Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Together, Taking Gay to the Next Level

Some of you have just discovered this blog and wonder what it's about, what I'm trying to do here. Since this is the first day of a new month, there's no better time to take stock by restating by blog's purpose--using its subtitle--and by describing how far we've come in a short period.  

I put a lot of thought into the sub-title of this blog and came up with this: Together, Taking Gay to the Next Level.  What do I mean by that?  

I'll start with the second part first:  Taking Gay to the Next Level.

I believe circumstances will continue to improve for gay people over time, as they have in the past number of decades.  In the early 1960s, homosexuality was illegal in Canada.  By 2007, not only was homosexuality no longer illegal (it became legal in 1964), but also gay marriage was legalized.  We've come a long way in less than fifty years, but we still have a long way to go, particularly to help our gay brothers and sisters outside larger centers in our own country, and in countries around the world.  

At the same time we continue to battle for our human rights, I believe we are called upon to address a whole other area, one which I know will have a positive impact on us.  It's not dependent upon anyone else.  That is, we do not need the support of other people to do it.  And we can do it despite the harassment, bullying, and discrimination we continue to experience in the various areas of our lives. We can even do it no matter what country in the world we live in.  

For too long, I believe we've paid little attention to our internal wellbeing.  While we think nothing of working on our physical appearance, spending long hours in the gym, taking care of our hair and skin, dressing in the latest fashion--all because we've allowed our looks to become critical to what we think of ourselves and what we think others think of us--we've forgotten about our heads.  We've ignored our minds and our psyches.  How about we put some work into them, too?

To me, taking gay to the next level is about raising our consciousness around how we feel about ourselves.  It's about addressing the issue of low self-esteem as it relates specifically to gay people--because we have our own special issues to attend to--including recognizing, for perhaps the first time, we collectively have a self-esteem problem; realizing the effect that problem has in all areas of our lives; and learning how to improve it.

In short, what I really want--what I'm passionate about--is to help gay people to love themselves, regardless of the fact they are gay.  If even one more more boy or girl, man or woman, is consumed with self-loathing because he or she is gay, it will be too many.  We've lived with this scourge for much too long.  We must end self-hatred once and for all.  Our time has come.  

On January 11th, I published a post here titled "New Year, New Direction," about the repurposing of my blog.  Over the following two weeks, I wrote twenty-one posts with the intention of helping gay people begin to think about their self-esteem, and what role it plays in their lives.  I also wrote an extensive five-part series about what you can do, gay or straight, starting right now, to begin raising the capacity you have to love yourself.

Along the way, I heard from more people than I'd had the good fortune to over the previous two years my blog existed.  Among others, I heard from Doug, a forty-something gay man in Vancouver, who's been with his partner, Jesse, since 2008.  I heard from Sarah in Calgary, a forty-something mother of three, who is not gay but who has an uncanny understanding of the issues facing gay people, and who is as supportive of us as she could be.  

Together, we became a community of what I believe are smart, insightful, and compassionate people, open to what those who wish to leave a comment have to say, ready to offer thoughtful and heartfelt advice.  We created a safe place for struggling gays and lesbians to tell their stories, and, through our ongoing dialogue, to take those first difficult, yet necessary, steps toward self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-love.  

I heard from realitypursuit, a straight young man who cares enough about his close gay friend to help him resolve issues related to his sexual orientation.  I heard from elevencats, a male student in Estonia, anguished over being gay, and in need of connection and support.  And, most recently, I heard from Aries Boy, a young man in Indonesia, living under difficult circumstances for gay people, and needing to know he's not alone.

The work of this blog has just begun.  I know we've only scratched the surface of what I believe is an epidemic of low self-esteem in gay people across North America and the world.  There is so much left to do, and I can't do it by myself.

That takes me to the first part of my blog's sub-title:  Together, as in Together, Taking Gay to the Next Level.  What does that mean?

In part, it means my passion might well be to help raise the consciousness of gay people, but unless gay men and women make the effort to take good hard looks at themselves and their lives, to acknowledge their self-esteem isn't where it should be, and to commit to improving it, nothing will happen.  My passion and my words cannot help anyone who doesn't want to be helped, anyone who doesn't think he has a problem.

I know what I'm talking about from personal experience.  I know how I felt about myself for many, many years.  I know getting myself out of the deep, dark pit of self-loathing was a long and daunting one.  But I also know there's no substitute for taking that worthwhile journey, arguably the most important one of your life.  I know it wasn't until I started my own journey that my entire life began to open in a way it hadn't before, including meeting the man I've been with for nearly two decades.

I'm calling "taking gay to the next level," or learning to love yourself as a gay person, a movement or a revolution.

To paraphrase what I wrote at the conclusion of one of my first posts on this subject:  2011 is our year.

For too long, we've been filled with self-loathing.  For too long, we've allowed other people to tell us how we should feel about ourselves.  Self-loathing hasn't worked for us.  In fact, it's done us untold harm. The time has come to turn this trend around, and to love ourselves.          

No more living unconsciously.  No more accepting all the negative things said about us, without questioning them, because we believe we have no choice but to accept the insults and the judgements and the epithets.  No more bad life choices because we've lost our sense of self-worth.  We must give loving ourselves a try. There is no other choice.           

When we no longer accept we're bad or worthless, there's nothing we won't be able to do.  We have so much potential, from respecting ourselves, to caring about what happens to us, to finding the right people to build solid relationships with--you name it.  Like women's rights icon Gloria Steinem says in her book Revolution From Within, "...Self-esteem isn't everything; it's just that there's nothing without it." We must recognize how important self-esteem is in our lives, and we must work to improve it accordingly.         

When I talk about taking gay to the next level, I mean taking ourselves to a place we've never been before.  Until we respect and love ourselves, that won't happen.  But, if it does, we'll be unstoppable.  I believe that.  I know that to be true.  


  1. I am thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying this blog direction Rick. Some really stellar and important ideas that are so important in the gay community (and in general, really).

    I'm often thinking about how to imbue people with dignity. I am curious about how the two are connected (self-esteem and dignity) and what the middle piece is.

    Perhaps Pride? Then, what is pride?

  2. Wow, great post Rick! What a wonderful idea, to see the year 2011 as full of possibility!

    canadianhumility, you know, when I hear the word "dignity," I usually associate it with someone who conducts themselves in a way that commands respect, while also respecting others...although, as an old English major, I know it never hurts to look up words...and to my surprise (and humility...?!) I see the meaning is so much richer:

    "Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to respect and ethical treatment. It is an extension of Enlightenment-era beliefs that individuals have inherent, inviolable rights, and it is thus closely related to concepts like virtue, respect, self-respect, autonomy, human rights, and enlightened reason. Dignity is a precondition of freedom."

    So if dignity is your inherent right as a human being to respect, and if self-esteem is what allows you to both accept and acknowledge that respect, you're wondering what the missing puzzle piece is? I think pride is perfect, I can't think of a better word. The problem with dignity and self-esteem is that while they are "as it should be," they aren't always "as it is." Although everyone should be given the same respect regardless of race, gender, or orientation, we know they aren't. In many places, obviously, people are discriminated against for those reasons, and pride is the thing that would "demand" respect. If dignity and self-esteem are "inner" things, pride is an "outer" thing, it demands that the world around you give you what you deserve. Although sometimes people have a negative connotation of pride, as it often refers to people who have too much of it, I think it serves a really important function: It is the thing that reminds you that no one should ever treat you disrespectfully. You deserve respect, you respect your self, and you'll demand respect from others if it isn't given...

    And that is my dissertation... :-D

  3. Really great work, Rick. Cant wait to continue to ready your work.

  4. Such a great focus for your blog, Rick! You have shown us all what the next level could be. Discovering oneself to be gay and coming out is like an awakening. How lucky we are to have this unique experience. Many other people also experience similar self-discoveries in their lives. I'm sure that we can nurture this awakening to even higher levels of self esteem, dignity, pride, and compassion. Let us release our full potentials!

  5. Many thanks to canadianhumility (Neal), Sarah, and Rick for your comments.

    @Neal: Thanks for your validation of what I'm trying to do here. I appreciate your kind words.

    Dignity is one of my favorite words in the English language because of how it sounds and because of what it means for human beings. In the end, all gay people want is their dignity, the same as anyone else.

    @Sarah: Thank you for your validation and kind words, too.

    And the definition of dignity you provide is extraordinary. I'm not sure where you got it, but I'd like to highlight it in a post, because it's important to our work here. It embodies exactly what gay people want most and what we should be naturally entitled to.

    And your "dissertation"...well, awesome comes to mind. What's interesting to me is gay people hold Pride celebrations in most of our large cities, but I honestly don't think the foundation of their pride is self-esteem. If you have a healthy perception of yourself, and you truly feel a sense of pride because you're gay, you wouldn't have the patience for the crap thrown at you, surely not on Pride day, or on any other day of the year. Instead, you'd demand respect. I think this is exactly what you said.

    This is why I believe self-esteem is so vital. Genuine self-esteem would engender genuine pride, which would lead to making demands of our culture for what you know you're entitled to as human beings. Does that make sense? Another great reason why we need to get our self-esteem in order.

    @Rick Lugash: Thanks for the encouragement, Rick. By the way, I took another look at your Facebook profile, "The Inner Game of Gay Dating," and I was really impressed. I left a comment after the survey results video. Well done.

    Also, I responded to your email of last Saturday. If you didn't receive it, let me know. I'll send it again. I'd be happy to contribute in any way you think is appropriate. Let me know what I can do.

    Thanks to all once more.

  6. Doug, I thought long and hard about changing the focus of my blog, and I'm so grateful you, and others, feel it's a good one.

    I had to question whether I wanted to put myself out there in this way, whether anyone would respond to what I had to say about the gay experience.

    I've believed for years we could be so much more. If we could just get this self-esteem thing in order, we'd be different people, our experience of life would be richer, and we'd be in control of our reaction to the negative things said about us since we'd inherently know they aren't true. But we're not there yet.

    I wrote a post last year (do you think I can remember the title?) about when Chris and I went into downtown Vancouver for a day of fun last summer. As we were walking on the sidewalk, a car full of rowdy girls drove by. The one in the backseat on the passenger side opened her window, stuck out her head, and yelled at us "Fucking homos." Then, laughing hysterically, she closed her window, and the car sped by.

    For a moment, I was shocked. For a moment, I became that upset, hurt little boy at school all over again.

    Then my whole perception changed, and I knew, at my age, given what I've been through, how much work I've put into being the person I am today, I didn't deserve what had just happened.

    Years ago, I would have let something like it destroy me. It would have ruined my entire day. But, this time, I was conscious enough, and my self-esteem was high enough, to wave it off, to strike it up to ignorance on the part of the girl who uttered her compliment. She didn't know me. She didn't know what a good person I am. She had no understanding of me and my life at all.

    In the end, the words she uttered said more about her than they did about me. It's taken me a long time to get here.

    That's where we need to go. That's the kind of self-esteem I'm talking about. That's the place, through this blog, I'm trying to help other gay people get to. With your help, and the help of other readers, I know we can make a difference in people's lives.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. Here you go, Rick:

    I used to find that the kids would ask me what a word meant, and although I "knew" what it meant, I would sometimes have a lot of trouble telling them, and would end up pulling out the dictionary...

    I know I'm new here, but I sense that this personal journey of yours, Rick, (writing, the blog) has morphed into this vehicle for reaching out to people. People may complain about our overly mechanized world at times, but this is an amazing example of how your writing, via the internet, is reaching people across continents who need community. Very cool!!

  8. I've been away for quite away, not from home, but from here, simply because I've got many of my own posts in my head that I don't have time to get out all at once, and I don't want to seem like I'm blogging off your posts, Rick.

    This one though, I must at the very least comment on.

    When I first came out, I was the loud, brash new baby gay woman who wanted the ENTIRE world to know that I was gay and that I was here to stay. In the four years since then, I've become dramatically aware of how horrible that attitude is, and I'm repulsed by how repugnant that attitude was/is. UGH.

    When you write: "In short, what I really want--what I'm passionate about--is to help gay people to love themselves, regardless of the fact they are gay", I think the phrase 'regardless of the fact' must be replaced with the word because. To me, 'regardless of the fact' means there's still internal and external homophobia at work. I refuse to accept that. You deserve better Rick, we all deserve better. Because we're gay, we need to love ourselves, because the sad reality is, that for many people, they're the only one who can at the moment. *que my own blog post here (yet to be written)*

    Unfortunately, we all know that being gay causes us to lose family, friends and loved ones. The reality is that we need to love ourselves. Not in spite of, but because we're gay.

    Demanding Dignity is not in any way arrogant, and that's possibly why the word Pride is so abrasive, because of it's boastful and errant use and expression.

    As a leader in the 'Pride community', I ensure that LBTQ Pride is about inclusion, acceptance and education. I refuse to make it flashy and annoying.

    Pride can be defined as: Either a high sense of one's personal status or ego (i.e., leading to judgments of personality and character) or the specific mostly positive emotion that is a product of praise or independent self-reflection. Let's focus on the later half, which ties into this post.

    If the LGBTQ community insists on taking back a word like 'Queer', it's HIGH time that we take back the word 'Pride'. That's my goal in my work with our communities. We need to teach, learn and accept 'independent self-reflection'.

    I, for one, am pleased to stand with you in this revolution Rick!

  9. Thanks, Sarah, for providing me with the link for the definition of dignity. It's sure a lot better than the dictionary definition I have.

    Regarding what you said in your second paragraph, I assume you mean what I wrote in my blog prior to January 1 of this year as compared to after.

    Originally, I started this blog to share bits and pieces of my relationship with other gay people--those who were still single, to inspire them and to prove to them solid, long-term, monogamous, gay relationships really do exist; and those already partnered, to give them a reference they could access if they wanted to see what another gay couple does in similar situations.

    I structured it around Chris's and my move from Victoria back to Vancouver in April 2009. I documented details of the move and of trying to set up our new home (these have since been removed). But, over time, I found I wrote more and more about what being gay was like for me, including working through some longstanding stuff that probably shouldn't be here anymore. Plus, I wrote under the headings of "mid-life crisis" (I turned 50 in October 2009; since removed) and "writing and creativity," which is still located here, but I will soon eliminate.

    Late last year, I knew I wanted to do something altogether different. I mean, a blog is my website. It represents me, and what's important to me. It's a chance to have a voice in the world, and that voice can be anything we want it to be. I really wanted to create a positive and constructive place, a safe and dignified place for people, gay or otherwise, to hang out, to learn, and to grow stronger.

    Self-esteem in gay people has been on my radar for many, many years, because of what I went through--the detrimental effect it had on my life--and what gay people I knew went through. All of us wanted so much more for our lives, especially to find relationships, but we were stuck, and we didn't know why.

    It took me many years to figure it out, but I know why now because I've emerged from the other end. And I feel confident that by sharing my experiences, I will say something here and there that will be helpful to someone else. Hey, like realitypursuit says, it's all about helping other people, isn't it? Ultimately, that's where all meaning in our lives really comes from.

    Thanks for giving me the chance to share this with you. It may help other readers to understand me and my motivation better.

  10. chaoticGRRL (Heather), I've missed you. I'm so glad to hear from you again.

    I see the point you're making about the difference between using the words "regardless" and "because." And I certainly understand the comment about internal homophobia being at work.

    I will accept the use of both words, and I'll tell you why.

    I used regardless on purpose, because, when it comes to gay people loving themselves, I want them to love themselves not because they're gay, but because they're human beings. To me, self-love isn't about gay or straight, it's about being human. That is my point.

    On the other hand, I appreciate your point, too. I completely agree gay people may well be the only ones to love themselves. Which is a sad comment, because so many gay people don't love themselves at all. So that means their lives could be virtually without love. All the more reason, then, that we must work on improving our ability to love ourselves.

    And thanks for the clarification around the use of the word Pride. I would love to celebrate the kind of gay pride you write about. That's exactly how I feel about it, too.

    I thank you for standing alongside me in this revolution. And, of course, for your comment.

  11. I've enjoyed going back and reading through a bunch of your older posts, Rick, and I do hope you keep sharing the personal stuff, too (you know, the little every day things that are examples of your relationship, or life in Vancouver) as it's always fun to have a snapshot of someone's life where they are, but the new direction of the blog is obviously really inspiring for people. I can't wait to see how it unfolds (no pressure, of course!!)

    I think the self-esteem issues you've touched on are reflected in Chaoticgrrl's post, where she talks about feeling like she overdid it at first. I think that's probably a pretty natural reaction. After hiding who you are from the world, it must be a tremendous relief to be able to be open, and the passion people have when they're beginning a new journey often gets a bit overplayed...I don't think it's an awful attitude, personally, just "youthful," maybe :) I think a lot of us probably look back with a few eye rolls at the way we did things when we were younger, pretty natural! I don't think you "coming out newbies" have cornered the market on embarrassing behaviour, we straights are pretty good at it too... :)

  12. Sarah, when I think back over the last couple of years, during the time I wrote the posts you've discovered, I was in a different place. I'd needed a voice for a very long time, to speak out about some unfinished business I had simmering in me. So I put it out there, hoping I might speak for someone who felt the same way (especially in relation to feeling insecure about my masculinity, which I now know is common for many gay men).

    I'm embarrassed to think someone might read these now, but they were a part of me, that I can't deny. The great thing is, one day, I arrived at a point where I didn't have anything more to say on these subjects. I literally felt purged. And the relief was amazing. Hence the reason why I wrote the post titled "Why I Blog," which has gotten some attention. I don't think I'd be where I am today had I not had the chance to get it all out, whether it was pretty or not (most wasn't). This is why I believe so strongly in the power of the blog.

    This may not apply to chaoticgrrl--I can't presume to speak for her--but I've known some gay men and women who behaved like her after coming out. Relief may have motivated their conduct, but something else was at play, too. I think they were so sick and tired of being in the closet, of living only half a life, they became downright militant in their attitude. They were adamant about shoving their sexuality in other people's faces, whether or not those people appreciated it, because they were not going to be downtrodden any longer. Unfortunately, I think that attitude scares a lot of straight people and makes them wonder who the hell these uppity gays think they are? I know I've felt that about other gay people, too. It's not the way to win friends and influence people, but I understand it. I really do. And, yes, if you have to go that far out of your way to draw attention to yourself, you definitely have opportunities to improve your self-esteem.

    Thanks for your comment. You know I appreciate it.