As gay children, many of us initially felt very alone and afraid of our inner feelings. Same-sex relationships were rarely reflected in our family of origin, nor in the families of those around us. Like all children, we looked around us for information, examples and guidance to help us make sense of our feelings, but we often found little or no evidence to match our hungry and inquisitive nature. It was not to be found in the toys we had, the games we played, the fairy tales we were told, nor in the images we saw around us.
The isolation experienced during these very early years created the traumatic conditions upon which our developing personality and identity as gay children were formed. It often felt unsafe to share our feelings, our imagination, our ideas and our dreams.
As we kept our inner and most distressing feelings to ourselves as children, we associated them with an experience of being overwhelmed. Because we were alone and unable to process often very disturbing feelings, we did not learn how to handle them. Their power was intensified by the isolated way in which they were experienced. Had we been guided and shown that feelings are transitory, that they are not fixed and that often they are common and natural, we may have avoided associating them with devastating power. We learnt to keep such powerful forces under control, lest they destroy us. So the tendency to express our feelings, to explore their nature, to notice their origin and to locate them in our bodies is counter intuitive to us. We survived our feelings and therefore we must not cosy up to them, for fear that they may take us back to those dark and desperate days.
This pathology from the lives of many gay children forms the backdrop to The Quest Programme.
The Quest Programme uses metaphors that center around journey and voyage – as each participant moves towards rediscovering and reconnecting with their core and authentic self. The mode of travel that we refer to during the voyage is always by sea, with the facilitators as the navigators guiding the process, and the Programme participants as shipmates.
During the voyage, The Quest uses a map comprising four key domains: Investigate/Explore/Release/Cultivate
In working with the participants, during The Quest Programme, we emphasis that the journey is not an intellectual exploration, but an experiential one. As such, we always bring it back to the individual experience, with a compass of where participants are now and were in the past, with regard to their Thoughts, Emotions, Beliefs and Behaviours.
During the voyage we take participants back through many of the significant moments that have shaped who they have become. The landscapes we explore are Childhood, Adolescence and Adulthood.
A key part of our methodology is establishing a reconnection with our young gay child. Reconnection is part of a healing process that enables us to love, care and show compassion for the child that was exposed to considerable trauma. It is this small child that carries the unprocessed pain and hurt.
The Peter Pan syndrome is synonymous with gay men. Internally we often have arrested development that stops us from maturing emotionally and behaving in a tempered and rational manner. The Rage that Alan Downs refers to in his book is the rage of a child who has not yet moved on from trauma and psychological damage. In order to let go of the child we need to attend to his distress. We need to acknowledge his concerns and unhealed wounds. By making a distinction between our child and our adult we are able to untangle the two.
We use a variety of processes to help participants reconnect with the different landscapes visited during the voyage. These include – Storytelling/Group Discussions/Coaching/Journaling and Letter Writing/Working In Pairs/Triads
The timeframe of The Quest Programme is split into three sections – Pre-Programme/During/Post-Programme
During the voyage, there are a “Ports” that we visit to help participants delve deeper into their inner world.
We begin the process of building trust by having the facilitators contact the participants prior to the Programme. This establishes contact and allows fears to be voiced and shared. Reassurance from the facilitators at this initial stage can make the difference between a participant engaging with the process or already distancing themselves from it and withdrawing into their familiar inner world.
To engender trust and to encourage openness about vulnerabilities, it is important that the facilitators and assistants engage as equals and model the new behaviours of mutual support, the sharing of sensitive stories, empathy and understanding. We deliberately include opportunities to demonstrate this at the very start of the process. By observing this behaviour, the participants can begin to trust that it is safe for them to do the same. We are leading by example and bring our whole selves to the process.
Trust is further enhanced by the conscious use of direct eye contact throughout the process, adherence to the ground rules (see above), equal sharing of time, non-sexualised talk and behaviour, personalised sharing by facilitators and assistants, demonstrating supportive and empathic responses, re grouping when things become unsafe and maintaining honest and transparent dialogue.
For every journey it is important for each traveller to know about the safety mechanisms that are in place to ensure that no-one goes overboard. The Quest Programme is no exception.
Each Programme adheres to the ground rules created by the group itself. These cover areas such as:
The ground rules are displayed prominently in the room and are referred to throughout the Programme. They are honoured by the facilitators, who will intervene should the ground rules be broken. The integrity of the ground rules is paramount for the participants to trust the framework and for the process to take place within.
The Quest creates an environment that is the antithesis to many of the environments with which gay men are familiar, a space where everything is encouraged to be shared, discussed, explored and voiced. A place where we can be heard, seen and understood and where our experiences can be shared. This is why we choose to work with closed groups of gay men with the intention of creating an environment where we can feel free to express ourselves fully amongst peers. Safety is critical in this exploration.
All our sessions are led by two experienced facilitators and three assistants, all of whom have themselves been through the process. We limit group numbers to a maximum of 20 to ensure that the ability to be seen and heard within a safe space of peers is achievable.
We advise participants that The Quest Programme is not intended as a substitute for therapy. For those currently in therapy, we strongly encourage them to speak to their therapist before embarking on The Quest.
The antidote to hiding is being seen. We encourage participants to be seen fully by bringing their attention to eye contact. We request that eye contact is maintained, especially when someone is sharing intimate or significant information. We reassure and gently guide the group to keep in contact rather than retreating.
The Quest Programme creates an experience whereby participants get to let go of what is not serving them in their life and embrace new behaviours and beliefs that help them to live wholeheartedly. These behaviours and beliefs become critical elements in a nurturing and cathartic process of exploration, investigation, release and cultivation.
The process spans a period of a month, during which participants come together for two evenings and two days and work independently inbetween. During the process, the gay child is acknowledged, comforted and guided so that he can come to terms with and move on from a painful past. The gay adult is acknowledged, nurtured and guided so that he can let go of negative behaviours and beliefs and begin to cultivate an authentic and self-nurturing present and future.
It is a unique intervention that, with ongoing enquiry and practice can transform the way gay men live.