Redefining Gay Community
Posted on November 5, 2012 by The Quest
This past weekend has been such an exciting chapter in the journey of The Quest. It was not so long ago, on one sunny Sunday afternoon on 8th May 2011, that Darren and myself sat in a Thai restaurant on Charlotte Street and talked about the journey of gay men. We had just left an event where Attitude magazine, in association with The Drill Hall, London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and Pace Health had put on a panel discussion exploring some of the issues that gay men go through.
The event had used as its premise ‘The Velvet Rage – Overcoming the shame of growing up gay in a straight man’s world’, by Alan Downs. I was a big fan of the book, having bought it a few years prior and had since read it a number of times. The book had spoken to me on many levels and articulated my journey from childhood to adolescence into adulthood.
Darren and myself were energized by the debate at the Drill Hall and felt a deep yearning to pull our professional experience and life stories together, with a view to collaborating on ‘something’ for gay men. That conversation gave birth to our initial ‘Journeying with The Velvet Rage’ workshop series and subsequently ‘The Quest’.
This past weekend, it felt like we had come full circle, with a new chapter in our journey about to begin. Late last year we had the idea of putting together a weekend personal development event for a large group of gay men. The idea was to have Alan Downs come over to London, and that we build the event around the principles of his book. We wanted the event to be an exploration into the lives of gay men, so it was titled – ‘Gay Utopia: going beneath the surface’. We brought on board a designer to help us with the graphics and it looked like we were ready to go!
Things did not exactly go according to plan, and we were unable to secure bringing Alan over from the US. We were also not able to secure the sort of corporate and public sector sponsorship that we had hoped would materialize, to help ensure costs were covered. We briefly considered shelving the event or scaling it back significantly, but our passion for what we had in store got the better of us and we carried on. Besides, we had already brought on board an Events Manager, secured the venue and had started publicizing the event.
We repositioned the event, which meant that we now had an evening of performance storytelling planned for the Saturday, instead of the original Friday evening. The plans for the Sunday remained the same, we had planned a panel discussion and debate, which would bring together commentators, counselors and academics to discuss what lies beneath the surface of the lives of many gay men, and what we need to do to move forward authentically. With the exception of one person, all our panel members remained on board when they learnt that Alan was no longer involved. In all, the only aspect that we dropped from the original program was a proposed one-day workshop on Saturday, which we were planning to run in association with Alan.
This past weekend, ‘Gay Utopia: going beneath the surface’ finally happened. Everything started falling into place in the lead up to the event. The week prior, we had launched the first book published by The Quest – ‘Love Me As I Am: gay men reflect on their lives’, so we were all still buzzing from the huge turnout at the launch event and the subsequent feedback people had shared with us.
On the first day of ‘Gay Utopia’, ten gay men – including myself, took to the stage to perform – ‘The Velvet Rage – Real Life Stories’. The men were all guys who had attended one of the workshops that Darren and myself had facilitated this past year. The performance was directed by Darren, assisted by Paul who has a background in theater, and had been a participant on our workshop last year. We had a sold out show, with an audience in excess of 150. The men who took the stage came together five months ago, under the guidance of Darren. They worked together most weekends and have been on such an intimate journey, sharing stories that many had never spoken about to another living soul. On Saturday, I witnessed them – and myself – be fully present in our pain, joy, grief, pleasure, sadness and delight, as we shared our lives with the audience.
On the second day of ‘Gay Utopia’, we had a panel of five men – plus host – from various walks of life, explore and debate issues like – Understanding today’s gay man – Pride and prejudice: and their impact on gay men’s health – Exploring the reasons for what lies beneath ‘Gay Utopia‘ – What does tomorrow hold for gay men? – How do gay men start building Authentic Futures. With an audience of around 100, it was an engaging, inspiring, challenging and invigorating afternoon. As I sat in the audience listening, I found myself thinking back to that Sunday afternoon on 8th May 2011 in the Drill Hall, when Darren and myself had been to a similar event. And it was at that point I realised that we had come full circle. This was where it had all begun.
When I look back at our intentions when we set up The Quest, I remember that it very quickly became two-fold. The first intention was to provide a platform where we can hold up a mirror to gay men so that they can investigate and explore their lives with a view to letting go and healing that which is keeping them stuck. The second was to be involved in redefining Gay Community. My belief is that in order to have a nurturing, supportive and affirming gay community, each one of us has to do the internal work. We all need to look in that mirror and do the work. There are no short cuts!
When I looked around this past Saturday and Sunday, I saw many of the men who have journeyed with us over the past year. Some had attended the workshop and we never saw them again, some were still actively engaged with us in one way or another, and some dip in and out. I also saw many new faces. I could not help but remember my 16-year old self who had once imagined that the gay community looked just like what I was witnessing – caring, supportive, interested and loving. I woke up this morning still carrying that deep sense of connection with the lovely men I got to hang out with this weekend….. and I felt deeply nourished.
So, as The Quest moves into a new chapter, I look forward to walking with Darren, everyone who has been on one of our workshops or events, and the many other gay men out there who also feel called to start redefining Gay Community……