Last Thursday, on my way to Rainbow Toastmasters I crossed paths with a homeless man. He was wearing a long flowing skirt, and had hair and a beard to match. He looked like a modern day Jesus – or my hippy father walking the streets of San Francisco 50 years ago.
He gave me a genuine heart-felt smile as our paths crossed. I smiled back and felt my heart open to him and the beauty of that moment. He didn’t ask me for anything, just smiled and kept walking. As I crossed Market street I became acutely aware of the pure joy I was experiencing.
After I had crossed the street, I turned around to face the opposite side of the road and the afternoon sun. As noisy rush hour traffic swarmed the intersection, I closed my eyes to the sun, felt the ocean breeze blowing across my face, and reveled in a few moments of doing absolutely nothing.
I’m so grateful to the nameless man who gave me a reason to pause and enjoy a few glorious moments of my life.
In the wake of yesterday’s news, I’m beginning to acknowledge the tremendous power of public opinion and legal structures in my life. As someone who has always wanted to fit in and be accepted, I have always tried to do what’s right, be honest, and follow the rules.
Although my family and close friends accepted the fact that I chose to love a woman and commit my life to building a loving relationship with her, this lifestyle went against the mainstream rules and legal structures of my State and Country. For this reason legal professionals encouraged us to create legal safeguards above and beyond becoming domestic partners to protect our relationship and family – which we did. Having to put legal safeguards in place so that we could visit one another in the hospital and inherit the other’s estate (should one of us pass before the other) was a reminder that the US government didn’t recognize our relationship.
After living together in a committed relationship for 7 years, my partner and I decided to get married in Canada last year. Upon our return to the US, the US government continued to ignore our international marriage and status as a family. We were forced into separate immigration lines at the airport, instructed to file separate tax returns, penalized for family health insurance and repeatedly disrespected by public and private institutions as well as the mainstream media.
The fact that my love for a woman essentially forfeited my equal rights as an American citizen caused me unspeakable shame. I have rarely spoken of this – choosing instead to bolster my heart by defining myself through my career and personal accomplishments. My inhibitions about sharing my authentic self have been fueled by undercurrents of bigotry and homophobia that have plagued this nation.
Until now, our annual PRIDE festivities have felt more like risk, rebellion, and a time to get intoxicated (enough to freely express our true feelings), rather than a time to truly celebrate our love.
Today I am making room for tears of joy and real self-love as I start to dismantle the armor that has protected my heart and my pride for the last 15 years.
I hope that each one of my gay brothers and sisters finds a renewed sense of pride this year as we collectively take to the streets to celebrate our loving relationships.
Berné Brown, spent years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.
She shares her research and insights in this amazing Ted Talk where she discusses how we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness.