The world needs us to be authentically ourselves all the time.
Even when it's hard and we're scared.
If you’re as pragmatic as I am, this kind of statement like the subtitle above can sound like hippy bullshit. But I invite you to come with me beyond the surface of that statement and explore what it can mean.
It feels like the world wants us to think, speak and act in certain ways. It feels like the world rewards conformity. The world rewards keeping things light and fun. If we listen to commercial radio at the moment, we quickly realise that most male singers sound like Ed Sheeran (well, they do to me…). Or one needs to have a provocative and attention-grabbing swear word in the title to get a non-fiction book published. What was once new and edgy quickly becomes very safe; very same.
It takes great amounts of courage to strike out in the world to share our own thoughts and emotions. Those who perform or create new content that’s not been heard or seen before will agree: the fear of judgment is real.
No, it’s not easy to keep showing up in the world as our authentic, flawed and imperfect selves.
As gay men, we’re very familiar with the difficulties that can arise from being authentically ourselves. Coming out is a great example of the effort required to be authentically ourselves. It takes near super-human amounts of courage to come out. We fear the rejection of those in our lives if we admit that we’re gay. We feel seen, heard and that we belong when we’re accepted. We can feel utter dejection and emotionally devastated if we’re not accepted.
We know that coming out is never over, either. We don’t just come out once, we must make the decision to keep coming out in new social situations and environments. How many of us have to think twice before we can simply hold hands with another man in public?
While it’s a harrowing process, putting our authentic selves into the world – differences, flaws and imperfections – is necessary if the connections we seek to others and to our communities are real.
And putting our authentic, flawed and imperfect selves requires us to be really connected with ourselves and be OK with the light and dark that makes us, well, us. We need to know – and live – our values. We need to put ourselves into the world in good times and bad. We need to speak even if we use the wrong words or our voices quiver or the butterflies in our tummies threaten to erupt violently. We need to respect the thoughts and beliefs of others, even when we don’t agree. We need to speak up even if some don’t want to hear what we’re saying or want to question our authority to speak or to question our motives.
This is courage and it’s fucking hard.
In the spirit of being authentic, I want to be real with you for a moment.
I’ve been working on the issues of loneliness and connection for over two years now. It’s not an easy topic to work on, as loneliness carries such stigma that only those who’ve accepted that they’re lonely are really open to engaging on it (which, if you're reading my work, you may well have done. I'm proud of you). But I know that so many people are lonely, or at least crave more social interaction in their lives. This is supported by own work and backed by data and academic research.
Loneliness everywhere – and particularly in the gay male community – seems to be spoken of in hushed tones. We fear loneliness. We fear being old and alone. We can feel like we’re somehow a failed human if we allow ourselves to feel the emotions and think the thoughts of chronic loneliness. This fear can drive us to say and act in ways that are not in alignment with our own beliefs and values. We put on a front, wear a mask, and make it look like we’re living our best lives.
This worries me and I know that this doesn’t have to be. I’m called to respond. I’m called to help. I’m drawing on my own lived experience and using my skills to let gay men know – to let YOU know – that you’re not alone in your chronic loneliness.
I don’t profess to have an academic background nor do I profess to have all the answers. I am endlessly curious about myself and what makes me awesomely me. I have received help and support to really connect with myself and have built a team around me who love, accept, challenge and support me.
I want this for you, too. I’m called to use my skills and experience to help others. I see a real need and want to let gay men like you and me know that we’re not alone through sharing my experience and thoughts to help you to take a step towards de-stigmatising loneliness and promoting authentic connection.
Here I am.
It may look slick and polished, but it’s not at all easy. When I publish on social media, publish a blog or drop a podcast episode (on my other site www.thelonelydiplomat.com), I battle with my inner critic [There’s a lot to dig into about my inner critic and we will in a future post, I promise]. My inner critic finds lots of ways for me to play it safe, to stay small and avoid judgment. My inner critic wants me to don the protective armour of perfection and people-pleasing. My inner critic wants me to cover off every possible argument and counter argument when I'm writing or speaking. My inner critic wants everything I say, write and how I look to be perfect before it leaves my mind and goes out into the world. My inner critic wants to deny me my voice.
I battle the thoughts and feelings of not being good enough, smart enough and not ready enough to follow my calling to serve others and help and assure them that showing up as their awesomely flawed and imperfect selves is what's needed.
This battle happens EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It’s exhausting.
I know that I’m not alone. You may well experience this when you share what you're passionate about with the world, too. Your inner critic may want to deny you your voice and tell you that you’re not ready, that you’re not smart enough, that you’re not qualified enough, that you’re not [insert word here] enough to have your voice heard and a seat at the table.
I’m telling you now, that you are enough. I am enough.
It’s all far from easy. There’s no greater sense of acceptance and pride when we are seen and heard for being our authentic selves. It’s affirming. We are seen, we are heard, we belong. When we put ourselves into the world and are criticised, it can feel like the new skin under a blister is being exposed to the air. It’s raw and it’s keenly felt. We fight the urge to don our protective armour. We fight the urge to put the mask back on. Criticism is easier to accept through a mask.
For me, I want to resist calls to toughen up. I do not wish to toughen up by putting on protective gear. I want to remain myself. Not everyone will agree with my work and how I do it, but I don’t write for everyone, I write for you and I want to let you know that you’re not alone with your feelings of loneliness as a gay man.
The world and our communities do not need more fear. They do not need more sameness. They do not need more playing it safe. They do not need more surface level, ersatz connection. They do not need more busyness. The world and our communities do not need more people engaging through masks and armour.
The world and our communities need more empathy. They need more authenticity. They need more care and respect for others. The world and our communities need more people putting themselves – their imperfect, messy and awesomely human selves – into the world to let others know that they’re not alone and that they’re seen, heard and that they belong.
The world needs more of us - you and me - in it. No one is more qualified to be me than me. No one is more qualified to be more you than you. As Dr. Seuss wrote: "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You." Now is a good time to put you into the world in your way.
I’m here and you’re not alone. Together, let's learn to love and accept who we really are and put our authentic selves into the world in all their fabulous messiness and humanness.
Do you know the writings and work of Dr. Brené Brown? She’s my intellectual crush and many of the themes about authenticity and putting our authentic selves into world I raise in this post are heavily influenced by her work. She inspired me to be me, to put myself into the world and, without hyperbole, her work changed my life. There’ll be much more of her work to come in future posts. But if you want extra credits, be sure to check her work out, starting with the book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.’ Dr. Brown has written a blog post on her writings here and has some amazing TED Talks and other presentations on YouTube.
You’re welcome. =)
Sharing my work really helps it reach more gay men
and helps us all to de-stigmatise loneliness and
promote authentic connection for gay men globally.
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.