A new language between gay men

Posted on December 14, 2012 by The Quest

We are really excited to introduce another innovative offering to our friends and supporters, and that is – ‘The QuestConflab’.

What is a Conflab? Its pretty simple really, Conflab is another term for an ‘informal discussion’.

How did the idea come about? Due to our passion for working with gay men and exploring what lies beneath the surface of our lives, we often find ourselves having a range of conversations on that issue. Whenever we mention this to others, the feedback is that we could share more of these musings, as they are relevant to what The Quest is all about. And so we thought – why not try it? Therefore every fortnight, we will review your suggestions on topics and then let you ‘listen’ as we discuss and explore the issue..

We hope you enjoy the The QuestConflab, and we would welcome your thoughts and feedback on the conversation. The theme of our first Conflab is – A new language between gay men.

Darren: So we have just finished our weekend workshop and there’s a lot of talk about a new language emerging. How would you describe this to someone who hasn’t been on the workshop?
Ade: I’d say it’s about gay men talking about the matters and issues that lie beneath the surface of their day-to-day lives. Gay men bringing their vulnerable and authentic selves to the table. Gay men who simply want to be themselves in the presence of other gay men (including their family, friends and colleagues), without any masks.

Darren: Yes it was amazing to be in a room where the men allowed themselves to share really personal details with each other and to be listened to so intently. I heard conversations exploring things that my friends outside the workshop often shy away from or feel embarrassed about.
Ade: Why do you think your friends (and many gay men) might shy away from such conversations?

Darren: That’s a good question. Maybe because they are not used to talking so openly and because they think that showing the emotional part of themselves is somehow embarrassing. But in the workshop once one person starts talking openly then everyone realizes it’s fine and then they all want to start doing it!!
Ade: Guess it not only applies to gay men, but to many human beings. Nonetheless, for many gay men we do not have those conversations when we meet people in bars and even with our friends at dinner parties.  Do you think that there is something in the fact that the new language is about being vulnerable in the presence of the other and seeing the vulnerability of the other, without judging or shaming?

Darren: Yes that’s right. And The Quest enables that vulnerability by setting up the environment in a very specific way. We talk through ground rules and also you and I, as facilitators, act initially as a safety blanket to allow the guys to feel safe. We model the language by sharing vulnerable things about us. So when I tell them that I’m seeing a therapist and that I have had depressive feelings they think ‘ok, he’s talking about himself and being open- I can trust him and it’s safe to do this’….
Ade: So why do you think that many gay men do not speak this language on the scene?

Darren: Because there is a different set of unspoken ground rules in play on the scene. It’s a different set up that is geared towards a different type of conversation. But what I do see is that once the guys have done the workshop they find it easier to engage in these open conversations and whenever I see them, sometimes months afterwards, we can go to a really intimate level very quickly. They are confident and short cut going round the houses or avoiding subjects when they chat. Do you have these kind of conversations with everyone in your life?
Ade: Actually, with most people in my life I do have those conversations. Or more importantly, I am myself in all those conversations – people might see different aspects of me, but it is an integrated Ade that is being seen. So if I am going to the cinema with a friend, we might not spend time talking about all aspects of life, but I always walk away with a feeling of, ‘I was myself in that dialogue, nothing was left behind’. What I have often found from being on the scene or talking to some of the men who have been on our workshop, is that there seems to be this fear of being vulnerable with other gay men. With some men saying they find it easier being with straight people than with gay men. Which makes it sound like being with other gay men is pretty loaded. I think many gay men don’t know how to simply be with each other, in a non-sexualised way.

Darren: Yes and when I think about it I never learnt how to ‘be’ with other gay children when I was a child. I thought i was alone so I only thought I was around people different from myself-  straight people. For most of us our introduction to socializing with other gay men only happened when we were in our late teens or even later for some. So we have this absence of contact for years and then are thrown together as adults and it is expected that we will know how to be with each other. And then there is the subject of sex. We meet other gay men as adults and often the sexual focus is paramount- especially for those of us who were starved of physical intimate contact with men. So for me, and many gay men, the focus got stuck on finding someone where we could satiate our appetite. So we are really kids in a kindergarten trying to work out how to be with each other in a whole new environment.
Ade: That does make sense. And so, just like learning a new language we are starting from the basics. That can also be pretty challenging, because many of us have spoken this old language for such a long time that it is really normalized. I think back to when I came out in my 20s and had sex with many of the gay men that I met, all I wanted was friendship, someone to share my stories with. But there was something in me that felt I had to have sex in order to engage; it became a case of ‘shag first, get to know later’ and in fact in most case the ‘get to know you better’ never happened. Many did not want to be known! Do you think the gay and mainstream media are ready to hear gay men speak a new language – a language of us being authentic, vulnerable and showing that we are more than HIV/AIDS, depression, Pride, pecs & abs, gay marriage and sex? I ask because I think the media really help maintain this myth about the gay lifestyle.

Darren: Hhhhmmmn let me think about that…I’m not sure if the media not ready or if they just don’t get it. How much is there of straight people talking from an honest and open viewpoint? This is a human problem- vulnerability is scary for everyone regardless of sexual identity and it is something that most would rather not speak about. In that sense this is a pioneering new way of communicating. Maybe gay people can lead this discussion for everyone?
Ade: But I don’t hear straight people saying ‘I find it difficult or challenging being with other straight people’. Yes, it a human issue, but it feels like there is an extra dimension when it comes to gay culture.

Darren: Well there is ‘being with’ and there is ‘communicating authentically’ and yes you’re right, gay people have a problem with both, unlike straight people who have never had to question their ‘being’ as it was always normalized. Having said that I know quite a lot of straight women who feel uncomfortable around groups of women, so maybe it does show itself in different forms for different people. For us I think it boils down to inner homophobia. Unconsciously there is often a part of us that doesn’t like being gay and when we are surrounded by other gay men it feels like were surrounded by mirrors flashing back the images of the person we are that we cannot bear. So we need to cover the essence of our gay identity up with style, muscles, humor, and glamour…. We are the masters of disguise so that we can kid ourselves that we are something other than the thing we still don’t like.
Ade: I guess there is truth in the fact that it’s about ‘inner homophobia’. Although I’d say it boils down to shame, which lies beneath the homophobia. So with many gay men, there is something around behind with each other and feeling ‘I’m not good enough’. I remember one day leaving home to meet some friends in a gay environment, as I was leaving home I caught myself in the mirror and noticed that I was not wearing something ‘figure hugging’, I immediately felt a need to change so that I could feel ‘good enough’. I did not change, but as I entered the venue I remember feeling insecure about it. So I guess, there is something around if we are not feeling authentic within ourselves, how can we communicate authentically. I am curious about the role of the media though, say more about that..

Darren: Yes the media. Well a lot of the ‘old’ media- TV, radio, newspapers are just so behind. They are not current. They are slow at following trends and also discussing new things, I find it all very backward and centralised in its approach. The new media- Internet, social media, twitter is different; it’s dynamic and also democratic. I think there is a lot more discussion of these and other new ideas happening in this arena that is promising. I think that the increase in reporting on gay issues in the old media is a direct response to the discussions taking place in the new media…
Ade: Indeed. Often the images that I see portrayed in the media show a superficial gay culture – where all look a certain way, only like certain things and dress in certain ways etc. They normalize the current image of what it means to be gay, that I think many who go onto the scene, either flee from that because they cannot relate, or cling to it because they know nothing else… and there is nothing else available – which is one of the reasons The Quest resonates for many, it shows that there are many faces of being gay and that gay men can communicate authentically with each other.

Darren: Yes, so in that respect the ‘new language’ we are talking about also includes images and behaviours.
Ade: It does indeed. One of the stories I often talk about was when The Huffington Post featured a story earlier this year about the US census. The piece was talking about interracial same-sex relationships, the picture that accompanied it was of gay men at Pride – looking fit and ‘happy’. When I showed it to my gay friends, they all wondered what my fuss was all about. The next day, there was another piece about the same census, this time talking about straight interracial couples and they had a man and a woman looking all loving and intimate. I then showed both pictures to the same friends and this time they got it… guess it goes to show that the current language is normalized…… and yet, it very much feels like many gay men are starting to say ‘hey, we want something different than what is currently available’…….

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