‘In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.’ Marianne Williamson.
This quote by famous spiritual author Marianne Williamson is powerful and relevant and no less true for the gay community. The treatment center I attended was a 'therapeutic community.' I stayed in this community for 6 months while I found my place and played my part as I started my journey of recovery .
The philosophy in a T.C. is that in this environment an individual can change. The environment itself helps to facilitate change. The therapeutic community provides a space where an individual changes over time because they are valued and accepted. They learn there to value and accept themselves.
A strong sense of belonging to a nurturing community in an atmosphere of trust and security is a central tenet of the therapeutic community. Members of the therapeutic community need to take responsibility for themselves, others and their environment. Members of the community must be positively motivated to change, and to accept the community rules. These rules uphold the values and norms of the community, which are a reflection of those held by society. As the person moves through the program a resident is given more responsibility. In this way, the group or peer dynamic is a persuasive influence on residents' desire to become more responsible and accountable. In addition the individual person learns and grows through observing older community members as examples or ‘role models.’ Much of learning in any therapeutic situation is said to occur through example rather than instruction.
So my question today is how healthy is our community? And on what scale does it operate? Also is it a safe place where healing can take place?
My feeling is that the ‘gay community’ could be a lot healthier. In his book ‘The Different Drum.’ M. Scott Peck discusses the concept of community as a healing agent not only for individuals but on a grander scale for the world but as we all know we have to start from the bottom up to initiate true, deep and lasting change, as slow as that may seem at times. And so he suggests that there are several fundamental qualities that create and ‘hold together’ a community. Some of these are:
inclusivity, commitment to overcoming the difficulties that exist in the community, contemplation – a community needs the capacity to assess defects and challenges and be healthy enough to face and solve them. A community needs to be safe, healing. It is a fact that within community brokenness will exist and therefore there too is the need for healing. A community and its members need to be vulnerable. It is a given that within community there will be conflict but a healthy community has the capacity to ‘fight gracefully’ and with willingness can find solutions. And finally a community needs spirit.
In a healthy community each individual can become fully themselves, a process Karl Jung called ‘individuation.’ And whether you believe in God or not if there were a purpose for us in this life experience then this process would most likely be it: to be able to embrace our own uniqueness and let go of the obstacles that stop us from achieving this state and to allow our own unique light to shine for the benefit of others and for our own experience of joy. The gift of getting into this process is that we are able to find our own power and we get the chance to take responsibility for ourselves. Only in a healthy community can maximal individuation occur for each individual.
So how nurturing is the gay community?
In our community we really need to be reaching for ALL the qualities that Peck has described as we are a community I believe that is in need of great healing and this is because of the deep wounds we have experienced. By this I am talking about homophobia, years of violence, bashings, abuse, degradation, inequality and prejudice. The reaching for these qualities must begin from within each individual and then must flow outwards into a unified community. That is a community that is willing to be vulnerable enough to admit it has wounds, to talk and to discuss these wounds in the name of healing. In my work I have heard gay clients describe the ‘scene’ as ‘toxic’ ‘unsafe’, ‘scary’ and ‘superficial.’ How amazing would it be one day for these same men to describe our community as ‘strong’ safe’ ‘supportive,’ ‘loving’ and ‘caring?’? Just saying it fills me with hope.
It seems reasonable to say that the gay community needs to reach with more effort and awareness. Daily I work with ‘broken’ and disillusioned gay men who feel that the gay community is a dangerous place. What I hear is that gay men don’t really care about each other. I hear too that they live in fear of rejection and abandonment and constantly in fear of judgment. You are saved from this sometimes if you are good looking, well built, financially abundant or have fame. If not the gay scene runs on core beliefs and values that can leave individuals confused, lonely and depressed. This is the reality for many. So how do we change this? Fortunately it has begun with certain community organizations like A.C.O.N. and Pos Life, The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and the PLC working with individuals. There are therapists now working on reducing fear, loneliness and suffering for many community members.
But more is required. On a very personal level what is required is the drive from all gay men to support one another, to be responsible when someone is putting themselves at risk, to be willing to reach out when someone is going off the rails rather than abandon them or judge them for their actions. We need to develop the capacity to live in our community by principles such as responsibility, accountability, congruence, acceptance, assertiveness, integrity, willingness, love and care. This shift also requires each individual to ascertain how much of a role model they are and to monitor their behaviour in an aware way to show others around that responsible and honest behaviour is healthy. Hopefully such behaviour will inspire other young gay men to enjoy their lives but not in a way that involves danger, risk, degradation, self abandonment and disconnection from self as well as others.
The final chapter of M Scott Peck’s book ‘The Different Drum’ is titled ‘Empowerment.’ He states that ‘out of the strength of community we are called to be individuals of integrity.’ (Peck, M.S, 1990) This means we speak out against lies, insanity, abuse, inequality and judgment. And while being outspoken may attract resistance and opposition at the same time it can rally and inspire others to find their strength, courage - their voice when they identify with the words being spoken. Let’s find the courage then to speak out, support, to be vulnerable and less judgmental. Lets fight gracefully, care and love each other in our striving for integrity – and to be more intergrated and supportive. In this way we can truly, finally become a confident and empowered community.