As Pride sea­son starts, Vicky re­flects on self-ac­cep­tance

As this is­sue’s theme is Pride, I’ve been rem­i­nisc­ing about the first time I at­tended the Lon­don march a few years ago. On a deeper level, I’ve also been think­ing about my long per­sonal jour­ney to fi­nally reach a place of pride in my own gay sex­u­al­ity af­ter a life­time of be­ing told by the church that it was shame­ful.

While it’s great to fo­cus on the cel­e­bra­tory na­ture of Pride, I think it’s also worth tak­ing a mo­ment to ex­plore the op­po­site end of the spec­trum – shame – and talk about the ways this toxic emo­tion af­fects many of us in the LGBT+ com­mu­nity.

I’m guess­ing most of us read­ing this magazine can think of one time, or per­haps count­less times, when we’ve been made to feel ashamed of the ways we are dif­fer­ent to the ma­jor­ity of so­ci­ety. Per­haps you’re lucky and have never felt that way – if so, fan­tas­tic. But through the emails that pour in via my web­site’s con­tact page, I hear from peo­ple around the globe who are bat­tling with this dam­ag­ing emo­tion.

It’s dif­fer­ent from guilt in a cru­cial way: guilt is feel­ing bad about some­thing we’ve done, whereas shame is feel­ing bad about who we are. As au­thor and aca­demic Brene Brown puts it: “Guilt is: I’m sorry I made a mis­take. Shame is: I’m sorry am a mis­take.”

Pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy PL Wach­tel points out that “the roots of the word shame are thought to come from an older word, mean­ing ‘ to cover’”. It’s like a cloak that can en­gulf us, mak­ing us hide who we re­ally are. We be­come muted. Dam­p­ened. Made in­vis­i­ble. And as we carry that heavy cloak around, we ex­pend pre­cious en­ergy that could be spent liv­ing a mean­ing­ful life.

Shame vastly re­duces our abil­ity to con­nect with our­selves and with oth­ers. If you’re hid­ing large parts of your heart and iden­tity, it’s im­pos­si­ble to let peo­ple in and make deep re­la­tional ties. Con­versely, selfacceptance is amaz­ingly lib­er­at­ing. It is heal­ing and trans­for­ma­tive for the per­son – and for those around them.

My own jour­ney has been one of slowly em­brac­ing my gay iden­tity; be­com­ing more and more com­fort­able with it over time. This wasn’t be­cause of any in­ter­nalised ho­mo­pho­bia in me; it was sim­ply due to years of ex­ter­nal crit­i­cism from Chris­tian teach­ings. As I’ve ac­cepted my­self, ev­ery­one around me has seen, and ben­e­fited from, the dif­fer­ence.

I’ve re­alised that if you har­bour shame about who you are, you can’t al­low any­one to prop­erly

love you. On some deep level you can’t re­ceive their love as you don’t be­lieve you’re wor­thy of it. This af­fected me hugely dur­ing my teens, and through­out my adult life un­til a cou­ple of years ago.

It’s good to fi­nally feel more able to let peo­ple in. I’m al­ways known as a warm and friendly per­son, usu­ally smil­ing, and al­ways very wel­com­ing to peo­ple. But there’s a big dif­fer­ence between that and to­tally tak­ing your guard down to let peo­ple su­per- close. In­ti­macy can be scary when you aren’t at peace with your own iden­tity.

Win­ning the “shame bat­tle” has al­lowed me to cre­ate much deeper friend­ships – and ex­plore ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships too – as I’m fi­nally able to drop the walls I’d built around my heart. As Ayn Rand writes in The Foun­tain­head: “To say ‘ I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘ I’.” In other words, if we’re not “at home” with our­selves and able to love who we are, we can’t en­ter into in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships.

Back in 2013 and 2014, I ob­served the Pride In Lon­don march shyly from the side­lines. I didn’t come out un­til Au­gust 2014, so I was still in the closet. Watch­ing the march go by in a flurry of en­ergy, colour and noise, there was some­thing in­fec­tious about the self- ac­cep­tance and cel­e­bra­tion I wit­nessed. Peo­ple car­ry­ing ban­ners, dressed in rain­bow­coloured clothes; proudly stand­ing up for their right to love and live.

In 2015, I was out. So I felt able to join the march and carry a ban­ner of my own. And in 2016 I was there again – fun­nily enough, with my face cov­er­ing the side of a dou­ble- decker bus, as I was on the cover of The Na­tional Pride Guide magazine. So I saw my­self go from shame to a level of self- ac­cep­tance that I could never have imag­ined. To me, it showed how much heal­ing had taken place in my heart.

I feel like a to­tally dif­fer­ent per­son these days; fi­nally com­fort­able in my own skin (on a good day, at least!). Whereas shame cre­ates walls that go up around our hearts, self- ac­cep­tance and healthy pride do the op­po­site: they en­able us to let peo­ple in; to be­come vul­ner­a­ble in a beau­ti­ful way.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity is of­ten thought of as weak­ness, but in re­al­ity, it’s a strength. Brene Brown writes that: “Vul­ner­a­bil­ity is the birth­place of love, be­long­ing, joy, courage, em­pa­thy, and cre­ativ­ity.” With­out it, we’ll strug­gle to cre­ate any of those things. She also points out that it’s “the glue that holds re­la­tion­ships to­gether. It’s the magic sauce”. She’s so right. I’m learn­ing to be more vul­ner­a­ble and find­ing it’s worth the risk.

It can take years to erase the “tapes” that play in our heads, filled with the neg­a­tive mes­sages that we’ve heard over a life­time. To be hon­est, at times, shame still comes back to haunt me and some of those tapes con­tinue to play.

Be­cause of this, I’ve de­cided to be very se­lec­tive about the places I go to, and the peo­ple I see, as some of them have a pre­dictably sham­ing ef­fect. For ex­am­ple, some churches are just too dif­fi­cult to at­tend. If they slip an anti- gay mes­sage into their ser­mon, I can feel the hard work I’ve done to reach a point of self- ac­cep­tance com­ing un­der attack. Only fully LGBT- wel­com­ing churches feel safe to me now.

So­cially, I try to min­imise the time I spend with peo­ple who are non- ac­cept­ing of same- sex re­la­tion­ships, purely for my own san­ity and well­be­ing. I’ve been think­ing how I can ac­com­plish this on­line too, as I spend so much time each week en­gag­ing with so­cial me­dia. I get in­ces­santly trolled about be­ing gay and Chris­tian, which can re- start some of those “shame tapes” play­ing in my mind if I’m not care­ful.

Last month, af­ter an es­pe­cially un­pleas­ant dose of cy­ber- abuse I de­cided to take a few weeks off­line. I won’t let the trolls drive me off those plat­forms for­ever, but for rea­sons of self- care, some­times we all need to re­mind our­selves to step away and take a break.

Ev­ery year, at least a hand­ful of non- LGBT peo­ple moan: “Are Pride marches re­ally still nec­es­sary?!” and to that I’d say a re­sound­ing “yes”. When I was in the closet, it was trans­for­ma­tive to glimpse a com­mu­nity march­ing past me, know­ing that some­day I could join in and be­long. And the self- re­spect I saw on dis­play showed me that I, too, could come to love my­self whole­heart­edly.

This year at Pride, I hope some­one might be watch­ing ner­vously from the side­lines – just like I was in 2013 and 2014 – and that as our smiles and ban­ners pass by, they’ll see a con­ta­gious self- ac­cep­tance that gives them hope. In part, we march for our­selves, and in part, we march for those who stand and watch us. We take to the streets be­cause we’re com­mit­ted to kick­ing shame to the curb.

Whether you at­tend a Pride event this sum­mer or not, may you feel flooded with sup­port, com­mu­nity, and self- love. And may you al­ways be im­mensely proud to be your­self; the one- off, to­tally unique, once- ina- mil­lion- life­times, you.

“We take to the streets be­cause we’re com­mit­ted to kick­ing shame to the curb”

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