I had a friend ask me recently, “What about shame? If you decided to change your sexuality, you must have been ashamed of your heterosexuality.”
For my own purposes, I define shame as the feeling of reduced self-worth due to something I have done or something I simply am. And because it’s related, I’ll say I define guilt as the feeling of moral or ethical failure. Sometimes guilt and shame overlap, sometimes they do not. For instance, I used to feel ashamed that I was “fat” and “ugly.” No moral or ethical failure there, just a feeling of reduced worth. Sometimes I feel guilty for not holding up my end of a project at work, when I’ve promised to. Ethical failure, but since I’ve now accepted that I’m not perfect and I fuck up sometimes, a little blip doesn’t affect my self-esteem. For me, shame is about feeling like shit, and guilt is about acknowledging an actual mistake.
Because I was never a lesbian kid and never in conversion therapy, I don’t know this, but I imagine the experience summarizes to something like “I’m a sicko sinner and inherently an unworthy piece of human garbage but I’m so lucky
my abuser God is willing to give me a second chance.” That’s what I call shame, that’s what I imagine there. That’s bad. Shame is something like internalized emotional abuse, whether the abuse comes from one person or a whole culture. Emotional abuse is bad. We’re on the same page here.
Sister Carolyn of the Sisterhood of the Sacred Synapse says in her sermon on attraction to women that comparing conversion therapy to deciding to be attracted to women is a false syllogism, and I agree. She and others have written that since we were all naturally oriented towards our mothers as babies, we all have attraction to women naturally in us. Makes sense to me. I also think it’s a false syllogism because choosing lesbianism doesn’t involve emotional abuse and coercion to adhere to the belief system. You don’t get eternal punishment for not being a lesbian. The legal system isn’t stacked against you as a heterosexual. Your dad doesn’t cry over how your perversion will disgrace the family when he hears you have a boyfriend (before he disowns you). When you choose to love women in a lesbian-hating culture, you’re probably actually into the idea of women-loving for yourself. It’s not shame that drives it.
So was I experiencing a reduced sense of self-worth due to my heterosexuality? Did I feel like shit? Well yes, but it was indirect and not my fault. I felt like shit after a BDSM session with my boyfriend who soon after dumped me. I felt like shit when a fun casual date turned into being held hostage in my own car by an obsessed dude. I felt like shit when one boyfriend was clearly enacting porn scenes on me. I felt like shit when I discovered months into a sexual relationship that the guy didn’t think abortions were okay. But did I feel like shit for being attracted to these men, for being interested in the possibility of heterosexual relationship? No. The problem wasn’t with me but with them.
Of course, I’m not interested in that anymore. I did my work on that. The more I looked at the relationships I’d had with men, or tried to have, and the more I thought about the creepy shit that had gone down thanks to the men in my life, the more I saw the patterns (of violence, disrespect, inequality). And the more repulsed I became by men in general. I know that makes a lot of lesbians twitch, the idea that one comes to be a lesbian by hating men. Hate for men, yes, but also a growing self-respect. As in, fuck this shit, I’m done with this. Boundaries are about self-respect, about having something worth protecting. You say to yourself, “I matter.” Which is opposite of feeling ashamed.
Then after you take out the trash, sooner or later comes moving towards the new good thing. The thing that makes you feel good about yourself, that makes you feel nurtured. The thing that makes you ask yourself, “How did I ever get on with my life before lesbianism? This is so perfect…did I really choose this or is it innate?” Congrats: You’ve arrived.