In 1996, I saw RENT with my best friend in the derelict Broadway Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street. The long-in-the-tooth theater was transformed into a front to back of house Alphabet City setting depicting the East Village. The show changed my life, with its plot being directly lifted from Puccini’s La Boheme, also an opera favorite. Both RENT and Boheme were trendsetters, and became bellwethers of their particular genres and eras for decades to follow. From the abundance of haunting lyrics, one particular set grabbed my soul from that night to this very day.
Or Life Is Yours To Miss
No Other Road
No Other Way
No Day But Today
There’s Only Now
There’s Only Here
Give In To Love
Or Live In Fear
No Other Path
No Other Way
No Day But Today
Maybe the reason those words powerfully grabbed me was because they were being sung with heart, soul and spirit by an S&M dancer with HIV; a songwriter/musician who is also HIV positive; an independent Jewish filmmaker; a trashy lesbian performance artist; a gay drag queen percussionist with AIDS; a gay professor/anarchist at New York University with AIDS; an aggressive lesbian lawyer; and a yuppie scum Generation X landlord — but seize me they did. The show deals with anger, stigma, fear of a virus-plague, drug addiction, community, chosen family, authenticity, activism, change, truth, love and releasing shame. In hindsight, it hit me so dramatically because I, too, had just lived through a shame-filled 1994. My own annus horribilis, a Latin phrase meaning “horrible year” having come out, leaving the education world for the corporate one, exiting Mormonism and being excommunicated, getting divorced after a 19-year marriage, moving out (four teens in tow), entering my first gay relationship, surviving an FBI investigated death threat and my mother dying. Oh yes, there’s something to be said about clumping your life drama together and fucking wading through the murk. Plus it can only get better — right? Fortunately embracing me, understanding my shame and loving myself has manifested many post 1994, annus mirabilis meaning years of wonders.
So, back to shame. Might I be so bold to declare that shame is at the epicenter of all human problems, especially queer limitations and the inability to shift and move on? Big ass idea, I know! I move through life at such a rapid pace most of the time that the universe has to bombard me to get my attention and become aware of issues and messages I need to stop and explore. It’s the law of allowance in action, and if you are patient and truly observe the world, it works every time. This opinion about shame is part of the bombardment of which I refer. I used to clump shame with fear, guilt, judgment and ignorance. However my big epiphany is that shame is the Mother Superior of them all. The rest are mere byproducts. Nothing increases true authenticity, self-awareness, the awakened soul, courage and creative thinking, better than releasing, relenting and rejecting shame.
Deeply internalized homophobia still exists in the hearts of many gay and lesbian folks, held there, subconsciously by shame. There’s still tremendous shame and stigma around HIV/AIDS, with many refusing to even date someone who is not sero-compatible or is sero-discordant, let alone enter a relationship with someone who is positive. Rejection from coming out is the biggest trigger for ashamed parents and the unfortunate transfer on to the queer child. Being afraid of job loss, promotion and opportunity ultimately is seated in shame. So many are still ashamed over masturbation, porn and thinking they are bad, uncontrolled sick people. My God, even certain kinds of sex are profoundly judged because of feelings of shame. Older queers often choose to re-closet, stating it’s for safety, when it throws them back into the realms of shame. There are shame senders and shame receivers, and they are among us, and very, very skilled.
All of us have to reject shame – internal, external – and call it out whenever we see it being used to manipulate, hurt or cause damage to ourselves and others. Two heroic shame fighters that I’ve admired are Byron Katie, and more recently, Brene Brown. I’ve attended Katie’s workshops and am planning to be with Brown in the near future. They get the whole shame thing in amazing and releasing ways. Katie’s first book Loving What Is — Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, is tremendously and simply powerful. I cannot recommend it enough and whenever I life coach, it’s the one book I have recommended more than any other. If you have time, patience and a desire to see her take a beautiful gay man through her process, please connect to this link: thework.com/watch-being_gay. Katie’s other offerings, which she calls ‘The Work’ can be found at thework.com. And Brene Brown, with her phenomenal book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and her gripping expose’ regarding shame, Daring Greatly, are at the forefront of this movement of shame rejection.
It’s true, we are all storytellers, creating our own story. Let’s strive to make our stories sans shame! To release shame from our queer lives we have to embrace positive thinking and psychology, and directly practice it every single day. That’s how big shame is, and positive psychology is a wonderful way to combat the monster and all those who use it to send shame our way. Here are a few tips; take one or more of them and let them be your weekly mantras. Write one of them down, make it your screen saver, your phone wallpaper, write it on the bathroom mirror, dangle it from your vehicle’s rear-view mirror, but keep and place it in front of your face to let it make a deep patterned canyon in your brain!
Refine and rewrite shame head-on
I have developed workable methods and tools that help me reject shame. I hear it. I get it.
I can help others see shame when it’s being used and turn negative into positive situations, often do so, or remove myself from the shame sender.
I can remain positive for a long time while others use shameful words, tactics and behaviors around or toward me.
I have others back who may not get this whole shame-based messaging, and can defend them and call the shame sender on their shit.
I have a sense of direction and purpose, who I am, what I stand for, what I know as my truth.
I feel like life has significance and meaning, that it is forward-moving in a positive way.
Pride is an easy feeling for me to have.
I am a confident and courageous person.
Lean into the discomfort of doing the work of understanding how you may be limited, walking wounded, even frozen because of shame in your past or present. Learn about how and when shame triggers you, your feelings, your responses and ultimately your success. When I talk to people, especially queer people about connection, a lot of the stories I hear are about disconnection, rejection, a lack of self-esteem and self-love. Shame is at the core. Fear of disconnection is huge and does not allow growth and shifting. At the center of the disconnection is the horrible thought, “I’m not good enough.” We as humans have a huge desire to neurobiologically be connected. It’s how we are wired. To get the healthy realization of that desire, we need to really understand our shame, and how it’s at the core of our deepest feelings and often times beliefs about who we are. Be vulnerable, excruciatingly vulnerable, and as Brown challenges all of us, embrace and dare greatly.
We’re all worthy, worthy by our own definition, on our own terms, and not some outside opinion or set of rules. We all deserve a strong sense of love and belonging. Like Jay Christianson says in his new YouTube video, “I’m through of all the shame and telling lies, I’m sick of all the fear I saw in their eyes. Now I’m just ready for love.”
Keep shifting. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No day but today!