The Charge. Sometimes gay and lesbian people are honest enough to recognize what others know full well. What they are doing is manifestly wrong.
They should be ashamed of themselves!
Background. Overlapping with guilt and embarrassment, shame remains a somewhat elusive concept. In his 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin described the affect of shame as consisting of blushing, confusion of mind, eyes cast downward, slack posture, and lowered head. He believed that the experience of shame was a world-wide phenomenon, one that was not limited to any particular culture. It was a human universal.
Yet cultural anthropologists take a different view, stressing two different situations. They identify shame societies (also termed honor-shame cultures) as ones in which the primary device for gaining control over children and maintaining social order is the inculcation of shame and the accompanying threat of ostracism. Traditional China and Japan often figure as typical instances of shame societies. In this view a shame society contrasts with a guilt society where control is maintained by creating and continually reinforcing the feeling of guilt (and the expectation of punishment either in the present or in the afterlife) with regard to certain condemned behaviors.
Western societies are often regarded as guilt societies. Probably this contrast is too stark, for shame and guilt seem to occur almost everywhere.
A "sense of shame" is a common way of speaking of the consciousness or awareness of shame as a state or condition. Such cognition may result from the experience of the shame affect or, more generally, may stem from any situation of embarrassment, dishonor, disgrace, inadequacy, humiliation, or chagrin.
"To shame" generally means actively to assign or communicate a state of shame to another. Maneuvers designed to uncover or expose the infractions sometimes serve this purpose, as are imprecations like "Shame!" or "Shame on you!" More covertly, gossip plays a role.
To "have shame" means to maintain a sense of restraint against offending others (as with modesty, humility, and deference), while to "have no shame" is to behave recklessly without such restraint (as with excessive pride or hubris).
Finally, the expression”that’s a shame,” means that the speaker recognizes events or situations as real, but deplorable.
In December of 1894 Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's protégé, published the following poem in The Chameleon, a literary magazine:
Last night unto my bed bethought there came
Our lady of strange dreams, and from an urn
She poured live fire, so that mine eyes did burn
At the sight of it. Anon the floating fame
Took many shapes, and one cried: "I am shame
That walks with Love, I am most wise to turn
Cold lips and limbs to fire; therefore discern
And see my loveliness, and praise my name."
And afterwords, in radiant garments dressed
With sound of flutes and laughing of glad lips,
A pomp of all the passions passed along
All the night through; till the white phantom ships
Of dawn sailed in. Whereat I said this song,
"Of all sweet passions Shame is the loveliest."
For a long time this manifestation of gay self-contempt--shame-- received little formal attention. At least it was neglected in public gay and lesbian circles. But recently a change has occurred.
Starting in 1998, Gay Shame was a movement emerging from a sector within the GLBT community that presented itself as a radical alternative to gay mainstreaming. Proponents sought to confront the established view of gay pride, ostensibly marred by commercialization and corporate sponsorship. They attacked "queer assimilation," appearing in what they perceived as oppressive and conservative societal structures.
Observances of Gay Shame began in 1998 with an event in Brooklyn, New York. Swallow Your Pride was a zine published by the people involved in planning Gay Shame in New York. Three issues were released. The movement later spread to San Francisco, Toronto, London, and Sweden. Currently, the trend seems to be ebbing.
In March 2003 an academic conference occurred on the theme at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The gathering saw friction between the activists and the academics, growing out of differences in strategy, and the activists' charge that the academics didn't do enough to acknowledge their power and class privilege, and to share more of their bounty with the activists.
Somewhat confusingly, the 2004 Gay Shame event was billed as "Now in its 9th great year." The observance included performance art and queer-bash make-overs. It was billed as "The Annual Festival of Homosexual Misery." Purportedly, the 2009 event was the last. This does not seem to be quite true. On Saturday, November 24, 2012, a small Gay Shame event occurred at the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco. Still this is a trend whose time came - and went.
Response. The Gay Shame movement attested the way in which some GLBT people will seek to “deroxify” homonegative motifs and use them for their own purposes. In this case the effort seems to have failed.