Gay Men and Self-Esteem

For most of us, growing up gay in a homophobic culture presents major challenges to developing strong self-esteem. Along with whatever positive messages we received from significant others about our accomplishments, our abilities, and their love for us, we received many blatant or subtle negative messages about our sexuality and how well we did or did not conform to gender expectations. These messages may have come from those who otherwise loved and supported us, in addition to coming from popular culture, religious institutions, peers and educators. As adults, we must make an effort to rid ourselves of the vestiges of these negative messages and restore a sense of positive self-regard. Many of us are grappling with shame stemming from messages that we are sick, disgusting or sinful. It may be difficult for us to feel fully at ease with being open our sexuality or expressing same-sex affection, even in private.

Overcoming low self-esteem in psychotherapy is a complex process that starts with the exploration of early life experiences which have led to feelings of low self-worth, shame and self-blame. In therapy we examine how negative beliefs became embedded in your sense of self. By confronting these erroneous beliefs and paying attention to evidence of your strengths, abilities and accomplishments, you can begin to feel better about yourself. Bringing these new feelings to your interactions with others leads to experiences that build positive self-esteem. Contact me if you would like my help in overcoming low self-esteem.

Some of the negative feelings you are grappling with may be directly related to gay identity. One step you can take right now to address low self-esteem and shame about your sexuality is to seek out books and movies that present gay sexuality as a normal part of the spectrum of sexual self-expression. Authors I have enjoyed reading include: Christopher Bram, Mark Doty, David Feinberg, James Earl Hardy, William J. Mann, Stephen McCauley, Armistead Maupin and Paul Monette.

In recent years, many more books chronicling gay men's expreiences have been published. Mahu by Neil S. Plasky is the fictional coming out story of a closeted Hawaiian cop. In Full Circle, Michael Thomas Ford tells a story that takes you to many of the significant gay historical events and settings of the 1970s and 80s. Quarantine, by Rahul Mehta, is a charming collection of short stories that reflect on the experiences of Indian-American gay men. Nonfiction accounts include The Kid, Dan Savage's charming and funny memoir of a gay couple seeking to adopt a baby, and Joel Derfner's entertaining essays on finding out what it means to be gay in Swish.

Adolescent novels can also provide an emotional boost for gay adults. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez gives us an opportuntity to "relive" the gay adolescence we never had. For a funny take on the same theme, read The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson. It's a novel about a gay teen's struggles to be happy, written for adults. Similarly, viewing the videos in the It Gets Better video project (which was designed for teens) can be heartwarming for adults.

Some of the movies I have found most uplifting are Parting Glances, My Beautiful Launderette, Big Eden, and The Wedding Banquet. Both Camp and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert offer a boost for men who have been teased or taunted for their femininity. Torch Song Trilogy is a gay classic. Undertow (Contracorriente) is a beautiful Peruvian film examining the challenges of living authentically. Among the TV series available on DVD, both "Queer as Folk" and "Noah's Arc" present gay lives from an affirming viewpoint. "Coming Out" is a Canadian series available on Amazon Prime. (French with English subtitles) Check out the video clip of "Wanda Sykes on Gay Marriage" on YouTube, or see her DVD, Sick and Tired, for the full performance. Best Video in Hamden, Ct offers a large selection of gay-themed videos.

Here's a specific exercise for addressing low self-esteem: Divide a sheet of paper in half vertically. On the left-hand side, write a list of some of the negative things you believe about yourself. On the right-hand side write some positive responses about yourself to boost your confidence. These positive responses may be evidence that disputes the negative beliefs, or just positive attributes that outweigh your negatives. Add any other positives on the right-hand side. Use the items on the right as daily affirmations and/or as a response when you begin to think negatively about yourself. Also, take a good look at the list on the left to see if there are negative qualities that you can improve -- then make a plan for self-improvement and stick to it!