Maturity of the male gay community

I watch, in wonder, as I observe the male homosexual (gay) community, grappling with issues of longevity in defining identity, relationship and purpose. In the 50 years since the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, so beautifully illustrated by the BBC’s #GayBrittania series, the community appears still to be the ‘kid with the new toy’.

As I ponder these 50 years, longer than my own lifetime, I feel my frustration grow within me. Why, after 50 years, has the gay community not matured beyond a state of play?

Yet, whilst it’s 50 years since this Act decriminalised some behaviours, it has not been a period of plain sailing. The constructs generated by the establishment, church and state are still being challenged, with some battles won and other battles still left to be fought. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, repealed in 2003 in England, being such an example. Thus reducing the 50 years of liberation to perhaps 18 years at best for those untouched by the discriminatory nature of section 28.

Surely, I wonder, this is still a significant period of time for the growth of maturity within the gay community? However, when I put this into context of the legal history, with the Buggery Act 1533 bringing into civil law the actions of the ecclesiastical courts; condemning homosexuality since the time of the Romans. 50 years is no more than a blink of an eye in the previous two millennia of decriminalisation, with 18 years hardly the start of the blink. Indeed, the tasks of debating and reconstructing the aspects of establishment, church and state remaining on the list. With identity, relationship and purpose still being explored in these contexts.

In reality, the gay community is just doing what it’s always done, only it’s more public now. Public in the sense of being a community and not of public humiliation, prosecution and shame. The community has just started to learn what it is, and how it can be, in place of (greater) acceptance. As with all communities, there will be those who live within the construct, and those who help to define this construct.

Let them play, I say, let them play. Lest they forget, however, what has been gained can, so easily, be lost, whilst the difficult battles remain.

Taboo subjects? What’s not talked about in Therapy

I love the therapeutic space I have with my psychotherapist, knowing that I have a whole hour of confidential time to talk about anything I want: my hopes, dreams. My fears. knowing that my therapist will be present and holding, and that nothing I may bring is banned, out of bounds or not allowed. Or is it? I wonder to myself, perhaps some areas are actually taboo. Maybe there are some subjects that my psychotherapist doesn’t want to actually listen to. What if there are specific areas of my life which are not for ‘public consumption’.

If you are like me, growing up in the last century, I am from a time when children were still ‘seen but not heard’. The legacy of Victorian Britain still influencing my cultural heritage. I was encouraged to suppress my natural instincts as a child to be free, exploring and curious of my universe, to be the ‘good boy’, and thus reassuring my parents I could be taken anywhere and I wouldn’t embarrass them. I learned that some things should not be talked about. However, this curiosity still lived within me and the exploration moved to a different place, of teenagers giggling behind bike sheds and nervous fumblings in the night.

I’m talking about sex.

I believe that a health connection to and understanding of our sexual self is fundamental to our existence as a human being. However, this is more than the physical expression of sex and sexuality, but an understanding of how to form healthy relationships, of intimacy and identity, of self-worth, self-expression and understanding. It’s about how I see my body and how I imagine other people see me.

The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT), UK’s leading organisation for therapists specialising in sexual and relationship issues, state that people often feel upset and ashamed if they don’t think they fit into the ‘normal’, whilst the truth is that there is no ‘normal’. Everyone is different, individual and unique. Our society is littered with myths about sex and sexuality, about what is normal, safe and acceptable. Yet the ability to talk openly about sex and sexuality is often stunted by historical moral perspectives of what is right and proper, along which comes a thick slice of shame and guilt. For many of us, our education about healthy sexual relationships has come from peers, the media or the internet.

In reality, nothing is taboo to a well-trained therapist. As is the case with my therapy space, I believe that nothing is out-of-bounds. It is a place to explore the connection we have with the different parts of ourselves, with the sense of the sexual self and with sexuality. It is an opportunity to explore whether this relationship is open and flowing, or has been distorted by the inappropriate, immoral or illegal actions of others. It is a safe, confidential space to unpick the shame and guilt which might be being carried for our actions or the actions of others. Whilst talking about sex and sexuality is not an easy subject for most people, the rewards from doing so could be life changing.

Our relationship with Europe

I have listened to the debates so far regarding staying in or leaving Europe, with great interest. I hear people compelling us to leave Europe for our greater good, and compelling us to stay in Europe for our greater good. In all these arguments to date, I have not heard anything with provides a solid rationale for staying or leaving. I wonder if this remains unknown and that the ultimate outcome of the decision is simply too large for any one person to comprehend.

In considering the options, I’m minded to consider our relationship with Europe as that, a relationship. This provides me with some understanding of what might be going on here. It feels as though the parent labelled ’Europe’ is being rebelled against. As a ‘child’ of this parent, we are not happy with the boundaries which have been put in place. We are angry at the decisions being made and a strong drive telling us that we would be better standing on our own feet. Sounds a little bit like a teenager who is fighting to form an individual identity, hating the parents for the ground rules. Those ground rules which supported us to grow and develop, when this country was born out of the conflicts of two world wars.

The arguments seem to me to be focussed on convincing the British people (aka us) to make this decision, but this motivation is not without manipulation and threats of doom should be choose the wrong decision. If feels to be as difficult a decision to make as that faced by social workers who are instrumental in taking a child into care, ultimately and hopefully for their greater good. Whilst I can vote on what feels right to me, ultimately, I do not know what is the best for the British people, as much as a social worker can comprehend the overall outcome of their decision to remove (or not) a child. What is the impact 10 years, 20 years, 30 years into the future…?

To me, |t is also unfortunate that we have never truly been part of the family. Can we truly say what it is to be part of the family we may reject in a few months time. We have remained one foot in and one foot out, dithering between full integration and departure. We’ve wanted the benefits of the European project, whilst criticising it at every developmental step. Perhaps memories of the great British Empire linger on, nearly 60 years after we returned to being just a small island state with an influential history. Are we still mourning the loss of our power on the global stage?

In reality, I don’t know what the outcome will be. On balance though, what I do know from working with relationships is that the most effective outcome is remaining in and working with the relationship, rather than abandoning it without at least trying to understand what might (or indeed not) be broken. Whilst it might be more painful to stay and we are not likely to get everything we desire, compromise and support of the ‘family’ is more beneficial in the long run, than going it alone. In making this decision, I will ponder which family we will be adopted by should I vote to leave versus the family we are currently part of. I will consider what the difficulties are that I face in this family, and what is the relational process behind abandoning it, packing our bags and running away.

Although, I’m not sure we’ve worked out yet where we are going, and what we do if we don’t like where we end up…

The fantasy of mind reading in relationships

How many times have your heard your partner say to you, “You should know what I’m feeling, you’re married to me?”  or “Why didn’t you do, this/that/the other, you know me?” This is the art of “mind reading” and its what most people expect of their partner when they have been together for a while.

There are two types of mind reading. They are guessing what another person is feeling or thinking, and attributing intentions or purposes to another person’s actions or behaviours. As babies, we needed our parents to be able to do this in order for us to communicate our needs, before we learn to be able to communicate for ourselves. When we were hungry, we wanted our partners to read our body language so they feed us, or when we were feeling sad, so they would comfort us.

However, we cannot read anyone’s mind, know what they want or what they are thinking. No one can actually read your mind. As adults, we have the language to communicate our needs, and it is important we start to do so. As we all know, the English language is notoriously bad at being specific, with words having different meanings to different people, depending on the meaning we give to that word.

There are so many ways to interpret clues and hints, that even someone who knows you well can misread the intent. Whilst direct communication of your wants, needs, and desires may ruin your fantasy, instead of the satisfying feeling of your partner just figuring it out, asking for a hug will help ensure you are both on the same page. For those few times when your other half guesses right, many disappointments, arguments, frustrations, hurt feelings, and even breakups could have been avoided. There are other ways to fulfill fantasies than silently waiting and building frustration.

When I work with couples therapeutically, communication is fundamental to the success of the work. To overcome the need for each other to mind read, we need to agree to stop trying to read the mind of others. To learn what it is the other person is trying to communicate, ask them questions until you are certain you understand what the other person is feeling or thinking, or what they are trying to communicate through their actions or behaviour.

We can stop people trying to read our minds by precisely describing what is going on inside of us, avoiding vague words, and by being as specific as possible about time frames, actions and expectations.  We can use common or shared experiences as examples of ways of making our mind clear to another person, but it is important to avoid blaming, labelling and digging up past, unresolved hurts.

In the end, if you want your other half to figure it out on their own, be prepared for disappointment, as it will rarely go your way. If you want something, or don’t want something, just say it.