Gay Marriage Ruling: Maybe We Can All Breathe More Easily

Acceptance and inclusion makes us all feel better

Posted Jul 02, 2015

By David Braucher, L.C.S.W., Ph.D.

Thanks to the US Supreme Court, we will soon no longer have gay marriage. It will be – just marriage! If you have never been told that your love is an illness or wrong or perverted, you might not be able to understand what it feels like to be finally included with the rest of humanity, to be just like everybody else.

And yet, I think the ruling is not just for the LGBTQ community. The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage opens up possibilities for everyone. The inclusion of gay and lesbian couples into what is considered normal expands what is considered normal for all.

Micro-shames

Freud postulated that we are all bisexual at our core. Maybe there is something a “little gay” about all of us. Something about ourselves that we keep out of awareness to avoid micro-shames, fleeting moments of shame that don't necessarily register consciously.  Maybe as a guy, we see a good-looking man and feel a twinge of attraction or perhaps envy. Or as a gal, we see a beautiful woman and we want her to like us as much as we want to be her. These feelings might make us uncomfortable if we focussed on them.

Growing up in the 70s, I knew I didn’t want to be “gay” or a “faggot” long before I knew what homosexuality was. Saying, “I’m rubber and you are glue, what you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” I learned that the guys who called me those names were just as afraid of being labeled with those names as I was. Gay and straight kids alike live with the fear and shame of being found out to be less than “normal.” We all grow up with worries about not being quite the boys or girls our parents and society want us to be.

Bigotry: a defense against shame

Now that it is the law of the land, opponents of gay marriage are afraid that they will be branded bigots. The truth is that they were engaging in bigotry all along. And if a law makes them have to question their bigotry, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

Bigotry is a defense mechanism that protects us from feeling shame. Bigotry allows us to identify (supposedly) shameful human characteristics as belonging to someone else. We label the other with aspects of ourselves that we want to disown.  But these aspects are just part of being human and potentially found within us all.

Self-recrimination – our secret shame

As we grow up, our parents’ and society’s ideas of who we are “supposed to be” can turn into self-recrimination. In my professional experience, the feeling that we are not who we are “supposed to be” is the most consistently destructive force in the human psyche. The shame of not being quite who our parents and society want us to be often forces us to hide parts of ourselves, leaving us feeling unlovable and unwanted.

If we wear our differences on the outside, we experience this pain overtly in our conflicts with our families and risk being marginalized by society at large. But if we hide, we exist as a shadow of who we really are. We sacrifice our individuality, fearing others will see in us what they abhor. This country’s statistics on teen suicide is a testament to just how toxic a force this can be.

More Simply Human

In his eulogy in South Carolina, Obama paraphrased Rev. Pinckney, as having understood that “justice grows out of recognition.” As we recognize people who are different as just as human as us, we include them in the family of humanity. In doing so, we expand the concept of humanity for ourselves. As we embrace our fellow man, we free ourselves from the shackles of micro-shame and are able to embrace ourselves as more simply human.

David Braucher, L.C.S.W., Ph.D., is a graduate of The William Alanson White Institute and an Associate Editor for Contemporary Psychoanalysis. He has lectured at the NYU School of Social Work and written on relationships. He is in private practice in The West Village/Chelsea in Manhattan.