(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
Please click here to listen to the message (beginning portion not included). See below to read the entire message text.
Who are you? In the deep, dark night when you lie awake while all the world sleeps, what truths about yourself do you sometimes ponder? What innermost thoughts, dreams, loves, fears, hatreds and inspirations define the essential ‘you’? And when the light of day arrives, and you move out into a world of relationships and human interaction, are you the same person who you pondered in the darkness? Are your actions and your speech consistent with who you are and who you were made to be?
During this June Pride month, I hope all of us might celebrate its core meaning – one of acceptance, and also joy for being authentic. Pride month is celebrated around the world as a way to proclaim that no longer should ANY person, gay or straight, need to feel the stigma for simply living true to themselves. Indeed, the message I hear from Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” is one for everybody. To the gay guy or girl afraid that friends or family will learn their truth, to the confused soul who struggles to make sense of life, to the one despairing of pain, depression or loneliness who puts on a brave face to the outside world, to the one who hates life and soothes it with drugs or alcohol, this June month of Pride speaks of a need for authenticity. And freedom. Pride tells us we should all stand in the light of day and joyfully be who we authentically are – wounded, straight, joyful, young, lusty, black, depressed, atheist, gay, old, white, fearful….whatever.
If we follow the one basic rule of life – to regularly practice the Golden Rule to love others as much as we love ourselves – then there is nothing under the sun about ourselves for which we should be ashamed. As long as we do no harm to others – we are good, cherished and beautiful. In each of our distinct individuality lies sparkling beauty – that must not be hidden. Baby, you were born this way…
Theodore Geisel – or Dr. Seuss to most people – once said, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Added to that wisdom is William Shakespeare’s admonition in his play “Hamlet”, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
What both these quotes tell us is that to find genuine happiness, we must proudly live our truth to ourselves and to others. In doing so, we will be liberated from prisons of shame, fear or guilt. No longer will the opinions of others matter precisely because we have pride in who we are – and those that love us share that pride.
Authenticity means that we outwardly live according to our inner truth. It involves refusing to conform to cultural, familial, or religious standards that seek to define us and lock us into a prison of lies. To live any way other than who we really are creates dissonance and confusion in our minds and in our relationships. Race relations in our nation have long been inauthentic precisely because persons are judged by outward appearance. Sexism, religious intolerance, and classism all take the same approach. Judgmental people try to define others a cording to outward appearances and actions that don’t come close to understanding the real truth. Instead of reaching for the spiritual ideal of the Golden Rule, hateful people marginalize and demean others with their stereotypical judgements – all in order to elevate themselves.
Black pride, feminism, and gay pride are thus manifestations of a desire to be authentic and stand against prejudices. Henry David Thoreau remarked long ago that we are all constantly invited to be who we are. Sadly, Thoreau was right only for a few people – mostly white, straight men. Many other people – and I was once one of them – are not invited to be who they are. They’re instead told to be who they are not – in my case to act straight. For women and people of color, they’ve been told to be less than their ability and character. In that regard, this month of June Pride is a way to shout an emphatic “NO!” to the haters. Pride month tells us it’s ok to be different and, indeed, it celebrates our rainbow differences. No prejudice. No intolerance. No judging. Just love, acceptance, and joyful celebration of me as gay, you as female, he as black, them as other abled. Pride says it is the content of our character, and not the color of our skin, our gender, or whom we love that determines the measure of of a person. Who we are at the core of our souls is all that we truly possess in life and all that will ultimately define us far into eternity. Do you walk humbly with love and compassion in your heart for all others – or does life revolve only around you such that anger, vindictiveness and deceit define you?
As I have described here on several occasions, I led a life for far too long that masked my true self as a gay man. During those years I hurt others as much as I hurt myself. In my fears, my self-hatred, my inner denials, and my acceptance of what religion and society told me I should be, I was alienated from reality. I was alienated from me.
And when I finally chose to be authentic, to live in accord not with what the outside world told me I should be, but with who I was born to be, I embarked on a journey of peace and, yes, real joy. I recall my shaking fear when I came out to my fifteen year old daughter Amy. In one fell swoop, I knew the constructs of her life and our relationship might be broken. And yet, as one who I love so very much and for whom I would willingly give my life, I knew I finally had to be honest. And in that moment when I first told her I’m gay, Dr. Seuss’ quote became very real. Someone who matters most in my life did not mind my truth. As I sat facing her, unsure of her reaction to my words, she simply put her arms around me and so full of youthful grace, said to me, “Daddy. It’s OK. I love you no matter what.” In that moment, I was loved unconditionally – something we all deserve. My decision to finally be proud of who I really am was ultimately all about love for myself and love for people who matter most to me. And the beautiful thing was – those people in turn showed their love for me.
In the moments of authenticity with my daughter and many others, I found the freedom everybody seeks. I was suddenly free to be me. I was free from fearing judgment. I was free from depression and anger. I was free from shame.
To be human and normal is to be unique and different from anyone else. Indeed, great beauty lies is the the gay teen who courageously comes out. It’s in the alcoholic who confesses and seeks help. It’s in the transgendered who finally decide to be the gender they deeply know they are. Beauty is in the other abled one who defiantly asks to be treated as any other person. Each one of us is a work of art and a person to behold and cherish. Baby you were born this way…
Most psychiatrists, including those of the American Psychiatric Association, believe that one’s sexual identity is fixed and not subject to change. There have been many studies undertaken to determine the cause of human sexuality. Is it a trait with genetic origins, pre-natal causes, or the result of how we are raised? While no study is conclusive, research has shown higher numbers of gay men and women within extended families – pointing to a genetic influence. Research also shows a higher incidence of gay siblings and gay twins – also indicating genetic influence. Other research points to the influence of maternal hormones during pregnancy as possibly influencing the development of a person’s sexuality. While some psychologists point to environmental factors as influencing human sexuality – like how we are raised as children, the testimony of countless gay men and lesbian women indicates they have been so since their very earliest memories.
The weight of evidence from numerous studies, and from the mouths of LGBTQ people, therefore suggests that genes play an extremely important role in the development of human sexuality. We are who we are and sexuality is simply not a matter of choice any of us can make. Baby, you were born this way…
No matter the cause of who we are, ultimately June Pride is about celebrating authentic lives not just for the LGBTQ community, but for everyone – especially those who have been denied the right to live according to their inner truth.
And so we each must ponder the depths of our inner souls. We must be willing to admit our flaws as much as we celebrate our strengths. We must have confidence in who we know ourselves to be. We must embrace our differences no matter what culture, religion or prejudice tells us is supposedly normal. To any person who wears a mask hiding the shame they feel, to anyone afraid to reveal their innermost burdens, to those who doubt their beauty and goodness, the call is to celebrate who you are and then come out. In the dark hours alone at night, let us be real with ourselves. Coming out of our various closets – and we have all been in a closet of some type – is a courageous leap we must ALL take.
And if we are truly authentic people, we will then have a love, care and concern for all of creation’s children. We will have pride in the wholeness of humanity and its wide and beautiful diversity.
To our own selves be true – because, baby, we are not a mistake. We were born this way…
I wish you each much peace and joy.