Pride and Shame

  • Monday 6th June 2022

Pride and shame 

“I don’t get Pride,” a gay client once told me years ago, “what’s the point of parading yourself in public, just to show the world that you are gay?” Possibly a fair question and challenge.  And as we approach the yearly Pride month in June, I wonder if it is still as important as ever, to reflect on what Pride really is about, and why we in the LGBTQ+ community celebrate it. 

As a therapist, I have worked with many gay people over the years, both on an individual basis, and in group settings.  I have also focused my doctoral research on exploring gay men’s sexualities in light of the anti-HIV prophylactic, PrEP.  The one theme and struggle that has consistently arisen for this group, is that of shame.   

For a lot of gay people living in a large city, such as London, perhaps it is easy to disregard the notion of shame, because being openly gay is no longer as controversial as it once was.  And yet, shame seems to linger in more obscure and abstract aspects of many gay people’s lives.  For example, shame around one’s identity in terms of how masculine/feminine one presents; shame around one’s body or sexual performance; and shame around what, how and how much one desires sexually. 

We often cope with shame by hiding what we are ashamed of from others.  But hiding is not so straightforward: some hide their shame by being shameless, others hide by showing or displaying a different aspect of themselves so it can act as a smokescreen. And yet others hide their shame most effectively, by hiding it from themselves.   

Maybe shame is an intrinsic part of being sexual (and being human), and the question isn’t so much about how to get rid of it, but how to relate to it in a way that doesn’t completely limit our enjoyment; for some, the right amount of shame is the perfect aphrodisiac. 

Shame brings us to the heart of Pride. 

In 2022, in addition to the parades, Pride is about educating and raising awareness of issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.  Given the long history of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and the growing number of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes in the UK today, Pride conveys the message that LGBTQ+ people exist, and it is ok to exist as we are, and it is something worthy of celebration. 

So as we are about to celebrate another Pride month this year, I wonder if it is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the aspects of ourselves that we hide and those that we display.  It is an opportunity to reflect on how we show up in the world, to ourselves and to others, and how we celebrate and include difference in our communities. 

Dr Phoebus Ebbini, DProf, is a psychotherapist in private practice and a tutor at the Existential Academy.