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?

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    17 Comments
    • Reply Ashley

      16 June 2022, 7:35 pm

      Tom the next book you write is gonna be your best yet. I never thought of it like this and it is painfully beautiful

    • Reply James P

      16 June 2022, 8:43 pm

      Beautifully written, might be able to get through to some of our fellow Christians who don’t quite get it, yet.

    • Reply WaveDave

      16 June 2022, 10:36 pm

      I enjoyed reading your post Tom, and thankful you are here to share your life with so many…I can’t begin to imagine how many lives you have touched on your journey. I am thankful too, for surviving some rough years growing up. God has been gracious to us!

    • Reply Mike Lardi

      17 June 2022, 8:31 pm

      Fascinating mindset shift right here, Tom! I’m also one of the “wouldn’t catch myself at a parade” kind of guy for all the same reasons. To me it reeks of the spirit of ancient pandemonium and pagan forms of glory and worship. I think with that in my subconscious background the month of June has always struck me as a feeling of “I have to endure this one more time, thanks a lot.” BUT what you are leading with here is 100% different and lends strength to me in an area that I have always viewed as a weakness to cover or maneuver in my inner self around others. It’s absolutely the better way to approach this annual event, not to mention how it falls right in line with the heart of Jesus! I have been referred to as a survivor on many levels, and now I can add this phenomenal challenge and source of growth for me to that life-giving list!! 😅🥳

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        20 June 2022, 1:56 pm

        Hopefully it came across in the post that this mindset shift wasn’t one that occurred from one Pride Month to the next. Definitely a years-, if not decades-long process. As much as I might disagree with 99% of Pride, it’s vital to focus on that shared humanity, particularly with regard to a common sexuality and all that entails. What an empathizing process I wish I’d pursued years, if not decades earlier.

        • Reply Mike Lardi

          20 June 2022, 5:36 pm

          Oh totally. Thank you for that! I was just noting that this one shift in thinking here is something that didn’t exist for me last week. Or even 10 years ago or whenever I can first remember Pride being a thing and bothering the h*ll out of me endlessly. So I’m very grateful. There’s a world of sorrow that goes on inside of my soul for the way things like this are ramping up and sweeping the world. It’s always been there, and it’ll continue until the grand finale here soon when Jesus busts out the ol’ iron rod to rule over the foolish, the rebellious, the deceivers, the selfish, the ignorant, etc who survive the judgment.

          It’s not by coincidence that it was chosen to launch Pride on the first month of summer weather – June for the northern hemisphere, October for those down south. (I think.) You’re so right. It’s a full-blown display. That was intentional. That was by design. Call me weird but I’ve always been uncomfortable here in Southern California when you go down to the beach cities like Huntington, and college girls are walking in front of you on the sidewalk with the absolute smallest possible bikini going on. Pride parades and the like hit me so sideways because it’s like those girls’ “freedom” of individuality, expression and body worship is amped up a 1000X. And we’re just supposed to watch this and applaud? I can’t ever.

          But again I’m weird. There’s this thing called modesty and humility and some other foreign language words that are being buried in the dirt now lol. So I guess that’s why I can get excited about your breakthrough perspective here. Yes. I have absolutely SURVIVED the pull into queer culture just like you and that’s a freaking mighty miracle of God having laced my heart with conviction day after day. Beating after merciless beating! But I also live in an emotional and spiritual tension of hating the cultures at play right now and yet needing to dive in as someone of Christ who walks in relationship with various people living their lives in the real world. A world that includes blinding and constant and increasing spectacle even as the month of June inevitably winds down…

          Anyways, hold me to this gentle new perspective. I’ll definitely let you know how it plays out. 🙂

    • Reply Dave

      20 June 2022, 4:13 am

      The problem is that Pride month *is* an excessive glorification of sin, Tom. You can choose to look at it another way but reframing it doesn’t change what it actually is. Why would any follower of Christ participate in something that encourages people to rebel against God’s commands? Something that deceives people into following a crooked path. You want to talk about depression and despair? Embrace a lifestyle that God warns against. I wish I never had.

      There are many appealing things about this website but if I’m honest, it ultimately is not very edifying. There is a serious lack of discernment in much of the content and I think authors are (unintentionally) leading brothers astray. Exhibit A: The articles on cuddling.

      Authenticity is important but so is edification and biblical instruction. I’m sorry if these comments sound harsh – I don’t intend them to be. I hope you will give this some thought, Tom. You are a great writer and an important and influential voice. Use it for the glory of God, brother.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        20 June 2022, 1:59 pm

        Thanks for your thoughts Dave, and thanks for reading. I won’t deny that I probably disagree about a lot of things with Pride attendees. But the goal of this post was to find that vital common ground. And our shared pride of survival is something I’m going to remember every June the rest of my life.

        Regarding the cuddling posts, yeah, I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But for any negative comments about those in particular, we’ve also received many more in the affirmative for guys who have found less shame and more confidence with other men, gay or straight. So as with anything on our site, or any site out there, I encourage you to take what’s helpful and leave what’s not.

    • Reply ToddNG

      20 June 2022, 5:34 am

      Such an inspiring, reflective and powerfully written piece, Thomas Mark. So undoubtedly blessed by God to have your voice!

    • Reply r_river

      22 June 2022, 9:07 pm

      Thomas, your text impacted me so strongly, and I can’t express It unless in my dialectal portuguese: “Cara, tu deu uma bem dentro mesmo!” Pride for being a survivor! That’s right! Always! Thank you!

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        27 June 2022, 4:18 pm

        It’s always an unbelievably encouraging thing to be reminded of many natural dialects and nationalities being reached by our words in this community. Thanks for this encouragement!

    • Reply Alix

      27 June 2022, 9:22 pm

      I am in tears reading this because I’ve struggled for so long with the idea of pride month and the shame I’ve felt for being part of the queer community

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        5 July 2022, 1:37 pm

        Thanks for reading, Alix. You’re not alone there. I still feel shame many times, often wishing I could blend in with the rest of humanity, and certainly with the rest of the Church. But I also know God is using my story and my affinities, whether through YOB or my day-to-day life outside the Internet. Prayers for you today. Glad you’re here!

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