Pride is selfish
Hello and welcome to a special Pride episode of This Little Light Of Mine, my name is James Powell
What does Pride month mean to you? As I remember back, I can see how Pride has been a wildly evolving experience in my life.
When I was in closeted in public school Pride terrified me. Seeing images of Pride parades on TV and in the newspaper filled me with fear and shame.
Why do those people have to act that way? Why do they have to flaunt their sin? Why does everything have to be so sexualized?
When I got into high school some of that fear and shame had shifted towards intrigue and curiosity.
Maybe I can find others like me there? Would anybody recognize me if I went to explore on my own? Nobody can know about this… nobody!
Heading off to university Pride evolved into a celebration of newfound freedom. I remember the excitement of the parties, the parades, and sharing this joy with so many of my new friends.
Let’s celebrate and have fun! Who are all these other people here? How can I look like that?! Wow, are there seriously people here with their parents, jobs, and churches?
In my 30’s Pride turned into a celebration of excess. I’d paid my dues, I’d honed my body, I knew what was expected, I didn’t disappoint.
How can I maximize every opportunity? What is the best party to be at? What’s with all the political stuff? Can’t people just enjoy the party?
As my 30’s turned into 40’s Pride started to change yet again. Walking through the streets I stopped seeing myself in the crowds of people. The parties started to turn into work. The fun that once was veered towards keeping up appearances and pushing for new highs.
Who are all of these other people? Why can’t they be more like me? Why do they have to use our pride to make noise for their Why can’t everyone just relax and have fun, this is PRIDE.
Let’s get uncomfortable
As I reflect back over the year since last pride, the word that keeps coming up for me is UNCOMFORTABLE. This last year has been a time and space of uncomfortable growth as I start answer some of the most terrifying questions of my life.
- Who am I really?
- What do I actually want for my life?
- Where do I feel safe and encouraged to grow?
- Who do I want to spend time with?
For me, PRIDE is a time and space for reflection, growth, and an opportunity to celebrate exactly where YOU are on your OWN personal journey. I’m learning that PRIDE is an inside job, and when you’re growing, that inside job is continually shifting and evolving.
Growing up in a homophobic and psychologically damaging church environment, I was programmed to hide myself, ignore my inner feelings/needs/desires, and to hustle for my worth based on external validation.
Right vs Wrong
Like many other people, I was also implicitly taught that MY growth should look like everyone else’s growth. There was a right path and a wrong path. And in order to fit in and be part of the community you better show everyone how you’re on the right path.
We live in a world where everyone is telling everyone else how they SHOULD feel, act, think, and be. In the last year, how many times have you been told how you’re supposed to feel/think if you’re part of a certain group?
What feelings or thoughts are you “supposed to have” if you’re a republican, evangelical Christian living in Georgia, a teacher, a parent, an African American, an urban elite living in New York, or a woke lesbian living in Toronto?
To me, PRIDE is a celebration of letting go of our ‘supposed tos’. The only person who gets the right to determine what’s right for you is YOU… and what looks right for you probably WILL NOT look right for everyone else.
Pride is an inner journey towards ownership of self. This isn’t just an LGBTQ2S+ journey, it’s a journey for everyone. It’s a journey inward where you ask AND go inside to listen to the internal guidance system that you have been given.
- Am I proud of ME?
- What do I stand for?
- Am I proud of what I stand for?
- Am I proud of how I’m showing up in the world?
- Am I proud of how I connect with others and show love?
- Am I surrounding myself with a community that loves me and challenges me to keep growing and evolving?
- Am I responsible for my own growth and evolution?
- Do I love and accept myself?
These big questions may appear simple but that does not mean that they’re easy. In fact, these questions may bring up feelings of discomfort, confusion, loss, fear, and pain. It’s not always easy, fun, or smooth sailing to take 100% responsibility for your own growth.
As humans, our brains are hardwired to protect ourselves from danger. The most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, is designed to keep us ‘safe’ from danger by searching for and surrounding ourselves with others who look like us, think like us, act like us, and believe the same things as us. This part of our brain equates ‘different’ as ‘danger’ and this part of our brain is very necessary in alerting us to actual dangers like a bear in woods, being pulled over by police, a snake in the grass, or the sound of a gunshot. This part of our brain keeps us physically safe… but we were born not to simply SURVIVE, we were born to grow, evolve, and THRIVE.
Stuck trying to survive
Over the past year I’ve started to become more aware and attuned to how much of my own world has been constructed to simply help me SURVIVE. Growing up in an unsafe and abusive environment my priority was survival. As a child, I wasn’t given what I needed, and I needed to prioritize survival. I’m now learning that I need to let go of some of these coping mechanisms that have evolved from absolutely necessary to useful to useless. What used to protect me is now holding me back from growing and thriving.
We absolutely need connection and community in our lives. Things like churches, corporations, political parties, foundations, racial groups, charities, peer groups, spouses, family systems, and economic groups. These can all be very good things, but they can also be groups that keep you STUCK in survival mode and put a HOLD on your journey inwards to celebrating your unique gifts and beauty.
Are you encouraged to grow?
Think about your life, your relationships and the communities that you belong to? Are you encouraged to bring all of yourself into these spaces? Are you seen and understood for who you really are? Are you free to ask questions, challenge, and disagree? Do you feel safe to grow, evolve, and try new things?
Or do the relationships and communities that you belong to come with a cost of entry? Do you need to think, believe or feel a certain way in order to belong? Do these spaces celebrate diversity of skin color or nationality but then demand compliance of thought and action that align to the person in charge? Are you pressured to go along to get along?
The journey inwards toward ownership of self and the outward evolution towards actual diversity and inclusion isn’t for the faint of heart. As we enter another season of Pride, I want to acknowledge the messy, lonely, and sometimes unstable feelings that come with growth. And many times, this journey of growth calls for letting go and even leaving others behind.
We are all hardcoded for community and connection, in fact, we can’t survive without it. Loneliness, letting go and leaving others behind can be terrifying and can lead to detrimental mental and physical health impacts. But did you know that the same harmful mental and physical health impacts show up in what are called ambivalent relationships?
Meh, we’re fine
What is an ambivalent relationship? An ambivalent relationship is one where you don’t show up as your full self. They are relationships where you ‘go along to get along’, where you don’t speak up because you don’t want to deal with any conflict you feel might arise, where you believe it’s just easier to stay with ‘devil you know’ or you stay ‘for the kids’. These are environments where toxic positivity dictates only agreement and alignment will be tolerated. Ambivalent relationships are ones where you don’t feel seen, understood, loved, or cared for when you are authentically, beautifully, and uniquely you.
These types of ambivalent relationships at home, at work, at church, with friends, and in the community are associated with reduced physical and psychological well-being, and not just for you. Ambivalent relationships negatively impact those around you, your kids, your partner, your colleagues, and your friends.
Importance of intimacy
You are designed to THRIVE, not simply survive. You were created to be seen, heard, and understood. What makes connection so vitally important is the intimacy that can be shared when we’re vulnerable enough to show others all of who we are. Intimacy is achieved when we feel safe to express our unique thoughts, feelings, fears, and joys without the fear of being judged, misunderstood, or harmed.
One of the most uncomfortable parts of my entire life has been a feeling of ‘not belonging’ or of being different than those around me. It’s scary not to be like your parents or siblings. It’s terrifying to admit that some of the closest relationships and communities that your part of no longer serve you. It’s distressing weening yourself off the drug of external validation from fitting in and being like everyone else.
Threatened of your growth?
Here’s the rub with growth, insecure people, those who don’t have the courage to do the work themselves may be threatened by your growth. They want you to stay just like them. When they see you growing it can shine a light on their stagnation, their need to control, or their belief that success and freedom comes from fearing, fighting, oppressing, and dominating ‘the other’. Your growth may even evoke their disdain, anger, gaslighting or worse because it challenges some of the systems, structures, and constructs that need fear, control, and subordination to thrive.
Creating safe spaces for discomfort
I’m also learning that it’s our human responsibility to create environments where others are safe to grow in their own way too. We can’t optimize our own inner journey if we don’t feel physically and psychologically safe. While it’s not our job to change or convert anyone into anything I believe it is our job and responsibility to break down barriers and systems that oppress, marginalize, and harm other humans. It’s not enough to simply raise a flag, change an email footer, add pronouns or a simple inclusion note to your email footer, wear a colorful ribbon, change the colors of your social media profile photos, or even start meetings with a memorized reconciliation statement, or say ‘all are welcome’ in ways that outwardly signal a celebration of diversity but then continue to expect people to think, act, believe, and feel the same as those at the top, or the same as you. I’m not saying that any of these actions or bad or wrong, but what I am asking is that we look a little bit deeper and that we look at the intention. Do these actions go beyond simple platitudes or are they simply being used as a decoy to help those in the majority feel better, like they’ve done everything they need to do, instead of doing the work to create systemic change.
Can you hold back for a minute?
When people are threatened by your growth, instead of celebrating your uniqueness, they may attempt to keep you in your place by using phrases like “I’m concerned about who you’re becoming”, “I feel like I don’t know who you’re turning into”, “Why can’t you just tone things down and fit in like everyone else”, or “Can’t you be more like your sister, she’s so easy going”.
We’ve even created a whole bunch of words, labels, and phrases that discourage growth in an attempt to affirm compliance and uniformity – backslider, deconstructionist, lost sheep, wayward child, troublemaker, make America great again, family or corporate values, pessimist, melting pot, black hat, or contrarian. I’ve used many of these labels on myself
This is growth
As I look back on the last year I’m starting to see, acknowledge, and be thankful for my uncomfortable growth. I’m starting to see that I’m my not leaving relationships, I’m not deconstructing anything, I’m not abandoning anything, I’m not walking away, backsliding or any of those terms. I’m growing.
What if all of those feelings of not fitting in, of being the ‘outsider’, being different than everyone else had nothing to do with you being wrong, broken, sinful? What if those uncomfortable feelings were actual a signal of your own growth and evolution?
Pride is a celebration of growth. It’s an ongoing and ever evolving graduation into becoming more of yourself. You are not designed to be like anyone else. You are not designed to be the same person that you were last year. In my opinion, we are all transitioning as we remember who we were designed to become and this transition is a never-ending process, not a destination or a one-time ‘coming out’.
Stay with the discomfort
This pride, I hope you celebrate your beautiful, unique, and messy self. I hope you acknowledge your strength, courage, and resilience for navigating all the ups and downs that brought you to where you are today. I hope you find space to cultivate a deep compassion for who you have been, who you are, and who you’re becoming. I hope that you find new ways to be with and to stay with the discomfort that signals your growth.
No matter who you are, where you’re from,
No matter the colour of your skin, your sexual orientation, your gender expression
No matter your weight, your body type or how you look…
No matter where you live, where you work, your status, your bank balance, or your beliefs
No matter what.
You are wanted. You are needed. You are an important part of our world. You have an absolutely unique voice that needs to be heard.
Now go inside and be extremely and lovingly selfish, this is what self-love is. Not only is self-love healthy and healing, we all need it. When you give yourself the gift of self-love and share your uniqueness with the world, we all grow and evolve. There is only ONE of YOU and our world needs all of your unique beauty.
This pride be selfish, don’t fit in, be different, practice self-love, and celebrate how beautifully unique you are designed to be. You are worthy of love…. And you are loved.