Shame and Men who try too damn hard

  • xKorix

    Posts: 607

    Dec 03, 2010 5:23 AM GMT
    I found this quite fascinating icon_smile.gif

    "I just finished The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs, PhD. I have found this to be perhaps the most helpful and profound book on the subject I have yet to read. From a psychological standpoint, Downs examines the shame and pain that permeate the lives of gay men and the destructive patterns and choices that gay men often make. He states "Yes, we have more sexual partners in a lifetime than other groups of people. At the same time, we also have among the highest rates of depression and suicide, not to mention sexually transmitted diseases. As a group, we tend to be more emotionally expressive than other men, and yet our relationships are far shorter on average than those of straight men. We have more expendable income, more expensive houses, more fashionable cars, clothes, furniture than just about any other cultural group. But are we truly happier?"

    I, like the author, would submit that the answer would be a resounding NO. As Downs points out, the gay community is truly a wounded lot. In essence, young gay men have no role models in the home, no one to guide them through feelings of insecurity. They know deep down that they are different, but as young people do, they don't view that "difference" in a positive, healthy light. They come to believe that they are inherently flawed, unlovable, second-class citizens. With this incorrect thinking comes shame followed closely by anger, which, in turn, is directed inward.

    The book is broken down into three stages of development for the gay man. The first stage is "Overwhelmed by Shame". Usually this stage begins in childhood. The feelings of being unloved and flawed prevent the self from developing a healthy emotional state as it would in a "normal" straight boy. Not just children -- adults can find themselves in this stage as well. The individual learns to fake being straight. Essentially, he is searching for and receiving a false rather than authentic validation that ultimately does not satisfy his need for authenticity. Inauthentic validation leads to rage. The author likens the enraged gay man unto a trapped animal - cornered, trembling, and snarling. Thus begins the downward spiral. The rage pushes people away from him, and with them goes the validation he so desperately craves. So he hides his anger in a "velvet glove" and becomes for all the world to see, the gracious friend and lover he aspires to be. Yet he remains extremely sensitive to the slightest invalidation which is met with his swift rage.

    The shame stage is followed by the compensation of shame. Generally, this appears to be the longest (and for me, the most fascinating) stage of development. At this point, the gay man is usually, but not always, out. Being out does not necessarily man that one's identity crisis has been solved. Usually, far from it. The gay man will compensate for this toxic shame by becoming the very best at whatever it is that he does in order to reduce the feelings of inferiority that continue to plague him. It becomes a quest of acquisition: houses, cars, art, perfectly chiseled body, worldly sophistication, and usually numerous sexual encounters with beautiful men. Of course, these never satisfy as the validation that the gay man receives is still inauthentic. Eventually, the trappings of the success that he so desperately chased will leave him empty and unsatisfied and the vicious cycle of more, more, more, more continues.

    The final stage, "Discovering Authenticity", proves to be the ultimate goal of a gay man's life. Usually this stage comes later in life, as the gay man becomes comfortable with his sexuality and learns by trial and error that all he had been striving for is empty. Only then he begins to search for real meaning, purpose, and integrity. While this is the best stage of a gay man's life, it is also the least visible. He is more likely to withdraw from the clubs and social scene because he doesn't need it to fulfill him. The ironic thing is that the contented man is enjoying life at home while his younger, conflicted counterparts who need to see and be around him will, more than likely, not get the opportunity.
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    Dec 03, 2010 9:33 AM GMT
    I have a new book to added to my reading list icon_razz.gif
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    Dec 03, 2010 9:39 AM GMT
    I suggest "Virtually Normal" by Tim Sullivan. As much as I find a lot of these books flawed, they're generally pretty insightful to a degree. It's good to get other perspectives, even though I've already come up with a pretty solid set of theoretical ideas on the subject
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    Dec 03, 2010 10:17 PM GMT
    Nate Klarfeld here from the Stonewall Library Museum & Archives of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. For the past 10 years I have been involved in the Stonewall Library and for many years was the chair of the Distinguished Author Series. We've had literally hundreds of authors come through the library and have that many books on gay life/social interactions/psychology/ you name it.

    What I have gleaned from all this ringside is that we have just come out of the shadows less than 40 years ago. Compare that with hetero sex which goes back in literature at least 2000 years.

    There is no one book or a series of books that really nail our experiences. What you have to do is go on that journey yourself and find the authors, mentors, and people in your life that you can look up to and emulate. Up until recently there haven't been too many, but thank God times have changed.

    Books by Richard Isey, Michealango Signorile, David Leddick, Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette are all good starts.

    My partner and I have mentored a few younger men that have 'come out' to us and though I never considered myself a role model, these young men have told us they want to be like us when they grow up..We always laugh at that..
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    Dec 03, 2010 11:44 PM GMT
    It's interesting to put myself in that spot, and see many parallels.

    But I also have to think that many people are put through troubles as children, and shame is an essentially (inner critic speaking) Catholic element in the development of people. What helps his argument is that gay men and women are trapped, for lack of better terms, in a world where a normalcy has been for centuries maintained by systematic discrimination and prejudice.

    This is irrational, hence a phobia. But it's one that is battled even within the identity of the most self-assured gay.