Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Y’all - I’ll be honest and say that I have struggled with the idea of writing a Pride focused essay this year. With all that is going on from a global pandemic to the increased focus on police brutality of Black bodies and a greater awakening to racial inequality and inequity in our society, I felt like a Pride post might pull focus from larger issues. Then the historic Supreme Court decision was made, and I realized that I was applying some negative thought patterns to the idea of a Pride post in general.
The very reason that I’m so passionate about the impact of the pandemic on our lives and racial justice is very much due to my experience as a Queer individual. Even more specifically, it is a direct result of my experience as a Queer Texan with a rural, conservative, and religious upbringing.
I’ve also been involved in some amazing conversations with folx in what I am referring to as Authenticity Listening sessions, and am finding some consistencies between those who have authenticity practices in their personal lives. Many times, these individuals are unlearning something - whether it be a value, an idea they thought was commonly accepted, or a big life goal that you might think of like a north star. In progressive faith circles, this idea of unlearning is referred to as ‘deconstruction’ when applied to aspects of faith, but my experience with both faith and societal based ideas and norms is that there is overlap in the type of personal work being done in both cases.
As someone who has been trained to spot loose threads in stories and experiences and work to somehow tie them together with empathy and charm, I’ve noticed that many folks that are going through this type of unlearning exhibit outward signs that some people might consider troubling or discomforting. It’s why my writing can sometimes be ‘deep’ or ‘a lot,’ because you have to really think through shit when deconstructing.
The truth is that there is so much joy on the other side of that deconstruction. With that said, I’ve decided that this year’s Pride post will focus on the joy in unlearning some of those ideas and values I’ve had to wrestle with as a Texan, which some might argue is a bit like the American Dream on steroids. Like last year, I decided that I’ll do it with a bit of help from some pop stars and the song that was meant to be, and still probably is, the LGBTQ+ banger of the summer, with some unexpected messages to keep us moving forward.
That’s right, I’m offering a casual guide to deconstructing with the help of the lyrics from Rain. On. Me. Insert stereotypical gay squeal here.
I didn’t ask for a free ride
I only asked you to show me a real good time.
I’ve written quite a bit about my upbringing in the Church, that capital C stands for the generalized religiosity that is what would be commonly accepted as the Evangelical Christian Church here in the good ol' U.S of A. It’s a slightly amorphous belief system in that there are certainly variances if you step between denominations and even disagreement on some scripture, but the one thing that the American Evangelical Church can agree on is that 'gays are bad and abortion is murder'.
What I am sharing here would be a confession to some, and a betrayal to others, but the short of it is that my worldview did not stop at just thinking that I was an abomination 'cause the Bible told me so.' No, I very much had other problematic viewpoints associated with American Evangelicals.
I share this to give some context as to why I struggled even after coming out of the closet and living openly gay in friend circles in Austin. I was even outed at work in one of the best ways that I will forever be grateful for because I candidly do not think that I would have come out at the nonprofit I started working at if that hadn’t happened. My first years of being an “out” gay man were still very much a continued deconstruction process that I had started a few years earlier when I left the Church.
These internalized Americanisms in terms of what was considered successful, and would reflect my worth to the largest number of individuals had impacted my value system so much that my career path was not surprisingly impacted. This manifested in an aversion to thinking of myself as a creative in any capacity because the signals my empath brain were picking up from society were that 1) art degrees were a joke or at best a waste of money 2) success meant working a traditional white-collar job that was 3) contributing to capitalism in a way that was easily understood. I worked hard. I definitely didn’t ask for a free ride, I was following the steps to achieve that American Dream and have a real good time.
It wasn’t until much later that I finally felt enough discomfort to realize that these internalized messages, while very real aspects of society, weren’t in my best interests in terms of living authentically while honoring my strengths and needs. That is when I made the jump to wellness entrepreneurship with the help of many folks that I most assuredly have to thank for some part of my happiness I am experiencing in my life these days because of that decision. I went from thinking I was a left-brained, data-driven individual - often associated with men - to flexing my right-brain with creativity through a career helping others by facilitating healing and teaching - traits often associated with women.
I never asked for the rainfall
At least I showed up you showed me nothing at all
The last 4 years have been a fantastic learning experience for me. I started out with the intention of sharing my experience with others following the 2016 election with the thought that if enough people shared their authentic stories, we wouldn’t be filled with a nation where a minority of voters (that very much includes my religiosity folks) would vote for a candidate who had shown so much disdain and outright dismissal of so many minority and oppressed groups. Bless my heart.
It wasn’t long before I realized what many other oppressed individuals in this country already knew - that when your experience is outside of the narrative of the good ol' American Dream - not as many people are willing to listen. Years of perpetual frustration over that fact led me to research more LGBTQ+ history, and that has now been extended to the broader Civil Rights movement thanks to efforts of BLM organizers. What I have learned is that much of what we are fighting for these days in this collective movement is exactly the same as what folx were fighting for in the 60s & 70s to the point where it is actually pretty tough to determine the time frame if you are solely looking at policy issues and quotes.
While all of this might sound terribly depressing - and that is because it is - I definitely have found some resolve in the fact that what we are discussing is not political, but fundamental to the human existence in this country. The history lessons have also afforded me the understanding that there have been problems in both parties and while the Democratic Party is absolutely the only option for people interested in creating space currently, there will be much work to do on the equality and equity front even if Ds take the White House and Senate.
That is because the American Dream has only been accessible for a narrow few and has not been featuring many groups for decades no matter who was in power.
The truth is that many Americans are feeling the discomfort associated with an increasingly cloudy American Dream that is not working out for them, and that isn’t necessarily split down party lines where either the right or the left, but more along class lines with the ultra-wealthy prospering and the rest of America - from the upper-middle class to working-class - seeing little to no increase in the standard of living despite working hard.
That discomfort has only been compounded with the economic impacts of COVID-19 resulting in millions of lost jobs and a sharp spike in unemployment, and elected officials making dangerous decisions to reopen without meeting safety guidelines or enforcing precautionary measures in the name of the almighty capitalistic economy. Water like misery, indeed.
Living in a world where no one's innocent
I’ve got an unfortunate truth for you - no one in our society is perfect. Everyone messes up, stumbles, and causes problems for someone else at some point.
I’ve felt this firsthand by experiencing heteronormative culture as a Queer individual. Heteronormativity is basically the assumption that heterosexuality is the default or ‘normal’ experience, and many folx speak of cis-gendered heteronormativity in a similar way by pointing out that the cis-gendered (assigned the gender you identify as at birth) experience to be the ‘status quo.’ What this does is create a world in which any Queer or LGBTQ+ individuals are constantly reminded that their experience of the world is secondary or an afterthought. If you are a straight person, just try to imagine a world where you had to actively search for other people who are like you and are constantly reminded how your preference for the opposite sex is not only despised by an entire organized religion but devalued in society as well due to not even being mentioned in a majority of legislation or worse being against the law.
This experience had to help me get on board with this idea that no one in our society is innocent of this, in fact, everyone’s complacency or outright promotion of the LGBTQphobic worldview perpetuates the problem.
Oh, but at least we try
Going through the deconstruction process of believing that heterosexuality was the norm took some time. Along the way, I also learned about the concept of homonormativity which is the idea of simply applying the homosexual identity to heteronormative ideas - very much most of what I have been showing to the world. Examples include getting married, being in a monogamous relationship, having children, attending a church - all things where heterosexual people would say “wow, this gay is just like me!”
In this very way that all heterosexual individuals are somewhat culpable in the perpetuation of LGBTQphobic worldviews, I as a cis-gendered White gay man am also very much culpable in the perpetuation of homonormativity which does not actively create space for Queer people of color, Transgendered people, or gender non-binary folx. Yes, after all my work deconstructing my worldview and self-image from heteronormative standards, evangelical theology, and American ‘success,’ I found out that my lived experience and what I was projecting to the world was STILL problematic for many members of my community. What’s a gay to do?!
Show some empathy for myself in the same way I have started to show it to others.
Yes, if I’ve learned anything in this process of deconstruction on the path to joy it is that there really aren’t that many specific enemies to pit ourselves against. Yes, that is a tried and true Americanism to want to find the “other,” the “bad guys,” or someone who is against us and standing in our way of “insert Americanism goal here.”
Thankfully though, my journey had already helped me realize that when throwing up boundaries to help keep others out, you just create more problems if you seethe in anger and hate on the other side of that wall you put up. This is why I don’t harbor much animosity or hatred towards anyone in my hometown, family, or any of the other heterosexual individuals I encounter on a regular basis who unknowingly ask me to fit into their idea of what an acceptable gay person should be. How can I hate, when they don’t know what they do? Even after they awaken to the idea of LGBTQphobic oppression in our society, do I want them immobilized in shame by the oppression they have perpetuated? Absolutely not.
No, the goal of unlearning these ideas is not to point the realization at others with the hopes of revenge - another idea that hyper-Americanism loves, just look at the pro-war music following 9/11 - but rather the goal is to improve my individual wellness in the pursuit of authenticity. Then share what I have learned in hopes that it will create space and inspire others to do that same thing as well.
A Maya Angelou quote that is circling a lot in anti-racist work - especially for White people and White passing POC - is “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Folks that are open, willing to listen to the experiences and voices of others like them, and willing to make gradual changes in their life, truly are trying. I am following Maya’s lead and believe we should meet them, and ourselves when we are the perpetrators - where they are at.
Gotta live my truth, not keep it bottled in,
So I don't lose my mind
Another Americanism I had to unlearn with time was the concept of Anti-intellectualism. This one is dense and nuanced in its applications, but the specific strain of this disease that seems to have infected so much of our nation is the aversion to mental health services. I spent much of my life repressing signs of mental health struggles in the same way that I repressed my sexuality and gender expression in a very similar way that many Americans tend to do.
For better or worse, the dissonance between what I was projecting to the world vs what was going on inside got so bad that I finally had to seek help. Once I started seeing mental health professionals for the first time in my 30 years on this planet, I received some diagnoses that helped put a lot of what was going on into perspective: ADHD, chronic anxiety, severe depression, and PTSD.
These diagnoses added new elements to my deconstruction journey and the new personal work that I engaged with certainly radically changed the person I am and what I projected to the world in a similar way to when I stopped projecting a virtually heterosexual image.
This process of starting to honor my mental health resulted in needing to unlearn or go against the Americanism of projecting a constantly happy, healthy, and positive self that is “in control,” which is what most who have reached out with concern have cited when wanting to check-in on me. The reality is that this process, while painful and tough at times, has resulted in so much more understanding of myself and the world around me. It truly is liberating to live your truth, even when it goes against etiquette, and I’ve found it to have an extremely grounding effect for both my mind and spirit. I’m no longer falling to pieces, but now working to pick up the ones I want.
I can feel it on my skin,
It’s coming down on me
Teardrops on my face,
Water like misery
If you are feeling discomfort due to the unprecedented global pandemic that is Covid-19, then you are not alone. Additionally, if you struggle to understand how many of our elected leaders would actively push to stop safety measures in place to reduce spread in order to “reopen the economy,” you are also not alone.
With quotes from leaders in Texas like our Lt. Governor saying "there are more important things than living and that’s saving this country”, it definitely feels like the message is to “go back to normal” at all costs which in this case is to the tune of 126,000 lives lost and counting. That is more than the Korean and Vietnam wars combined and just over the number of American lives lost in World War I.
Unfortunately, my study of LGBTQ+ history helped me realize that this dynamic of governmental refusal to acknowledge the loss of American lives, had already presented itself in the 80s during the Aids crises.
I’ve learned that 83,000+ lives were lost to what was commonly referred to as the ‘gay plague,’ and was extremely surprised to hear that Reagan, a figure that I had been brought up to praise and hold in high esteem thanks to my Americanism upbringing, did absolutely nothing to help these American citizens during this time. In fact, the crisis was used to further vilify and 'other' the LGBTQ+ community with many stating that the disease was a punishment from God. This is why I had the idea in my heard for so much of my childhood that ’gays’ were no good for society, and that they usually just got aids and died. Yep, lot of work to unwind that tape.
If you are looking for something to watch on this extremely tough subject, I would recommend the movie, A Normal Heart. If you are straight, it might be difficult to de-center your heteronormative narrative and not want to believe that something like this happened on “your watch,” so to speak, but my hope is that the parallels with COVID-19 will help with that process of not only acknowledging and feeling sorry for the Queer experience but go one step further and empathize as well.
This is why I struggle with the folks who tell me to “just be happier” or “stop spreading negativity.” These tend to be the folks that believe that if you “put on a happy face” you will manifest happiness in your own life. They also tend to be the folks who 1) aren’t in therapy 2) are not doing any type of personal work and 3) are more than likely benefitting from some type of privilege whether it be the color of their skin or heteronormative sexuality and gender expression.
These are the folx who decry “identity politics” saying that we “make too much noise,” and are “always creating problems,” by simply speaking of our experiences and seeking improvement in our communities. These folks also seem to be the ones who would like to either ignore COVID-19 or downplay its threat to the health and safety of mankind. They are either ignorant of the fact that their advice means that damage and harm would continue if oppressed voices were to actually put it into practice, or even worse, they know that is exactly what would happen.
Let it wash away my sins
It's coming down on me
Let it wash away
If you’re still with me, you might be thinking you were sold a bag of goods with this essay. You might be asking, “Where is the joy in all this Lance?!”
Well, sweet friend, I can’t tell you how much I empathize with that sentiment. I can’t tell you how much I wish that many of the Americanisms we were taught were true. That life is good and easy if you just stay positive and that all are inherently equal in their equitable pursuit of happiness.
However, my identity and lived experiences have brushed me up against those beliefs so hard and so frequently that I was no longer able to continue believing them and ignoring the unhappiness and discomfort in my life. This process of deconstruction or unlearning Americanisms in pursuit of better understanding myself and what I needed has been very difficult at times, but it has also brought on so much happiness, peace, and overall wellbeing. Most importantly, it has been the process that has saved me countless times to the point where I don’t believe I would be here writing these words and experiencing the joys of life today had it not been for deconstruction.
While inconvenient like endless rain, the discomfort has helped me start the process of making amends for the sins I have committed against myself and others. It is washing them away.
I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive
Rain on me, rain, rain
Yes, after all this, I am pleased and joyful. Like C. S. Lewis, I am blessing the experience as the ruins of the American Dream, the Americanisms and Texanisms informed by questionable theology, a heteronormative standard, anti-intellectualism, glorification of the machismo in gender norms, and yes, a centered White experience, fall to pieces around me.
Sure, I wish that I didn’t have to do the work in the same way that I’d rather be dry, but I am so proud of myself for doing that deconstruction work that has helped me stay alive. I’m also no longer scared of the struggle associated with facing discomfort because I have seen and experienced the joy that comes with identifying what must change and pressing forward.
This Pride, I ask the simple question: Will you join me? I can’t promise it will always be easy, and that the journey will not produce more hurt, but I can promise that I will hold your hand along the way, and more importantly, that you deserve joy.
I’m encouraged because I know where BraveNewLove fits in this new world and that is centered in the work of encouraging others to live authentically and empowering all who are interested in creating space for others to live authentically as well. I believe it is very much within the scope of wellness, and similar to massage, I believe this work can be healing when people are empowered to do it for themselves. I want to help facilitate that work.
If any aspect of this blog resonated with you - I want to hear about it. I love hearing the authentic voices and stories of others and strongly believe that is why I am still here today. Funny enough, it actually helps with your own authenticity work by telling your story. If that, or any aspect of dealing with discomfort or deconstruction interests you, I’d also love to talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation going.