Every once in a while I have people ask me what my multicolored (rainbow) wristband means. My usual response is: it means that one is either gay, or gay friendly. I don't usually tell them that "it's a pride thing," although it would be an accurate statement. My typical response is usually enough information for them, and then they move on.
If I thought these persons were really interested in hearing more, I might tell them that for most gay people the wristbands, or rings, or bumper stickers mean a couple of things. First, they are a way to inoffensively self-identify. Secondly, they are a way to show a rather small amount of pride in who we are as individuals, as a constituency, and as a part of a greater community.
But I recall an occasion once in which the inquisitor asked and was truly looking for an answer to something that puzzled her. I think she was genuinely trying to understand. I remember this event vividly because the question came from a close relative (my mom, to be precise) who knew what my bracelet represented.
Although at the time I did not have a response that I thought was worthy of the very good question, I have since had much time to mull things over. Below is my answer to that question, as well as some general thoughts on Gay Pride.
Why do gay people feel the need to wear things like that? Straight people don't.
The truth is, straight people do self-identify on a regular, daily basis; perhaps not with bracelets and the like (although it's not unheard of), but in many, if not all aspects of life.
Consider this: when a straight couple walks down the street holding hands, they are self-identifying. When a couple gives a peck on the cheek or lips in a public place, they are self-identifying. When a young straight boy or girl talks to school-friends about a crush or passes a love note, they are self-identifying. When a construction worker whistles at a pretty woman walking down the street, he is self-identifying. When love songs are heard on the radio, they are always of straight identity. When a car races down the street displaying a cute little white bunny with bow-tie, there is no question as to the sexual identity. The list could go on and on and on.
If I were speaking to my mom now, I could say to her: Mom, look down at your left hand. What you see there (her wedding ring, or course) is almost exclusively a heterosexual self-identity symbol (in the US anyway, with the exception of the state of Massachusetts). Do you wear it with pride?
Here's my point. Heterosexual self-identity is so much a part of normal life for the straight person - operating at both the subconscious and conscious levels - that for the most part it goes undetected, unnoticed, and people are mostly unaware. Why would straight people need a bracelet? They can self-identify in almost everything they say and do right out in front of God and everybody, and most of the time it's applauded and even encouraged.
By contrast, when gay people walk down the street holding hands, the sight of it is often met with angry thoughts or even agitated vocal statements like, "Why do they have to flaunt it?" And yet, straight people have no qualms with "flaunting" it on any given day, in any given situation or place.
Recently I visited my ex-wife and my daughter in Louisiana. As the wounds of our breakup are still very fresh for Renee, I tend to take my wristband off so that it will not upset her or be a source of contention for the family. I knew that upon seeing my bracelet she would not understand. Much to my regret, I forgot. Renee saw it as we were talking alone outside the house. Immediately the countenance on her face changed. I noticed the drastic difference in demeanor before I noticed what she was staring at. Angrily, she protested, "So, now you're getting into the whole gay-pride thing!?" I tried to apologize for my insensitivity, but it was too late. When she started to walk away in a huff, in a tone barely audible I said to her, "Do you know why I wear it?" She stopped. Waiting for my answer, but not sure if she wanted to hear it, she asked "why?" (long pause) "It's because I don't hate myself anymore."
You see, when many gay Christians are growing up, we hear about the evils of homosexuality from every side. With our young minds we trust that information. It is being spoken by people we love, respect and admire. Then when puberty hits we begin to realize with horror (and with no choosing of our own) that we ARE what everybody hates so much. We then take that external hatred and internalize it so that it becomes self-hatred. Out of that hatred (external and internal), and fear, we isolate ourselves...closing and locking ourselves in a place where God never intended for any of His children to be; a dark, despicable closet of shame and despair.
When we finally (some of us) come to the realization that we are not abominations in God's sight, I think a little healthy self-pride is in order. In fact, I think it's necessary to counteract what we've felt about ourselves from a very early age. I'm not talking about the pride that is "haughty" or sees oneself as "better-than." I'm talking about a self-worth that is intrinsic to a "created-in-His-image" way of thinking about oneself. I'm talking about the same pride with which straight people, including my mom, wear their wedding rings.
A few days ago I had a unique experience. What one might consider to be a normal, everyday occurrence for most people, for me turned out to be extraordinary. I simply said "good morning" to a lady that was passing by. On that good morning something happened that happens often now. As I spoke those words I realized that they were not merely spoken out of a courtesy or out of some polite duty... they were spoken from my heart and were directed towards hers. They were spoken from an inner peace and a joy that I never in my life have experienced until now. I realized that morning they were spoken from a person that no longer hates himself, but from one that loves himself wholly, not in spite of, but because of who he is - every part of himself - even his sexual identity.
In saying "good morning" to her, I was actually wishing her the peace and joy I was feeling at that very moment. I don't believe for one moment that Satan can dupe someone into feeling that much love, peace and joy for any reason at all. Those are things that can only come from God.
Once I had passed her and was on my merry way, I noticed my pride bracelet. I then started thinking about and pondering what had just taken place. I began to wonder if that lady feels, or has ever felt, marginalized. My gut-level feeling is that she probably has. She was black. I wonder if she has ever wanted to be somebody else. For almost 40 long years I did. In fact, until the time of my own outing, I would lay awake at night dreaming about living someone else's life before I finally closed my eyes, only to wake up the next morning the same person whose head had hit the pillow the night before.
I don't know precisely why other gay people wear pride bracelets (among other things). I can't really speak for them, but I suspect that their reasons are much like my own. In my opinion it is an expression of a healthy self-love. These wristbands, rings, anklets (or a thousand other things) are, perhaps, symbols created for the sole purpose of reminding ourselves of our own self-worth. From our non accepting families, to our homophobic society; from our condemning Church, to our uncaring and unyielding politicians, there are very few places we get that message.
Friends, the only reason that gay-pride exists is for the sake of counterbalance. It is a must if we are to survive in a society that hates us, will not grant us civil rights, calls us by our worst traits, makes up lies about us to scare people into giving money to subjugate us, sets our families against us by telling them not to accept us, gives our closeted, self-loathing and weak, gay Christian brothers and sisters false hope that they can change their orientation, only to find out years later and thousands of dollars shorter that it has not budged one iota.
What was it in our history that gave rise to Feminism? The discrimination of women. If one wants to get rid of Feminism, one needs to stop discriminating against women. What was it that gave rise to Black pride and Black history, Ebonics, etc.? Racism against our African-American US citizens. No wonder Barack Obama as President is such a triumph to all those who have been at some point marginalized! Gay-pride is no different. If one wants that to end, then society needs to rid itself of homophobia. If we were all to accept one another for who we are, there would be no perceived need to major on the differences.
Is the picture becoming any clearer? Can one not see that in a very real sense our homophobic Church and society are responsible for the creation of gay-pride? If there is no oppression, there is no need for revolt. But when there is oppression, sooner or later people will rise up to counter it. When the scales are tipped, counterbalance is a natural response. Take the weights off both sides of the scales and balance is the natural and inevitable result.
Imagine with me for a moment that our society was not homophobic, but affirming of all orientations. Imagine that a young gay man is just as free to bring home, to meet mom and dad, a boy that he fancies as his straight brother is a girl that has his full attention. Do you think in that society gay-pride bracelets would exist? If being gay were perceived to be just as normal and acceptable as being straight, would there be any reason at all to highlight differences? The answer is a resounding NO! What for? We are loved and accepted just as we are?
I believe that that day is coming. I believe gay people will be much more welcomed, accepted, and even valued for who we are and what we contribute to the greater human community. It may be a long way off. It may be just around the corner. I would not dare to predict its timing. It will come when it will come. But until we reach that special moment in our society's growth and maturity, you will see me and many others wearing our wristbands with a little bit of pride.
by Rick James
Dec 16, 2008