How Self-Compassion Transforms Queer Shame into Pride
We can turn shame into pride, but we cannot do so once and for all:
shame lives on in pride, and pride can easily turn back into shame.
– Heather Love
We queer folks are supposed to feel proud of who we are at the annual PRIDE events that traditionally kick off in North America in the month of June. And proud we feel as the world begins to look at us, see us, celebrate with us, and let us be who we are. We dance unashamedly and fervently at open air events, march at PRIDE parades, attend Drag brunches, and publicly and physically show our affection with newly found loves.
Yet, how long does this feeling of pride last? What do we feel once the festivities have ended? Is the lonely walk home from these events one of shame? Are we celebrating something ephemeral that fails to have a more lasting imprint? Does shame win?
My exploration of self-compassion as a person who identifies as gay and who has taught mindfulness and self-compassion to the LGBTQ+ community for many years has shown me that it’s not a game of win/lose between shame and pride—it’s a “both/and” process of self-transformation that self-compassion illuminates and supports.
I wish to claim that we need self-compassion to help us arrive at a genuine feeling of pride for who we are and a steady sense of self-worth and self-celebration. Self-compassion allows us to cultivate a place of strength and stability within ourselves where pride’s collapse into shame is not feared but held with love that we give to ourselves.
From an early age, queer children are made to feel like misfits with no place to be or grow, as they are shamed into nonbelonging. Traditional parenting styles alongside socio-cultural and regional messages of queer hostility have made shame an intimate companion to queer children that follows them into adulthood. Shame often becomes too painful for many queer folks to feel so they numb the feeling through excessive alcohol, partying, sex, and drugs, escaping from their physical body into their intellectual faculties, art, fashion, or anything that makes their lives beautiful when they are otherwise barely livable.
PRIDE season offers space, a sense of belonging, a sense of presence, a sense of being seen, a sense of pride as we engage in PRIDE activities and bust out our moves on the dance floor … before pride collapses back into shame in private moments.
It is these moments of collapse when self-compassion has our back. Self-compassion invites us to acknowledge and validate that this collapse of pride with emerging shame is hard for us (the mindfulness component of self-compassion). We are invited to offer ourselves kindness, friendliness, warmth because we feel shame, because it’s here (the self-kindness component of self-compassion). We are invited to remind ourselves that there is at least one other being out there, another “misfit” in our community, who must feel the same as we do (the common humanity component of self-compassion). We are able to meet ourselves with self-compassion when we are just not able to participate in PRIDE events because we feel too shy, too ashamed of who we are – when we feel too insecure to physically express our feelings with another person even though our body and heart long for this connection, when we feel ashamed of our bodies, our age, our ways of loving and our loves – when we we simply want to disappear and vanish into the earth.
Self-compassion is a practical tool to be with shame, with feeling inadequate, deficient, unworthy, not enough. And it is in being excessively kind and gentle with ourselves in those difficult moments that love begins to show up for us like a balm – soft and sweet – when our tenderness in being with shame kisses an emerging feeling of worthiness and appreciation for who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming. It’s in those tender and vulnerable moments when fierce self-compassion arises, makes itself known alongside tenderness, and we begin to feel proud, genuinely proud, of who we are and how we live in the world. Our capacity to be with shame expands and no longer defines who we are.
I, for one, have discovered a sense of pride through my personal practice of MSC. My experience of being an MSC student and subsequently becoming a certified MSC teacher and teaching LOMSC courses has given me opportunities to be with shame and turn towards childhood wounds to discover a strength within myself that I didn’t know existed.
I can now be found dancing at PRIDE events and beyond, carrying the momentum of PRIDE celebrations into my everyday life and teaching. There has emerged within me a steady sense of self-worth independent of what others think or say or do. And I get to share my pride with a community of fellow MSC practitioners that reminds me that I am not alone in my moments of shame or in my moments of pride. They have my back, and I have theirs. There is a new sense of community that has emerged for me, a new feeling of being in community that is one of genuine belonging.
Wishing you all a “HAPPY PRIDE!”
To my fellow dancers, in particular Mary, Sydney and Mel, who have inspired this piece.
Markus Bohlmann (he|him) MA, MSc, PhD, is a certified MSC teacher, certified in MBCT, and a faculty member at the Center for Mindfulness Studies and Mindfulness Everyday in Toronto, Canada. He is the coordinator of CMSC’s worldwide translations of the MSC programs, member of CMSC’s DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) committee and team leader of CMSC’s Circles of Practice LGBTQIAP2S+ Affinity Group.
Learn more or register here for the LOMSC for LGBTQ+ course that Markus is co-teaching with Mel Wraight that begins October 13, 2022.
Bohlmann, Markus P.J., ed. Misfit Children: An Enquiry into Childhood Belonging. Lexington, 2017.
Germer, Christopher, and Kristin Neff. The Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide. CMSC, 2020.
Lassen, Christian. Camp Comforts: Reparative Gay Literature in Times of Aids. Transcript, 2011.
Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard UP, 2007.
Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.