As GLBTIQ folk we grow up and live under the burden of many damaging myths about ourselves, so it’s not surprising many of us grow up with a deep feeling of worthlessness.
Gay men are weak and effeminate. Or psychopathic pedophiles. Gay women are violent and hypermasculine.
No wonder our community labours to overcome higher levels of depression, substance abuse, rampant consumerism, self-harm and promiscuity than the general run of the population. Deep down, we are not a happy people.
Not because we’re gay, but because from an early age we have been subtly and not-so-subtly conditioned by messages that we’re not worth much.
Gay pride is our attempt to redress the balance, to help ourselves feel better about ourselves.
The problem is, it doesn’t seem to work very well for a lot of us. Despite decades of telling ourselves we are proud, lesbian and gay people are still more than twice as likely to drink too much or abuse drugs, more than twice as likely to suffer anxiety or depression, up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than our heterosexual counterparts.
That’s according to a review of studies done by the British National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) — and it’s a pattern that repeats wherever similar research is carried out. Why? NIMH says, “Prejudice against homosexuality is unlike any other intolerance in that it can reach into families. Rejection by parents of their own children because of their sexual orientation is likely to have a severe emotional impact.”
Psychologist Alan Downs, in his book The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World, argues that the feelings of worthlessness thus created in childhood lead gay adults to search for unnatainable perfection.
“We have created a gay culture that is, in most senses, unlivable,” he says. “…that you have the beautiful body, that you have lots of money, that you have a beautiful boyfriend with whom you have wonderful, toe-curling sex every night … none of us have that. To try to achieve that really makes us miserable.
“The next phase of gay history, I believe, is for us to come to terms with creating a culture that is livable and comfortable.”
Therapist and addiction treatment specialist David Smallwood thinks “Gay pride is an adaption, a way of dealing with something we can’t deal with. We put on this TV picture and what we show is: ‘I’m proud to be gay.’ Underneath that, we might be dying inside.”
If these gentlemen are right — and I reckon they are — then what we’ll be celebrating with our over-indulgence, our narcissism, our promiscuity and our rampant consumerism at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is not a culture, but a pathology. We ought instead to be looking at the root causes of this ’culture’, and dealing with them.
And start building a true culture we can really take pride in.