Pride was not easy to come by
by Steve Harrison
Pride is a tricky thing. Of course, we want our children to grow up proud of themselves and their family. Pride helps us navigate our existence in the world, helps us keep our balance, and helps us feel happy, secure, and okay about ourselves. Dignity, self-respect and self-worth should be denied to no one, especially no child.
As a gay man of a certain vintage, pride about being gay was not easy to come by. The first pride parades took place in the early 1970s; I’m not sure born out of pride as much as out of the need and a demand to be seen. There were a lot of us: neighbors and co-workers, writers, artists, machinists, engineers, office workers, hairdressers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons. We weren’t just an alien group living in the shadows, as much as society wanted to keep us there. As the saying goes, we are everywhere.
I’ve been going through many family pictures in the last couple of months. As I wrote in this column, I’ve had to place my mom in an assisted-living facility. As much as she didn’t want to go, she is adjusting remarkably well. Oddly, the move seems to have wiped out the memory banks of the last 20 years. . . at least many of them. She doesn’t seem to remember much about her house in Corona; instead, she goes back to the house I grew up in, the one she moved away from thirty years ago.
Going through the forgotten house and its forgotten family treasures, I was reluctantly reminded of what a sad face I had in so many of the family pictures. From eight to eighteen, the pictures remind me of a period when I felt alienated from myself, my family, and the life around me. I was unhappy and I looked it.
Luckily, I was able to find a bit of respite with a few friends and in my English classes in high school. At odds with what seemed like the normalcy around me, I found comfort in books and in the love of my paternal grandmother. Pride was non- existent. It wasn’t just the discomfort with my sexuality, but I was just uncomfortable in the world. I was lonely, isolated, uncomfortable. Sad. Bullying was a constant. My parents weren’t helpful. They weren’t bad people. They just didn’t know in the early 1970’s what to do with this different kid. Both raised in severe, fatherless homes, in a poor midwestern town, church the answer to any of life’s questions and conundrums, they had struggled to find acceptable spaces — my dad on the athletic fields and my mom in books. They were unprepared to deal with the likes of me.
Pride was something they couldn’t encourage. Spare the rod and spoil the child was more their motto. Pride was suspect, blurred with arrogance, strength, egotism, one of the seven deadly sins; not something you wanted to instill in a child.
Luckily, as the found pictures confirm, about the time I graduated from high school, my life took a turn. I got myself into therapy, separated myself from a belief system that was negative and simplistic, and worked at building a life. It was in the work and in the accomplishment that pride started to evolve. I did things that I was proud of. I was able to root myself in the world and surround myself with people who reflected who I was and who I wanted to be.
For me pride is a two edged sword. We need it and our children need it to grow up healthy and strong; but too often it is empty pride. The Proud Boys? Really? They show pride? Too often what passes for pride and what people are proud of is just as empty and alienating as life without it. Race, nationality, sexuality, and gender shouldn’t be things that make us suffer, but I’m not sure they should be what provides us with the most pride in our lives either. Providing help, doing good, making others feel seen, heard, and appreciated builds pride in the giver and receiver. Pride is more than a banner or a flag.
It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t come that easily. But flags, banners, and parades still do today what they did fifty years ago. They force people to see the unseen and provide some sad, lonely kid the realization that they aren’t alone and life does get better.