Friday, January 28, 2011


As I read a passage from Golden Men: The Power of Gay Midlife, by Harold Kooden, PhD. with Charles Flowers, it occurred to me some readers might not see how important self-esteem is, or have an interest in improving their self-esteem, because of what Kooden calls other-esteem.  Kooden writes:

'Much of what we do to increase our self-esteem is really what I call "other-esteem," since it is the esteem of others that we really care about.  Dieting, makeovers, new cars and homes, or keeping up with the Joneses are all ways to get people to pay attention to us and reward us with their approval or envy.  How much of all that is about us and about what we want?

'A gay man may say, "It is about what I want:  a boyfriend.  If I don't have the right body or clothes, I'll never get noticed and I'll be single and bitter and old."  When I ask him why a boyfriend is so important, he'll say having a boyfriend makes him feel attractive, accepted, "normal."  But then I remind him no one makes us feel a particular way.  While our feelings are reactions to other people's behaviors, the pursuit of other-esteem is a reaction to our own feelings of inadequacy.  But no matter how desperately we crave it, other-esteem is a losing battle, a no-win situation, since we have no control over what other people will think of us [ p. 199].'

Need I say more about why self-esteem always trumps other-esteem?


  1. It's true, Rick, when our self esteem is tied up in how other people see us, when they are disappointed, or angry, it affects how we feel about ourselves. In moderation, this can be good, you know, when you mess up, and someone can tell you in a constructive way what you did. And as they say in parenting books, you try to say "I don't like what you did," not "I don't like who you are." These kids are hearing not just "I don't like who you are," they're hearing from their parents and their peers much worse than that in some can they be expected to handle that?

    I'd like to ask another question, from you, Rick, and your readers: I've been volunteering at a place that is like Planned Parenthood, they run sex ed courses, they give out free condoms and info at events...I've been wanting more contact with kids, feeling like I might be able to do some sort of mentoring, or something, so I'm going to start volunteering as well with this youth group for LGBT, my question is, if one of you guys had been at a youth group like that, and some middle-aged straight chick (but honorary gay!) was trying to help out, what would have been good? What would you have wanted to hear? What would have driven you nuts? Not trying to make this about me, here, but just trying to figure out how to help the best.

  2. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

  3. Sarah, I couldn't agree more with what you wrote in your first paragraph. You're right on the mark, you have an advanced way of looking at parenting, and your understanding and empathy for what gay kids go through is remarkable.
    Regarding the questions you pose in the second paragraph, I'd like some time to think about them. Thanks for asking, and I'll get back to you.

    Anonymous, I think you and I both agree on the point you're trying to make. But I have trouble with the word consent. To me, consent implies to actively agree to do something, and I don't think we actively agree to feel inferior. I think, unwittingly, we allow ourselves to feel inferior. It's when we begin to live more consciously, which I write about in a recent post, that we are able to turn that around and prevent it from happening.

    My thanks to both of you for taking the time to leave a comment and for adding to this conversation.

  4. Sarah, I'm sure LGBT kids would be love to talk to someone as energetic and caring as you! I suppose they're looking for someone to hear their stories and to offer them encouragement, which certainly you'd be great at.

  5. Thanks, Doug! (Rick always just says Doug...?) I am SO looking forward to this! That's what I was hoping, to just be a person who could listen, maybe some of these kids can't talk to the adults in their lives about basic, routine things like boyfriends and breakups, and this would give them a chance to chat without having to censor or switch pronouns. One of the groups is also trying to facilitate more GSAs in the city (I think there are only 2 in all of Calgary), so that would be neat. Anyway, fingers crossed that it all works out!

  6. Sarah, in answer to your question above, I couldn't agree more with Doug. You are in a unique position. You're a middle-aged woman and parent who is beyond supportive of anyone who is gay. How many extraordinary human beings are like you? Not many. You can offer a mother's compassion and love while demonstrating you truly do understand what they're going through (because, believe me, you do).
    My advice? Be there to listen. Open your heart wide and take in what the kids have to say. And, when they are done, you will know what to do because you care, because you're a concerned human being and mother. It will all come to you naturally. Just let it happen.
    Any LGBT kid who comes into contact with you will be so lucky to have you on his or her side. Be sure to let us know how it goes. All the best.

  7. Thanks so much, Rick. Hopefully they'll come to trust me enough that they feel they can open up. Or at least have someone there who is positive. Can't wait to get started!

  8. Trust is built over time, Sarah. I know you know that. All you can do is be available and listen. And as I said before, the rest will come naturally to you.
    I admire you for taking this on and for how important it is to you. I have no doubt you will make a big difference in the lives of these kids.
    Good luck.