What became apparent during our recent Gay Utopia event is that The Quest is beginning to form a new language around ‘who we are’ and ‘how we communicate as Gay Men’.
The storytellers demonstrated this powerfully when they went onstage and shared their stories to an audience, and during the panel discussion it was clear to me that talk of ‘authentic futures’ was both a phrase and a concept that most were struggling to articulate.
I did a google search on ‘Gay workshops’ and found very little that echoed the approach and intention of our work at The Quest. It dawned on me that we are in a period of infancy.
Much of the emphasis over the past two decades on building a commercial gay environment held ‘Pride’ at it’s core. This external manifestation has been very successful in many western cities and spawned the expression ‘the pink pound’
This confident visual presence combined with articulate lobbying led to the concept of ‘ the pink vote’ and the political landscape shifted, producing both the left and rightwing courting us for votes in the UK and a president declaring support for same sex marriage in the United States. As HIV medications led to a near normal life expectancy for those guaranteed access to the drugs and who adhered to the regimen, the devastating landscape of AIDS in the UK also dissolved… along with the benefits.
Times…. they are indeed changing.
But what was also apparent and increasingly unreported were the less palatable facts around the state of gay mens mental health. As the external social/ political/ health landscape shifts, the internal emotional/ behavioural/ habitual landscape seems stuck.
Growing up as a gay child, aged 5 onwards, to the (at best) silence surrounding sexuality and (at worse) blatant aggression towards it, creates a trauma that can not be washed away by a slowly emerging collection of ‘out’ role models and sparkling glitter balls. The damage has been done in those formative years and until parents feel relaxed and confident to discuss and acknowledge sexuality appropriately with their children it will, most likely, remain for a long time to come.
What is required is a new language. A new conversation. Both at the level of parent to child (gay and straight) and of gay man to his own unguided gay self as a child.
It is the latter to which The Quest is addressing itself….initially.
This is damage limitation. We have the conversations that were absent from our upbringing. We provide the nurturing, self guidance that was absent from our families. We help press the ‘reset’ button, so that gay men can evolve without carrying the wounds that were created when we were very young children.
All of this demands a new language, a fresh approach. It requires looking back and unpicking the beliefs we adopted, when we were starved of acknowledgement for something as fundamental to us as our gender or racial background. It is not so much the external world that, in our liberal western cities holds us back, but the internal homophobia we unconsciously adopted in the day by day, hour by hour environment that shamed us by it’s silence.
I’m reminded of the powerful slogan that was utilised during the heart of the Aids epidemic- “Silence = Death ” and think it could also be adapted to today’s reality by reading “Silence = Shame ”
So the language emerging dispels silence in favour of honest sharing. It encourages the expression of that which is deemed too terrible to speak of – the hurt, embarrassment, ridicule, ridiculousness, joy, frivolity…. difference…. that we all as human beings experience.
It is language rarely heard and seldom shared. Within The Quest this language and this discussion is encouraged and facilitated. It is presented, written about, shared and declared. It is verbalised so much that it becomes normalised and when it becomes normal, it ceases to retain the powerful and often toxic hold it has had on us.
The men who participate in our workshops, socials, coaching, storytelling and other events emerge to be at ease with themselves and the difficult subjects they discuss, in a way that astounds and impresses those around them. It is those who have become fluent in this emotionally intelligent awareness that are beginning to take for granted a new confidence that accompanies it. The differences to the eye and ear are startling as gay men are released from the straight jacket of the shamed and shameful gay child.