This weekend hundreds of thousands of gay men from around the country and abroad are descending on Manchester to celebrate gay Pride. These showcase events celebrate the diversity of gay culture, and offer an opportunity for men of all ages to stand together – out and proud. But such festivals of gay culture hide some very disturbing truths.
First, for many gay men, there is only one thing worse than coming out as gay … and that is finding out what the gay scene is like. In my experience, young gay men’s expectations of the gay scene is of a community of like minded men through which they can find love and fulfilment. The reality is often lots of shagging but very little by way of community, and even less of fulfilment. Indeed for many gay men, they find the gay scene predatory, sleazy and demeaning. What’s going on?
I guess the first thing to clear away is the psychological baggage some gay men bring to the gay scene. Let’s face it; accepting that you are gay is tough. Ever since you were a kid you picked up social messages that being gay was wrong or weird or antisocial. Sometimes those messages were literally hammered home in the form of physical attack. Sometimes in the street, and sadly, sometimes from brothers and fathers too.
So gay men bring a stock of self hatred to the gay scene. Of course we see what we expect to find. Our eyes seek out the stereotypes we were led to believe existed and our mind gravitates on them, often with aversion. This is a process psychologist’s call projective identification. We see those aspects we dislike in ourselves in other people, and then hate them for it. Another name for it is internalised homophobia.
Many of my gay clients struggle with this internalised homophobia. They go onto the gay scene, unaware and unprepared for what it has to offer, then recoil in dismay at what they find. If we can clear our minds of such notions, what is really there in the gay scene?
Well I think a lot of what happens on the gay scene reflects not on gay men, but on the fact gay men are men.
Let me explain. In girls, they develop into social creatures interested in faces and emotions from the day they are born. Girls brains are not marinaded in testosterone. Boys’ brains are, and this king of the male hormones kills off much of the social brain in boys. Baby boys are less interested in faces and connecting and more interested in action and adventure.
As boys develop into young men testosterone again begins to shape their brains and they start to become interested not only in sex, but pecking order. It’s just as important to boys and young men to know where they stand in the pecking order of life as it is for girls to connect and make friends.
Inhibited by a brain not wired for ‘community’, and testosterone fuelling the brain with action and sex, young gay men are thrust into a testosterone rich environment which prises, above all else, sexual beauty and the pecking order it creates. As men’s brains are also driven by the automatic need to seek out beauty, the young and the gorgeous rise to the top, and everybody else falls in behind – which of course, is virtually everybody.
It wasn’t always like this. In the 80’s and 90’s gay men had a cause to fight. With regressive laws like the infamous Section 28, which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, and the AIDS pandemic killing young gay men by the thousand, there was much to get angry about. Gay men petitioned, protested and confronted the establishment to end their oppressive law making and provide the services to help gay men die with dignity.
Things are different now. With antidiscrimination legislation protecting gay men’s working, and let’s face it, shopping rights, we now live in a different era. With civil partnerships, gay men can now pay taxes on an equal footing with their straight counterparts. The pressure now is to normalise and assimilate gay men to a straight moral order.
So this leads me to ask a different question. If the gay scene is to be more than simply establishing a pecking order based on youth and beauty, and the opportunity for young men to feed their testosterone driven sexual appetites, what does it need to be?
Well in my work with gay men, I see the social isolation, alienation, and drink and alcohol problems fueled by the commercial gay scene. The gay scene might be in full on party mode, but the male brain isn’t making the connections it needs to sustain and nurture lives, old and young. Gay men need community, not more drinking opportunities, and I see very little by way of community action bringing it about.
The commercial gay scene may be an answer to one question … but perhaps it’s not the right question to be asking.
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