In most major cities across the country, the floats have been dismantled. The rainbow beads put away. And the hangovers finally subsided.
While a few cities (like some here in Texas) have yet to kick off their events, for the most part, Gay Pride 2012 is over. Each year as these events commence, I cannot help but think of the story of my friend Lisa, who I met as a college student in 1995.
On typical evenings Lisa and I would sit around my single-wide trailer house (or the “T-House” as we called it—complete with orange shag carpet and avocado-colored appliances) and drink tall boys of beer, while conversing about how our parents were taking the news of our coming out.
One evening, Lisa recounted the story of (again) telling her mother she’s gay and now dating someone. In all seriousness, Lisa’s mother responded by asking her: “So Lisa, does this mean you have The Pride?”
“The…what?” Lisa asked her mother.
“You know, the gay pride…rainbow pride.” Her mother replied.
Lisa and I fell into a fit of laughter before I could finally reply to Lisa’s story, “The Pride…Lisa, that sounds like a disease.”
Certainly, society has changed by leaps and bounds since those days of sitting around my T-House wondering how life would be after leaving the safe cocoon of college. Now, conversations of corporate policies, federal and state laws, and gay marriage sit atop agendas and headline the evening news.
But as I walked around the gay pride festival in Houston a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’ve really evolved? Don’t get me wrong, having The Pride is fun. It’s a time of celebration and remembrance, a time of donning the rainbow beads, and a time of waving your freak flag.
But in our day-to-day lives, do we have The Pride in who we are? And better yet, as a community are we really ready to graduate to the next level beyond The Pride?
Integration: The Next Step
Years ago when I was the training coordinator for Texas A&M University’s Aggie ALLIES gay/straight alliance, we talked a lot about the stages of coming out. More specifically, our curriculum referenced the Cass Identity Model, created by psychologist Vivienne Cass in 1979 to illustrate the stages of LGBT development.
Certainly, The Pride is one of the stages (the fifth to be exact) in Cass’ model. But there’s an essential—and often overlooked—next step in this coming out model. And it’s the next step many of us in the LGBT community and our allies are demanding others give us: Integration.
Or as Cass calls it, “Identity Synthesis,” in which you fully integrate your sexuality to create a healthy and holistic sense of self.
Yet, over the past nearly twenty years of being out and over the past year in researching and forming this company—what’s clear to me is that there’s a key component many of us are missing when it comes to LGBT issues, whether at work or in our larger lives.
To fully be integrated into society, you must first be fully integrated into yourself.
In other words, the policies and laws are essential. For these policies, protocols, and laws provide a fundamental structure we need to ensure our safety and well-being. And all the work that went into paving the way for them is to be celebrated and commended.
But the larger question is, if we don’t first feel comfortable in our own skin, if we don’t first overcome our own homophobia, and if we don’t first accept who we are—then do the policies really matter?
Are policies alone enough to ensure we feel comfortable in who we are? Confident to be out at work and in life? Until we accept who we are and the unique talents and gifts we bring, how can we ever expect anyone else to accept us, either?
Beyond my own experience, I’ve had conversations with friends, former colleagues, and leaders of corporate employee resource groups. And a similar theme emerged in each: Feeling safe, confident, and comfortable in your own skin starts first within you.
Because once The Pride parades are over, we each have to return to work, return to life, and return to just being who we are.
The Path to Integration
After all the years I’ve spent teaching LGBT/Ally training and personal/spiritual development workshops, I felt sure I’d dealt with all my unresolved “stuff” about being lesbian by the time I sat down to start writing my forthcoming book, Closets Are for Shoes.
But the deeper I moved into the research, interviews, and stories, the more I realized I had unresolved pockets of deep fear, or internalized homophobia, around really being out, really being integrated.
Sure, I’d come out at work, parties, church, and in social circles. Yet never had I really come face to face with my own feelings of worth, confidence, and being loveable in just being me.
The path to true integration starts with really getting to know, honor, and love yourself. It starts with getting beyond all the labels, roles, and expectations of who you think you’re supposed to be in the eyes of anyone else. And it’s learning to source your life from within, not without.
It is from this space of understanding that you can truly show up to work and life feeling emPowered. Yet, I do realize it can be a dicey proposition to tread these waters of self-evaluation.
And after a recent conversation at a networking event, I realize some may never go there at all to become more fully integrated into themselves—or society. Some relish the fight and living on the fringe.
A woman named Brenda, who was about my age and part of the LGBT community, explained that she would be sad to see the day marriage equality happened. Though she said she knew it would happen in her lifetime.
“Why would it make you sad?” I asked her completely baffled, thinking isn’t that what we all want…equality?
“Because then the LGBT community will be just like everyone else,” Brenda explained. “We won’t have anything to fight for or any way to stand out and be different from mainstream society.”
This conversation tumbled around in my head for a day or so afterward. Partly because I admired her honesty. Partly because I realized that for some having The Pride on a hot Saturday in June and fighting the good fight is enough. It’s what gives some in our community the sense of fire in their bellies and sense of belonging and connection they desire. And that’s enough.
But for some of us, having The Pride on the surface but still feeling uncomfortable, afraid, or alone at the end of the day isn’t enough anymore. Some of us are ready to have The Pride not because we’re wearing rainbow beads—but because we look in the mirror every morning and feel completely integrated in who we are.
That’s why on Thursday, Oct. 11, we’re inviting the LGBT community and our allies and friends to emPower You Dallas. At this daylong event, we’re coming together to explore what it means for each of us to be integrated and bring our whole selves to life.
So what do you think? What does it mean for you to be integrated into your life? And do you think the LGBT community is really ready for this level of integration? I look forward to reading your comments below.