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Friday, June 09, 2017

The Sequined Letter

Written by  Brian George Hose

Recently our little valley made international news. I know this because the story was emailed to me by a friend who recently relocated to New Zealand, a friend who was concerned about what this says about the place I call home. A local girl was not allowed to participate in her high school graduation ceremony because the administration had deemed her “immoral.” She had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, something expressly forbidden by the private Christian school’s code of conduct, and as punishment would not be allowed to participate in her graduation, despite being a good student and president of the student council.

When I read this I thought of shame, the kind of shame that some try to impose on others. It’s a modern-day version of The Scarlet Letter, a person condemned and shamed by the moral majority, only without the flashy accessory. It’s the kind of shame some try to impose on us, the LGBTQ community. Some political and religious leaders have called us names far worse than “immoral,” and our lives and issues are discussed in public forums, as though we can’t hear what’s being said. We’ve been blamed for natural disasters and the downfall of society. They think we should be ashamed of ourselves.

If you let it, this barage of shaming can make you feel, well, ashamed. And shame is the worst. When you’re ashamed of yourself, you can’t be your best self and you certainly won’t be happy. But Hester Prynne, the sullied heroine of The Scarlet Letter, had a different and much more fabulous response to the Puritans trying to shame her.

You see, Hester only got caught because she became pregnant. Her daughter, the literal symbol and embodiment of her sin and the source of her shame, was a beautiful girl named Pearl. And the girl was dressed in style – gorgeous robes covered in fine embroidery and rich, lovely colors. Hester loved and took pride in the very thing that she was told to be ashamed of because deep down she knew that this was one of the best parts of herself and that it would be wrong to keep it hidden.

I like to think about Pearl and Hester Prynne from time to time because I think their lesson is timeless. It seems that we live in a world that thrives on black-and-white, right-or-wrong judgment that often leads to shame. In the case of the girl being denied her graduation, she was judged as immoral and her exclusion from the ceremony seems to be an attempt to make an example out of her by publicly shaming her. Only, it didn’t quite work out that way. The story made international news because a number of people called the punishment hypocritical, saying that if Jesus were alive He would walk with her. Instead of shame and ostracism, the girl gained support and her family stands firmly behind her.

For those of us living in Puritanical environments, in moral landscapes of black-and-white, it can be tempting to mute our colors to blend in. We hide parts of ourselves to save us from judgment and shame. We modify our behavior, we watch what we say and how we say it because we know judgment like this exists. This is why Pride is so important. Pride gives us a safe place to be proud of ourselves, to let our colors shine and see with our own eyes that what we’re told to be ashamed of is actually something natural and beautiful, like a rainbow.

We may not be able to change the world and its judgmental, shameful ways overnight, so I’ll leave you with a thought. When others try to make you feel ashamed of who you are, realize that you may be the only source of color in their black-and-white world. And as we learned in The Wizard of Oz, everything is better in Techni-Color. Happy Pride!

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