Friday, February 11, 2011

Can You Love Yourself When You Hate Being Gay?

Several weeks ago, I awoke with a question on my mind:  Can someone who is gay learn to love himself even if he hates being gay?  Or do you need to make peace with being gay first before you have the ability to love yourself?    

As I see it, the answer to this question is key to what I'm trying to do with my blog of late, which is to help gay people raise their self-esteem and increase their ability to love themselves.  So I think it's seriously worth taking a look at to find out where it lands.  
As I've written before, how one feels about oneself--that is, whether or not one has a healthy sense of self-esteem--is always a matter of choice.  Thus, at any point in our lives, we can consciously decide to love or to loath ourselves, regardless.    

But, of course, that fails to take into consideration anything in the external world that could influence how we feel about ourselves.  It's shameful our self-esteem could ever be based upon what's going on around us or how others feel about us, but that's often the case (see the post titled "Other Esteem").  I would be naive to think it's not.    
So, as gay people, can we love ourselves if we hate being gay?  The simple answer is yes, and we should, no matter what, but I think the answer is necessarily more complex, especially for many, many people, who never have the opportunity to make peace with their sexual orientation.

I'm thinking of people right here in Canada, the same country where same-sex marriage has been legal for a number of years, whose religious beliefs, or those of family members, have led them to accept that being gay is wrong and deplorable.  And I'm thinking also of those in countries around the world not as progressive as Canada, where homosexuality is still very much culturally closeted.

Admittedly, in those cases, being gay is tough, tougher than it is for those living in large cities, with lots of daily challenges--from not being able to be yourself, to hiding what your life is about, to difficulties meeting someone like yourself, to shame, to not feeling like you're a valued member of society.

If feeling good about yourself (that is, loving yourself) is directly related to how you feel about your sexual orientation, then what?  
I wish I could make being gay a non-issue for every human being on earth, where those who aren't gay have no issue with those who are, and those who are gay have no issue with it because those who aren't don't care.  Unfortunately, I'm not God, and I can't do that.  All I can do is emphasize once again that, despite what's going on in the world around us, we can, and always should, make the choice to love ourselves and never allow that to waver, no matter what.
If I were honest with you, I'd have to admit coming out at the age of twenty-five was, for me, pivotal in helping to see myself differently from before.  This does not mean, however, the self-loathing I'd experienced for years suddenly disappeared overnight.  In fact, even though I started feeling more positive about gay people, and myself, prior to coming out, which were probably instrumental in prompting me to take that bold step, coming out and loving myself as a gay man had little to do with each other.
The reason for that is obvious.  Self-loathing was so ingrained in me for so long, I didn't know anything else.  My life was one continuous routine of finding something wrong with me and putting myself down as a result.  And, believe me, did I find things wrong with me--from my physical appearance and my mannerisms (too effeminate, not masculine enough); to being unable to stand up for myself (from years of taking, rather than resisting, the bullying at school and potentially making matters worse); to hating that my life would never be as simple as it apparently was for straight men, whose course of finding girlfriends, getting married, and having children was set, and symbolic of living a "normal" life in our culture.  
So if coming out didn't turn around my low self-esteem, what did?
By the time I turned thirty, I lived in Vancouver's West End (which I loved), I was still alone and lonely, I had progressed nicely in my career with one of Canada's major financial institutions--and, oh yeah, I was still gay.  No denying that.  I could no longer rely on being an adolescent, searching for who I was in all respects, including sexually, hoping like hell I'd grow out of my attraction to other men and start to see girls as they did.    

The age of thirty was a turning point for me.  I was under the impression older gay men--read, any gay man over the age of thirty--was washed up:  his looks were quickly diminishing (if he had them to begin with), and the hope of ever finding someone to share his life with was fast dwindling.  Yet, there I was, in the exact predicament I'd hoped I'd never find myself--gay, single, and thirty.  What was I supposed to do?
Around this time (the early '90s), people's consciousness was being raised around low self-esteem.  Self-help books were more popular than ever, on every conceivable subject--from feeling the fear and doing it anyway, to learning to re-parent yourself if your own parents hadn't done such a bang-up job. I admit, I've indulged in more than one self-help book over the years, I'm not the least bit ashamed of that.

And I was maturing, too, leaving my frustrated and aimless twenties, and wondering what else was out there for me.  If my thirties, forties, and beyond were going to end up being more of the same, I wasn't sure I wanted any part of it.  What was the point?  I still wasn't sure I wanted to work for a financial institution (my passion to be creative virtually stifled), and my personal life was empty and presumably hopeless. What were my options?

I came to the realization if anything was going to change, I had to change it.  No one, least of all the man of my dreams, was going to sweep me up (pardon the romance novels reference) and take me away from everything I hated about myself and my life.  I had to do it myself, and I'd already wasted too much time. I had to get on with it and work my ass off, at least as hard as I'd ever worked on anything to be successful at it.    
Mentally, I began to realize for perhaps the first time, I didn't deserve the bad rap I'd gotten from all the kids at school who'd bullied me.  I began to see the discrepancy between what they said I was and what I knew of myself--in other words, I couldn't reconcile being a fucking faggot with the good and decent person I knew myself to be.  I had believed what I'd been told more than I believed in myself, and I suddenly had to ask myself how I'd allowed that to happen for so many years.    
The road to self-esteem is long--I suspect it’s as long as a lifetime, constantly demanding us to pay attention and to work hard--but, at that point, I started by taking small, definite steps toward manifesting the future I wanted, regardless of whether or not I was gay, regardless of whether or not I was single or partnered.  Diligence and baby steps started me off.  Not long after that, I met Chris, my partner, and, as far as my relationship is concerned, the rest is history.

I’ll conclude by repeating what I stated previously:  Without a doubt, I believe gay people can love themselves even if they hate being gay, because the choice is always ours to make.  But you can take steps today toward making peace with being gay (or accepting it, if you like), regardless of what those around you think of gay people, or what the religion you were raised in teaches about gay people, or how closed and unprogressive your culture is toward homosexuality.  Because you always have control over what goes on in your mind and how you choose to feel about everything, especially yourself.  Nothing else, no person, institution, culture, nothing, should have control over that.   
The way I look at it, what choice do we have, if we are gay, but to accept it, and, as chaotticGRRL (or Heather) says, to love ourselves because of it?  As I’ve gotten older, being miserable about my sexual orientation and hating myself as a result has become unacceptable.  I have only one life on earth, as you do, and I've wasted far too much of it already hating myself and the hand of cards I was given to play.    
My number one goal now is to get on with the work I’m meant to do--that is, loving myself, gay or not, and making a contribution to the lives of others.  And, dare I say, your goal should be the same.                     


  1. I agree, you can't start loving others properly if you don't love yourself first. In order to accept myself more, sometimes I ask myself why do I care if people happen to dislike me for being gay? (I'm not talking about the rare hard-core bigots, but their opinions aren't fathomable anyway) Do I find everyone I meet to be cool, fascinating, and loveable? No. Why do I think everyone should be able to think I'm so wonderful? While I may be annoyed by the young guy smoking at the crosswalk, or miffed by the loud-talking German lady in the checkout line, or incredulous at the sight of Sarah Palin shooting her mouth off on TV, I don't loathe them, or wish any harm to come to them. (Well maybe Sarah Palin could have a small trip onstage or something : ) So LIVE and let live. Someone somewhere thinks you're the cat's pajamas, while someone else thinks you should be out of sight, out of mind. We're all just human afterall. Let's embrace the fact that we're people, and none of us can please everyone, even some of the time.

  2. A brief comment tonight...I had a funny thought after reading the last couple of posts, it was that I had to remind myself that we were discussing a gay know, we're all sharing here, we all have similar issues/frustrations/whatever that crop up over the years, and I just thought it was funny that I wasn't seeing them as gay or straight issues, but as routine relationship stuff...I think you've spent a lot of time feeling like being gay set you apart from other people, and yet when I read your blog, you're discussing things that resonate with anyone, sexuality aside. Just thought I'd pass on that thought!

    And I loved Tim's kissing video on the earlier thread...I just pasted it into another blog I read where everyone is arguing tonight...

  3. @Doug: Great comment, Doug. I love the reference to Sarah Palin (don't much care for her or her politics either), and the expression "cat's pajamas." Haven't heard that one before. Cute.

    Your point is well made, about not pleasing everyone all of the time. I couldn't agree more. In the end, all we can do is try our hardest to be ourselves, and to make the most of the lives we've been given. As they say, this is no dress rehearsal.

    @Sarah: What you wrote here I've heard before. Wendy, a good friend of mine, used to comment on my blog frequently, and she very often said what I wrote about was common to straight people, too.

    I think that may well be the point I try to make here--that we're all really the same. That gay people aren't freaks after all. That everyone really wants the same thing--to love and to be loved in return. That's what it's all about.

    Thank you both for your comments, and for your ongoing contribution to the discussion.

  4. Rick, I think that you can like, even appreciate yourself, if you hate being gay, or that you're gay, but I refuse to accept that what you feel about yourself would be called love.

    I cannot fathom calling it love if you hate such an integral part of yourself. Something that's so innately you as eye color or skin color, or height. There's no self acceptance if there's a major part of you that you're repulsed by.

    A brief glance at show us hate defined as this:

    verb, hat·ed, hat·ing, noun
    –verb (used with object)
    1. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest

    to be unwilling; dislike:

    –verb (used without object)
    3. to feel intense dislike, or extreme aversion or hostility.

    4. intense dislike; extreme aversion or hostility.
    5.the object of extreme aversion or hostility.

    How does any of these definitons allow for love?

    I respect you and your writing, Rick, but I don't agree that you can love yourself wholly without complete and total acceptance.

    But please, Rick and readers, do not think that it's impossible, you can indeed love yourself wholly. And obviously, it starts at something about yourself that you like, or admire, then let it grow from there.

    Thanks for the mention, I truly believe that loving yourself because you've faced your sexuality head on, and integrated that within yourself is a reason to love yourself.

  5. Heather, I can't say I struggle to love myself now because I hate being gay. It wasn't that long ago that I did, though. In fact, when I look at the journal entries I wrote during my counselling sessions two years ago, yes, I outright told the counsellor I hated being gay, and I didn't want to be.

    Part of that was long-term anguish I hadn't dealt with, and part was I was going through an introspective period, and writing a lot about it, before Chris and I moved back to Metro Vancouver. I did not want to move. That was the catalyst for so many negative feelings, including those about being gay, and, really wanting so much to be like straight men, whose path in life seemed so straightforward and so easy by comparison. Sometimes, it's hard work being gay.

    When I wrote this post a few weeks ago, several of my readers had written in to say they were struggling with being gay. Realitypursuit wrote in about a friend whose gay but wanted for all the world not to be. I guess I took some of these conversations to bed with me one night and woke up the following morning with the question that became this post's title.

    I intended this piece to be for them, because I had started writing about gay people loving themselves, but I wondered if that was possible if one hated being gay. I wanted to explore that subject to see what was possible, and I think I came to a conclusion that satisfied me, and hopefully my readers.

    Yes, I believe you can love yourself even if you hate being gay, because you have to focus on being human first. If you do that, you must recognize your worthiness of self-love, regardless (there's that word again!) of your sexual orientation. And, as I write, we always have the choice to love ourselves or not.

    I thank you for your concern about me. I don't hate being gay anymore. I think the counselling I engaged in helped, but I also think writing this blog for the first year and a half helped immensely, too. As I wrote in a post, I got to the point where I'd laid out all my beefs about being gay--I couldn't think of anymore--and I felt curiously at peace. I don't know how else to explain it.

    Besides, I'm doing all right for myself now. I really am. I don't think I've ever been more positive about what and who I am, and that's saying a lot. Hence the reason why I'm audacious enough to think I could write something that might be helpful to someone else.

    Thanks for your comment, and for your compassion, my dear. I really appreciate it.

  6. This is where we agree to disagree. I know from personal experience that I could not love myself without loving the gay part of me too. I've been through too much to believe otherwise. However, that's my personal experience.

    If there are people who do love themselves despite hating that they're gay, good on them, but I just can't believe it.

    I'm not being closed minded, but being gay is such a priceless aspect of my being, it's sewen into my soul, and not loving that, hating that wouldn't allow me to love me.

    I am willing to accept that you can like, appreciate and maybe 'love' yourself, but to be in love - not in the romantic sense, but the all encompassing self acceptance love sense - you must accept it.

    It's not easy. I'll be the first to admit it. But it's possible. I want everyone to understand that. Love is possible, self acceptance is possible. Please know that. Know that life is going to show you that loving you is the best and most awesome way to be the best you there is.

  7. God, Rick, if you could just hang out with half of the straight guys I know...honestly, they don't have things any more "together" than anyone else does, although by virtue of approaching life as "top dog," (male, straight) they very often lack the level of introspection and reflection that you have. I would much rather spend a weekend hanging out with you and chatting than with most of the straight guys I know. (And I haven't even officially met you!)

  8. @Heather: I can't disagree with a thing you've written here. I feel the same way you do.

    Here's my thought: Say you live in small-town Canada, or a foreign country, where you cannot be openly gay, where it's safer to remain closeted. For me, making peace with my sexual orientation had a great deal to do with being able to come out. And learning to love myself was a natural progression of that.

    But what if you can't come out? And what if, as a result, you never make peace with being gay? Does that mean you can never love yourself, even if you make the conscious choice to? I don't want to leave anyone with that message. I want to leave a message of hope, that, no matter your particular situation, you can love yourself--even if your sexual orientation is something you must hide your entire life. Does that make sense?

    I know you and I are in an enviable position in relation to a lot of people, because, despite the challenges we've faced, we've been able to come out and move on with our lives. But I know many people will never have that option. I want them to know loving themselves is still possible. So, in that sense, I'm taking sexual orientation out of the equation altogether and saying, you still have the ability to love who you are because you are a human being, end of story. And, on that basis alone, you must love yourself.

    What a great discussion. And I so appreciate the points in your comment. You've helped me to understand myself better and to put words to an idea maybe I hadn't fleshed out fully. Thank you for that.

    @Sarah: Thank you so much for your kinds words. I think our culture holds up "male" and "straight," and says that's the pinnacle of human existence. The challenge those of us who are not that--even if we satisfy only one half of the equation--is to realize it's all a big fraud. That each of us has comparable value beyond what we thought just by being ourselves and using our own strengths. Great thing to keep in mind.

    My sincere thanks to both of you for your contributions to this discussion.
    I want everyone who is gay to live with hope. You are I have seen the other side. We've made peace with our