For My Brother, It’s All ’Gay Shame.’ Shame on Him
While marching in this year's New York Gay Pride Parade, I had the pleasure of holding the banner for Empire State Pride Agenda, our statewide LGBT lobbying group. Seeing the overwhelming welcome in the streets of my beloved city, I felt honored in being a representative of such an important organization while also demonstrating my own Gay Pride.
It was especially heartwarming to walk on Christopher Street at the end of the parade and have so many spectators reach out to shake my hand or hug me. That sense of love and affirmation is something that will stay with me for some time. In fact, I cannot think of a more celebratory and joyous occasion to affirm our gayness and unity.
Memories of my first Gay Pride parade in Albany, N.Y., way back in 1972 came flooding back to me. Chanting "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Gay is Just as Good as Straight!" and "One, Two, Three, Four, We Won't Take it Any More" instilled me with enormous pride and an unfamiliar feeling of acceptance and support for who I truly was; a young gay man standing up for himself for the very first time.
On that day so many years ago, I not only marched with hundreds of courageous and amazing gay men, lesbians, and transgender men, I also attended my first gay dance following a pot luck dinner and ended the night in my first gay bar, where the doorman and I became fast friends. How could I ever top that?
Unfortunately, not every day is Gay Pride. For gay men, lesbians and the transgendered, nearly every day brings a fresh bitch slap of reality as to how many people view us. The reality of that "other" world, the much bigger world, came crashing down on me the very day after Gay Pride. It happened during my daily phone call to my ninety-one year-old mother.
It was not my mother who answered her phone but my older brother, who was visiting for the weekend, along with his wife and baby. What did surprise and saddened me was my brother's response to my recounting of the events of the past day. As soon as I got the word "gay" out, my brother interrupted with, "I don't want to hear anything about Gay Pride or gay marriage. You know how I feel about both of those topics! "
Immediately, I a wave of emotion flooded through me and I could feel my face reddening with anger. "What about Gay Pride?" I thundered back. "Don't you want me to feel proud of whom I am? Do you want us all to go back into the closet? "
He responded just as quickly -- and loudly, "I'm just sick and tired of hearing about it every day and gay marriage is something I simply refuse to accept!"
Suddenly, the memory of my brother standing beside me at my commitment ceremony in September of 1996 projected itself into my mind. But not only was it the image of him acting as one of my best men that came to me but also, the words he uttered that special day when I asked him how he enjoyed the ceremony: "Oh, I just love hearing the words of Satan."
True, my brother brings his own brand of sarcasm to almost any occasion. Often, I don't know whether to take him at his word or assume he is indeed joking. So his comments on the day after Pride did not exactly take me by surprise.
Just the same, his words manage to hurt and sadden me. Not only was he dismissing and devaluing me as a gay man but also as a coequal brother. Fortunately, his attempt to wave away the whole gay rights movement is ineffective. What does give his words power is knowing that he is not alone.
My brother is a devout Roman Catholic, who, having recently suffered a serious health crisis. Is now more devout than ever. I have no doubt that the propaganda he hears at every Mass coming from the pulpit has poisoned his attitude about our struggle to achieve basic human rights.
As someone who advocates in our community toward reducing gay shame and its damaging impact, including suicide, depression, substance abuse and sex addiction, I feel a special anger at words like my brother's. People who say they love us but continue to refuse to accept and understand the most fundamental parts of us are merely spewing meaningless phrases. That most significant aspect of our lives are affirming our gay identity and finding comfort and support within significant relationships.
Remember the Mama Cass song "Make Your Own Kind of Music"? Each one of us needs to go out there and "make our own kind of music." Sing, yes, but also shout out shut out or dismiss hateful and disconfirming words of anyone, no matter what his relationship to you. And remember that Gay Pride is celebrated one day a year. But for us, there are few days when we don't have assert to someone somewhere our pride in our identity.
In 2009, writer-activist Larry Kramer spoke at Dallas Gay Pride. "Being gay is the most important thing in my life," he said. "I love being gay. I hope you do too. "
Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.