pay" (through his taxes) for the medical expenses of those who earn less than he does, he does not acknowledge the reality of gays, or trans people, he uses the most bigoted language you can imagine, he married a woman from Africa, because women in the States were too "liberated," he is, in short, a caricature of close minded bigot, AND he's a Christian! We commenters love to point out the discrepancies between his personal behaviour and the example his "boss" sets in the Bible, but it is like trying to nail jello to a tree. He just doesn't see it.

    And yes, the Old Testament has some pretty far fetched things in it, even beyond the people who lived to be 800...In fact, Jesus never once talks about homosexuality in the New Testament, and yet many Christians export a few musty lines from a chapter of the OT to justify their bigotry, it's incredibly frustrating to hear the way people cherry-pick the odd verse. Here is a wonderful letter that was sent to Dr. Laura, maybe you've seen it?
    http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/joke/laura.htm#author

    I really, truly do not understand why people who profess to love Jesus so much seem so determined to NOT love, and instead to do exactly the opposite of what they were commanded: namely, to not ever judge others. I sign my posts to the dinosaur on the other blog this way:

    Christianity: You're doing it wrong.

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  7. Sarah, I'm wiping the tears of laughter out of my eyes as I write this, having just read the open letter to Dr. Laura. I hadn't read it before, but if that's not high entertainment, I don't know what is.
    The things that some human beings have done to other human beings over the centuries all in the name of Jesus or God boggle the mind.
    As I wrote before, I've never read or studied the Bible. Given the pieces you've brought to my attention, I really believe, if we are thinking, reasoning human beings, we must take some of it with a grain of salt. It was obviously written at very different times in human history, and, if we can agree we shouldn't sell our daughters into slavery or burn neighbors at the stake, can we not also agree homosexuals shouldn't be judged or discriminated against using equally antiquated and inappropriate passages?
    When are we going to get this? Unfortunately, many, many people accept the word of God at face value, and they are prepared to fight to the death, as many of them do, to defend their beliefs, taking many other people with them. Makes me shake my head.
    Tell you what. If you're one of those people (I'm not talking to you now, Sarah), then go believe what you want to in the wilderness somewhere. Find some isolated location--the middle of the desert, an uninhabited island, the center of a mountain range--far, far away from the rest of thinking, reasoning humankind, and practice whatever screwed up version of the Bible you believe all you like. Just get the hell away from me, and stop telling me that I'm an abomination, and how I should live my life.
    Whew! I got a little out of control there, but I feel so much better.
    Thanks for your insight and enlightenment, Sarah.

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  8. Here is another wonderful read, this one heartfelt. Dan Savage linked to it, it's from The Independent in the UK:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-why-is-it-wrong-to-protect-gay-children-2196470.html

    Feel free to yell at your computer, I do it all the time!
    Cheers, dear!

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  9. Great article, Sarah. Just read it in full and, of course, I couldn't agree more.
    Thank you so much for sharing it with me and my readers. I hope everyone will take a few minutes to read it. Sure puts things into perspective, doesn't it?
    Thanks again.

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  10. Those articles are great Sarah. If only our literal Christian friends could be persuaded by logic alone, or even a Commandment, like love thy neighbour!

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  11. I appreciate all the comments here on my post but I am starting to feel like none of you really see what I am asking or trying to say. I think I've been open with you Rick and i am glad that you accept that but all I am getting from everyone is the same old standard gay answers. Don't take that the wrong way please. I am supposed to accept what all of you say but you're not willing to hear what i say with an open mind. Sarah you have your facts wrong with the old testament but that's a whole different topic and i'm not sure you guys really want to hear my opinion about that anyway. What I am trying to say here is that i was hoping this would be a place where a straight person could ask some questions and get some answers that were different then the same old stuff I hear all the time from the gays i know. Its like a script or something, like you don't actually want to know what i think let alone consider that there might be an alternative. Sorry for letting it all out here.

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  12. Hi, realitypursuit. Unfortunately, your most recent comment didn't attach itself to this post. I'll publish it here and response in a separate comment box:

    I appreciate all the comments here on my post but I am starting to feel like none of you really see what I am asking or trying to say. I think I've been open with you Rick and i am glad that you accept that but all I am getting from everyone is the same old standard gay answers. Don't take that the wrong way please. I am supposed to accept what all of you say but you're not willing to hear what i say with an open mind. Sarah you have your facts wrong with the old testament but that's a whole different topic and i'm not sure you guys really want to hear my opinion about that anyway. What I am trying to say here is that i was hoping this would be a place where a straight person could ask some questions and get some answers that were different then the same old stuff I hear all the time from the gays i know. Its like a script or something, like you don't actually want to know what i think let alone consider that there might be an alternative. Sorry for letting it all out here.

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  13. Thank you again, realitypursuit, for your comment. I appreciate your taking the time to write it.

    It would be easy for me to take each point you've made and try to defend myself, but that probably wouldn't make any difference, and that's not what my blog is about.

    I believe my readers and I have been open to what you've written, we've considered it carefully, and we've answered your questions as honestly and as directly as we can. I'm not sure what else we could have done.

    In the end, all we ask of you is just one thing: love and support your gay friends. It does not matter why they are gay. The fact is they are. And all they want is to be treated the same way you are. They do not want to be judged; they do not want to be made to feel badly about themselves. I know you can do that.

    Thanks again for your comments. I sincerely appreciate hearing from you.

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  14. Hear, hear, Rick! (about your comment "In the end, all we ask of you is just one thing: love and support your gay friends. It does not matter why they are gay. The fact is they are . . . They do not want to be judged . . .")

    I would expand that statement, though, to say that we shouldn't be judging anyone else either. The old "walk a mile in their shoes" idea that we can't know what motivates anyone else, nor can we know the entirety of their situation.

    As a lesbian, I want to be allowed to live my life as I choose. But my sexuality is only part of who I am. So, similarly, as a relatively-observant Jew, I don't want others to mock or pass judgement on my beliefs or actions. (And there were hints of that in some of the comments above.) That said, I do not subscribe to a literal reading of much of the Bible but still believe that there is *much* there that I can learn from (even the uncomfortable parts). OTOH, I would not presume to tell anyone else what s/he should believe!

    On a related note, though, I like the interpretation (was it from humourist Kate Clinton??) of Leviticus's "man shall not sleep with man as with woman" that said it was to ensure harmony in the military. The thinking went that if a man tried acting with a fellow soldier as he would with a woman (e.g., stealing the covers) there'd be too much strife in the ranks!

    Also Rick, I was very impressed by your several-part post on how to increase one's self-image. Nicely written, wonderful ideas, and a very important topic! But, if I may, I would recommend that not indulging in negative talk be expanded to not tearing down others. (You alluded to this in part 4 when you said "looked at another way, someone else will always be worse off than you, too (not that you should try to make yourself feel better, or try to improve your self-esteem, by comparing who you are with someone less fortunate; that doesn't work either).")

    I've found that cutting off negativity, no matter to whom it is expressed, has been key to enhancing my self-esteem. It seems to be a lesson that I need to revisit from time to time, though, as it's so easy to fall back into the habit of being negative . . .

    --Sarah (not the previous poster, just to confuse things! )

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  15. Hi Rick. I don't want to drag this thing out but i think you are wrong when you say it doesn't matter why you are gay. It matters to my friends and it matters to me.I do accept and care about my friends and they know it but i see how they struggle with what they are and I am powerless to help them. My one friend and i have had a lot of deep discussion about this and he says all the time that if he knew for sure there was even a small possibility that he wasn't born gay then he would have hope. So yeah I think all of you on this blog have been open to what I write here but I'm not hearinganything about how to help somebody who doesn't want to be gay. Somebody who doesn't want to hear about the issues of self esteem and gay men over and over. I know you guys are trying to help people and i respect that a lot. That's what its all about anyway right? Helping people. I just wonder how many gay men are out there who don't want to be and don't have anywhere to go to get help for that because all the other gay men are telling them they were born that way so suck it up and live with it. What if they weren"t? Then like my friend they would have hope for another life. I'm not trying to be difficult here so i am sorry if it sounds that way. I just want to help people too.

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  16. Sarah, many thanks for your kind words and your clarifications. I'm all for not running headlong into what's right for us without considering other people in the equation as well. Very important.
    And your point about not using negative talk to tear down others is a critical Absolutely, we cannot build our own self-esteem by putting someone else down. That's not true self-esteem anyway.
    Thanks for your interest in my blog and for taking the time to leave a detailed comment. I really appreciate it.

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  17. realitypursuit, again, your comment did not attach itself to this blog post. I will publish it here and response separately.

    You wrote:

    Hi Rick. I don't want to drag this thing out but i think you are wrong when you say it doesn't matter why you are gay. It matters to my friends and it matters to me.I do accept and care about my friends and they know it but i see how they struggle with what they are and I am powerless to help them. My one friend and i have had a lot of deep discussion about this and he says all the time that if he knew for sure there was even a small possibility that he wasn't born gay then he would have hope. So yeah I think all of you on this blog have been open to what I write here but I'm not hearinganything about how to help somebody who doesn't want to be gay. Somebody who doesn't want to hear about the issues of self esteem and gay men over and over. I know you guys are trying to help people and i respect that a lot. That's what its all about anyway right? Helping people. I just wonder how many gay men are out there who don't want to be and don't have anywhere to go to get help for that because all the other gay men are telling them they were born that way so suck it up and live with it. What if they weren"t? Then like my friend they would have hope for another life. I'm not trying to be difficult here so i am sorry if it sounds that way. I just want to help people too.

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  18. Thank you for your comment, realitypursuit.
    At the outset, I want to tell you I'm not sure I'll say anything different here that I haven't said before, or anything you will accept more than you have previously. But I will give it my best shot.

    If your gay friend, the one you've had deep discussions with, truly doesn't want to be gay, what does it matter whether one is born gay or not? If he's that conflicted about it, perhaps he needs to try being straight. Perhaps he needs to find a girlfriend, date, have straight sex to see if that agrees with him more. If he likes himself more. If he feels better, more natural.

    Being gay is not just about having sex with someone of the same gender. It's about feeling connected in all the most important ways--mentally, emotionally, spiritually--with someone of the same gender in a way you aren’t to someone of the opposite gender. On the basis of that alone, your friend should be able to make the right decision for himself. Who does he feel more connected to on all those levels?

    On a purely physical level, what sex turns him on more? If he's turned on by a woman's assets, then he's straight. If he's turned on by a man's assets, then he's gay. If he’s turned on by both (that is, he can get himself off fantasizing about women and men), then maybe he’s bisexual.

    Do you see why how one becomes gay doesn't matter? It's all about what he feels inside, so he shouldn't get caught up on the cause. That's unimportant. He has to be true to himself, whatever that looks like, gay or straight.

    On your role in helping your friend, I will say only this: What you want to do is admirable; you obviously care a lot for him and you're concerned about his happiness. But, in the end, you can only support him, whichever way he goes. Your efforts cannot make him gay or straight. That’s only something he can do for himself.

    If I told you, because I have some secret knowledge, one is not born gay, and you shared that with him, would your telling him have any bearing on whether he's gay or straight? I doubt it. Again, your friend has to decide what is right for him, regardless of what is believed to be the cause of one's sexual orientation.

    The reason why you keeping reading posts here about gay men and self-esteem is because that is the subject of this blog. I’m passionate about helping gay men recognize they have low self-esteem, realize how destructive low self-esteem is in their lives, and learn what they can do about it.

    Ironically, what I don’t think you see is just how low your friend’s self-esteem really is. If he loved himself just as he is, it would not matter to him if he was gay or straight. He would see his self-worth isn’t connected to his sexual orientation, or what people think of it. He would not be conflicted. He would be at peace with himself. He would love himself.

    In the end, it could well be neither you nor I, despite our best intentions, can do anything to help your friend. If he’s having that awful a time figuring out whether he’s gay or straight, he may have to talk to a professional about it. There is no shame in that. But, I promise you, central to him figuring this out will be accepting himself as he is, whatever that may be, which comes down to self-esteem again.

    I wish I could say something that would clear this up for you once and for all, but I can’t. I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way, and I hope your friend finds the inner peace he seeks.

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