10th January 2018,
The Value of a Man
In an environment that does not support the gay man, many turn to adapted behaviours to desperately secure enough validation to stay on the run from shame, unworthiness and low self-esteem for as long as possible. Where does it all end?
I heard recently again that a man I used to admire and know had taken his own life after many years of trying to get better from depression.
In the 24 hours since hearing this I have looked over the pictures his ex-boyfriend has put on Facebook showing dance parties, quiet moments together and him smiling, standing alone. This gay man is yet another loss in a heterosexually dominated world where the gay man is not only unsupported but derided by many.
I sit here today and imagine his life and his growing up in Montréal. I imagine the first awareness he might have had of his sexual yearnings and his longing to be intimate with another male human being. He would have noticed his first physical attractions, had confusing and exciting first experiences and he also would have made contact with the shame that must have accompanied these yearnings until he made it out of there to an environment, a bigger city, that while still today is more supportive than most is still far from supportive enough to have him know deeply that he is not only O.K. but that he is a man, worthy of love, worthy of respect, that he has value and deserves all that is good.
I don’t know how he died but I imagine like many hundreds of others that died from drug overdoses, suicides, AIDS and broken hearts that it was not in a place filled with as much light as those first untainted moments when one discovers their sexuality and the joyful inclination they have and feelings of love for another male.
It is not long after these beginning moments that the realization dawns upon them that “My sexuality and who I am is not O.K.” “I do not deserve to be happy.” To be this way is shameful and ‘wrong.’ And the self-destructive behaviours begin.
Today, having heard this news I am grieving not only for this man but for all these men. I feel their pain tonight because this news shatters my avoidance. What am I avoiding and what have I been avoiding? It is the reality of my own despair, hopelessness, despondency and disillusionment. It is the awareness of how unsupported I have been growing up as a gay man in the world. It has been unsafe and I have become timid and unsure because of it. Here is a simple but clear example of this. When I finish work for the day with colleagues and they want to go for a drink they do not necessarily have to think which bar they will go to. For a gay man this must not only be a consideration if one wants to relax but in some parts of the world must be decided carefully in order to avoid abuse and harm. These deliberations need to be made each and every day.
I feel and see the path I have journeyed down and the path I have still to travel. I am suddenly also connecting with the reality of the gay scene – the reason it is as it is –the drugs, the sex, the gossip, the drive for perfection in many fields, the ongoing drive for external validation and compliments, the body-dismorphia and the use of romantic relationships to find shelter from pain and shame. My clarity increases to reveal a culture that is more than a creative behavioural adaptation for men for whom there was never enough support and love but a trauma response enacted by so many to help them avoid the shame, pain and guilt that this larger culture asks them to feel for no good reason. I cry as I connect with my memories of this man and others and with how much light they had, such willingness to love and such potential for good.
This pain I feel is almost intolerable and I want it to stop. No gay man needs to die this way anymore. Shortly I will travel to America, to the city where I first met him and where these memories will be reawakened. Already I can sense through the wretchedness of his death but also something even more gripping and that is my own feelings and thoughts about who I am and where I am at on my own journey.
The currency of a gay man in this culture is youth, muscle, looks, wit, seductiveness, charm, money, fame, prostitution, porn careers, clothes, dick size, capacity to be extreme, ‘fuckability’ and sexual power. As we age these diminish, our hearts grow older and they stop beating, not being able to withstand the drugs and the steroids any longer. Cosmetic surgery is used to prolong this currency and the result is that we do not learn to accept our ageing and how could we? Our gay culture does not value the ageing process or the older individuals in it. Where are they? Ageing whispers to us – ‘You are losing your currency!’….we panic. And this is why in an environment that does not support the gay man we turn to adapted behaviours to desperately secure enough validation to stay on the run from shame, unworthiness and low self-esteem for as long as possible.
Some can maintain this indefinitely, others surrender to facing the reality of ‘life on life’s terms and it is a hard road…. and others stumble and fall through suicide, drug overdose, HIV complications and depression. Many don’t make it to 50.
We must turn this around. How? We do this by taking responsibility for ourselves in spite of the field and the environment that is less than supportive and validating. We must become empowered by seeking and creating support, caring more for each other more, building self-esteem, learning how to esteem others, becoming aware of what it is we are doing and what our behaviours say about us. We need to connect with others, stop avoiding the truth and take a stand.
We need to understand our worth – truly and deeply and we need to somehow find a way to know our own value even when all we feel is self-loathing, fear and depression. The work begins.