Dust Bunnies in your Closet

Recently a high school in Troy Michigan received media attention for displaying a poster created by the Detroit area Lesbian and Gay Community Center depicting people from all walks of life, with the heading, “Gays and Lesbians are Everyday People.” Some parents demanded that it be removed because it “promotes homosexuality.” Thankfully, the Troy school board is allowing it to stay in place in the high school.

These parents are sending the message that there’s something wrong with showing gays and lesbians as everyday people. Even if it were “promoting homosexuality” (which it’s not), what’s wrong with that? And how do gay children and teenagers feel knowing that some people want it—and by extension, them—removed? This only encourages gay teenagers to stay in the closet, hiding not just their sexual and romantic orientation. There is much more at risk.

As Gay Pride Month approaches with festivals, parades, dances, bar and movie nights, dust bunnies lingering in our closets cause some sneezing. Most gays and lesbians don’t realize that just because you come out with your sexual and romantic orientation doesn’t mean you are finished coming out. Also locked away in your closet is internalized homophobia, which takes many forms—and Gay Pride celebrations can bring them to the forefront quickly.

Clients tell me they’re depressed and unhappy that coming out hasn’t been as liberating?) as promised by pridefests and National Coming Out Day. They attend Gay Pride events, but don’t enjoy them. They wrongly assume it’s because they have come out, which is not the case. In reality, the things locked away in their closets before they came out are causing the problems. Gay pride can be bittersweet: It can feel good and celebratory, but can also be troubling and bring up unresolved feelings about being gay.

When gay males see other shirtless males proudly exhibiting their torsos, the dust bunnies start to fly. Many of my gay clients feel inferior about how their bodies look, and seeing so many hot guys triggers their low self-esteem. Other gays and lesbians complain about “stereotypical” behavior such as men cruising one another, some dressed as drag queens or kings, dykes on bikes, leather daddies, effeminate gay men and masculine lesbian, and say folks at these events are “giving gays a bad name.” These internalized homophobic dust bunnies need a good vacuuming.

Others see lesbian and gay youth at the pride celebrations and experience regret for not having come out sooner. It’s normal to regret how long it took and therefore experience your normative grief, but to beat yourself up over it is more about your unresolved dust bunnies.

Some couples go to these events and feel tempted to cheat or flirt excessively, causing problems in their relationships. Concern about one’s partner’s eyes wandering too much can cause tension and awkward feelings. After attending a pride event, many think about breaking up with their partners, believing that based on what they saw at the festivities, there are better choices out there.

And finally, if you are a single gay or lesbian and haven’tmet someone after all of the celebration, you may think there’s no one out there right for you, and that you’re destined to be single forever.

These illusions arise from celebrations that try to unpack a lifetime of repression in a day, a weekend or even one month! Here are some ways to care of yourself during gay pride events:

1. If you persist in feeling badly about yourself, leave the festivities for a while—or for good.. Comparing your insides with someone else’s outsides can never benefit your self-esteem.

2. If your partner’s roaming eye bothers you, tell him or her. If the conflict persists, take a “time out” to talk about it and decide—together!--if you should both stay or leave.

3. Keep your drinking to a minimum. When alcohol is involved, people do and say things they’d never dream of ordinarily. Pace yourself and use alcohol to enhance the celebration, not become it.

4. If you have a strong reaction—either positive or negative— to others at the celebrations, remember that it’s most likely about you. Strong reactive judgments are usually 90% about you and 10% about whomever you‘re judging. Explore what this reaction says about you.

5. Volunteer for one of the gay organizations’ booths and keep focused on how Gay Pride is about moving forward to keep gay spirit positive.

6. Go with friends. If your feelings become difficult to manage, even overwhelming, you’ll have someone to talk to.

©2008 Joe Kort

Related: Issues, Books

Psychotherapist Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills. He also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and columns have appeared in The Detroit Free Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and other publications. Besides providing therapy for individuals and couples, he conducts a number of groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their Lives. or

* Gaydar (gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular feature where gay readers can discover the many questions and hassles their straight counterparts--and themselves--must face!

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