What if I Don’t Feel Pride as a Gay Man?
As pride season approaches again, I’ve been thinking about the research I did a few years ago on gay, bi, and queer men’s experiences of holding hands with other men in public.
One of the findings from these research interviews was that when some participants felt anxious or fearful about holding hands in public, they also reported feeling disappointed, sad, or ashamed about their fear or anxiety.
Why did this happen?
Below I’ll explain why I think some of the participants felt this way, and the implications this might have for you.
The cultural expectation of happiness & positivity
Previous research has suggested that if you believe you shouldn’t feel negative emotions, you actually tend to experience negative emotions more intensely and more frequently.
If you think about the broader North American ideal of being happy as much as possible, it makes sense that some of the participants would report disappointment, sadness and shame about their fear or anxiety.
However, I think that the Western push toward happiness, sometimes called “toxic positivity,” only explains some of the negative feelings the men in this research had about their hand-holding.
The unintended messages behind “it gets better”
There are also LGBTQ2S-specific cultural ideals about what emotions are acceptable and when.
The “It Gets Better” (IGB) anti-bullying video project started in 2010 is a prime example.
The videos aimed to prevent suicide by telling LGBTQ2S+ youth that “it gets better” later in life.
However, a 2017 analysis by Doug Meyer argued that there was a tendency for videos to ignore the heterosexism which may fuel discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ youth.
In fact, Meyer highlighted how many videos placed the onus on LGBTQ2S+ youth to accept “inevitable discrimination” that will only exist in adolescence by trying to “be positive/happy.”
Meyer’s analysis of the IGB project asks us to consider how messages encouraging happiness/positivity may be used to disregard discrimination and pathologize negative emotional experiences of LGBTQ2S+ adulthood.
How the beleif in emotional “shoulds” & “musts” can leave you stuck
I think that the spoken and unspoken messages about pride often follow the same messages about happiness/positivity described above.
I conducted the hand-holding research with participants from Vancouver, Canada, and many of the participants talked about Vancouver as a sort of “gay paradise” in which they “should” feel safe and comfortable holding hands in public.
The participants from the study that felt anxious or fearful about holding hands in public rarely talked about these feelings as uncomfortable, yet understandable responses given their history or environment.
Instead, they often reported the disappointment, sadness or shame mentioned at the start of this article.
These feelings of disappointment, sadness, and shame are called “meta-emotions” or “secondary emotions.”
Basically, they’re feelings about feelings.
Meta-emotions aren’t always an issue. But if meta-emotions place some kind of negative evaluation on your primary emotional experience, it can leave you stuck.
This can happen because you’re listening to the negative evaluations of the meta-emotion, instead of the immediate need associated with the primary emotion. In the case of these specific participants, their primary emotion would have been fear or anxiety.
So what can you do if you don’t feel pride all the time?
1. View pride as a lifelong journey with many pathways.
If you view pride as the only feeling you can have about your experience as an LGBTQ2S+ person, this will inevitably backfire.
Trying to feel pride by ignoring or negatively evaluating other feelings simply doesn’t work (see the section above on cultural expectations of happiness).
Instead, pride can be viewed as something which can arise from many pathways throughout your lifetime.
In other words, the process of accepting your individual feelings about your experiences opens space for pride to emerge.
2. Make space for different feelings about your experiences.
Making space to hear your different feelings is one way to accept your unique experience.
Ultimately, feelings are morally neutral pieces of information telling you something about your personal history, cultural context, and the present moment.
Pride doesn’t come from shaming yourself for feeling the “wrong” feeling about your experiences.
Rather, feeling pride about yourself can start with being curious and nonjudgmental toward the different pieces of your experience, even if you’re not feeling what you want to be feeling.
In fact, when you listen to the needs associated with your primary emotions, this can help you make a decision about how to best take care of yourself.
3. Seek out additional support.
If you’re feeling stuck in the feelings about your experiences, seek out a gay-affirmative counsellor. A counsellor can help you understand your feelings, and work through any past experiences that might be getting in your way.
If you’d like some extra help, I’d be glad to talk. 🙂 Just click the button below to get started.