As men, we often learn to hide our emotions. For example, we all know the saying “boys don’t cry”. I can remember on one occasion growing up being happy and dancing to music on the radio. I was told to stop dancing because men don’t dance! We don’t cry, we don’t express happiness, we don’t feel. One of the consequences of this is we learn to hide our emotions and become emotionally illiterate. We lose the emotional language to name what we are feeling.
Often all a man is left with, is his anger. When a man experiences fear, he becomes angry because anger is safer than fear. When a man experiences uncertainty, he becomes angry because the anger provides certainty.
Then there is the stereotypical view that gay men are more emotionally aware and sensitive. Yet a man who is emotionally aware however he identifies sexually learns the need to hide his emotions.
Hiding our emotions not only affects us socially, it also impacts on us sexually. The sexual act is not just a physical act, it is also an act of the emotions. A limited emotional range impacts on the range of emotions we bring to our sexual activity, foreplay and orgasms. Ecstasy requires an emotional range when it is not taken in pill form.
For many men, it is not just our emotions we learn to hide it is also our sexuality. Gay men, men who are bi, men who do not identify with any category but enjoy occasional male to male sex all learn to hide our sexuality to some degree or other.
The consequence is that many men grow up hiding. Hiding behind a construct of masculinity we hope is acceptable to our circle of friends, our families and our wider social network but all the time being anxious in case who we really are and what we really feel leaks through.
What has all this got to do with shame?
Shame is the sense that we are fundamentally flawed, that there is something wrong with us. Shame grows behind the facades we present to those around us. Often because we have lost our emotional language we cannot name our shame. We just have a sense that we are not right. That we could be better.
This sense of shame, even though we cannot name it doesn’t go away. Very often shame gets acted out in our behaviours. For example, how much of our alcohol consumption is because we enjoy a relaxing drink or two or because we are just wanting to drink to take the edge of “that feeling”? How much of our drug use is an attempt to make us feel happy because we are feeling unhappy, discontent and something is wrong?
The bitchy Queen who has the cutting comment and can put everyone down or in their place, how much of that behaviour is driven by an insecurity of not being enough?
Shame is toxic, it is dangerous for our mental health and well-being. That sense, “there is something wrong with me”, leaves us feeling isolated and alone. Unless shame is addressed in our lives it can be like a parasite, it feeds on our sense of ourselves and we don’t realize it is hiding in us.
One of the challenges for members of the LGBTQI community with the current SSM debate is not to go “into hiding”. With the negativity that is being expressed there is the risk of falling back into old habits of hiding. Hiding can re-activate any sense of shame that is lying dormant and “hiding” in our lives because we have not recognised it.
Shame can be challenging but not impossible to deal with. We all have a responsibility towards each other. When our friends are going into hiding, we need to be there for them. We need to remind each other we are all imperfectly perfect. Often we want to be perfect because we feel that will make up for all the put downs and all the shame we experienced growing up. We will never be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection but there is the beauty of being imperfectly perfect, or as Leonard Cohen expressed it “the crack in everything, that lets the light in”
If you feel you are beginning to hide, or you are fed up with that sense that something is wrong with you, the AIDS Council has counsellors who can assist you work through the sense of shame and help you re-discover the uniqueness of yourself.
Chief Executive Officer
David joined the Council in September 2017 from the Mental Health Law Centre, where he had been CEO for over two years. He has extensive experience in the not for profit sector, with a strong background in mental health, and brings a diverse community based perspective with him.
By David Kernohan, WA AIDS Council CEO
I woke this morning, to the headline that SSM forms had been burnt in Arnhem Land. By this evening, those headlines had become “same sex marriage: Postal survey’s higher-than-expected turnout secures legitimacy”. But does it? What about the forms that have been burnt in Arnhem Land? What of the other postal survey forms I see, lying sodden in the street, limp, impotent in that the voice of their intended recipient will never be heard.
One of the principles of democracy is respect for and an acknowledgement of the importance of the voice of the people. The importance of this principle is usually taken so seriously that when the government seeks to know the views of the people, care is taken to ensure open and transparent processes are in place. People must have their names ticked off a register, their votes and views are confidential and have the dignity of a secure ballot process.
Although the current survey masquerades as an opportunity for people to have their say, it provides none of the safe guards that are usually associated with gauging the voice of the people. In a normal referendum, ballot papers would not be burned. This lack of safe guards affects both the “Yes” and the “No” campaigns.
Whatever the outcome in November, it is open for either side to argue against the result because of the lack of proper processes to ensure the voice of the community is heard in a transparent process.
This survey was born of appeasement. Centrist politicians trying to appease their right flank. But if history teaches us anything, it is that appeasement does not work. People end up dissatisfied and results are often contested resulting in further discord and alienation.
Because the SSM survey is an attempt at appeasement and absent proper processes that are usually associated with hearing the voice of the people, there is a very real possibility the result in November will not bring the matter to a close. There is a very real possibility the results will be contested and High Court challenges mounted.
What does this mean for members of the LGBTQI community? It means we must be prepared for a long journey. It means we must pace ourselves and maintain our resilience and reserves for the long haul. It means organisations like the WA AIDS Council, must be properly resourced to lead community with support and strength.
In Greek mythology there is the story of Pandora’s box. When the box was opened all sorts of evils and problems were let out and all that remained was hope. As individuals, we all need hope. Hope is the quality that builds resilience and an ability to keep persevering.
But hope alone, is not a quality upon which to build good government policy. I would call upon Government, having opened Pandora’s box with this survey and having unleashed the dogs of animosity, abuse and division against the LGBTQI community, to give serious consideration to rebuilding, engaging and healing our community post November 2017.
If you are feeling affected by the postal survey, please click here.
The marriage equality debate continues to flood our media and social media pages. Unfortunately, it is often the extreme views and actions that get the publicity leaving us feeling awash in a sea of vitriol and extremism. While the struggle for marriage equality may be the current issue, those of us of a certain age may remember a different struggle of the early 1970’s.
In 1974, an Honoury Royal Commission was held in Perth as to whether homosexuality should be legalised. As a young teenager who was uncertain of his sexuality, I remember that period well. My father, an Irish fundamentalist Baptist Minister held the same opinions as Margaret Court. He vehemently disapproved of the legalisation of homosexuality and spoke at the Royal Commission, who politely listened and fortunately disagreed with his extreme views. My father was asked to speak on the 7:30 Report to explain his bigotry on television – a momentous occasion for the family given that he disagreed with television being in the house. He would regularly preach on how homosexuals would go to hell, unless they were healed and became straight. He also believed that if homosexuality was legalised the fabric of society would crumble. It wasn’t just Christmas or Easter we would lose, Western civilisation as we knew it in the seventies in Perth would crumble.
It is easy to smile now in hindsight. Yet those months in 1974 were no laughing matter as anger and hatred spewed across the media in the name of religion and civilised society and the right for free expression of sexuality.
For me, there is a sense of déjà vu. The debate relates now to marriage rather than the legalisation of homosexuality yet many of the arguments carry a similar tone. So what do the 70’s teach us in 2017?
They teach us that society will not crumble or disintegrate. In the 70’s homosexuality was legalised and society continued to develop and grow. When marriage equality is granted, society will continue. Society is not destroyed by honest debate or by the expression of love. Society is torn apart by extremism, by factionalism and by making particular groups in society scapegoats for what we fear.
Extreme views either for or against any argument are often based on fear and a sense of inferiority and uncertainty. We convince ourselves our views are correct by the loudness of our arguments. When we are confident of who we are and of our beliefs we do not need to adopt extreme views.
Finally, extremists are rarely changed by rational arguments. I learnt early on, my father, would never change his views because that would mean acknowledging he may be wrong. Extremists often have a world view based on fear and the need to be right.
How do we apply these lessons to the current time?
Firstly, we can have hope. It seemed unlikely in 1974 homosexuality would be legalised. It was and LGBTI+ people finally had a freedom they didn’t have before. Society did not implode. God took a remarkable dis-interest in the legalisation of homosexuality. God did not return to the earth to punish the evil as my father and many religious leaders predicted. Whatever the outcome of the survey, life will continue and I suspect God will continue to take a remarkable disinterest when LGBTI+ people do have the right to marry.
Secondly, our hope inspires us to work confidently for change. Confident of who we are, we can leave the extremism to those who are more insecure and fearful. We can work with quiet confidence, in a respectful way that reflects our own dignity and the inherent dignity of all people.
Thirdly, when we feel overwhelmed with the noise of extremism, we can allow ourselves to relax understanding the fear and inferiority that lies behind such views and concentrate on looking after ourselves and our own health and mental well-being.
Next week I will address our mental well-being in more detail.
WA AIDS Council is providing free counselling support for people who would like additional support during the marriage equality debate. Additional face-to-face, telephone and online counselling is available throughout the survey process. Call 1800 671 130 or visit waaids.com/counselling for more information.
At the request of the Mental Health Commission, the WA AIDS Council will provide counselling services during the Australian Marriage Equality Postal Survey.
Additional face-to-face, telephone and online counselling is available throughout the survey process.
To chat online, clikc the 'Need Help?' tab on the left side of this page.
Achieving marriage equality is an important step towards reducing the disadvantage, discrimination and distress experienced by LGBTI people and is essential for promoting the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people and communities. Better social outcomes = better health outcomes, including helping educating people about HIV, reducing HIV stigma and preventing further transmission of HIV.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, angry, judged, sad, disappointed, or just want someone to talk to about marriage equality, please call the hotline.
For tips on looking after yourself during the survey, download this helpful tip sheet from our friends at ACON:
Here are some printable posters for your workplace or organisation.
Following the suddenly passing of CEO Andrew Burry in March 2017, and an extensive recruitment process, the Board of the WA AIDS Council is delighted to announce the appointment of Mr. David Kernohan as Chief Executive Officer.
Mr. Kernohan has held senior executive roles in the not-for-profit sector in Western Australia for over 20 years, most recently as CEO of the Mental Health Law Centre (WA).
“The Board and staff of the WA AIDS Council are delighted to welcome David to the role,” said Chairperson Asanka Gunasekera, “and we look forward to a bright future working together to improve the sexual health of Western Australians, reduce HIV transmissions and support those living with HIV.”
Mr. Kernohan has qualifications in Law (LLB Murdoch University), a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology) Edith Cowan University, and Mental Health Nursing (Graylands Hospital). Prior to working in the community legal sector David worked in the community services sector with people who were homeless and had complex needs linked to drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
Mr. Gunasekera also thanked Peter ‘Willie’ Rowe for standing in as Interim CEO following Mr. Burry’s sudden passing until Mr. Kernohan’s appointment.
For media comment, please contact:
Western Australian AIDS Council
Ph | 9482 0000
Email | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for purchasing Liberated, by Richard Matias. You have directly contributed to the wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ young people.
LIBERATED is the first hard cover collection of photographs by Perth Photographer Richard Matias and is a celebration of the male form and an expression of life through imagery and words.
100% of every book sold goes directly to support the WAAC Freedom Centre and its work with LGBTQI young people in Western Australia. The Freedom Centre is for young people (under 26) to support each other, to be informed and happy and healthy about their sexuality, sex and gender.
All printing and production costs for this project have been generously donated, so our LGBTIQ+ youth will receive maximum benefit from your purchase.
300 L x 300mm H x 21mm W
Limited Edition Pink Signed and Numbered Dust Cover (50 ONLY) - SOLD OUT
Standard Edition - $150 plus p&h
Express postage within Australia. -$20
For international and pick-up orders, please contact Mark Reid, email@example.com or 9482 0000
Perth residents can pay and pick up a book by visiting the AIDS Council at 664 Murray Street West Perth.
Books available from Wednesday 5th July 2017.
There are imminent changes on the horizon for how Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis will be accessed in Western Australia.
A project for accessing PrEP is anticipated to commence in the second half of 2017 (subject to ethical approvals), whereby PrEP and associated support services will be available to people who may be at risk of contracting HIV.
Do you want to be kept up to date on all changes to PrEP access in WA? Make sure you sign up to the mailing list by completing the expression of interest form below!
Clinical Services recently offered PLHIV a new and innovative experience interacting with horses and nature.
Mel from Horse Horizons and her colleague Vicky facilitated the workshop, offering their expert guidance and seemingly endless equine wisdom. Conversations were peppered with earthy humour and abundant smiles to warm up the grey skies and keep the rain at bay.
We learnt that horses are prey animals and have a finely honed ability to sense changes in the environment and people’s emotions. They notice nuances in expression and body language and respond accordingly, giving valuable feedback about how we are communicating.
They are straightforward and not capable of being duplicitous; what they show on the outside matches how they feel on the inside. Vicky explained that horses are sensitive to duplicity in humans. If there is a mismatch in what we humans feel and the way we express ourselves, horses will sense this, and feel less able to trust or move closer. This mirroring effect invites us to be more congruent with how we feel and what we communicate. This strengthens our attunement with the horse and with ourselves.
Horses teach us other lessons through their presence alone. Like many of our beloved furry friends, they don’t judge us on our history, appearance or dress sense. They simply let us be.
We explored our boundaries, how to respect our own and those of others. Horses let us know if they need space; they will move away. We too, can show them when they have crossed our boundary, by firmly yet non-aggressively nudging them away. We may also expand or soften our boundaries, inviting the horses with our outstretched palms to come closer.
All up this was a truly moving experience, topped off with a yummy lunch and homemade scones with jam and cream. Thanks to Mel’s Mum, we were extremely well fed and left with our bellies as full as our hearts.
What the attendees had to say…
'The whole experience of being with horses was extremely good for body and soul'
'Amazing day with animals, Mother Nature and fantastic people. Very safe space to let your emotions go free’
‘Being with horses made me aware of my personal boundaries, and helped me to assert them more’.
‘My first experience with horses…it was a beautiful space to connect, beautiful set up and comforting energy'…
'What a wonderfully uplifting experience, I can't speak highly enough of it. I would encourage anyone who was too ‘in their heads’ or a little stressed to give it a go’…
‘The experience was deeply moving and I felt I was able to be myself and be seen’