The Velvet Rage – Pre-Pride Ponderings

Hey all,

I know Pride month is still well…. a month away. -ish. And I know there are a good many out there who don’t understand why a “Pride Month” (or day, or minute) is even necessary: “Straight people don’t get a Pride Month!” Exactly. Straight people get 365 days a year (occasionally 366!) for which they have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be ashamed of being straight. Congrats. Enjoy. Mazel Tov!

Same with the people who kvetch about Black History Month, or the idea of replacing a day in October honoring a rapacious marauder with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”… There is no “White History Month” or “Caucasian Pride Day” because THEY ARE NOT THE OPPRESSED MINORITY, regardless of what Fox News may be trying to scare us about this week.

But I digress.

Many people I love (who shall remain nameless) honestly don’t understand my need to be “Out” at this point in my life. What does it change? What’s the point? Why do you need to be public with it? Aren’t you just going to confuse people?

Internalized shame.

That is the point.

And I am done with it.

A couple months ago I read a book called “The Velvet Rage – Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World”, by Alan Downs.

More than anything else I’ve read, this helped me make sense of much of my growing up experience and why I have struggled (and still struggle) with so many feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. It basically all boils down to shame and the damage we do to ourselves by internalizing it. If you have read any of Brené Brown’s work (and if you haven’t, you should) she comes to many of the same conclusions.

Shame cripples our ability to live into authenticity.

That realization has been life changing for me. Downs’ book, however, looks at shame specifically from a gay male standpoint, and it has further opened up my eyes. The book has been attacked by some as being overly generalized and “stereotypical”, but like I’ve always said, “Stereotypes don’t come from noplace”. This book (or much of it, anyway) could be my own story. I didn’t have the period of post-coming out promiscuity and drug abuse that marks many gay men’s experiences, but I DO have many of the losses and wounds that drive those behaviors. I’ve just channelled them into different destructive behaviors. But I am healing.

So, here is what most of May is going to look like on Defying Atrophy, in case any of you need a warning to avoid it…

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Downs has a chapter of various “Skills for Leading an Authentic Life”, which are not necessarily “gay life skills”, so anyone of any orientation could/should benefit from looking at these with me, unless you’ve already got it all figured out, in which case, “Well done, you!” For myself and the rest of us, I’m going to take one “skill” a day and blog about it. Some may be brief, some may be more protracted, who knows?

I’ll start with the first one tomorrow. Here is the list, in case you want to see what we’re in for:

“Skills for Leading an Authentic Life”
  • The man I would become. When faced with an important life decision, ask yourself: “What would the man I wish to become do in this situation?” Take a moment and listen carefully to what your heart tells you, and after careful consideration, act on it.
  • Inner peace above all else. When trying to decide between two or more options in life, honestly assess which option is most likely to contribute to your own inner peace. Choose the option that holds the greatest promise of bringing you peace in the long term.
  • Never react while feeling an intense emotion. When feeling an intense emotion, ALWAYS delay taking action until after the emotion has subsided.
  • Contentment over approval. Choose those investments in life that contribute to your sense of feeling contentment, rather than those investments of your time and energy that promise to earn you the acceptance or approval of others.
  • Accept reality on reality’s terms. When life doesn’t turn out the way you want, stop insisting that it not be so. This is a skill rarely practiced once and accomplished successfully; rather, it requires repeated use until you finally relinquish the demand that life be something different than what it is.
  • One thing, one person, one conversation in the moment.  make it your goal to do only one thing in each moment. 
  • Take a nonjudgmental stance whenever possible. Actively resist the temptation to place everything in your life on a “good-bad continuum.” Instead of evaluating your experience according to your expectations, focus your efforts on being present for what is, rather than what you wish would be.
  • Obsessing about pain creates more pain. When feeling distressing emotions, make a conscious effort to let the pain subside.Continuously replaying painful memories, talking about your pain with others, or exposing yourself to situations that keep the memories active only function to keep you in distress. Deliberately and intentionally take action that distracts you from continuing to reinjure yourself with painful thoughts and memories.
  • Walk your way out of distress. When feeling uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, or anger, deliberately engage in a behavior that “changes the channel.” In these moments, arguing with yourself or trying to think your way back to serenity isn’t feasible – only engaging in behavior (i.e., contrary action) will make the difference.
  • Respect your body. Honor your body as you would a precious possession. Refuse to place your body in deliberate jeopardy. Adore your body, for it is the only one you will ever have.
  • No feeling lasts forever. When life isn’t going as we expect and painful emotions are running high, we often tell ourselves that this feeling will last forever. Nothing could be further from the truth, as all feelings come and go, wax and wane, over time. Challenge your own thinking that because life isn’t pleasant, this unpleasantness is going to last forever. Nothing lasts forever.
  • Don’t let your sexual tastes be the filter by which you allow people into your life. Actively fight the urge to reach out only to people you find physically attractive. A man’s physical appearance has virtually nothing to do with who he is on the inside, his values, and what kind of friend he is likely to be.
  • Be right, or be happy. Asserting your own ideas is important, but when you do so at the expense of relationships, you hurt yourself and diminish your experience. Before insisting that your way is the right way, ask yourself, How important is it that I be right – and at what cost? Sometimes backing down for the sake of another person’s ego is more effective at creating happy relationships than being right or in control.
  • Always look first for the innocence in others. See past the betrayal, anger, and dishonesty in others to find their core innocence. Other people hurt you because they are hurting. It is extraordinarily rare that anyone acts out of a desire to deliberately hurt another person. Most often when we hurt others, it is because we are acting out of our pain and are being mindless of the well-being of others.
  • In conflict, assess your responsibility first. Whenever you encounter a problem in a relationship, consider and verbalize your responsibility first before focusing on the perceived error of the other.
  • Keep your inner circle sacred and safe. Allow only those people who are trustworthy into your inner circle of intimacy. Too quickly trusting someone who hasn’t yet proved his or her trustworthiness is highly risky. This skill is about being slow and selective in bringing other people into a close level of intimacy.
  • Validate what is valid (and never the invalid). In a relationship, seek to validate what you perceive is valid in another person. Let him or her know what you respect in his behavior. Never give compliments that aren’t true or are insincere, for we all have a sophisticated radar for detecting when someone is patronizing us and when they are sincere.
  • Own your side of the street. You are responsible for your feelings and only your feelings (not anyone else’s). Take responsibility for your feelings without pushing them off onto others (i.e., “I feel unattractive.” vs. “You make me feel unattractive.”)
  • Speak to the offender first (instead of everyone else). When experiencing conflict in a relationship, express your feelings to the person with whom you have the conflict rather than talking about the conflict with other people.
  • Live in integrity. Always strive to be as honest as possible, even when it may seem to be easier or more efficient to hide the truth. Avoid giving others an inaccurate impression even when you haven’t done anything deliberately to create that impression. 
  • Default to forgiveness rather than resentment. Always seek to allow others the space to be imperfect. And when others disappoint you, avoid the temptation to keep an accounting of such disappointments. 
  • Embrace ambivalence. We rarely, if ever, feel just one way about virtually anything in life. You and I are ambivalent creatures – we naturally have competing feelings. Allow yourself permission to hold competing feelings without denying or forcing feelings that are inconvenient or unpleasant for the sake of premature clarity.

Talk to you all tomorrow.


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