Last weekend, Chris and I drove to my sister and her boyfriend's townhouse to help them paint their large living/dining room. This is the sister who knows I write a blog, who read several posts in the past, and who posed the question, "why do you reveal so much of yourself," as though what she'd learned had been somehow disturbing. I don't think she's returned to read anything since.
"Because I don't have anything to hide," I answered then. "I'm a human being like anyone else, with good and bad points. I think of my life as a talk show--reveal whatever you need to in the chance it could be helpful to someone else."
Paint roller in hand this past Saturday, I said, "I've changed the direction of my blog. I'm trying to help gay people to improve their self-esteem, to learn how to love themselves."
"Gay people aren't the only ones with self-esteem problems, you know," she said, as though accusing me of deliberately excluding heterosexual people from the discussion. (For the record, I think much of what I've written thus far would serve non-gay people, too.)
But, of course, I already had a response, since I'd given this some thought.
I told her I knew nearly everyone in the world has a self-esteem problem. If I've learned anything from watching talk shows over the years, it's that most problems in people's lives seem to have their genesis in low self-esteem, regardless of whether the people in question are gay or straight. That's the nature of being human on the planet at this time in history.
But, I told her, the self-esteem challenges gay people encounter are different from those faced by straight people. Or, I should say, the worthlessness that characterizes the low self-esteem gay people suffer from comes from a different place, which adds a whole other dimension to what we have to overcome if we're to emerge on the other side of it.
I don't intend for this to be a discussion about whether one form of worthlessness is worse than another. The fact is, worthlessness is worthlessness, no matter the cause, and the pain a person feels because of it--because of how his entire life is affected by it in one way or another--is similarly crippling. Thus, I admit no one person's sense of worthlessness can be said to be markedly worse or better than anyone else's, because it's all subjective--and it's all worthy of acknowledgement.
That said, I think recognition needs to be given to an additional element in the worthlessness that most gay people experience, which originates in the contempt many straight people feel toward them. That contempt is largely the result of religious fanatics misusing passages in the Bible to level judgement on other human beings, which they fail to love, as God would have them do, rather than deride, which I've written about previously.
In short, many gay people, whose lives are invariably touched by some form of fundamental religion, are taught from an early age that homosexuality is bad, wrong, immoral, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. And that message is reinforced over and over and over again in many ways. While some Christians purport to love the sinner but not the sin, it's difficult where gay people are concerned to differentiate between them because they are one and the same. What they are is who they are.
Thus, I find it curious that one who kills another human being could be more easily forgiven for committing the sin of murder, because he himself is not considered immoral, what he did is. But a homosexual, in order not to be a sinner, must not only give up his homosexual behavior but must also deny his very being, who he intrinsically is. From the perspective of a gay person, the sin of homosexuality seems worse even than that of murder.
Because we live in a largely Judeo-Christian culture, the spectre of being held accountable on judgement day for our mortal sins, including, in the case of gay people, having sex with someone of the same gender, is a frightening one. Who wants to burn in hell for all eternity because he followed through on what was his very nature to be, because he lived his life fully? Whether you believe in God or not, you can't help but be feel judged and influenced by the beliefs of those around you.
In my reading this week, I found this passage in The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-Georges Tin, a professor of literature at the University of Orleans in France. When I consulted the book to research the issue of low self-esteem in gays and lesbians, I found "Self-Hatred," directing me to "Shame," which I think is telling in terms of the nature of low self-esteem gay people experience.
The passage states:
"...Gays and lesbians are, in many respects, "children of shame." Many of their personal stories are marked by periods of uneasiness and discomfort that show the difficulty of living in a heterosexual world consisting of repeated abasements, sometimes real, sometimes imagined; sometimes open, sometimes secret. Whether before they come out or long after, gays and lesbians face a relentless and cruel treatment by society, and the growing knowledge of belonging to a class of "unsuitable" people whom society does not want, which they are reminded of on a daily basis. Shame is a feeling of vulnerability that is universal, but not experienced equally across all categories of individuals. In theory, we are all equal in [the] face of shame, but in the real social world, some are more "equal" than others.'
And, later, this passage appears:
'Shame is one of the most powerful mechanisms by which social order holds us in our presumed place in society, either by preventing "normal people" [read, heterosexuals] from straying from the "right path,' or by provoking "abnormal people" [read, homosexuals] to hide and remain out of sight by not publicly acknowledging their membership in a socially undesirable category. Even amongst the most happy and proud of being out, homosexual shame can exist in those afflicted for a long time, resurfacing at the most unexpected moments when one thought it had been long overcome (and staying with them until their death). As Didier Eribon writes: "There is always, at the turn of every sentence, a wound that can reopen; a new shame that can submerge me, or the old shame coming back to the surface." As the political result of the collective oppression, reproduced in a series of daily interactions, the shame suffered by gays and lesbians cannot be opposed except collectively in turn: it is a mechanism often too well anchored in our bodies, our subjectivities and in the objective structures of heterosexist society, to be simply revoked individually [both quotes from p. 414].'
Is it any wonder, then, why we, as gay men and lesbian women, have more work to do to restore our sense of worth, must live our lives more consciously, and are compelled to raise our self-esteem, to prepare ourselves for those times when, inevitably, we are made to feel shameful for doing nothing more than be ourselves?