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Identifying the different types of critical self-talk

Over the last month I’ve been reading ‘Loving Ourselves’, the Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem, by Kimeron N Hardin. It has been fascinating and the latest chapter has been really helpful in identifying negative thinking patterns and how to work with them, so in this weeks email I’ll be sharing these with you.

In last weeks class I was reflecting at the start of the session that learning to meditate can bring great peace, but also make us more aware of what we had previously been ignoring. In this way it’s like the stones that rise up out of the ground as the rain slowly causes them to appear at the surface. These negative patterns of self-talk and the associated low self-esteem have been here throughout, but at times as we meditate and bring more self awareness to our inner dialogue and feelings it can seem as if things are getting worse as we all of a sudden hear our negative script much more clearly, and feel the negativity we direct to ourselves more astutely.

For this reason it can be beneficial to have some ways of working with difficult thoughts and feelings. In meditation we simply learn to note what is there, open to it and come back to the breath. There can be a process of opening to the awareness that is able to hold what is there in an open embrace and this can feel very peaceful. I certainly find meditation is a refuge for me in this regard. A chance to sit still and at peace. But there are times when the thinking mind takes over and thoughts and emotions run riot. As this happens it helps to bring a reflective curiosity to the process of the mind, thoughts and feelings.


Identifying Self-Talk

The following is a summary of chapter 10, from ‘Loving Ourselves’ by Kimeron Hardin.

As we bring awareness to thoughts in the moment we begin to notice patterns of thinking that arise without any conscious will on our part. Such thinking is called automatic thoughts. To recognise thinking as automatic thought it is useful to identify the five characteristics of such thought:

1. Brief  self statements or images: automatic thoughts often have a quality of being only a few words that express a belief about ourself that is taken as a statement of truth, such as “stupid idiot”, or “It’s too much”, “I can’t cope” or an image that has the same implication as these words – seeing yourself failing, or being told off. These thoughts arise spontaneously and with no deliberate effort.

2. Experiencing automatic thoughts as true: such thoughts often arise out of beliefs planted in our mind as children at a time when we could not evaluate the truth or veracity of an opinion. They are now heard as if they are objective truth, rather than as an opinionsimply because they are so familiar and have been part of our inner self-talk for so long. This automatic nature means they can happen immediately when a trigger event occurs. For example, if you were regularly told you were stupid as a child when you spilt something then on spilling something as an adult the self-talk is immediately ” I’m so stupid” and this is taken as true. Rather than questioning why one has such a thought as opposed to the more objective recognition: I’ve spilt something, how do I clear it up?

3. Automatic thoughts are often extreme and include rigid rules hidden in the words used: when you notice thoughts containing words such as should, must or have to this is an indication of automatic self-deprecating thoughts. “I should have learnt by now”, “I must pull myself together”.

4.They seem to have always been there: These thoughts pop up so quickly we often forget to challenge them or we forget information that contradicts them. In fact, the thoughts occur so automatically we forget to see them as opinions that have been learnt, and forget we were not born thinking in this way. 

5. Automatic thoughts often group into themes:  as we bring awareness to our thinking we may start to notice that the thoughts that arise whilst being specific to a situation actually fall into common themes that often form the backdrop to our negative self-view or ways of talking to ourself. 

Common themes for self-talk

As you read the following see which you recognise as your own self-talk themes. 

1. Overgenralizing

Words often used in this way of overgeneralising: all, none, everybody, nobody, never, always.

“I’m a failure”, “I can never get anything right”, “Nothing ever works out for me”

People who have this style of thinking often believe that they absolutely cannot make mistakes, or that they have to be perfect. When a mistake happens they feel they are a failure or that they are destined to keep repeating the same mistake forever. This way of thinking tends to take a single event and make sweeping conclusions about life form that one event,

When caught in overgeneralisation one will tend to take a negative event as a pattern of one’s life and make global, labelling statements about oneself and others, places, or aspects of one’s own life, all based on a single encounter or experience.

Sub categories of overgeneralised thinking are:

i) Polarised or Black-or-White thinking. 

Words often used in this way of thinking:

Always Never Perfect
Impossible Awful Terrible
Ruined Disastrous Furious

People who think in this way tend to limit their perspectives of a situation to two alternatives. This way of thinking ignores any element of grey, and instead sees life as consisting of opposites: right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. This type of thinking is very common in depression and is related to the fight or flight mode of survival. Grey thinking requires an ability to hold uncertainty: “maybe this, maybe that”. When faced with a life or death situation we cannot have a maybe, we need a clear decision to fight or run. Uncertainty would create  hesitation and increase the risk of being killed. Hence, when we are under stress we feel the need to make a clear either/or decision rather than hold the uncertainty of a maybe. 

“The more we polarize our thinking the more likely we are to become depressed because extreme either/or thinking stimulates the emotions much more. Statements like “I’m a terrible person!” or “She’s perfect; she’s a saint!” or “I’m just a failure!” oversimplify life and cause massive emotional swings. Few marriages, holidays or jobs were ‘complete disasters’ but had different elements within them.” Ref

As a child we might fail in an exam and then think: “I’m so stupid, I’m never going to get anywhere”. Or we could think “Maths is not my strongest subject, but I have done well in English”.  Or we might have a pattern of being attracted to unhealthy partners and think: “I’ll never meet anyone who is good for me”. But if we have some supportive friends we could think “I’ve met three boyfriends where it ended badly, but I have been able to make some good relationships with my friends”.

The following gives an outline of situations where we might fall into black and white thinking and offers another perspective on how one might think:

  • Can I be basically an intelligent person and still do something stupid?
  • Can I love my children and still get angry with them sometimes?
  • Can my partner love me but sometimes be insensitive?
  • Can one part of my life be difficult and other parts be easier and more enjoyable?
  • Can a part of my life be difficult now but in the future get easier?
  • Can some parts of an experience (such as a social engagement or vacation) be awful and other parts of it be OK? Ref

ii) Filtering

People who think in this way tend to see life through a filter or lens that distorts their perspective known as selective abstraction. This refers to a way of thinking where we pay attention only to the negatives in a situation rather than seeing it in its entirety, which might enable us to also see some positives. This type of thinking leads to feeling overwhelmed in a situation because you only see the downside and not the resources you may have to help you out of the situation. The words we use in this form of self-talk suggest that the situation has no solution, and that one has no control over it. 

An example would be someone with low self esteem going out one evening to a club or to a party and not meeting any one. The self-talk might be something like: “I’m so unlovable/ so completely unattractive”. Whilst overlooking the people in one’s life who do like one, or dismissing past relationships that have meant something even if we are no longer in them now.

At the end of a relationship this type of thinking will often manifest as: “Now they have left I have nothing” , which then initiates strong feelings of loneliness and heartache. Rather than seeing that you have your friends, social network and your own qualities to attract a new partner when the time is right. 

iii) Magnification or minimisation

This involves exaggerating the negatives and understating the positives. So instead of looking at your positive accomplishments, which you minimize, you magnify your perceived failures. An example would be if someone offers you a compliment, you vehemently deny the positive and focus on the negative. Ref

iv) Disqualifying the positive

Here you only look at the negative even if someone tells you differently, you continue to deny it. Here’s a possible conversation between two people showing this distortion:

John: “I’m no good at sports.”

Sam: “What about the time you scored the winning touchdown?”

John: “Oh that was just luck”

Sam: “But even the coach said you displayed skill.”

John: “He was just being nice” Ref

2. Catastrophising or Fortune Telling. 

This is the tendency to predict the worst possible scenario for any possible outcome. A catastrophiser will tend to focus on worst-case scenarios, however unlikely they are to actually happen, leading to a state of perpetual anxiety and worry. 

Catastrophizing can generally can take two forms:

The first of these is making a catastrophe out of a situation. For instance, if you’re a salesperson and haven’t made a sale in awhile, you may believe you are a complete and utter failure and you will lose your job. In reality, it may only be a temporary situation, and there are things that you can do to change this situation. Another example is believing that if you make one small mistake at your job, you may get fired. This kind of
Catastrophizing takes a current situation and gives it a truly negative “spin.”

The second kind of Catastrophizing is closely linked to the first, but it is more mental and more future oriented.This kind of Catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts (e.g. “It’s bound to all go wrong for me…”). Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong. Ref

3. Must and shoulds

Must and should modes of thinking arise out of applying absolute rules for living on oneself and others. This may happen without one even being aware of the process. When we or another does not follow the rules, by mistake or intentionally, it can make one irritated, angry and judgemental. The rules were often learnt as a child and may be irrational or unreasonable but were accepted by the child without question.

For example one may have learnt the belief: “good boys are quiet and don’t cause any disruption”. As a child and in one’s family unit this may have resulted in behaviour that was in line with this rule receiving praise and love. But as an  adult, being at a party where one is quietly causing no offence, but wanting attention, one might become intensely irritated with the “loud” and “arrogant” man who is the centre of attention as he jokes, is mischievous and breaks all of one’s rules for what is required to be good and liked. 

To find your must and shoulds, consider what type of people most annoy you and reflect on what it is about their behaviour you so dislike. What did you learn as a child that may have made you feel that such behaviour is wrong?

4. Personalising

This way of thinking makes everything always about oneself. This might be through always comparing yourself to others: “She’s so much more intelligent than me”, or “my body is nothing compared to him”. Another way of personalising is to always assume that you are the source of other people’s problems, or the cause of a negative event. 

An aspect of this way of thinking is mind-reading: thinking we know what other are thinking and that it is all to do with us.

A friend of mine had a powerful experience of seeing through this way of thinking. He was in a store about to pay for some items. He saw the cashier looking him up and down in a way that he took to be critical or with dislike. He reflected that he did not know what the other person was thinking and even if they were feeling negative he did not have to respond in the same way. Their negativity might have nothing to do with him, and he was aware his thoughts were his own subjective perception of the situation.

In the past he might have made a caustic comment or put the person down based on believing the truth of his perception of the situation but this time he just smiled and said hello. The cashier then chatted and in talking revealed that she had been wondering where he had got his coat as it looked perfect for her son and she would like to buy one. What had looked like a critical looking up and down was someone’s thinking face! 

Loving ourselves…with a little help from our friends

Last week I was away in Spain on a dance retreat so was not able to send a group email. Thank you to Andy Butterfield for taking the class. I hope those of you who were there enjoyed the different perspective he was able to bring by teaching from his experience of practice.

Whilst on the retreat I was exploring in my meditation and through the dance the feeling of being connected to friends.  This ties in with a new approach to the Loving Kindness meditation that I read about recently and will be exploring in the group on Mondays over this month.

One of the things I have heard consistently over the 27 years that I have taught meditation is the difficulty some people feel in being able to connect with wishing themselves well in the Loving Kindness meditation. It can feel forced or artificial to make this wish for oneself, or the inner critic that says one is being self-indulgent or selfish can arise, making it hard to feel a real sense of self-care.

On the retreat I had a chat with someone who told me how grateful he was for the practice, as he had been  able to use the reflections as a recitation during a time of emotional turmoil, repeating the phrases over and over as a wish for himself:

May I be well
May I be happy
May I be safe and free from harm
May I be free from suffering and pain
May all good things come to me.

Connecting with the phrases as a wish for oneself can allow the heart to find its own way of opening to this feeling of self-care. I know someone else who has said that when in a depressive episode she cannot practice mindfulness as it is too much to sit with the intensity of her thoughts and feelings, but she can practice loving Kindness, wishing herself to be well, telling herself she cares for herself and wishes for her happiness.

Hearing this I realise how important it is that we have a feeling of being able to turn to the Loving Kindness practice as a resource rather than dismiss it as the practice we cannot do. Over this month the theme of the emails will be around self-care and self-love so that we have a consistent opportunity to explore this aspect of the practice.

Rather than always feeling we have to move away from the broken person we feel we are, how would it be if we stepped towards being the whole being that we are? We were not born broken or self-sabotaging. We learnt not to like ourselves. A baby does not feel it does not deserve to be loved, it does not hold back its cries feeling it should not bother anyone or that it should wait to be seen. We learn the belief that “I do not matter”, or “my needs are not important” or “I should not be a bother” or “I can only be worthy of love if I am serving another/ am funny enough/ have a good enough body….” or whatever our inner script may be.

Over the dance retreat I was able to feel how strongly I feel my needs do not matter, feel the fear of reaching out to connect, the belief I am too much and will only swap the other if I do try to connect, the fear of being rejected and the hope of being noticed. In one exercise we danced with rejection. Our partner had to ignore us as we danced. It was so painful. At first I danced with freedom and ease, in the flow of my dance. Then seeing that my partner was ignoring me I tried to attract his attention, dancing closer, my movements becoming more exaggerated. But still he looked at his nails or looked thorough me.

Then, without any thought about what I would do next my dance suddenly changed. My movements became small, timid, afraid of causing offence. I came close to my partner, trying to be in contact with his body as he ignored me. My hands coming to rest on my chest in a self embrace that did nothing to mitigate the feeling of panic at not being seen. I then stayed in this slow, small, constricted dance hoping if I were quiet and good enough my partner might then choose to notice me. In the space of five minutes my body was able to relive my experience of being a child who was not seen, and I felt the impact of making myself small in the hope that whatever it was I was doing wrong would no longer cause offence and I would once more be loved.

Over the rest of the retreat I stayed with this sense of making myself small and also of seeing how I could connect out to others. In one session I lost any feeling of being able to dance freely and was standing, with my arms around myself, my eyes closed, my head hanging down. My legs wrapped around themselves. Stuck to the spot. Feeling alone. Isolated. Not wanted. Incapable of connecting out……..

Then the most amazing thing….the sensation of fingers brushing against my head, neck and back. Then a hand giving support, then two hands resting on my back, coming down to my waist, inviting movement in my hips and back. And like a tightly curled bud my limbs released and moved and opened and expanded from their tight constriction until I was once again in the flow of my dance.

The dance facilitator then said “now leave your partner and return to your own dance”…I had not even heard that we were to go into pairs, and realised that someone had come to me as I stood in my paralysed state, daring to reach out to someone who looked so alone and cut off. I looked around and it was the friend I was on the retreat with and I felt such a rush of gratitude and love for him in that moment. If I remember nothing else from the retreat it will be the feeling of his touch waking me from a place of constriction and being closed down.


I then took this into my morning meditation. Using the new method I had read about recently I imagined myself between two friends. Rather than trying to start by wishing myself well I connected with the feeling of wishing my friends well. For so many of us it can be easier to wish another well rather than ourself! But it starts to open our heart to that felt sense of wishing a being to be happy and well.

Once this was connected to I then returned to myself. Feeling myself between these two friends who wish me well. Starting to turn this loving attention to myself. I can be so hard on myself: feeling I will only be worthy of love when I have worked on myself, sorted out this or that defect. Become a better person. But my friends love me right now. Your friends love you right now – as you are. They may see faults, after all we all have our quirks, but they are not saying “I will love you and be a friend in a years time once you have sorted out your addiction/quirk/behaviour trait” They are your friend right now because they embrace you as they find you. Opening to this in the meditation gives a chance to let go of the narrative that I will only be worthy of love in the future, and recognise that right now I am loved as I am, which is the unconditional nature of Loving Kindness.

You may like to try this approach in your own meditation. It need only be ten minutes: five minutes of sitting imagining yourself with a friend on either side: expressing your love and care for them in your own words or using the phrases:

May you be well
May you be happy
May you be safe and free from harm
May you be free from suffering and pain
May all good things come to you.

Then when you feel ready have a sense of your friends at your side, wishing you well. See if you can feel a sense of your friends loving you as you are right now, warts and all. Starting to wish yourself well, using your own phrases or the Loving Kindness phrases, feeling them in your heart rather than thinking them:

May I be well
May I be happy
May I be safe and free from harm
May I be free from suffering and pain
May all good things come to me.

I’m looking forward to sharing and exploring this in the class over the coming weeks.

If you would like to explore the Five Rhythms movement practice that is led by Bodhi who co-led the dance retreat I was on in Spain details are below: 

Click here for more info

A Celebration of Men who have Loved Men

Last week I went to a Dean street event put on to mark the 50th  anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England in Wales in 1967. Scotland had to wait until 1980 and Northern Ireland 1982. Listening to the speakers I was struck by how young and old they all shared one characteristic – courage. Their families had disowned them, their country, culture and religion taught them they were wrong – but despite this they had come through and are now active in improving things for LGBT people now and the lot for those in the future.

Over the coming weeks the theme for the class will be self love, and the focus will be on how we can open to caring for ourselves through bringing compassion to where we hurt and rejoicing in where we are whole. But in this special email  we will have a different focus: looking more at a celebration of men who loved men throughout history. When I started writing this I only intended posting a few photos of gay men from history but as I explored the theme it has developed into more of an essay on homosexuality around the world throughout history. I hope that you enjoy it and it offers food for contemplation.

What became apparent as I explored examples of men who had loved men was that one cannot apply modern ideas of sexual identity to the past. Many of the men in this list were married, so may be considered as bi-sexual. But marriage was seen as a social duty and before Romanticism in the19th Century encouraged the idea of loving a marriage partner it was often dynastic and for the purpose of having children. There may also have been genuine affection, as with Oscar Wilde and his wife, but even here one also clearly sees a man who preferred the company of men who in the modern age might have identified as being gay. That said, this list is not intended to claim all of the men as gay, but as examples of how societies in the past had a different attitude to men who had sex with men, or even celebrated it above sexual relations with women, as in Greece. What we also see is the more complex relationship men who love men have had in more recent history, with examples from even this century of men who were married but eventually could not sustain the lie and came out.

So, let’s start our journey through time by going back to a time when love between men was an accepted part of society: Greece and Rome.


Hadrian (76 – 138 CE) and Antonius (c.111 – 130 CE) – Emperor and Lovers

At the top of this email we have images of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his Greek lover Antonius. Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138 CE (CE Common Era = AD, and BCE Before Common Era = BC) and is known for building Hadrian’s Wall and his military prowess.

Despite being married, ancient sources make it very clear that Hadrian formed a homosexual relationship with a young Greek male called Antinous. Homosexual relationships were not considered unusual in ancient Rome, but the intensity with which Hadrian mourned the 20 year old Antinous’ premature death through drowning in the Nile was without precedent and he encouraged those who wanted to create a cult which made Antonius a god. The statue below was found in Hadrian’s Villa in Rome and is one of 2000 made throughout the Roman Empire to be worshiped as a god. To read more click here and here






Achilles and Patroclus (approx 1250 BCE) – Warrior and Healer



Another pair of lovers form the Ancient world are Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles was believed to be half god, half human and he fought with distinction in the Trojan war. Patroclus was his constant companion and lover from early boyhood until their death and their relationship is a key element of the story of how the Trojan War played out and is central to Homer’s Iliad ( written in the 8th century BCE). Homer simply states a close bond between the two men, but In the 5th and 4th centuries BCE the relationship was portrayed as same-sex love in the works of Aeschylus, Plato and Aeschines.

Whilst Achilles excelled at warfare, Patroclus was trained in medicine by Chiron and he cared for the Greek soldiers, tending their wounds and excelling as a surgeon and healer. Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (2011) is a coming-of-age story told from Patroclus’ point of view, showing the development of a loving homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. It is a beautiful read, moving and gentle and immersing  the reader in a world where two men are fully in love.


Epaminondas (died 362 BCE) – military general


Epaminondas, was a Theban general and statesman of the 4th century BCE who transformed the Ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, leading it out of Spartan subjugation into a preeminent position in Greek politics. In the process he broke Spartan military power with his victory at Leuctra and liberated the Messenian helots, a group of Peloponnesian Greeks who had been enslaved under Spartan rule for some 230 years.

In matters of character, Epaminondas was above reproach in the eyes of the ancient historians who recorded his deeds. Contemporaries praised him for disdaining material wealth, sharing what he had with his friends, and refusing bribes. One of the last heirs of the Pythagorean tradition, he appears to have lived a simple and ascetic lifestyle even when his leadership had raised him to a position at the head of all Greece.

Epaminondas never married but is known to have had several young male lovers, a standard pedagogic practice in ancient Greece, and one that Thebes in particular was famous for. Click here for more info on the practice of Pederasty in Ancient Greece.  An anecdote told by Cornelius Nepos indicates that Epaminondas was intimate with a young man by the name of Micythus. Plutarch also mentions two of his beloveds (eromenoi): Asopichus, who fought together with him at the battle of Leuctra, where he greatly distinguished himself;  and Caphisodorus, who fell with Epaminondas at Mantineia and was buried by his side. Click here to read more about Epaminondas.

The Theban army was know as the army of lovers, The Sacred Band of Thebes was a troop of select soldiers, consisting of 150 pairs of male lovers which formed the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BCE. Its predominance began with its crucial role in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE. It was annihilated by Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. To read more click here


Alexander the Great  (356 BCE – 323 BCE) – King and Warrior



Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. Born in Pella in 356 BCE, Alexander succeeded his father, Philip II, to the throne at the age of twenty. He conquered most of Greece, Persia, Asia Minor, India & Egypt and was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired.

Alexander’s boyhood friend, Hephaestion, was his closest friend and most likely also his lover. Their tutor, Aristotle, described their intense closeness as “one soul abiding in two bodies.” According to Arrian, Alexander and Hephaestion publicly identified with Achilles and Patroclus, each laying a wreath on their tombs. Both Plato and Aeschylus acknowledged that the Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, so this wreath laying ceremony would have been seen as a very public declaration of their love.



In 324 BCE, Hephaestion contracted what a now appears to have been typhoid, while he was in Susa. Alexander, hearing the news rushed to be at his side, but the time he arrived, Hephaestion has passed away. Plutarch says “… Alexander’s grief was uncontrollable …” and adds that he ordered many signs of mourning, notably that the manes and tails of all horses should be shorn, the demolition of the battlements of the neighboring cities, and the banning of flutes and every other kind of music. Arrian related that “… he flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his companions …” . Arrian states that “… for two whole days after Hephaestion’s death Alexander tasted no food and paid no attention in any way to bodily needs, but lay on his bed now crying lamentably, now in the silence of grief. 

Alexander ordered a period of mourning throughout the empire. Alexander sent messengers to the oracle at Siwa to ask if Amon would permit Hephaestion to be worshipped as a god. Word came back that he could not be worshiped as a god, but as a divine hero. Alexander erected many shrines to Hephaestion; there is evidence that the cult took hold. Hephaestion was given a magnificent funeral. Alexander gave orders that the sacred flame in the temple should be extinguished, something that was only done on the death of a Great King.

Alexander’s most telling tribute: he cut his hair short in mourning, this last a poignant reminder of Achilles’ last gift to Patroclus on his funeral pyre. According to Arrian “… he laid the lock of hair in the hands of his beloved companion, and the whole company was moved to tears.”

To read more click here and here

Plato (c.428 – 347 BCE) – philosopher 


As well as Kings and warriors from the Ancient world there is also Plato, the philosopher whose works provide the foundation for much of Western thought. The most celebrated account of homosexual love comes in Plato’s Symposium, in which homosexual love is discussed as a more ideal, more perfect kind of relationship than the more prosaic heterosexual variety. To read more of this discussion click here



Acceptance and Celebration of Same Sex relations in Ancient Cultures

When I was traveling in Italy in my 20s I visited the ruins of a Greek settlement in Paestum. As well as being some of the best preserved Greek Temples in existence, there are also some amazingly well preserved murals. Imagine how it was for me as a young gay man, only recently out to myself and the world to see this depiction of men enjoying such easy intimacy. The images below show a symposium where men have gathered to eat and socialise. The look between the two men says so much: tender, loving and sensual. The two men below are not in such an intimate pose, but the ease of their physical intimacy says so much of a society where men were not afraid to be intimate.


I had this as post card on my wall for years, the intimacy, care and love each man shows to the other was so beautiful and a real celebration of same sex love that porn and modern photo shoots of hard, cold objects for objectification didn’t seem to express.

As well as the tenderness and intimacy shown here other art works from the Ancients openly celebrated same sex love in its more passionate expression. Years latter seeing the Warren Cup at the British Museum was a real delight, for it connected me to a people for whom the desires I feel now were a part of the societie’s life, to be celebrated in works of art rather than a thing of shame. I felt a connection and comradeship with the Romans who made this. I felt less alone by knowing the history of how the desire and love I felt  now had been an integral part of societies in the past, even if vilified later in history with the consequent impact on the present.



Same Sex Love in Ancient Egypt

One of the world’s earliest carvings conveying human sexuality shows bisexuality was normal, even over 3,000 years ago

The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs, rock carvings found in a remote region in northwest China, show a fertility ritual.

Archaeologist Wang Binghua discovered the symbols in the late 1980s, but little has been written about them.

In a new report from Mary Mycio, the carvings show 100 figures which abstractly depicts different ways of expressing sexuality. Over a number of scenes different sexual parings are depicted but the last full scene contains no women at all.

Mycio writes: ‘Ithyphallic males and a bisexual take part in a frenzied dance. One male seems to have his arm around another while a loner near the bottom seems to be masturbating as a parade of tiny infants streams from his erection. It looks a lot like a frat party.’

To read more click here


The Oldest Recorded Porn is Bi-Sexual


One of the world’s earliest carvings conveying human sexuality shows bisexuality was normal, even over 3,000 years ago

The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs, rock carvings found in a remote region in northwest China, show a fertility ritual.

Archaeologist Wang Binghua discovered the symbols in the late 1980s, but little has been written about them.

In a new report from Mary Mycio, the carvings show 100 figures which abstractly depicts different ways of expressing sexuality. Over a number of scenes different sexual parings are depicted but the last full scene contains no women at all.

Mycio writes: ‘Ithyphallic males and a bisexual take part in a frenzied dance. One male seems to have his arm around another while a loner near the bottom seems to be masturbating as a parade of tiny infants streams from his erection. It looks a lot like a frat party.’

To read more click here


The Two-Spirit people of Indigenous North Americans



It was not only in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece where same sex love was honoured as part of society. As an article in the Guardian explains: “Native Americans have often held intersex, androgynous people, feminine males and masculine females in high respect. The most common term to define such persons today is to refer to them as “two-spirit” people, but in the past feminine males were sometimes referred to as “berdache” by early French explorers in North America, who adapted a Persian word “bardaj”, meaning an intimate male friend. Because these androgynous males were commonly married to a masculine man, or had sex with men, and the masculine females had feminine women as wives, the term berdache had a clear homosexual connotation. Both the Spanish settlers in Latin America and the English colonists in North America condemned them as “sodomites”.



The last King of Uganda, King Mwanga II (1868–1903), had a male harem and was known to enjoy sex with men – his anger was roused when these men started to refuse to have sex after converting to Christianity and as punishment he had them executed for disobeying his authority. Eventually loosing his kingdom to the British after leading an army against the British in several wars he was deposed and anti-gay laws were then passed by the British colonial administration in 1902 and 1950.


Persia, Turkey, Japan and China

Abu Nuwas (c.757-c.814) Arab poet Master of witty, erotic love poetry (ghazal), celebrating wine, beautiful boys and song. Famed for his mockery of taboos as the court jester in Baghdad: “Away with hypocrisy … I want to enjoy everything in broad daylight.”

IRAN – MARCH 30: The poet Hafez (1325-1326 – 1389-1390), Shiraz, Iran. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Hafiz (Mohammad Shams Od-Din Hafiz) (c.1319-c.1389) Persian poet Dubbed Sugar-Lips for his sensuous lyrics, many in praise of rough trade. Regarded as a Sufi mystic, but preferred taverns to mosques. His tomb in Shiraz (southern Iran) is a place of pilgrimage.

Mehmet II, the Conqueror (c.1430-1481) Sultan of Turkey Captured Constantinople in 1453 (renamed Istanbul), defeated the Byzantime Empire and founded the Ottoman Empire (incl. Greece, Serbia, Albania). Captured Christian men were placed in his harem.

Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693) Japanese novelist Homosexual love was his major theme, esp. in The Great Mirror of Male Love (1687), a collection of short stories about love between samurai men & boys, monks & boys, and male actor-prostitutes in kabuki theatre.

.Emperor Ai became Emperor aged 20 and around 4 BCE began a relationship with Dong Xian, a minor official. Both men were married, but homosexual relationships were open secrets and generally tolerated. Emperor Ai bestowed many titles upon Dong Xian, and anyone who opposed this was swiftly punished. Eventually, Dong Xian was made the commander of the imperial armed forces. He was 22 and effectively the most senior official in imperial China.

Historians refer to Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as “the passion of the cut sleeve”, which refers to a time when the couple were napping and the emperor cut off his own sleeve rather than move Dong Xian’s head and possibly disturb his slumber. To read more click here


A Gallery of Men who loved Men

No longer free to express same sex love gay men in the modern era still carried something of the role of the healers, shamans and medicine men of old. As leaders, artists and philosophers they shaped their societies.



Leonardo (1452 – 1519), widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. When he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested, along with several young companions, on the charge of sodomy but this was dropped due to no witnesses coming forward. He never married but had many handsome young students in his studio as followers. As with many figures in history the proof of his being attracted to men is limited, but feasible.


Michelangelo (1475 – 1564), considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime, he has since been held as one of the greatest artists of all time. Again any proof of his love for men is limited and contested. The clear delight he took in observing and depicting the male form is often taken as evidence of his interests and in 1532 Michelangelo met and fell in love with a young Roman nobleman, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, described by the humanist Benedetto Varchi as possessing ‘not only incomparable physical beauty, but so much elegance in manners, such excellent intelligence, and such graceful behavior’. Tommaso married in 1538 and had two sons, but Michelangelo remained devoted for the rest of his life, dedicating numerous poems and several presentation drawings to him. For more details click here

My lover stole my heart, just over there

– so gently! – and stole much more, my life as well.

And there, all promise, first his fine eyes fell

on me, and there his turnabout meant no.

He manacled me there; there let me go;

There I bemoaned my luck; with anguished eye

watched, from this very rock, his last goodbye

as he took myself from me, bound who knows where.
And it was not only the artists of the Renaissance who liked men, but also, it is claimed, several Popes, including Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and Pope Julius III (1550-1555). For more details click here

In the centuries since gay men have been artists, composers, writers, poets, philosophers, leaders, sports men and scientists, as well as men history no longer remembers, simply living their lives in the hope of happiness. The following is only a snap shot and not at all  intended to be exhaustive. Names are listed below the photograph montage.

1. Economist and Playwright: John Maynard Keynes and Oscar Wild

2. King and poet: Ferdinand I of Bulgaria and Langston Hughes (1902-1967) Langston Hughes was an African-American poet and a central figure in Harlem Renaissance and founding father of black American literature.

3. The War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen

4. Novelists: E.M. Forster and Marcel Proust

5. Art critic/ballet impresario and composer: Diaghilev and Tchaikovsky

6. Composer and playwright: Sir Michael Tippet and Tennessee Williams

7. Politician and poet: the two contentious men on this list! Abraham Lincoln and Shakespeare. Lincoln was known to have shared a bed with a male friend he lived with for several years as a young man and later as president his body guard was known to share his bed when Lincoln’s wife was away. This is explained as being usual 19th Century practice where men shared beds when traveling or were too poor to rent their own rooms. Lincolns marriage and fatherhood is presented as proof that he could not have been homosexual – but then Oscar Wilde was married and had children. There are some poems by Lincoln that describe a same sex relationship which were suppressed for some time from his published work and more recently a diary has been found that purportedly is Lincoln’s and gives evidence for his same sex love. We may  never know. To read more of this discussion click here.

With Shakespeare the discussion is contested and rests on the reading of some of the sonnets and the playing with gender identities in the plays. Sonnet 20 is most often looked at as evidence of Shakespeare’s longing for another man. Just as contested is whether there is a true likeness of him in any portrait. The Cobbe portrait was identified in 2009 as being of Shakespeare and shows a man of striking appearance who with a change of clothing could easily be at home as a hipster today! The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Southampton who was also Shakespeare’s patron, opening up an intriguing question of what the connection was between the two men. To read more of the various faces of Shakespeare click here 

What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
What’s new to speak, what now to register,
That may express my love or my dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet like prayers divine
I must each day say o’er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love’s fresh case
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred
Where time and outward form would show it dead.
Sonnet 108, Shakespeare
To read of the sexuality in his sonnets click here
What the lack of clarity shows is how hard it is to find clear evidence from an age when such relations had to be secret and how many men have been presumed to be straight due to the silence they had to maintain. In this I’m reminded of how even in the 20th Century gay men in the public eye maintained that they were straight, which brings us to Dirk Bogarde.8. Actors: in the closet and out. Dirk Bogarde directly denied being gay, saying “why should I lie about this” whilst actually living with his male lover in France. This despite his role in the ground breaking film Victim, which looked at the impact of blackmail on a gay man. Were we to only go on the evidence of interviews with him and his surviving written work we would have to assume Dirk Bogart were straight. To read more click here. How much harder then to find evidence from an age when, as in Shakespeare’s time, the punishment for sodomy was death?

Sir Ian Mckellen, who came out in 1988 aged 49.

9. Actor and philosopher of history: Rock Hudson and Michel Foucault

10. Scientist and musician: Alan Turing and David Bowie. Two men who shaped the modern age through science and art. Turing not only broke the German enigma code but was also the founder of computer science laying the foundations for the modern age of computing. Convicted for gay sex and chemically castrated he killed himself a few years later.

11. Polymath and activist: Stephen Fry and Peter Tatchell

12. Dancer and activist: Rudolf Nureyev and Harvey Milk

13. Gay rights campaigners: Allan Horsfall (1927–2012) was a British gay rights campaigner and founder of the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, which became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. In Horsfall’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Peter Tatchell described him as “one of the grandfathers of the gay rights movement in Britain” and “one of the truly great pioneers of LGBT equality in Britain” To read more click here

Antony Grey (1927 – 2010) is regarded as Britain’s first gay rights activist and was instrumental in forcing the government to push through the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which paved the way for modern law reform. He began campaigning for gay equality in 1958, when he joined the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which campaigned to change laws which criminalised gay men.To read more click here

14. Political activists: Keith Boykin, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Clinton White House Kieth helped organize the nation’s first meeting between gay and lesbian leaders and a U.S. President.

Bayard Rustin, who campaigned with Martin Luther King for black rights and went on to campaign for gay rights. He convinced King of the value of non-violent protest and helped to organise the March on Washington.

15. Writer and musician: James Baldwin, author of Giovanni’s Room and Frank Ocean, the first Hip Hop artist to come out as gay.

16. Football and swimming: Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to come out as gay in 1990, who sadly killed himself. Tom Daily, Olympic swimming champion.

17. Rugby: Keegan Hirst: The first British rugby league player to come out as gay in 2015 aged 27.

Gareth Thomas: Thomas’ public confirmation of his sexuality in 2009 made him the first openly gay professional rugby union player.

18. Comedian and writer:  Julian Clary, whose show ‘sticky moments’ on channel 4 in 1989 was central to my coming out process. Seeing an openly gay man being cheeky and playful with a mainly straight audience gave me hope and helped me to realise that I was not alone.

G. Winston James is a Jamaican-born author and poet and a former fellow of the Millay Colony for the Arts. James’s Lambda Literary Award finalist collections include and his March 2010 anthology Shaming The Devil. James is the former Executive Director of the Other Countries: Black Gay Expression artists’ collective and a founding organizer of Fire & Ink: A Writers Festival for GLBT People of African Descent. James is also co-editor of the historic anthologies Voices Rising: Celebrating 20 Years of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Writing and the Lambda Literary Award finalist publication Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity. To read more about him click here

19. Fashion: Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent

20. Tech and banking: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple “If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is … then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Antonio Simoes CEO, HSBC Bank

21. Buisiness and banking: Michael Sosso, Vice President, Ethics and Compliance, BP and Peter Zorn, Managing Director, Deutsche Bank.

22. Entrepreneur and human rights activist: Jared Eng, founder of pop culture website Just Jared was recently named to Yahoo’s Top 10 Bloggers Roll (alongside the Huffington Post & TMZ) and was previously highlighted by Vanity Fair & InStyle as one of the world’s leading Entertainment Sites.

Dan Choi became the face of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when he first came out on The Rachel Maddow Show in 2009Lt. Choi, who’s Korean-American, was an Arabic translator in the Army National Guard and was discharged under the discriminatory policy that barred openly gay and lesbian soldiers from serving in the military. DADT was repealed in 2011.

23. Politics: Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton was the first Tory MP to voluntarily come out, in 2002.

Stephen Twigg was elected as a labour MP in 1997, defeating Micheal Portillo in what was thought to be a safe Conservative seat. He was elected as an openly gay man. There are now more openly gay MPs at Westminster than in any other parliament around the world. To read more click here

24. Politics: Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is an openly gay Indian prince who is the son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s minister for social protection, who is the strong favourite to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach of Ireland. The 38-year-old, who came out as gay during the same-sex marriage referendum campaign in Ireland in 2015.

And so the list could go on…….

If this selection has interested you to see a much more detailed list of men and women who have loved their own gender from throughout history click here

To see a list of the 2015 leading 100 LGBT executives click here

As we mark the partial repeal of the anti gay laws it is worth remembering that more gay men were prosecuted after 1967 than before and that it only took the brave work of activists and ordinary people daring to live their lives with truth and authenticity for us to be where we are now and what we do now will shape the world in which future young gay men and women grow up.

I hope that if we can feel ourselves to be part of a lineage that stretches back throughout history it gives us a greater sense of self-worth and hope.

Being Gay…..and not being happy

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article. Thinking it would be a short but interesting read I clicked on it and 20 minutes later I emerged knowing I had just read one of those seminal texts that shape the discourse on what it is to be gay and the search for happiness, fulfilment and wellbeing. The article gave me hope, and made me cry. I’m sharing the link here as I hope it will touch you as well if you have not already read it and give a way for us as a community to start to talk about the issues it raises around loneliness and self-harm.

I posted it on Facebook with some reflections on how I felt in response to it. I was a bit anxious about sharing, but I’ve been reading a number of books on well-being and self-love recently that all encourage authenticity as the key to self-worth and self-love: saying how you are and how you feel and being yourself rather than presenting an edited socially acceptable ‘Facebook’ persona. I was so touched by the responses I got from people to my Facebook post and it really helped me to feel cared for and held by my gay friends.

The thing that most struck me in the article was the statement that more gay men in Canada die as a result of suicide than HIV/AIDS. Consider that for a moment. If suicide were a communicable disease we would all be terrified of it. But it is a silent killer – one man lost here, then another, then another……..slowly building up until the toll is in fact worse than AIDS (statistics of gay suicides are not available in many countries, but Canada does keep them). And it leads to asking why is it that even younger gay men are still more likely to be addicted to drugs or to be depressed or to try killing themselves than straight men of the same age?

A section of the article really struck me and seems to answer some of this question:

“We see gay men who have never been sexually or physically assaulted with similar post-traumatic stress symptoms to people who have been in combat situations or who have been raped,” says Alex Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist at the Fenway Institute’s Center for Population Research in LGBT Health.

Gay men are, as Keuroghlian puts it, “primed to expect rejection.” We’re constantly scanning social situations for ways we may not fit into them. We struggle to assert ourselves. We replay our social failures on a loop.”

Which raises the question: why? How can it be that just growing up in relatively safe environments, where some of the younger men have not even experienced direct homophobia or been physically abused for being gay, why do even these men show similar signs of post-traumatic stress to combat veterans or rape survivors?

Minority Stress

As part of an answer to this the article goes on to discuss the issue of “minority stress”. This is not a term I’ve heard before, but it makes a lot of sense. To quote from the article again:

“Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.

For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. Not only do we have to do all this extra work and answer all these internal questions when we’re 12, but we also have to do it without being able to talk to our friends or parents about it.”

This was exactly my experience, and that of so many I know: the feeling of having survived childhood and adolescence as the increasing sense of not being a part of the male ‘tribe’ around me intensified. I still remember the intense fear I felt on going to the introductory session with the Cubs, being in a hetrocentric male world felt terrifying, it was not my world and on an unconscious level I felt that I would be seen through. We had sport on two days a week at my school, and I cried myself to sleep two nights a week in fear of what was to come the next day. Not just occasionally, but every week, for five years. I’m sure I am not alone there. I was talking with a repair man who came to my flat recently. He was straight, and loves to play football. I asked him about Rugby as he was tall and strong and looked as if he could play, and he said he hated it, he used to cry and not want to play it so his dad went in to his school and told them he didn’t want his son playing Rugby. How I longed for that sort of father! But as a boy who didn’t fit in with other boys at all, there was the sense that I needed to man up. Whereas this man saw his son playing football and being a regular boy, but who just did’t like Rugby so he acted for him.

These little moments of stress all build up, and the article outlines the impact of them on the body and future development:

“Growing up gay, it seems, is bad for you in many of the same ways as growing up in extreme poverty. A 2015 study found that gay people produce less cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. Their systems were so activated, so constantly, in adolescence that they ended up sluggish as grownups, says Katie McLaughlin, one of the study’s co-authors. In 2014, researchers compared straight and gay teenagers on cardiovascular risk. They found that the gay kids didn’t have a greater number of “stressful life events” (i.e. straight people have problems, too), but the ones they did experience inflicted more harm on their nervous systems.

Annesa Flentje, a stress researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, specializes in the effect of minority stress on gene expression. All those little punches combine with our adaptations to them, she says, and become “automatic ways of thinking that never get challenged or turned off, even 30 years later.” Whether we recognize it or not, our bodies bring the closet with us into adulthood.”

The article goes on to say that healing this involves learning to bring awareness to the patterns, to recognise what was automatic but unaware behaviour and to bring kindness to oneself. I recently saw a report that the suicide attempts among teenage gay men in the US had dramatically decreased after same sex marriages were legalised. It was as if they had received a message from society that they were not alone….reducing that feeling of minority stress just a little through seeing that there were other men out there looking for love and that society now allowed that to be celebrated in a public ceremony.

Letting the Ice of Repression Melt

Right now it feels as if something is thawing in my life. A great continental ice shelf of repression and denial and I feel so much fear, anger and rage. Not actually feel it as right now it seems to be at a distance, but I struggle as I see it like some mummified remains of a monster appearing in the thawing ice….knowing, fearing, that on thawing it will come to life again and devour me.

This doesn’t feel very spiritual. And the fact that I sometimes feel so alone and that there are times that I reach out to friends and they don’t reply or respond and that that then pisses me off, but I try to be understanding and nice about it. Well even that I’m starting to get tired of. But I’m still too nice to tell them… the rage goes inside and eats at my gut like a rat in my belly or maggots and flies in my head. And then I see that I do it myself to others: being self absorbed, forgetting an arrangement to meet, only seeing others as a means to filling my sense of emptiness rather than a real connection from the heart.

In the monastery I had a good straight friend, but we fell out after several years of closeness. He told me he felt me to be selfish. It was so hard to hear as I thought I was being so kind and attentive to him. But I guess, looking back, he had a point. All my kindness and attention to him which he eventually rejected was not for him. It was so that he would not leave me. But as Jung says “what we resist persists, what we fight we get more of” and eventually it was this very energy of trying to keep his affection by not being authentic, but by showering him with kindness and attention that triggered his stuff and led to him cutting off from me to hold his own boundary and stop himself from being overwhelmed. And it’s a pattern I keep seeing. But like a car crash I see it happening but can’t stop it. I started therapy this Thursday, so it will be interesting to reflect on all of this in the sessions and feel into it more deeply. “Know thyself”, the key to freedom.

Reading this article was well timed and has added to my reflections on what is shifting for me right now. It talks of how as gay men we are less likely to have close friends over time, more likely to feel isolated and alone. Find it harder to build intimate relationships – romantic or social. And as social animals we can have food and water and all our other needs met, but without true intimacy we perish. But knowing this is not enough – I have to learn how to be intimate. That starts by opening fully to me and what is here. To be able to cry, and laugh and feel fully. To stop being spiritual and start just being. Easy to say. I don’t know how the fuck to do it. I’ve spent a lifetime being the good spiritual monk!

I realise that the idea of opening to another scares me. I fear that no man will truly be there for me, that they will all leave or let me down, that love is not truly possible, that I am not able to love another…..and why would any one want to love a mess like me anyway? So the work is on opening fully to self-care and self-love. And seeing that there are men out there who are wanting to connect from an authentic place, from the heart and who want to explore healing their wounds around relating through being in relationship. As part of this I looked online for images of male couples, and it was a lovely surprise to see so many from the past, as well as present. So I’m finishing with a montage of these, a lovely reminder that men have loved men throughout history, that we have sought each other out even in times of adversity when being gay truly was the “love that dare not speak its name”. They are our family, our ancestors, out tribe. Just as we are offering our healing to the gay men who will come after us and inherit the world we have created for them to live in. Here’s wishing you well in your own journey of self-love, self-care and deep heart connection with self and other.

To read the article in full click here

The images below are from two sites: Pinterest and Vintage Gay Couples


Only connect

I was 18 when I read E.M. Foster’s novel Howard’s End and it was one of the most powerful books I had ever read. It was as if he were speaking to me, was speaking my own thoughts and feelings. It was as if he were me.  It was uncanny. And it was this quote that resonated most with me. The idea within the novel that it was connections that matter – not status or wealth or possessions, but human connections. And that one has to live as a whole person, to connect with all of oneself, not split off into the ‘monk’ or the ‘beast’ but to let those energies coexist and nourish a total sense of being.

As a teen still in the closet, it spoke to me of the fear of sex and intimacy, the tendency to see it as the beast, the desire to be good, to gravitate to the ‘light’ of spirituality away from the ‘darkness’ of sensual desire. For a teenager living in the shadow of denial about his sexuality how ironic that it was a man from 100 years earlier, who had lived in the same shadow for much of his life, who should speak so eloquently to me in my place of fear of the need to open to all of who I was. I heard and it spoke to my heart, but the lesson didn’t take effect at once and in some ways I am only realising now the significance of what he was saying. Coming to sexual maturity in the1980s didn’t exactly help me to open to all of my being! The sex education I had at that same time was about HIV and AIDS and as I slowly began to realise that I wanted to have sex with men this was fused in my mind with the thought that sex would kill me.

Reading ‘Straight Jacket, How to Be Gay and Happy’ I was struck that the author had the same experience as a teen in the ’80s: seeing the tomb stone safe sex ads for HIV and taking away the lesson that sex kills. I still remember the fear after my first sexual encounter, and the first of many trips to the GUM clinic to be tested, convinced that I was now going to die.

It’s hardly surprising then that after a few years of being out and tentatively exploring my love and sex life my interest in Buddhism and spirituality fused with a subtle inner homophobia that had never been addressed and was able to use my genuine commitment to the spiritual path as a screen to create the duality of the monk and the beast, as I then attempted to push the ‘beast’ underground through 12 years of celibacy, culminating in 6 years of literally being a monk! I wonder how many of us in our own ways have done this? Perhaps not become celibate but found our own way to split off the monk and the beast: going to one or other extreme, but never finding that middle way that celebrates them both?

Even on leaving the monastery there was still a sense that the real spiritual work was to be done in a solitary retreat, that living here in London I was selling out to my ‘base’ desires for sex, a relationship, a man. But why create this duality? This idea that there is the spiritual – pure and undefiled, and the worldly – tainted by desire and corporeality. It probably wasn’t helped by having grown up with one of the few Medieval judgement murals still in existence in a British Parish church, showing the blessed and the damned! It certainly fed my child mind with the idea that one is either good and saved, or bad and damned. It’s not entirely clear in the image below as part of the mural is damage, but on the right are the souls being dragged into a the gaping mouth of Hell, whilst to the left the souls of the saved go up to Heaven. How often do we carry this sense of the damned and the saved with someone sitting in Judgement on us?


Last week I went to a presentation organised by Dean Street for a new organisation in London. It’s been set up as an affiliate of a group running events throughout the United States and other countries. It’s run by a group of young gay men, and one woman. Its intention is to find new ways to raise awareness of how to live a fulfilled and healthy life as a a gay man, to enjoy sex but to be aware of how to stay healthy and safe. As such it celebrates the enjoyment of sex, but seeks to promote awareness of the options around for staying healthy.  It was so refreshing to hear the young men talking as they explained what they were setting up, to hear them say without shame, “I love sex” but to then want to explore how to share a message with all gay men, but especially younger men of how to explore their enjoyment in a way that minimises the risk to their health and mental well being. It made me think of my own struggles and how I wished I could have met others who could have given such a sex positive message when I was in my 20s, to counteract the shame I had taken in as a child and teenager.

And this is not just about having good sex. As Dr Downs expresses so well in ‘The Velvet Rage’, if a core part of my self identity, my sexual drive, is seen as being wrong or tainted then in effect I believe myself to be wrong or tainted and the choices and actions I perform will grow out of this self-belief. I may see myself as the beast, never able to be good enough to be the monk, and so choose a path that takes me into suffering through low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. Or I try desperately to prove I am not the beast and in my own way be the perfect, good gay. If I believe I am unlovable, how will I ever open to anyone to love me? And if someone does – then they must be a fool to love someone so bad, and so are not worth trying to get to know further. Instead I will chase those who give me the message that meets my inner truth: the ones who do not really want me, who treat me with some form of disdain, for this, on some subtle level, is how I feel I deserve to be treated. And if I think on some subtle level gay sex is wrong, how can I love another man who is so flawed? All we can have is passing encounters.

It is for each of us to find what we want in our love and sex lives so I am not saying we should all fit one model – but to have sex without shame, whether monogamous, polyamorous or casual or not at all (but out of a free choice and a deep sense of contentment rather than due to shame) is something I believe will bring a greater sense of self worth to us all and open us to loving the other men we are meeting along the way, connecting from the heart and not only the groin. This starts with learning to love ourselves and so we continue in the group to explore how to open to embracing all of who we are, to let the monk and the beast no longer fight but embrace and give us all of their energies. As part of that exploration the Impulse initiative may provide some of us with support and a place to meet others who share this wish. To find out more about Impulse London click here 

Keeping hope alive – and the epidemic of loneliness and suicide among gay men

You may be familiar with the myth of Pandora’s box. Pandora was the first woman, created by Zeus as a curse to punish what until then had been a society made up only of men for Prometheus giving them the power of fire. Pandora’s curiosity led her to open a box she had been told not to open and out flew all the evils that now blight our word – fear, anger, lust, jealousy etc.  All that remained in the box was hope. When we have been attacked by all of these evils we can always return to this one constant, hope.

But for some of us hope can also seem to vanish.

This last month two men I know have killed themselves. Both were gay. Both grew up in cultures where they were vilified for their sexuality. Both struggled in their lives. Stef turned to drugs and chem sex and lost himself in that to the point of ending up in prison for murder. The other I met when we were both monks. But he left the monastery a few years after me and then cut off all contact. It was only seeing a post on Facebook that I heard what had happened.

Stef came to the group looking for a way to find peace. He was a highly intelligent man. Sensitive and hurt by his families rejection of him for his sexuality. He left Italy for  London, in the hope of finding a more tolerant home. My monk friend was gentle, and quiet.  He came to the group once and led the most heart centred loving kindness practice. But growing up in apartheid South Africa he carried so much self-hate. Both men struggled with loving themselves and finding peace. In the end that led both to withdraw, isolate themselves, look for ways out of the suffering: through being good and ‘spiritual’, or loosing oneself in addictions, two extremes with the same root: low self-worth and shame.

It is my belief that there is nothing wrong or unnatural or unhealthy about being gay, but just as a child with brown eyes who grew up in a culture where brown eyed people were seen as evil would take that view in and loose self esteem, so to for us growing up in a culture that has only recently shifted to a more embracing attitude we carry the wounds of this disapproval and rejection. As a 20 year old in 1990 for me to have sex was to break the law. I enjoyed feeling that sex was a political act as much as an act of pleasure, but it made me very aware as well that I was in a society that treated me as different to my straight fellows who could legally enjoy sex at a younger age. I had abuse shouted at me as I cycled into Cambridge by van drivers. School mates made fun of me for being gay, before I even knew what the word meant. AIDS was used as a means to condemn me and all gay men as filthy and degenerate.

Even now if I am kissing a man in public I have one eye open to look for trouble. I was talking with a friend about this recently, how we can fear the threat of violence for as simple an act as taking our lover’s hand in the street or kissing a man good bye after a date. This is a lot to carry, a lot to place on a new relationship as we navigate not just when it is ok to kiss him, but if it is safe or the right place to do so! Or the feeling of upset when our date holds back from a kiss because there is someone standing there they do not want to see them kiss a man. Add to that the feeling of shame we may have internalised as we grew up sensing there was something wrong about us and it is no wonder the incidence of suicide, addiction and much higher rates of smoking occur amoung gay/bi men than straight men.

At New Year I had the realisation that although I look to men for love, I also fear that men cannot love, and that they will always walk away. How many of us have grown up with the subtle disapproval of male figures in our life, the slight withdrawing of affection and approval as fathers, teachers, school mates, realised there was something different about us? For me it was my step-father’s condemnation of me as a bit of a mother’s boy. The coldness from my school mates. The feeling of never belonging.

That is why I set up the group. To be a place where we can meet and create community and friendships.  Where we can share our joy and hope. Where we can speak freely and know from hearing others speak a familiar story that we are not alone.  That is why I share my struggles. I often get emails or have conversations after the group with men who are touched to hear another speak of the things they feel. To know that we are not alone is the most powerful healing. That I am not a solitary failure, but that this struggle acts to connect me to the human condition. That in suffering, and in joy, we find our shared experience of what it is to live in this world beset by the evils released from the Pandora’s Box of intolerance, bigotry and judgement.

When I loose hope, the world becomes a dark place. It is only the confidence that “this too will pass” that has kept me going at times of difficulty. I have had moments where I felt I would rather not live. But I found a way through. And I want any one out there who is struggling right now to know that once through this dark valley the sunlight one thought could never shine again does break through the clouds of depression. Keep reaching out, keep meeting others, keep talking and sharing. When it feels that all hope is gone – it is still there, it’s just that the flutter of its wings is so faint sometimes we have to listen attentively to hear it.

I recently started reading a new book that develops on the ideas in the Velvet Rage, called ‘Straight Jacket: how to be gay and happy’. After recent events it seems more important than ever to keep exploring this theme. Learning to love ourselves, to be able to be at ease in our own skin, to value who we are and the gift we are to the world. As gay/bi men we offer so much to humanity. It’s time to live each day as if it were Pride, to value who we are and what we offer: so much of culture, creativity and beauty that is part of our heritage was from the creative heart of our brothers. Before it was vilified for a man to love a man we served a role in societies throughout the world as the shamans, medicine men, healers and story tellers. We did not have our own families so we cared for the family of the tribe. My hope is that we can find a sense of real pride in being the unique part of humanity that we are, to share our gifts with the world and to be able to love and be loved. And as we all know, loving starts with ourselves. So we will continue to explore how to open to a sense of self-care and self love in the class each Monday.

Happy New Year! May 2016 bring you joy and happiness!

I returned from the Loving Men retreat this evening. It started Friday evening and never have a few days felt so full and rewarding! I feel nourished and loved and have had more hugs and loving touch in a few days than in the last few months! There were 80 men together engaging in workshops, meeting for morning yoga and meditation and exploring how to let go of the defences which stop us from reaching out for touch and love. I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to be on such an amazing weekend and to have entered the New year with so much joy and sense of community. Over the few days we were together I saw how what we can be as gay and bi men is a loving community of men, caring for one another, softening, exploring, playing – and being fabulous! There were so many skills and talents shared over the weekend – workshops on dance, creating vision boards for the year ahead, an evening of drag for those who wanted to get dressed up.  There were massage classes, voice improvisation sessions, an introduction to shamanic healing and so much more.

One seminar I found particularly useful was on exploring staying with the ‘maybe’ in making a choice in order to be clearer with if the decision is going to be a no or yes. The session was introduced with poem by America poet William Stafford:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

How can we give clear signals, yes, no or maybe if we are as yet decided? The maybe is a place of exploration. Rather feeling I have to rush to a clear yes or no, I may want to leave the space open for exploration. Rather than feel compelled to please another by saying yes or just saying no in order to escape the discomfort of having to negotiate an outcome when I feel uncertain if I can express the maybe it opens up the possibility for discussion, for exploring what would make a difference. Doing this workshop made me aware of how often in the past I have run past the maybe into a yes or no and have later regretted not talking over my concerns or wishes before agreeing to a course of action or turning it down.

The maybe can create a place of open discussion. One is saying that one is open to the possibility, but there are issues there that need to be addressed and depending on how this discussion goes the decision might be a yes or no. If in contrast one has a clear sense that it is a no but wants to avoid seeming to reject the other person it may seem easier to give a maybe. At such times it might be kinder to give a clear no rather than seem to leave the possibility open and the waiting and hoping for a yes that will never come.

As part of the session we thought of a question we had about an area in our life where we were wanting some clarity. With two other men we then explored the yes, no and maybe position. As the one asking th question I remained as the maybe, in a space of not having made a decision either way. One man then represented ‘yes’, the other ‘no’. I then moved them around the room, placing them nearer or further away from me, going up to one and then another, and simply staying with how it felt to be with the yes or the no. At first I thought I wished I had signed up to another seminar as I couldn’t see how this was going to work! Human chess! But it had an amazingly powerful effect. As I looked at the person representing no I saw and felt everything connected with that decision and way of living my life. As I looked at the person representing yes I saw and felt the consequences of applying that decision to my life. As a result I came to a decision based on the sensations in my body as much as thought. The decision was to go with the yes. If you don’t have a couple of men available to move around your room you can also use two objects, deciding which represent yes and which no!

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