As we gear up for another pride celebration, it's time to reflect on the awesome achievements we've made over the years. Many of us remember the courageous men and women who didn't fit into the gender or sexual categories of their times and made a mark in his and herstory. There have been a variety of trailblazers, from politicians to artists, activists writers - we have so much to be proud about and grateful for this year!

And yet during this holiday, as I see the gym becoming more and more crowded, the bars filling up and our queer brothers out shopping for that new cute outfit, I start to get a bit nervous. How much of this month are we feeling proud of ourselves and our community versus getting caught up in the unconscious shame of not being attractive enough, masculine enough, stylish enough, and in essence, good enough.

I know for myself, I definitely feel the pressure of this month. There is an unspoken pressure that surrounds Pride and a lot of other gay male celebrations. For many of us who are single, there is a hope in the back of our mind that we will experience a sexy evening or meet someone fabulous. The pressure is on and an unconscious competition unveiled.

Toxic shame, a term first coined by Sylvan Tomkins in the early 1960’s, is rampant in our community. Toxic shame is a festering emotional state that leaves us believing that there is something inherently wrong with us. Toxic shame can ignite our sympathetic nervous system, activating the flight-fight-freeze response. This stress response inhibits us from doing things that may be healthy for us, such as being assertive or asking for what we want. We get cut off from good parts of ourselves and instead, a self-loathing part takes over and can ruin our lives.

This shame is understandable for the many groups in our country that have been hurt, hated and oppressed for so many years, even at times by our own families. It's hard to feel self worth and safety.  Those feelings, along with the message that we are different, get quickly internalized and then begins the quest to change ourselves.

The workouts, the Botox, the tans, the teeth whitening, the steroids, the liposuction, the shopping, the tattoos, the haircuts… There's an endless list of ways that we try to improve ourselves as gay men and live up to the image of perfection that's promoted through American mass media and gay media. So this year let's set the intention of wiping out the toxic shame epidemic. Here's some thoughts to chew on:

When is a moment that you felt truly proud of yourself recently? I believe that in every moment we have the choice to do something to better ourselves and the world around us. It's takes practice to behave in this way on the regular. To make the right choice over the easy one. But the payoff is greater than you can imagine. 

Here are some ways to feel your own pride this Pride:

1) Mentor A Young Gay Man

Coming out is an important right of passage, but as gay and bi men, we do not have anyone to help us through it.  Whether it's your sister's son who is just coming out or a twenty something you meet at the bar, be a guide that  helps a young man in our community sort through the many questions, emotions and experiences that go along with entering “The Community” Help raise a new generation of proud and kind queer men.

 2) Join Gay For Good

I know this sounds like a promotion, but I swear I don't work for them. I just think they're really cool organization. Find your way to give back to those that are less fortunate. The homeless population is out of control in our city right now. Folks are getting kicked of their house by landlords. The public schools need support funding. Our very own LGBTQ Center needs fresh energy, ideas and creativity. There are so many ways to contribute.

 3) Go Through A Personal Development Retreat

California Men's Gatherings, Landmark, and Men's Inner Journey are just some of the many retreats that can connect you with your own self love and acceptance, as well as a community of people that are interested in growing and healing. Getting to a place where you feel good about yourself with others is immensely powerful.  The connection with friends just like you instills an attitude where you can take on the world!

Recently I experienced a moment where I saw and felt pride in action. At a gay couples wedding that I attended recently, I saw many men speak in front of gathered family and friends to acknowledge the love and union taking place. The warm words, the jokes and the affection was potent. It was contagious. I was not only proud of our state of California for legalizing gay marriage, but also my queer brothers generosity of love.

As I told a friend about this article, he exclaimed, “that’s all well and good, but what can I do right now to work on the gremlin in my head?” I thought that was a good point. Here's a few more things you can do to quiet the critical voices inside yourself.

 4) Shame Antidotes:

I've come up with Shame Antidotes because we all deserve to feel good about ourselves. Even though we couldn't control the way people treated us and how it became a catalyst for our shame growing up, we do have the responsibility and the power to change that as adults.

1. Do something that speaks to your values and lets you feel good.

2. Surround yourself with friends that uplift you and encourage you to be your best

3. Give yourself huge doses of self empathy. Starting right now.

4. Check in with your needs.  Ask for them to be met.

5. Spend some time being vulnerable with a therapist that resonates with you.

We're experts at helping people move out of shame. This pride, I invite you to let go of any thoughts or feelings of shame, or that you are anything but fabulous. Find your path to quiet the noise and connect with that inner wisdom that knows the truth: you're lovable, good enough and beautiful just the way you are.

Happy pride!