Thursday, June 30, 2011

Responses to a Comment about Self-Acceptance

(This one is for you, Aries Boy.)

This post is structured in the following way:  Each section begins with a direct quote in italics from a recent comment I received and is followed with a response.

AB:  ...I'm still trying to do what you persistently tell me to do: to accept me just the way I am. It's not an easy road and I think you know that too.  Then, at the end of the comment:  There is no instant way to get to the finish line.  It's just tricky and tiresome.

I know firsthand, Aries Boy, how difficult accepting yourself just the way you are is.  Oh, how I know.  But, as an older gay man with some perspective on self-acceptance, coming out, and so on, I know of no greater journey you'll take as a gay person.  Everything you do now to accept and love yourself will have a direct, positive effect on your future.  You are in a dark and difficult place right now, but don't despair.  It won't last forever.  Like Dan Savage says, it will get better. It will get so much better.

In the meantime, my message remains consistent:  accept yourself just the way you are.

Keep reading.  I'll provide details on how you can do that as we move on.  

AB:  Months ago, when I was on my temporary leave from my job, I went back to my hometown. I called it my reconciliation days.  In my deepest heart, at that time, I was hoping that I could just go back to the time where I didn't have to cry in the early morning nor in the late night because of my sexual orientation.  I wished that I could go back to that happy me.  But it's never going to happen.  I am fully aware of that.

A couple of comments here:  First, dry your tears.  There is no reason to cry because you're gay. Already, far too many men, young and old, have cried for the same reason.  At the risk of marginalizing what you're going through, there are much worse things in life.  You don't see that now, but you will.  I understand your tears, but they are not necessary.  Nor do they change anything.  No matter how much you cry, you will remain gay.  Part of accepting yourself is accepting the fact you are what you are, and that will never change.  It's all right to be gay.  It really is.  You'll see.

Second, to go back to that time when you were "that happy you" means you would not be as far along on your journey to self-acceptance as you are now.  I don't see how you could think going backward and denying the truth of who you are would make you happier.  It wouldn't change anything.  At the end of the day, you'd still be gay.  So, while you may have been happy in the past, it was a false happy, wasn't it?  Because you had to hide or deny or ignore a critical part of yourself to feel that way.  That's not happiness.  That's living with your head in the sand.  It's also not taking responsibility for yourself as an adult.  

Finally, you believe the happiness you experienced in the past will be better than any happiness you experience in the future.  But I can tell you there is no comparison.  You don't see it now, but the elation you'll feel when you finally accept yourself as the wonderful gay man you are will be one hundred times better than any happiness you've experienced before.  Because it will be based on being authentically you.  It won't be false in any way.  And it will come after you've dealt successfully with everything you're going through right now.  When that weight is off of you...well, now that's happiness (and relief, I might add).

AB:  So, I went to my dad's grave.  We never had a long conversation before....  I just sat there and cried.  Then I told him everything that I never had the chance to tell when he was still alive. I thought it was supposed to at least relieve some burden that I was carrying on my back.  But in the end, I felt like a failure.  To him, to everyone.  I spent hours there just by sitting and crying like a desperate boy.

I bet if you really thought about it, you'd realize you felt some relief, after all.  The crying helped, I'm sure, because crying is about release, letting things go, but putting words to how you felt and saying them out loud for perhaps the first time should have helped, too, even if who you were talking to couldn't respond back, couldn't comfort you.  Every step you take toward self-acceptance--and, make no mistake, this was one of them--will help you in the long run.  You were meant to go through this experience because it happened.  You were meant to learn from this experience, too.  What did you learn?  What can you take with you into the future?

Now, let's talk about feeling like a failure.  A failure because you're gay?  How do you figure that? You're gay.  So what?  Self-acceptance is about letting go of the shame.  Do you seriously think you have nothing else going for you?  Are you the sum total of being gay and that's it? Not likely. My guess is you are a decent and good and kind human being, with lots of talents and abilities, and a future that shines brightly.  You just have to get past all of this.  Which you will. So, as a start, focus on the positive and not on the negative.  You're here.  You're alive.  And your whole life awaits you.  That's a lot worth celebrating.

One of the ways I moved toward self-acceptance was when I realized I couldn't reconcile the huge discrepancy between what I knew to be true about me as a gay person, and what I believed people thought about those who are gay.  I wasn't bad or evil or immoral.  I didn't deserve to be treated badly just because of my sexual orientation.  And I sure as hell didn't deserve to feel badly about myself over something I couldn't control.  So feel like a failure?  No, I don't feel like a failure because I'm gay.  And you shouldn't, either.

AB:  Back home, I saw my beloved Mom and my beloved siblings.  Just like what happened between me and my Dad, I couldn't look at their eyes.  I couldn't hurt them anymore.  So, I just told them that I love them no matter what.

There's that shame again.  According to the Oxford American Dictionary, shame is "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." Knowing that you have no control over being gay--that, in all likelihood, you were probably born that way--do you believe that any gay impulses you've had or behavior you've engaged in is wrong or foolish?  How so?  Did you willingly hurt anyone?  If you loved another human being, are you telling me that love was wrong?  Of course not.      

Do you think you're somehow less than your mother and your siblings simply because you're gay?  Really?  Is that all it takes, to be less than, or less worthy than, anyone else?  

And what do you mean when you write, "I couldn't hurt them anymore"?  Have you hurt them so many times in the past that you simply can't do anything more to them that would cause additional suffering?  What did you do that was so awful?  

What about your own suffering?  Is your own suffering any less painful than anything your family members have gone through?  Are your mother and siblings suffering more than you?  I doubt it, not given the anguish I know you're going through, day-in and day-out.  

AB:  Finally, I told my stories to God.  Like on last Sunday service.  I prayed for His guidance.  I prayed for the strength.  And I prayed for everyone that I love.  I prayed that they would still [have] the same exact amount of love for me when they, somehow in the future, find out who I really am.

Along with everything else you prayed for, I sincerely hope you prayed for self-acceptance, too.

Turning to God at this difficult time is a good idea.  I turn to God constantly, because I need guidance and strength for all sorts of reason.

But I hope the God you worship is the same one I worship, the one who loves you just as you are.  I hope He's not the judgmental God of so many people who believe they know better when they don't.  I hope He's the God who wants you to love yourself as much as He loves you.  Who cries inside when He knows how much anguish you're in.  Who wants you to end that anguish by accepting and loving yourself.    

Like all of us, you have a lot at stake if your family rejects you upon finding out you're gay.  I understand how important maintaining that connection is, because I felt the exact same way.  But you know what?  At some point, you will accept yourself--hopefully sooner rather than later--not because your family did first, but because you'll realize there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't.  You'll realize that being gay is just a part of you, not all of you, and everything about you, including being gay, is worthy and loveable and beautiful.

And, when you get to that point, you'll expect your family to accept you, too.  Because you'll see there's no way on earth they should change their opinion of you, when they love you as much as they do now and know how wonderful and special and amazing you are.  If they could possibility change their opinion of you just because you're gay, then perhaps they didn't love you as much as you thought they did in the first place.  And perhaps, as sad as it would be, you need to let them go, to put them behind you, and move on to meet new people and form a new family of those who will accept you just as you are, and never judge you just because you're gay.

It's not easy to think you could lose your family over being gay--and, in all likelihood, you won't--but, in the end, you have no control over that.  Just as you have no control over how the rest of the world will look at you as a fully-realized gay man.

The only control you have is over you.  Over how you accept and love yourself.  Over how authentically you live your life.  Over what nonjudgmental and loving people you surround yourself with.  Over what you'll make of your one and only opportunity to be everything you were born to be.      


  1. Aries Boy, it makes me so sad to read what you've written. You sound like a wonderful, caring person, and being gay or straight doesn't change that. People may feel shame for treating someone else badly, or for being unkind, but you have no reason to feel the way you do simply because you're gay. Your mom and siblings are lucky to have someone like you in their lives regardless of your orientation, and you need to remember that. Trust them to love you as you are, and if they have trouble with accepting you as you are, then give them time, and keep reminding them you are still you. If you are able, find an lgbt group to join. The group that I'm a part of is wonderful, and I come away from each meeting feeling like I've just spent 2 hours with the coolest, most interesting's a gift. I don't know how old you are, or where you are, but there must be resources for the lgbt community nearby. Please seek them out, if you haven't already. Hugs.

  2. I agree with Sarah, Aries Boy. In the same way it will take some time for you to accept yourself as a gay man, it will take your loved ones some time to accept you, too. And they should be given the time they need, and you should support them as much as you can, short of being something you're not).

    In no way do I want my words in the post above to come across as cavalier. I understand your family is important to you, and you have every reason to expect they will accept you and everything will be all right between you.

    That said, Indonesia is a religiously conservative country, and, as we all know, the difficulties gay and lesbian people experience have their roots in religion. If your family is religiously conservative, no one can know for sure how they will respond when they find out you're gay.

    All I mean to say is, if it comes down to living your life for your family, because they can't, no matter what, accept you, or living your life for you, because you have to be authentic no matter your family's expectations, I know what path I'd choose. I'll leave it at that.

    Only you can decide what's best for you, when the time is right.

    Thanks, Sarah, for your contribution to this discussion and for your great advice.

  3. Ah, sorry, I'd forgotten Aries Boy was from Indonesia, and that obviously sets up some different challenges, re: the community in general, and accessibility of lgbt groups. In a slightly related note, I just watched "Cure for Love" (free online at the National Film Board of Canada's website), and in one of the affirming stories, in an otherwise depressing film, was a young man who learns to reconcile his feelings for God, and what he perceives as God's feelings toward him, after he begins to accept himself as a gay, albeit still Christian, man. Good luck, Aries Boy, I hope you continue to write to Rick with your ongoing story.

  4. Thanks for the follow-up comment, Sarah.

    I sincerely hope Aries Boy finds supportive groups in the city where he lives to help him through this difficult time. But one way or the other, I want him to know he has you and me (and other readers here) he can turn to as well, and I know we will be here for him (and others just like him) in any way we can. That's all part of the community we've created, and I encourage you, Aries Boy, to keep in touch. I promise we are here to listen and to help.

    The video from the NFB you mention, Sarah, sounds like something I should take a look at. The biggest conflict gay and lesbian people have is directly related to the religions they were brought up in and their personal relationships with God. Honestly, if it weren't for religion, and the way people have used it and their reading of the Bible to judge gay and lesbian people, we wouldn't have nearly the problems we do. So if the video could help with that, it would be worth viewing.

    Thanks for bringing "Cure for Love" to our attention and, once again, for your comment. I love knowing you're still there and willing to help as you are able.

  5. Terima kasih*, Rick. Terima kasih, Sarah. For the supports. Well, i wanna write you something about my life. But i happen to have a lot of work to do at the office lately. So i'll send it to ur email in couple days.

    Btw, i read a wonderful article here I think we should discuss it. I'd like to hear u n ur audience's pespective on the issue. It's a encouraging story. Especially for a gay like me. :)

    *'Terima kasih' is Indonesian words for 'Thank you'. :)

  6. Aries Boy, thank you so much for staying in touch and for keeping the dialogue going.

    I don't know if you realize this, but you speak for so many young gay and lesbian people having a tough time accepting themselves. I suspect many of them read the posts on my blog (based on the number of pageviews it receives), but they're too scared to leave a comment. What you, Sarah, and I discuss here will make a positive difference in their lives, and I only hope they will feel comfortable enough to take part in the conversation, too.

    The story about Andrew Wilfahrt is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking I've ever read. It brought tears to my eyes. I was deeply affected by it, so much so that I published another "Thought for the Day" based on eloquent words his father spoke. Thank you so much for making me aware of this so I could share it with my readers, who may not have been aware of it either.

    I suspect we'll share our views on this story for some time to come, but the reason why I know what happened to Andrew is so encouraging to you is because he set an example for all of us. He was a selfless young man, who set aside his out and proud gay life so he could be what the US army was looking for (a tough soldier who wasn't obviously gay), in order that another American male could stay home with his wife and children. Is there anything more noble one human being could do for another?

    Over the past months, I've written a number of posts about how we need to see more positive images of gay men and lesbian women. Every positive image, whether a picture of two loving gay men like in the TD Canada Trust ads (see right), or selfless, brave acts like those of Andrew Wilfahrt's, will help us to undo the negativity surrounding being gay and to eliminate the shame we've been forced to live with.

    I know for a fact gay and lesbian people do outstanding and noble and wonderful things every single day, and we need to share these with each other in an effort to learn what being gay is really about. Please, PLEASE let me and my readers know when you see other things like this so we can all benefit from them. Slowly, we will regain our sense of self-worth, and we won't stand for the crap anymore.

    Terima kasih, Aries Boy, for returning to us where we very much care about you and what happens to you. And terima kasih for today's comment and the story of Andrew Wilfahrt. We are all better off because of them.

  7. I have a gay friend who once struggled being accepted by the community he is living in and the very family he relies on. It took a while before he got fully accepted by his family but a big factor is that he remains true to himself and has proven to everyone else that so long as he don't step on somebody else his life cannot be dictated by what others may think about him.

  8. What a great comment, Shane, and how gratifying to hear from a new reader.

    You are absolutely right. The observation one must remain true to oneself while respectful of others hits the nail squarely on the head.

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say what you've captured in so few words is the reality for most gay people when they come out. Some friends and family are initially shocked (even disappointed) to learn someone they love is gay. And they have a difficult time with that. A natural reaction and one we must be patient with. If it took us years to come to terms with our own sexual orientation, how could we possibly think our loved ones will accept us automatically, without an adjustment period?

    The other important point you make is that, while we begin to live the truth of who we are, we must be respectful of others. To me, that means giving family and friends all the time they need to accept us; not trying to force them to come to terms with us before they're ready; and proving to them we're still the same people they knew and loved before we told them about ourselves.

    All of this is very familiar with me, and I know it's the case with most gay people. In the end, if we follow your sound advice, acceptance comes, often sooner than we think. It is the very rare case indeed where family and friends reject the gay or lesbian person outright, and where relationships are cannot be repaired.

    Thank you so much, Shane, for your helpful comment. I hope to hear from you again.