Tuesday, May 24, 2011

15 for 15 VII: Pride, or Anti-Pity

"What have you done today to make you feel proud?"  --Heather Small

"You can take away my job, my vocation, my marriage, my home, and my life, but you can't take away my pride." --C. W.


"I'm on my way, can't stop me now.  And you can do the same."  Pride may be one of the seven deadly sins, but frankly, there are a lot of deadly sins that are not counted among these seven sins, such as hate, fear, and pity.

I say, let's redefine these deadly sins.  What have you done today to make you feel proud?

To say I'm fan of Showtime's series "Queer as Folk" is an understatement.  When my friend, David, a fellow Minnesotan and a life mentor, first lent me his recorded episodes on VHS tapes back in New York City more than 10 years ago, I knew I loved this rag-tag bunch of metro-homosexuals.  It is sexy, edgy, real, funny, semi-pornographic at times, but that is the reality of our lives.  No apologies, no regrets.

Just now, I finished watching the series finale (the last scene is in the link to the above quotation), which ended with the song above--"What have you done today to make you feel proud?"  Not "make me feel proud."  Not "make God feel proud."  Not "make your parents, your teachers, your employers feel proud."  But you.  The very you who is reading this sentence right now, and who is typing it.  Because feeling proud is something new every day, like God's manna from heaven, something not just to re-live, or re-make, but something that comes up as a requirement for us to live as flourishing, loving, proud, and fierce human beings.


I've taken a few weeks' sabbatical on this series of writing 15 reflections on 15 years of being out.  In the meantime, I visited the scene of my coming out, my alma mater, Lawrence University.  I hadn't been there in nearly 10 years, and many people have come and gone since then.  Many buildings are new, many people are new, but as I approached college avenue and rode past Main Hall, the cobwebs fell from my eyes, and I saw the place that was so formative in my life--not just my intellectual life, but my emotional life, and the life that I found worth fighting for after so many years of fear.

Every corner of this university, especially the Conservatory of music, had a memory, or many memories.  The friends I made, the friends I lost, the people I loved, hated, the people I passed who have themselves passed on to another dimension, those places that are now silent, that used to be the center of activity.  "Mozzi sticks!!!"  I could hear one saucy Union kitchen lady yelling as I waited for one of the dearest friends in my life that I haven't talked to now in 10 years.  Now, silent, a closed door, like that friendship feels.

But pride is on the other side, waiting to open the door.

I wasn't exactly proud of myself when I got to college at age 18.  My parents were proud of me, and for that I'm both grateful and fortunate.  The pathway to 18 and beyond is filled with so many possible wrecking points, that in some ways I think it is a miracle that as many people make it to that one, lone spot as do.  But the hardest times do not pass when one makes the first forays out onto one's "own."

It's coming to own one's own that can present some of the tightest spots of our lives.  And the road there is lined with those who have made it only part of the way, not because of their own faults, but because others made the road so damned impassable.  But the road is not *necessarily* impassable. There are angels who can help you get through, if you can open your eyes when they are most tightly closed and see.

And we need to help those angels along, and to be those angels of our better natures.


I put writing this entry off because in many ways it is the hardest one to write.  The time I've taken getting here mirrors the time I've taken getting to any place in my life where I can be proud both of who I am, as well as what I've done.

It's hardest, sometimes, to cut oneself some slack, let alone others.  In fact, I think we often treat ourselves with harshness that would make us go to the mat for our friends and loved ones if we saw them being treated the same way that we sometimes treat ourselves.

So pride is not such an easy thing, for a number of reasons, for a number of people.  Being told you're worthless, scum, lowest of the low, perverted, wrong, abnormal, sick, damned, and a whole host of other horrible things, seems to sink in with some time, and sinks us.  A lot of people who are not themselves LGBTQ have experienced this kind of soul-murder.  So why does so much of the animus come to those of us who are LGBTQ?

Because, I sense, we expose the beauty and diversity that is each person's in this life, that so many are afraid will give them such fulfillment, that it will literally blow their minds.

People are diverse, they're not of one mind, they know themselves often much better than they are known, in short, people are not on one standard track of being recognized, comfortable, productive, and beneficent to themselves first, as well as to others.

And the LGBTQ community, as far as we are a community, is the exemplar of this diversity.  While our sexuality, "lifestyles," and the choices that we make to live more fabulously every day make us part of who we are, we live, each of us, being "repairers of the breach," reconcilers, and living those lives away from the quiet desperation that makes people die a death much worse than that of the body:  the death of their spirits in their limited time in this life.


Those who wish to say that our relationships, that our lives, in all their color, do not count as much as theirs, miss one of the greatest gifts of this brief life:  that life does not all have to be the same, and that we have agency in making of our lives what God would, I don't just think but am certain, want us to make of our lives:  as absolutely much as we can.

Many of those who couch their opposition under the name of the God of all life, look at gay pride parades and festivals as the exemplars of our shame:  leather daddies, open sexuality, sodomites laughing and parading their difference through the streets, people who are one step away from taking us all down the fast road to hell.

Well, I have a message for these purveyors of doom:  those who fear the rainbow are bound to be crushed by it.  Not crushed by the triumph of "fag enablers," but by their very own, human, and misguided fear.  And that makes me pity them, although I know that fear as well as they do.

I remember my first pride well, in the summer of 1998 in New York City.  It was the first time in my life that, for just a few hours, in a small part of the world, I felt like everyone in the world was LGBT or Q, where nobody had to explain anything about what I had felt all my life, where I could feel, even if briefly, the home that is so common to so many people, where I came home from a lifelong exile.  And that feeling is not something to fear, but to celebrate.

This pride is the pride that we take in our own lives, in our own feelings, in the exultation that each of us and a human being can feel in our humanity, not in the humanity that is imposed upon us, but in what we ourselves know is our truth.


Pity, not humility, is the antithesis of pride.

I know pity well--I'm prone to self-pity, one of my deepest flaws.  Self-pity, in feeling that I have not made enough of my life, that I have not attained my calling as a minister of the Word of God, that I have not sustained a long-term relationship or marriage, that I have not yet peaked in the arc of my living, afflicts me as it does many, and seeks to quash the beauty that my life can, and often does, have and has to give.  This feeling of self-pity almost kept me from going back to Lawrence, the goal of which was to celebrate the awesome life and contribution of one of the most fabulous Lawrentians ever, our late archivist, Carol Butts.

I am eternally glad that I opposed the poisoned source from which these impediments derived, to avert what would have been a true pity:  missing out on this fabulous celebration and reunion.

I was proud that day that we gathered Carol's family, friends, and colleagues, to celebrate her memory and contributions, as she has so long deserves.  I only wish she could have been there with us to enjoy a well-deserved honor.

Now, this is hard to say, but I think it is the truth:  LGBTQ people are often trained more in pity than we are in pride.  We are made the victims of people who cannot accept the truths of their own lives, let alone the lives of others, and we cry out altogether too often in the pain that others inflict on us, and that we inflict on ourselves. But we also shout from the rooftops, and within the halls of power, that God indeed does love us in equal measure, that we are human in equal measure, and that our relationships are equal, not because we fight for them to be, but because they just are.

I had the chance to be proud for a while last week, in the midst of fighting against a vote by the Minnesota State Legislature to hand off for the people to decide what rights we should all have under the law.  I am grateful to Rep. Debra Kiel, freshman representative of district 1B, my home district, for hearing me out.  I hope truly that she thinks and prays about what I had to say to her.

The most important thing I had to tell her was this:  We are equal in our humanity, and we are equal in our baptisms (those of us who are Christian), but we are not equal under the law, and the law is very important, and something that our representatives, such as herself, have in their hands.

Hundreds who protested this anti-gay constitutional amendment made me proud, standing, singing, and shouting for our rights at the very door of power.  Organizations like OutFront Minnesota, Project 515, and the new Minnesotans United for All Families, are all helping to gather the power of our communities around making justice for all families a reality in Minnesota.

A few Republican representatives made me especially proud, most notably Rep. John Kriesel, whose experience in the war in Iraq, and particularly serving with a gay soldier who was killed, made him see that this anti-gay amendment must be opposed at all costs.  (His speech is here.) He said "I'm proud of this, because this is the right thing to do."  And he was absolutely right.

My parents, each in writing their representatives, made me proud as well, just one of many times.


Pride is not just doing what you're told.  Pride is knowing that you are worth more than others say you are, that your worth is from a source beyond yourself, beyond your own family and community, beyond your own accomplishments, from a source that reaches out to all of humanity, the wonderful and the awful, that for those of us who believe reaches to God and comes from God.

This kind of pride feeds our lives and gives them meaning.  It's not a sin.  The hate that challenges who we are, that hate is a deadly sin, literally.  And that is what Jesus came on this earth to oppose.

We hit the mat for a moment when the MN State Legislature passed this sorry bill (a.k.a. SF 1308 and HF 1615).  But we are not going to stay down.

We're going to kick such ass on this anti-marriage amendment.  Not because we're going to be louder, tougher, and more determined than those who oppose our relationships, but because we're simply going to love them more than they hate us.

We are going to love their scared selves into a place of salvation.

Jesus is not going to come down from the sky to save them from us, but, rather, Jesus is going to work through us to redeem them, until there is no more "us" and "them," but only "we."

And that's something to be proud of.

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