It’s Pride Month. I’ve never been to a Pride event, though I have written blogs and recorded podcasts about possibly attending one someday. If I’m honest, the main impetus to go has been for the life experience: the colors, the sounds, the abs, the spectacle of it all. Something to document with photos or videos, blogs or podcasted stories — my feelings as someone spectating, an outsider.
Goodness, it’s not like I could participate in a Pride parade as someone experiencing any sort of pride myself — right?
Alas, now midway through another Pride Month I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately: the participation of Pride. It goes back to something Ryan said in our Pride Month conversation blog from a few years ago:
Who was it that said Pride is a celebration of having survived? I can certainly relate to that.
I don’t know who said it before Ryan did, but I’m processing Pride with new eyes and new appreciation this year, and hopefully for the rest of my life. Recognizing the blessing, even the miracle, that I’m still alive.
Indeed, I could have died years ago because of my sexuality.
Too many gay kids take their lives before graduation. Gay kids in Christian homes. Gay youth are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers — and that’s in accepting homes. The number rises to four to eight times more likely in non-accepting homes.
Some additional sobering stats from Guiding Families:
- 85% of gay youth in evangelical homes felt uncomfortable coming out to their parents.
- 81% of gay youth feared being viewed as disgusting by their families.
- 57% of gay youth feared being disowned — and 9% were literally kicked out of their homes for being gay.
- 20-40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT+, and a staggering 62% of homeless gay youth attempted suicide.
Being young and gay is literally a deadly combination, a reality I’m only just now recognizing from the inside, a reality I desperately want the outside Christian world to realize. Exchange a few variables in my upbringing, and I could have easily fit into these statistics.
I could have come out before I was ready, or been outed against my will, or had parents who reacted horribly when I did come out to them. I could have grown up in the social media age and made some mistake online that leaked to my peers. I could have been mocked mercilessly for my sexuality beyond the bullying I already received for my quietness or my acne.
I mean, life was brutal enough suffering the daily onslaught of comments on my latest pimple. I can’t imagine being called fag or homo on a daily basis, or male classmates mock-humping me because they “know I like that,” or whatever other manner of cruelty kids come up with.
I could have considered, even attempted suicide to erase the horror of it all. What a terrifying thought. It’s not that far off. Not at all.
It happens. Happens all over, over and over, for gay elementary school kids and gay middle schoolers and gay high schoolers. They suffer a battering ram of cruelty from homeroom to extracurriculars, five days a week, nine months a year, and all the other times in between thanks to social media.
Isn’t it a miracle then when gay youth actually survive all the cards stacked against them? Particularly gay youth from Christian homes that generally aren’t as accepting? Doesn’t it make it easier to empathize with any garish displays at Pride parades when we consider everything people have endured just to survive?
“Pride,” for many, isn’t so much an excess of anti-humility but an outpouring of anti-shame. It’s the pride of survival, the pride of alive-ness, the pride of still having breath in one’s lungs when so many young people no longer do.
Looking back on my own closeted youth, I am proud to have survived — particularly growing up in an often cruel Christian school. I joke about it with people, but my most recurring nightmare to this day is that I’m back in high school again — back sitting in classrooms constantly scanning my surroundings and making sure I can avoid the bullies when the bell rings.
Somehow, I made it out. Despite spending the entirety of my teenage years in fierce secrecy and crippling shame.
The numbers speak for themselves; it’s not dramatic to say I could have died. Could have at least entertained the idea of taking my own life to escape, if not actually attempt it. I could have succumbed to the statistics.
By God’s grace, I did not.
And so today whenever I see the rainbow storefront declarations, or gay people marching in the streets or on the news, all June long, I feel a new empathy for my fellow man. My fellow gay man. And also a new gratitude, even pride, for myself.
Any previous mention of Pride from my teens and early twenties would have been met with outward scoffing and inner blood boiling: How dare those people. Can’t they just keep it to themselves??
Of course, there’s plenty of the anti-humility versus anti-shame type of pride to go around at Pride. But can you blame the hard swing?
If you grew up in a culture, Christian or otherwise, that said you were an abomination, or a mistake, or that you were in denial, or that you needed to try harder, and you somehow escaped all the bullying or neglect after twenty years, maybe you would also lose a little humility, among some other things, along the way.
What if we looked at Pride from now on as a celebration of survival rather than some excessive glorification of sin? Regardless of our belief on how we live out our sexuality?
I’ve never faced suicidal thoughts as a gay person, but I’ve met numerous gay people who have. I’ve never been clinically depressed for my sexuality, but I’ve had gay friends who have and require medication. I’ve never thought my sexual fantasies and second glances separated me from God, but I’ve met many gay people who live with a near-constant fear that God hates them.
Gay trauma. It’s suffered at school, at home, and at church. It’s suffered alongside peers and family, and it’s suffered before God — or one’s taught view of God.
Why am I among the lucky ones to have survived? Why do I get to keep living into my mid-thirties while an innocent 9-year-old kid like Jamel Myles gets bullied to literal death? Why was I never forced from my home as a gay runaway? Why do I have a generally supportive family and church and friends and a community like YOB?
I could certainly complain about a lot, but in context I’m absolutely one of the lucky ones.
So, for the rest of my life, however long I get to live it, during this month of Pride I want to acknowledge my fortunate reality: that I’m proud to have survived my youth. Proud to be alive and proud to be doing something with this life.
I’m proud of who I’ve become and am still becoming — someone who blogs and podcasts and writes the occasional book, who grabs coffee and meals with people who have never breathed a word of their own stories until meeting me. To be someone in the right time and the right place for so many people, for so many years now.
I’ll tell you it’s humbling. What a blessing to sit freely across from someone else after years of teenage shackles myself.
It’s not necessarily the life I’d have chosen, the story I’d have written for myself. But I’m proud that God has written me something greater than I would have ever dared dream as a lonely insecure gay kid at a Christian school, always hiding in the shadows for fear the monster would get out, the monster would be seen, the monster would be named — the monster would kill me.
How do you approach Pride Month as an adult? How do you look back on your upbringing through the lens of your sexuality? Have you attended or participated in a Pride event?