Shame

Him:  Thanks for inviting me.

Me:  This turned out to be a pretty good party, right?

Him:  It’s so much fun!

Me:  Did you eat your pie?

Him:  Not yet.  I will.  I hid it.  I know where it is.  I’ll eat it.

Me:  I worry you don’t eat enough.

Him:  Sometimes I don’t, but it’s under control.

Me:  Okay.  How are you otherwise?

Him:  Good.  I go to one of the best design schools in the country.  I have an internship 30 year-olds are trying to get.  I’m working on many different projects.

Me:  Ha.  Sounds like you’re talking to your Dad.

Him:  What?

Me:  For a second it sounded like you were talking to your Dad, just now.  Explaining your accomplishments.

Him: Could be.  My parents are really down on me.

Me: Really?  You’re so successful.  That’s crazy to me.

Him:  They constantly make me justify myself and they constantly make me feel inferior.  Like I’m somehow disappointing them.  I think I might hate them a little.

Me:  Stop.

Him:  No.  This is real.  This is something that is real to me.

Me: Okay, then.  (Pause)  Doesn’t sound like they recognize what a powerful young Homosexual they created.  They should realize they’re lucky.

Him:  They don’t.  I think I hate myself, sometimes, too.

Me:  What?

Him:  I think I hate myself sometimes.

Me:  No.

Him:  What do you mean, no?

Me: No.  That won’t do… That won’t do at all.

Him:  It won’t?

Me: No. We can’t have that.  We can’t have talented young Gays like you walking around hating yourselves.  The rest of us need you to be vibrant, and strong.  We all need each other.

Him: But they have a way of…  Well…    They have a way of tearing me down.  Even when I tell them I’m doing good in school and I’m kind of an over-achiever.  They always bring it back to me being Gay.  And I’m made to feel like I disappointed them, or that I can’t possibly make up for it.

Me: They’re using shame.

Him:  Shame?

Me:  Yes.  They’re asking you to feel ashamed.

Do you ever feel, around them, you can’t quite exactly be yourself?

Him: Oh yes.  All the time.  They make me feel like there’s a whole part of me I have to hide.  Especially when my extended family is around.  Like, they all know I’m Gay, but I’m not supposed to behave too much that way because it might rock the boat.

Me: Heavens to Betsy.  What would Aunt Miriam say?

Him:  Exactly.  And my brother is going on and on about all the girls he’s dating and I can’t exactly chime in and say, well, I was naked in a hot tub with two other boys last weekend and it was weird, can I?

Me: Well, you could.

Him:  My mother would have a fit.

Me:  Of course she would.  She’s shaming you.  She is using your own fears and insecurities about your sexuality against you.  She knows that, on some level, you feel bad about your lovely, unique Gayness, and she uses that shame to keep you in line.  Straight people have been shaming Gays for thousands of years.  It’s bred into their culture.  They don’t even know they’re doing it, sometimes… Them trying to shame us is almost second nature to them.

(pause)

Him:  That sounds a lot like what she does.  I have so much resentment of her.  I hate my Dad for going along with it.  They don’t treat me like they treat my brother.

Me:  We need to remove all this hate from your person.

Him:  Huh?  Maybe.  I hate my parents and I hate myself.

Me:  I don’t care about your parents, but I won’t have you hating yourself, young man.  That won’t do at all.  Who do you hate more, yourself, or your parents?

Him:  Oh!  My parents.  They’re really awful to me.  They make me wish I wasn’t Gay or wasn’t here, even.

Me:  That kills me to hear.  All the more reason, then, to remove your own self-hatred, right?  Then you can direct all of your anger where it belongs.

Him:  At my parents?

Me:  Or just bigoted Straight people in general.  Three things need to happen, in order for a person to experience shame.  What are they?

Him:  Dunno?

Me:

1) It must be agreed upon that certain sets of behavior are shameful, in this case exhibiting your homosexuality.

2) Someone must identify that set of behaviors and invoke shame upon the other person.  This is done very blatantly, like yelling at someone, or very subtly, like avoiding eye contact or withholding affection.  This is the type of shaming it sounds like your parents are doing.

Him:  Okay.  They do that, yes.

Me: 3)  Someone must accept shame.  The other person must decide to act in a shameful manner.  Do you find yourself leaving the room?  Acting contrite?  Trying to make up for your ‘Gay outbursts?’

Him:  Yeah.  That happens a lot.  But what can I do when they’re making me feel ashamed?

Me:  You just took all the power away from yourself – They’re making me feel ashamed, you said.  Who’s emotions are they?

Him:  Mine.

Me:  Exactly.  So who’s in charge of those feelings?

Him:  Me.

Me:  Exactly.  So who makes you feel a certain way?

Him:  Me?

Me:  You.  Now you took the power back.

Him:  But how do I keep from feeling ashamed?

Me: Identify and address it when it happens.  Say something about it.  Say, “I can feel you trying to make me feel ashamed, but what you don’t understand is that I’m the opposite of ashamed.  I’m proud that I act, live and love the way I do, so I can’t accept your shame.  It’s not my shame, it’s yours.”  Just give the shame right back to them.

Him: I can do that?

Me:  You can do that.  Try it sometime.  Feels good.

Him:  Sounds hard to train yourself to feel and act that way.

Me:  It requires vigilance.  You have to keep reminding yourself.

Him:  I’ll give it a shot.  Do you think I still have time left to change my behavior?

Me:  How old are you?

Him:  Nineteen.  It might be too late.

Me:  Nineteen??  You got nothing but time.  We only have the rest of our lives.  We’ll get it right.

Him:  Thanks. 

Jerk.

9 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Sometimes I get into these situations where I feel like I have to apologize for being the way I am, looking the way I do, acting like I do. I start to feel as if maybe I should change for them because if they start to like me, maybe that’ll allow me to like myself.

    Then I get angry and say fuck it. This is who I am, you can like me or not. I’d rather be alone than be surrounded by people I don’t feel comfortable being myself around.

  2. That sounds just about right, Lex. When we learn to stop hating ourselves, we learn to stop hating other Gays. We can direct our anger toward the Straight bigots of the world. Our day is coming. And it’s not far off. Love.

  3. Pretty sage advice you’ve given. If you don’t let them shame you then there’s no problem. Of course you’re much nicer than me. I would have advised to have him tell his parents either it stops or he’ll never speak to them again.

  4. I seem to have a similar problem internally, I always seem to beat myself up when someone assumes i’m gay even though I’m out; And when I have a more femine or emotional moment I try my best to hide or mask it. Which Ive been realizing is happening more and more. My family supports me and even asks me to be more open about my life, but I feel uncomfortable doing so. I have this weird mental image of what a gay guy is suppose to be and I don’t want to become that. Ive excepted who I am but I’m not happy yet. And i seem to keep the gay world at arms length, I go to clubs and I try and be involved in gay culture or at least understand it and yet I have no gay friends. How can I work on my self in these regards.

    • Join community organizations that are Gay. Don’t just go to Gay bars and clubs. People are sometimes at their worst when they’ve been drinking. Here in New York there is Gay dodgeball, Gay knitting circles, a Gay swim team. Whole bunch of Gay stuff. If your community doesn’t have that sort of thing, then start one. It’s called Craigslist for a reason.

      Try to think of other gays as your extended family, even when they’re not behaving properly. They are your brothers. We are all united in our oppression, in our talent, and in our love for one another. Let’s make that bond as strong as possible. There is a war being waged for equality, and the Straights outnumber us. Stay strong.

      You can identify what type of Gay you wanna be and be that. Wanna be a bear who does construction? Go right ahead. A fashionista twink? Have fun. A pie weirdo who does comedy too? Get it. You can try on different identities like clothing. You’ll find one that makes you proud. You should ALREADY be proud. I am proud of you. Keep at it.

  5. Michael, I appreciate this post quite a lot. You give such sound advice and are so practical and logical. I find myself giving the same kind of advice to other people who say, ‘curse you for being so logical.’ so go us for being awesome!

    So, this next bit is a lil random, but i thought you’d like to hear. Around the new year, this year, I came out to my dad, and his gf. (my parents are divorced), and only very recently have I come out to my mom and step dad. (actually on friday). And before i came out to either, for some reason i always imagined it being this huge relief off my shoulders, and immediately i could start talking about boys and crushes and stuff. On the contrary, it hasn’t been that way at all. I’ve only just now started mentioning boys off-handedly (mind you I’m certain I’ve already found the one), and the rents, of course, pay it no mind, and even ask a question or two.
    I’m not sure the reason for me to take so long to be comfortable around them with everything. Perhaps a small small sliver of shame, but most of all, it’s just friggen awkward. Haha. So anyway, I thought you might like to hear that bit. <3

    -cupid-

    • It might be a sliver of shame, or just awkwardness as you and your family adjust to your out persona, which likes to crush on boys and ask Mom and Dad for advice. You go girl.

  6. “2) Someone must identify that set of behaviors and invoke shame upon the other person. This is done very blatantly, like yelling at someone, or very subtly, like avoiding eye contact or withholding affection.”

    “Jerk.”

    This is the type of shaming it sounds like (___) are doing – ?

    If someone i respected had called me “jerk” for trying to seriously identify and speak my culturally internalized homophobia when I was 19 I probably would have gone upstairs and thrown myself off the roof. That’s not internet melodrama, that’s a heartfelt and tearful memory.

    “When we learn to stop hating ourselves, we learn to stop hating other Gays. We can direct our anger toward the Straight bigots of the world. ” True words. And yet we struggle.

    • Read a little closer. He calls me a Jerk, not the other way around. Also. He was doing it ironically. Also. That’s how I sign off every post. One person calls another a Jerk. So far nobody has committed suicide over it.

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