I grew up in an honor and shame household. My parents immigrated from Cairo, Egypt, but they brought some of that Egyptian sensibility with them. I am so grateful for having learned healthy ways to feel shame and healthy ways to feel honor. Though shame has been used against me in harmful ways, I believe it plays an important part in our lives. That doesn’t change the fact that I feel shame more than any other negative feeling; more than sadness, more than anger, more than fear. Shame is the main way I express my negative feelings.
There are things we ought to be ashamed of. We should be ashamed when we yell at children. We should be ashamed when we harm one another. We should be ashamed when we are racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic. We should be ashamed when we take more than our fair share. We should be ashamed when we won’t pass gun control legislation, despite a massive gun violence problem.
Americans have a hard time with shame because they don’t have the crucial counterpart to shame in their culture: honor. So instead of learning to express honor, we strive for shamelessness. Shameless leads to harm, however. It leads us to not hold ourselves accountable. It leads us to express the worst parts of ourselves.
So rather than demonstrate shamelessness, let us adopt honor as a virtue. Let us honor and dignify one another in our fullest expression of ourselves. Let us allow one another to live fully as who we are. To me, that is precisely the spirit that Pride month occurs. As a bisexual and demisexual man, I am learning this for the first time. I am so deeply ashamed about my sexuality thanks to my upbringing, thanks to my Evangelical background, and thanks to even the church I pastor. I have stylized myself as straight as I can, acted as straight as I can, and even assimilated to heteropatriarchy in order to do that. I repressed myself and also oppressed myself. Coming out was like learning I had a new body part and upon discovering it was completely torn apart. Coming out was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and it has come with major consequences. Nothing has as quickly demonstrated who my loved ones are and who they aren’t.
So now when I see queer folks proud of who they are, I understand that they are seeking honor, equality, and dignity. They are courageous for declaring who they are when so many people hate them or even want to kill them. What a wonderful thing it is to be proud of ourselves. I celebrate my queer friends because I know the power it takes to do what they are doing. I am well-acquainted with it because I am afraid to do it myself. I honor their pride because it convicts me to move through my shame and do my best. One day I’ll be able to march too. For now, I marvel instead.
There is no middle ground between giving LGBTQIA people their full rights, dignity, and liberation and not doing so. When you look at the oppression, the suicide rate, and the complete devastation some of us feel, please do your part in uplifting us as high as you can. We need the honor to overcome the shame. We need to hope to overcome the despair.
I feel so much self-loathing and hatred within myself, but I am inspired by those around me that have overcome it. Please understand that our bodies are not theological abstractions or subjects for discussion. Our bodies are precious. We need to love them and care for them. Affirmation of LBGTQIA people is about giving them honor. When we don’t, we can shame them to the darkest places.
As Christians, we know that we will be judged by our fruit. And if your fruit bears crippling shame for queers folks, it is you who should feel ashamed. But if brings love and dignity to them, then you should be honored.