Modesty and Pride

This post is finally getting dragged out of my drafts folder because I felt obliged to answer the call issued by Queenie’s #(ALL THE POSTS ON RELIGION AND ASEXUALITY PLEASE) tag, so you can blame her for this.

I’ve always been a bit conflicted about the concept of “pride”, as applies to LGBT+ parades and celebrations, but that opinion was always an irrelevant one until I realized I wasn’t straight.  This post is not about questioning the necessity or validity of the concept that “pride” is used to refer to in anti-oppression contexts — that of a bold, confident, positive display of a marginalized, maligned, oft-ignored identity.  I get that.  On a personal level, actually.  As I’ve said before, I’d be aggressively and flamboyantly asexual if there were a culturally-coded way to do that.  Ah yes, the perks of invisibility: not having your own oppressive stereotype (supposedly) but also not having a recognizeable middle finger to give to the world.

So, while I’m limited in my ability to participate, I support and endorse audacious displays of identity as a loud, triumphant reaction to silencing and shame.  In this context, pride is good, important, and fun.  The happier side to righteous anger, if you will.  What I want to address, though, is something personal — how my relationship to the concept of “pride” is complicated by a Christian background.  This post is about that — about the intersection of healing the asexual “brokenness” and maintaining an ideological loyalty to more general religious principles: where the LGBT rhetoric of pride meets the Christian rhetoric of humility.

Reconciling the two isn’t mentally difficult or anything.  But.

As an ace, I don’t have a way of articulating the concept of “asexual(-spectrum) pride” without the word “pride”, because anything I could use to replace it would lose its intelligibility as an analogue to better-known prides, and I have to wonder, a little bit, how gay and bi and trans Christians reckon with this — with anything, really, considering how often queerness and Christianity are pitted against each other as natural enemies (and to be fair, Christianity started it) — but little things like this, too.  Call it a matter of semantics, but in the Christianity I grew up with, pride is not a virtue.

It’s the opposite, in fact.

Pride is selfishness is the essence of all sin.  This idea is an integral component of the religion as I know it.  Christians are supposed to be humble.

Most of them will dispose of that notion at their convenience, but still.

You may not adhere to a Catholic conceptualization of the “Seven Deadly Sins” (whose relevance lives on only in pop culture, as far as I can tell — maybe there are Christians who still employ this as a framework, but it seems like it’s brought up and toyed with by non-Catholics more often than not) but you cannot, in my conceptualization of Christianity, find any room for a positive interpretation of “pride” — at least not a pride that would, under that lens, be referred to as pride.

“Inner peace” is the closest alternative I can think of, but that doesn’t have the same aggressive ring to it.  Anglophonic Christianity is kind of temperate in its language that way.  “Spirit” or “zeal” could work, maybe.  I’m scouring lists of synonyms and virtues here.  “Steadfastness”?  “Fortitude”?  What century is this again?

Point being, it’s a concept that’s hard to find other words for.  What the use of “pride” in gay, bi, trans, and ace contexts is meant to get at, as far as I can tell, is a sense of acceptance of the self, or a specific aspect of it, and a loud rebuttal to silencing and shame, a definition very specific to its context.

What “pride” refers to in many Christian contexts is equivalent to arrogance, conceit, and egotism.  These things get viewed negatively in a more general sense by about near everyone, but especially so within a framework of definitive monotheism.  There, pride is always treated as a bad thing, while its inverse is exalted.

I’m not saying this directly conflicts with the queer version of pride, since each use the word to refers to different ideas, but that’s the background that I’m coming from, the kind of language that I’m used to hearing in circulation.  In that sense, I’m not proud of being ace.  It’s not a personal accomplishment.

I’m content with being ace.  I’m happy with being ace.  I’m nervous and scared and excited and defiant and melodramatic about being ace.

I’m still working on an alternative shorthand for the idea — not because I see an inherent problem with other uses of pride, but because even if asexuals have a right to the word, I can’t as easily apply it to myself.  LGBT+ Christians could use it anyway, of course, but I’m just generally not fond of pride as a term for what the community intends it to mean anyway, even if I respect its history.  And given the association of asexuality with lifelessness, I’m liking the sound of a phrase like “asexual zeal”.

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13 responses to “Modesty and Pride

  • barbaradesmond

    The P word is kinda tricky. I think for me anyway being comfortable with who I am works better. Of course that can be applied to everyone even though it isn’t really an easy thing to accomplish.

  • doubleinvert

    I’m a bisexual/pansexual pre-op MTF trans person who is a member of a Christian church. I’m completely out of the closet as trans at my church, and our senior pastor is an out of the closet lesbian. I left the Catholic church in high school and joined a United Church of Christ congregation in 1988, the same church I currently attend. Here’s my take on the issue of pride versus humility.

    Pride is not necessarily the “essence of all sin.” This only becomes true when pride consumes one’s life to the point where one feels above other persons. It’s this type of pride that leads to oppression of various groups, which I think could be one of the various reaons the word “pride” is used by oppressed groups. Others are so prideful they think they are above us, so we take pride in what we are in spite of their contempt.

    I have many times heard my aforementioned lesbian pastor argue that there is much cause for pride in our lives, and she has not meant “arrogance, conceit, and egotism.” Maybe my pastor and our church are atypical. The associate pastor, also an out of the closet lesbian, has made sure that when I help serve communion she wants me, the openly trans person of this church, at the front of the sanctuary so that I may be seen by everyone. Quite the opposite of humility.

    Since leaving the Catholic church, I have more often than not encountered arguements that pride in onself is indeed a virtue in Christian settings. Maybe that’s the UCC, maybe it’s the UCC groups I’ve been interacting with. But that’s been my experience.

    Doubtless, the experiences of others will differ.

    • acetheist

      Good point, I shouldn’t have claimed these ideas were universal to Christian doctrine. I guess it’s something particular to my own background (not sure how to classify it, though, since I know it’s not just an Episcopalian thing).

      “The point where one feels above other persons” is generally what I use pride to mean. I agree that it’s important to make a distinction between that and self-confidence, which is a good thing — and someone could probably write a whole other post about how the conflation of the two has been used to quash vocal self-acceptance in oppressed groups.

  • justlosefaith

    Interestingly, almost universally it is acceptable “to be proud of a person” who you love. It’s kind of the opposite of being jealous of their achievements, or of being disappointed in them. Do Christian communities frown upon parents being proud of their children? I honestly don’t know. I do know a parent being overly proud of their own children can be obnoxious.

    I like to consider myself a “loud and proud” atheist, partially because the words rhyme, lol!! And partially because the opposite of being proud of my atheism is being ashamed of it. And I’m not. I know what it’s like to be ashamed of what I do or don’t believe. I was raised Catholic and when I first doubted the existence of God, I was ashamed, because at the time I still believed that it was a virtue to have faith and I felt like a failure for not having faith. Now that my mind has changed on the whole “Faith is a virtue” concept, I really don’t feel ashamed to not have any faith. I know that I came to my atheism honestly after a search for the truth. I feel like I’ve considered the idea of faith and all sorts of religious ideas thoroughly and I’d be happy to discuss the concepts with anyone without fear of my own convictions being shaken. I am a bit “uncomfortable” about the fact that I’m an atheist in some contexts, though, and I think it’s because if I was “too loud and proud” about it, I know how I would seem to other people. If I speak to my religious friends or family members about my atheism the wrong way, I’ll be insulting them. And I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I think that’s where pride can turn into selfishness/hurtfulness. And so I hold back my pride in favor of… idk, empathy, I suppose!

    I’m sometimes ashamed of a lot of things – for instance a big hobby of mine is editing fanvideos, and posting them on YouTube. There are many “geeky” hobbies like that out there, and it is sometimes hard to not feel some level of shame around certain people who don’t understand why you are so passionately involved in a hobby. I make a type of art (albeit, fan-art) that I am proud of, in general. I really am proud of many of my videos. I spend hours on them, I think I had good ideas, I carefully add beautiful visual effects sometimes and stuff like that. People compliment me, and I usually do feel like I deserve most of the praise that I get. I understand how quickly that type of feeling could turn into… haughtiness. That feeling like I deserve for other people to compliment me is… not a desirable trait. But in general, it’s a fine line between having too-low of self-esteem and then too much. I think I fall at a healthy middle, where I acknowledge my shortcomings, I know that some other people are better vidders than I am, I know I could still improve, but I still see the good in what I’ve accomplished. I think people have a right to be proud of achieving things that they work hard to achieve.

    For instance, if you don’t study enough for a test, get a C or something, and then on the next test try to study as hard as you can and get an A… what should you feel? What is the correct thing if not some degree of pride in yourself? You should feel what, grateful to God? You’re the person who worked hard to get that A. I know some people might say every good thing is God, or is God doing it for you, through you, whatever. But I don’t know. I am pretty sure there are some Christians who would feel fine with the idea of someone being proud of their A in this context. You can be proud in a modest way, I believe. You don’t have to make other people feel bad, people who were in the same class and didn’t get A’s. You don’t have to “toot your own horn” in such a way. You can just… feel it. Feel happy with yourself for doing a good job. Because you should equally feel a little disappointed in yourself if you don’t try your best.

    I think in general both Christian and fairly secular circles hold a lot of the same views about pride and modestly, to some degree. I think people generally know there are ways to be proud that are really “ugly”, vs. ways to be proud that are completely fine.

    The Free Dictionary mentions some synonyms for “proud”… http://www.tfd.com/proud “arrogant, haughty, disdainful, supercilious” and they’re all words with really negative connotations. But I think “proud” itself is the one word that can have some much more positive connotations – “proud to serve one’s country”. But proud can also be negative. It all depends on the context.

    • acetheist

      “Do Christian communities frown upon parents being proud of their children?”

      None of them as far as I can tell. The parent-child bond is the source of a lot of metaphors, so it’s a pretty uplifted thing. You’re right, though, it’s interesting how that seems to be exempt.

      “You can be proud in a modest way, I believe.”

      Well that’s a funny way to put it. But yes, I agree with what you’re saying, haha.

  • Calum P Cameron

    The way I see it, the problem is a linguistics one. “Pride” was originally defined as, basically, loving yourself more than you love anyone else. Arrogance, conceit, blustering self-importance. The opposite of humility. Since then, due to the evolution of the English language, it has become probably more commonly used to mean, basically, loving yourself AT ALL. The opposite, I guess, of shame or self-loathing.

    The former is something that almost everyone, Christian or otherwise, finds annoying at best, the fundamental cause of all worldly evils at worst. I don’t think there’s anyone who believes (or, at least, who would admit to believing) that deliberately viewing everyone else as less important than yourself is an unambiguously good thing.

    The latter, meanwhile, is something that almost everyone, Christian or otherwise, views as healthy and beneficial. “Love your neighbour AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF” goes the Bible verse. A healthy love and acceptance of one’s own self and identity is an integral part of that – but it is equally integral that one does not do so at the expense of one’s “neighbour”, which is usually taken to mean “pretty-much everyone else in the world”. Love yourself. Love your neighbour. Love everyone in the world equally, if you possibly can, and wherever someone is being unfairly marginalised – be it yourself or someone else – feel free to champion the heck out of that person’s cause, and don’t shut up until the world agrees to listen. A lot of people think that’s a bit twee and unrealistic, but I don’t know anyone who actually thinks it’s a VICE, in the way the other kind of pride is.

    Humility is good. Shame and self-loathing are bad. You do not need to be ashamed or self-hating to be humble, nor do you need to be quiet. Ghandi was a pretty humble man, but damn if he wasn’t vocally, obviously, in-you-face zealous at the same time. The same could be said about Jesus, for that matter.

    Unfortunately, however, this leaves us with two fundamentally different concepts, one good and one bad, BOTH of which have an opposite concept which is referred to as “pride”. Self-loathing is a bad thing. Pride is a good thing. Humility is a good thing. Pride is a bad thing.

    Yeah. Welcome to the English language. Please leave your sanity and consistency at the door.

    • acetheist

      THERE you are! I hadn’t gotten a comment from you in so long, I was almost worried something had happened to you.

      *shiver* After what I’ve learned about Ghandi lately, I wouldn’t want to hold him up as a good example, but the point stands nonetheless…

      Right, we can tell the difference between the concepts no problem, it’s just that then I want to be able to use a different word to distinguish them, you know?

      • justlosefaith

        You can say “I am not remotely ashamed of being a gray-asexual” instead of “I am proud of being grey-ace”… or say “I love my asexual self” or use other words if asexual “pride” makes you uncomfortable. I think you could shout at a pride parade “Why in the world would I be ashamed? I’m happy exactly as I am!” and you’d be expressing the right sentiment.

        The term “Queer” has had similar issues. Some people still hear it and think negative connotations of “Freak”, and originally it was used as a derogatory word toward those who they viewed as less than themselves.

        But nowadays, plenty of other people only hear positive connotations like “different but that’s what makes us special”. Some people don’t like calling anyone “Queer”, and get confused by some people in the LGBT+ movement choosing to use the word to describe themselves. But language always evolves. Words have multiple meanings.

        Atheists get frustrated when people try to equate the multiple different meanings of “believe” or especially “faith”. There is a big difference between having faith that the sun will rise tomorrow and having faith in the idea that Allah will grant a man a certain number of virgins for him to have sex with as he wants in heaven. There is a big difference between the type of “Faith” someone has that their partner won’t cheat on them, and how easily that faith goes away in the right contexts, vs. the faith that regardless of what evidence shows us, evolution can’t be true because “I have faith in Creationism”. But the words being used for both definitions isn’t going to change any time soon. You can use other words and say “I trust my partner not to cheat” or “I find it highly unlikely that my partner will cheat on me” or whatever but “having faith in your partner” is still gonna be a way to word the sentiment that floats around regardless.

        Semantics are interesting and always relevant. I hate the idea of anyone ever saying “it’s just semantics” because that belittles the importance of these linguistic issues. They do cause confusion sometimes, and they do matter.

        • acetheist

          Definitely. Just wanted to add that I’m not sure of the actual veracity of the 72 virgins thing being a component of Islam. I’ve heard that’s just an idea popularized by non-Muslim Westerners.

          • justlosefaith

            Well, I’ve mainly heard it as an extreme example of some sects of fundamentalist Islam, not average Muslims believing it. I felt fairly confident that *some* people had been convinced that this is a true potential reward from Allah at some point. However, I am much more familiar with lots of specifics of Christianities – even Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons – than I am with most other religions so I struggle to come up with fair examples and I jumped to an extreme that maybe I shouldn’t have.

            What I know of Muslim practices are less worthy of these examples – they’re more things like never drinking alcohol ever or praying facing towards Mecca or whatnot and I didn’t think it applied here but… you’re right. Thank you. I’ll look into that 72 virgins thing more before I ever bring it up again.

            Instead, I could’ve said something about snake-handling and having faith that their poisonous venom won’t kill you or other types of things that I *do* know certain people believe.

          • justlosefaith

            From what I am reading here: http://wikiislam.net/wiki/72_Virgins there is certainly some truth to the 72 Virgins concept.

      • Calum P Cameron

        Apologies; I think I let stuff get on top of me for a while.
        It’s nice to know I’m missed.

  • Asexuality, Shame, and the Importance of Ace Pride – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

    […] read Coyote’s blog post on Modesty and Pride 3 years ago and it really must’ve struck all the right chords in me… because I […]

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