A Letter to Gay Men – from a Gender Sexuality and Relationship Diversity therapist

This letter is addressed to gay men and is based on my work with the community over the years. I hope it might provide some gentle guidance to help you to avoid some of the common difficulties experienced by gay men, and that it doesn’t read too much like a nagging parent!

Seek self-compassion

Please take seriously the impact that living as a gay man in a heteronormative world may have had on you throughout your life. ‘Minority stress’ is the result of the chronic prejudice and discrimination that many gay men experience from an early age. Situating yourself within this context and recognising that you are not to blame for it may help you to feel some compassion for yourself.

Be curious about how your past might be influencing your present

Your response to this external stigma can often create a further, more internal, layer of minority stress – thoughts, feelings or behaviours that might have been necessary at the time, but that might now be causing other problems. For example, you may have learned to hide aspects of yourself that invited unwelcome attention, such as the way you walked or talked, or by avoiding things you were drawn to. As an adult you may still find that you hold back for fear of judgement or even abuse. This might be getting in the way of your relationships, work prospects, or your creative expression. Perhaps you find it hard to trust people, or maybe you trust people too quickly. A good therapist can help you to explore how past experiences might be impacting your present.

Reject internalised homophobia

A common result of homophobic stigma is that you can internalise the slurs and judgements of bullies, rejecting family members and friends, institutions, or wider society. You might come to identify with these projections, feeling that you are indeed deviant, pathological or sinful, just like they say. You might treat yourself (and others like you) with contempt for being different. Recognising internalised homophobia is one of your most important tasks as a gay man given its potential for damage. Again, therapy can help, as can finding a community of others like you.

Find community

You might have won the family lottery if you have parents and siblings that accept you unconditionally as a gay man. Many gay men have more disappointing experiences, and it can be devastating to be shunned by those who are supposed to love you. In some cases, they might need some time to work through their prejudices. Sometimes your family can let you down catastrophically and you will need to seek love and support in other places. Whatever your experience, focus on building a ‘chosen family’ within the community and its allies. Research shows that being part of a community is vital for gay men. It can provide a sense of belonging that can buffer the worst impacts of minority stress, internalised homophobia, and loneliness. Seek out a handful of close friends based on your interests or values perhaps at a local theatre company, sports team, or music scene. You might pride yourself on your independence, but we all need others, so try to avoid being alone, or avoiding others like you.

Explore relationships on your terms

Most of us desire sexual and/or romantic connection to others. Relationships come in many varieties - you might be someone who prefers to be monogamous, in a committed relationship with just with one person. Or ethical non-monogamy might suit you better – a relationship where partners agree to pursue sexual and romantic relationships with others. Perhaps you prefer purely sexual relationships, or relationships without sex. Be as upfront and honest as you can about what you desire, your boundaries and expectations. However, do pay attention to repeating relationship patterns and sexual experiences that don’t leave you feeling great. Perhaps you often feel anxious in relationships with avoidant partners, or maybe you run away when things start to get serious. Perhaps you struggle to connect sexually, or your self-esteem seems to hold you back. Therapy can help to disentangle how earlier experiences might be impacting current relationships. Seek out a therapist that is both affirmative and exploratory - that is, they see being gay as a perfectly normal and healthy variation of human sexuality, but they also seek to explore what might be going on at a deeper level.

Explore sex without shame

Historic shame may have left you with a complicated relationship towards sex. On top of this, porn may have given unrealistic expectations around sexual performance, body types or even penis size. Consider how shame might be impacting your sexual experiences – perhaps you often end up feeling used and objectified, or maybe you struggle to connect or feel anything beyond the mechanics of sex. Maybe you can only have sex when drunk or high, or only enjoy risky sex. Take your time to explore your sexuality with people with whom you’re comfortable.

Not all gay men have anal sex

Not all gay men have anal sex and you should not feel any pressure to if you are not comfortable with it. For those who do practice anal sex, some can become stuck in a passive or active sexual role without realising. Many men I have worked with have found it useful to explore their relationship to their preferred sexual role and the complex interplay of desire, personal psychology and past experiences that might influence it. Some have subsequently found much satisfaction in being more adventurous in this area, discovering new aspects of themselves. I’d encourage you to explore a more versatile sexual experience if you are able - one of the benefits of being a gay man is the capacity for a broad sexual expression and experience. You may find your preference remains static, or changes over time and is fluid. But bottom line (no pun intended!), so long as sex is pleasurable, consensual, and safe, leave shame at the bedroom door and enjoy yourself.

Seek support for sexual issues

Sometimes you may experience sexual issues such as pain, premature or delayed ejaculation. These are common issues, but can seriously impact your enjoyment of sex and life in general. There might be a biological cause that requires medical treatment, so do speak to your GP in the first instance. Sometimes the issue might have more of a psychological origin and so it’s worth seeking the help of a sex and relationships therapist if it persists.

Don’t neglect your sexual health

Regular sexual health check-ups are vital for sexually active gay men - STIs are common, but thankfully easily treatable/manageable if you are aware of them. Advances in medical care have given us PrEP, a drug that is up to 99% effective in preventing HIV infection, so gay men can enjoy sex with less fear than in the past. Modern treatment for HIV infection means you can live a long and healthy life if it is diagnosed early. When in doubt, condoms are your friend. It can be easy to bury your head in the sand regarding check-ups, but taking care of your sexual health keeps you and others safe and is good for your confidence and self-esteem too.

Take care with drugs and alcohol

Stigmatised people are more likely to seek comfort and confidence in drugs and alcohol, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. They can be fun, bringing people together, but can quickly become a crutch for some. If you find you are becoming dependant on drugs or alcohol to have a good time (including during sex) do speak to someone about it - there are many organisations that can help you get a handle on addiction at any stage, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Antidote at London Friend, and Narcotics Anonymous.

Be kind to one another

Despite the vital role the community can play in reducing minority stress it can paradoxically be a place of harm. If gay men don’t work on their internalised homophobia, they run the risk of punching down to others in the community, adding to the cycle of stigma and shame. Please do not engage in racism, fat-shaming, transphobia, femme-shaming, ageism, or HIV-stigma within gay and queer spaces, online or in person. We all have something to offer and much to learn from each other. It’s important to recognise that the trauma and stigma you are likely to have experienced are not your fault, but your present-day responses to those experiences are now your responsibility. There are attempts by some to sever the historic roots of the LGBTQ+ community that have provided sanctuary and family to many – particularly the push to separate trans people from their lesbian, gay and bisexual siblings. Resist this by sticking together rather than fighting one another.

Beware constant striving

Minority stress has an upside - it has likely made you remarkably resilient where you have been forced to adapt to difficult circumstances. One way this can manifest is that you may go on to do impressive things – in work, education, or in creative pursuits – often originally as a means to escape oppressive environments. The flip side of these achievements can be that sometimes you might feel that you need to keep achieving to feel safe, or good enough. If this resonates, try to recognise this impulse, perhaps allowing yourself time to catch your breath and look back on your accomplishments with pride. Importantly, make sure you are not neglecting other areas of your life with constant striving.

Be courageous

Many gay men are still fearful to be fully themselves in public in case they invite judgement or attack, particularly when showing affection. For straight people, holding a partner’s hand or kissing in public is likely something taken for granted, done without much thought. For gay people it can represent a heroic and defiant act. Your visibility is key to wider acceptance – particularly demonstrations of relationships that run counter to stereotypes (e.g. that gay men are only interested in sex, gay relationships don’t last). If you can, and only if you feel safe enough, have courage to be yourself around others.

Nurture your gay sensibility

Some gay men are lucky to be living out their full creative potential, harnessing their inbuilt gay sensibility - that is, that part of you that feels things deeply, that appreciates art, beauty, and humour from a unique perspective. For others, that part of you shamed for being different as a child is likely still waiting in the wings to play again. Please explore your creative instincts in whatever form they might take – perhaps you always wanted to sing, or cook, do stand-up, make art, or start a business. Whatever it is, get creative. For many gay men, the task of your adult life is to find again that free, spontaneous, and creative child that had to be left behind in the closet as you stepped out of it many years ago.

Written for CICS by Paul Christopher Mollitt: innerspacetherapy.org

Blog Post written by:
Paul Christopher Mollitt