As the first same-sex marriages take place in England and Wales, Ade Adeniji and Darren Brady talk about the issues beneath and beyond the legislation and their impact on Gay Men.
Darren: What impact will same-sex marriage make to Gay men?
Ade: It will have a multiple impact. Not just on gay men, but on their families and other people that they interact with. First of all, I’ll just like to say that this legislation is a great thing, because for starters it signifies that same-sex relationships are just as valid as heterosexual ones. For gay men, it means that our relationships go beyond sex and invoke intimacy, longevity and love. It also shows those in our lives who might not embrace us for being who we are, that at least the legislation validates the expression of our relationship – not that it needs validating in the grand scheme of things; but it is symbolic.
Darren: I agree. I think for future generations who are born into a time where all human beings can choose to marry, it will reset the button.
Ade: And so it is indeed a time to celebrate. With all that in mind though, we must not be complacent and believe that we have finally arrived in Gay Utopia and that matters like Shame, Homophobia and all the accompanying issues will suddenly evaporate.
The other thing to also bear in mind is that for many of us gay men, we will now need to start deeply learning ‘healthy relationship skills’. Many of us did not get to practice this in our adolescence and only cultivated the ‘sex skills’; and so many of us will now need to start learning the skills and knowledge required in navigating sex and intimacy.
Darren: Indeed. I think what is often forgotten is the effect that childhood trauma has on gay men as adults, regardless of what the current climate is around gay equality. To grow up gay is still isolating, because society has not caught up with what a gay child needs growing up. We are ill equipped now, and in the past to acknowledge gay children and nurture them so that once they emerge into a society that delivers on equality they are not emotionally wounded and traumatised. This is going to take a few generations to heal.
Ade: It does indeed open up a deeper conversation around ‘dating skills’. When we look on ‘hook-up’ apps (and I use the term ‘hook-up’ deliberately instead of ‘dating apps’), we see people who are saying they want sex, but research recently showed that many of them actually want relationship.
I’m sure many will be saying ‘all is now well’, but as you say, it will take time to heal the residue of past pain.
Darren: I think that to have healthy relationships whilst carrying pain from trauma is very difficult. It feels like we need to mourn, grieve and release the pain of our early trauma before we can engage in healthy relationships. Otherwise we are trying to heal ourselves through our relationships and that is a recipe for disaster.
Ade: It is challenging indeed, and so what I feel and know is that we must face and heal the past trauma, at the same time as nurturing and cultivating healthy relationships. Both must be done together, for it is when we are in relationship that we often get our past ‘stuff’ triggered and coming to the surface and that provides a great moment to heal – with the support of a therapist, coach or benevolent friend. And I guess this is where our work with The Quest also comes in – providing a space where gay men can come together and investigate and explore their scars and wounds, release their pain and cultivate the insights to navigate healthy relationships.
Darren: Without some guidance and support I think that past pain can get inappropriately directed and lead to destructive behaviours and communication. There needs to be a distinction made between ‘past pain’ and ‘current challenges’. If the two get mixed up it becomes intense and upsetting to an unbearable level and that then leads to problems. When our partner or friends are unable to heal our past pain we may get angry, upset, withdrawn, depressed because unconsciously we wanted them to resolve our past. When we start to resolve our own past and know that our partners and friends have their own past to heal then we start moving in a direction that becomes possible.
Ade: Both partners must be Willing, Able and Ready to do the work. This takes great courage and is not easy. For doing the work will often feel like reliving the wounds from the past and the desire might therefore be to put head in sand, lash out or numb. Yes, it must be done with guidance and support.
Darren: I agree. The key component to healing our past pain is FEELINGS. As children we thought our feelings were wrong and we learnt to suppress, hide or judge them. In place of expressing our feelings we hid them and preferred to think our way out of our predicament. We became very adept at strategies and mind based approaches to life. So, as adults, to have to return to feelings- many of them painful- is counter intuitive and goes against our whole approach to surviving our life. This is what makes it such a challenging and scary proposition.
Ade: And in reconnecting with the FEELINGS, we must cultivate Mastery in expressing them authentically. It means identifying whatever limiting beliefs we started to believe about ourselves when we were doing the suppressing or hiding. Limiting beliefs like, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not worthy’ or ‘I am unlovable’, can contaminate and sabotage healthy relationships, if not recognised. For the emergence of a limiting belief could easily send us into fight, flight or freeze. Those strategies might be great for a one-night stand, but not for a healthy relationship.
Darren: Yes, awareness of deeply held limiting beliefs is important and their emotional impact needs acknowledging. The awareness and associated feelings need to be explored together for pain to be released. Some of us would rather stay in a place of knowing and avoid the feelings because that just feels too overwhelming a prospect. It is very common for participants of our workshops to find it hard to name or locate how they feel. With our encouragement and the support of the safe group experience, they often then find the feelings and can finally begin to express them. I always treasure the moments that this happens as it is the beginning of healing at a very deep level.
Ade: In terms of the same sex marriage, I think what will also happen is that for many it will feel like coming out all over again. So imagine the scenario where a gay man is asked by a colleague or an acquaintance “so are you married” and he replies “yes” and then the question “what’s her name” and then what follows on after that. Another moment of disclosure, and the emotions that it might bring up, depending on the place and the person asking the question. Another moment of where stuff from the past, might appear in the present.
Darren: Yes. I think regardless of the format of our relationships – whether that be civil partnership, marriage, co-habitation, casual contact, etc – if we don’t heal our past we will inevitably bring that into our present. And so to use your example – when we are asked the name of our married partner and feel shame then again it is the past haunting us. As we know from heterosexual marriages there are often many skeletons in the closets that come out and contribute to the decline or destruction of the relationship. Our challenge is to fully face our own past and begin a process of recovery so that we can fully appreciate the relationship we are in.
Ade: So I guess in conclusion, I’m feeling that, yes its a moment to celebrate – for the UK has come a long way in term of its legislation on the issue of homosexuality – feels like only yesterday that all the protests were taking place around Section 28 – nonetheless, we should not for a second fall under the spell that we are now in Gay Utopia and all our wounds and trauma from the past will automatically disappear now that our relationships are recognised under the law.
Darren: Marriage acknowledges our present relationships and we need to acknowledge our past relationship to trauma and hurt. When these two elements ‘marry up’ there is the potential for joy, passion and integrity.
Ade: I like that. For now, I look forward to attending one of the many ceremonies that will be taking place over the next few months and celebrating with the moment with the happy couple.