In-fighting only strengthens those who seek to silence us.
Have you ever seen this happen? Queers come together at a large event like Pride where everyone wants to have their voice heard, their opinions honoured and recognized as having value. Sometimes this leads to division or in-fighting within a specific group, like gay male “bitchiness” or one part of the community against another.
There are many reasons for the causes of such division. It may involve personal emotions, shame, not knowing oneself well-enough, or something situational. Within the politics of leadership and working to improve humanity and make the world a better place, we may have conflicting needs as a group or a collective of LGBTQ people, but not necessarily conflicting values.
In this episode, I share a story from my early foray into leading (or my inability at that time) and my involvement with Queer Nation in Ottawa, Canada. I talk about the relationship between leadership and influence, and it’s opposite – recruitment and persuasion. The later is the very human challenge of the ego unchecked, blinded by our fears and defensiveness, which leads to many of the challenges we are facing in the world today, including climate change, toxic capitalism, neoliberalism, the demise of democracy, populism, and the silencing and scapegoating of the “other” in society.
For some time I’ve been pondering the question, “What is queer leadership — and does it even exist?”
It would be easier to ask, “What is Gay Leadership?” because we have witnessed gay leadership work to usher in many of the rights, freedoms, and acceptance that we enjoy — albeit precariously — in much of North America and many parts of Europe.
However, this is not to negate the leadership of Lesbians, Trans people and more recently the work of people challenging sexual and gender binary labels, as well as the very labels that make up the ever-changing LGBTQ acronym. In the larger sense, the word gay was historically used to include everyone before we had our current, expansive, and fluid acronym. However, gay has also excluded those who were conveniently overlooked, because they didn’t have a unique label to express their unique identity.
Which brings me back to my opening question, to which I will add,
How can we all work together as a collective of queer thinkers to embrace, demonstrate, and advocate a humanitarian leadership of belonging? How can we — collectively as queer people — lead from the margins to metaphorically corral the disparate fractions of humanity, so that divisiveness between peoples may become less in proximity to create and foster a genuine diversity.
There doesn’t yet exist a so-called “queer leadership” per se, or that I know of, but I am working on developing this new style of leadership that our world desperately needs. That starts here, with this “Living Document”, which I will continually add to, modify, and come back to as the foundations for what I hope to co-create with many other like-minded, queer thinkers.
A New, Queer Path
In early 2018, I read Ray Rigoglioso’s book, “Gay Men And The New Way Forward”, followed by his five-month Gay Men of Wisdom program. Rigoglioso discusses what he has determined to be 14 distinct gifts that are unique to many gay men. These are qualities and characteristics that any human being can have, but how and the propensity to which they show up indicates unique perspectives, insights, and behaviours demonstrated primarily by gay men.
Rigoglioso does the gay male community a tremendous service in demonstrating how many gay men practice these unique gifts, and how they can be used in various ways to improve society. What’s missing, but not absent, is the larger discussion of the strategies and methods for how gay men can use those gifts to lead others, as Rigoglioso writes, to “create evolutionary change in the world.”
Rigoglioso’s work is deliberately focused on gay men:
As a self-identified gay, cis-male, I have learned much more about who I am as a gay man and even experienced a “paradigm shift” in my understanding of forgiveness and empathy as the result of working with Ray, and the other gay men in the Gay Men of Wisdom program. I can both specifically and broadly share my experiences (my narrative) as a gay man, but I cannot assume to speak for a lesbian, a trans person, or however anyone else may choose to self-label.
I also identify as queer — not as a genderqueer man — in my politics and social justice views. This is how I feel connected to something bigger than me though my friendships and support of anyone within the scope of LGBTQ+.
Definition and etymology of the word, queer
c. 1500, “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” from Scottish, perhaps from Low German (Brunswick dialect) queer “oblique, off-center,” related to German quer “oblique, perverse, odd,” from Old High German twerh “oblique,” from PIE root terkw- “to twist.”
“to spoil, ruin,” 1812, from queer (adj.). Related: Queered; queering. Earlier it meant “to puzzle, ridicule, cheat” (1790). — source
What these etymological definitions show is that being a consciously queer person is radically different from the status quo. Being queer is what the dominant hegemonic culture and patriarchy attempt to control and suppress.
I’m a strong proponent and defender of the words gay and queer to indicate identity and acceptance, not exclusion. We can use these words to incorporate variation and we can use them to sharpen our focus. What matters is allowing the individual to choose how they wish to be labelled (if at all), to understand what these words mean in the larger semantic field, and to embrace or reclaim words that others have used to harm and disenfranchise us.
When it comes to using someone’s preferred gender pronouns, often the new and different labels can be confusing. But for now, we need these labels. We need these ways of describing ourselves to be visible and to be included. Until we live in a world where asking first how someone wishes to be addressed is “normal”, or we use they/them as default pronouns, just because someone doesn’t understand the importance of this semantic and linguistics shift does not mean they deserve to be disrespectful or hateful of others self-identification.
The Queer is Political
Looping back to my original question, I feel it’s important to add that we need to queer our current politics, specifically to change from a politics of division to a politics of belonging. We need to recognize that difference does not need to equate with divisiveness.
How ironic — how queer — that LGBTQ people may someday create a political movement for the betterment of humanity, to lay the path for,
Here we begin to realize that our so-called difference — our “otherness” — is our greatest strength. Our difference is our uniqueness and our source of insight — the gift of deep introspection (due in part to various forms and duration of having lived in the closet). As queer people, we can use our unique gifts to make a profound, humanitarian difference in the world.
Evolution is a seed waiting to be planted. You must have faith that the seed will take root, but you also have to water and care for it.
What is integrity and why is it the most important and vital quality in leadership?
We demonstrate individual integrity with honesty and strong moral principles to guide our choices and actions. What happens when you make a decision based on strong moral principles but you have to conceal part of the reason for your decision? Is that wrong? Is that dishonest? Or is that one of the many challenges that make leadership fluid and diverse?
Rarely are any of our choices perfect, but in leadership, misunderstandings happen only when there isn’t complete and honest disclosure. Sometimes withholding information is a necessary part of leadership, if the choice was well-intentioned and not morally unjustified.
In this episode, I share a story about a time I had to make a tough decision that I thought was right, but others perceived as wrong. I share my ideas on what I consider to be the foundational qualities of evolutionary, humanitarian leadership. Finally, I suggest that as LGBTQ people, because of our deep introspection and insights, we can think queerly and lead the status quo in thinking outside the narrow confines of how they think they’re supposed to think.
This episode is part of, “The Way of Living OUT Leadership: A Queer Path Forward”, and builds upon the ideas discussed in LOP099, “How can we work together as a collective of queer thinkers to embrace, demonstrate, and advocate a humanitarian leadership of belonging?”
I had no idea at that time what the show might become. Certainly, I have expanded the breadth of what I talk about since episode 001. Currently, I am focused on sharing The Way of Living OUT Leadership: a new way forward for LGBTQ people – while I’m creating it. Putting that in writing scares me a bit, which is a good sign. This is not a bad or an irrational fear, instead it’s the healthy trepidation that I am creating something new and willing to be open with my process as I develop my “method”.
On today’s show, I speak about why and how the show has become a place for me to share queer thought leadership, and why your difference as an LGBTQ person in this world makes a valuable difference. I also talk briefly about some of my favourite and most downloaded episodes, namely:
How can we work together as a collective of queer thinkers to embrace, demonstrate, and advocate a humanitarian leadership of belonging?
How can we – collectively as queer people – lead from the margins to metaphorically corral the disparate fractions of humanity, so that divisiveness between peoples may become less in proximity to create and foster a genuine diversity.
There doesn’t yet exist a so-called “queer leadership” per se, or that I know of, but I am working on developing this new style of leadership that our world desperately needs. That starts here, with this “Living Document”, which I will continually add to, modify, and come back to as the foundations for what I hope to co-create with many other like-minded, queer thinkers. (If you would like to receive a copy of this document as soon as it’s available, subscribe to my newsletter so that I can send it to you.)
What do we need to create evolutionary change in the world?
What does “queer” mean and why is it vital that we embrace and reclaim the word.
Embracing and honouring all the letters that make up our fluid “LGBTQ+” acronym.
Making the pronouns, they/them the linguistic default.
Moving from a politics of division to a politics of belonging.
If you’re a creative person – a scholar, writer, or an artist – but you’re stuck trying to start or complete a project, maybe because you think that you don’t know enough, that you’re an imposter pretending to be an expert, then we should talk.
Let’s discover how to use your insights, talents, and uniqueness to make a difference in the world and to Live OUT your mission. Find out more at DarrenStehle.com/coaching.
Both Harari and Monbiot explain that humanity is missing the next “narrative” – or as Monbiot calls it, a“Restoration Story” – one that follows the classic hero’s journey, provides us with a story of who we are, and a vision of the future in which we see ourselves living a better life.
What I’m currently creating is a “living document” titled, “How to Use Your Difference to Make a Difference”. You’ve heard me use this expression on previous episodes if you’re a regular listener. If you would like to receive a copy of this document as soon as it’s available, subscribe to my newsletter so that I can send it to you.
Creating a new politics of belonging instead of division
For reference, here are the quotations from Monbiot’s article below, that I speak to in today’s episode.
Mark Tara is an LGBT Content Creator, Recording Artist, and the Creator & Host of the Gay radio show, Rainbow Country 🌈, heard every Tuesday from 11pm-1am on CIUT 89.5FM in Toronto.
Mark invited me on the show to talk about coaching, how I became a coach, and why I choose to offer my Life Coaching primarily to GBT men. We also talk about my publication, Th-Ink Queerly on Medium, and of course my show, The Living OUT Podcast – how it all began, and my plans for the future.
Mark asked me some interesting and challenging questions about gender, my coming out story, gay male body image, gay marriage, the “14 distinct gay male gifts”, drag kids, drag queens, and so much more. It was a wonderful experience and opportunity for someone else to ask me the questions for a change! I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did.
Earlier this week I was quickly browsing my Facebook feed and read a post that was purposefully provocative and included a text meme of the following: “There are only two genders – Science“.
Leaving aside how categorically incorrect, ignorant, and inconsiderate that statement is, it prompted me to question why we so often think in binaries. Why have we created a world that is limited by a way of thinking that is so contentious?
When we understand that the gender binary is a conceptual construct, that it’s not real, that gender is not a physical thing, we can open up into the space or the possibility of understanding that gender is nebulous. Gender doesn’t exist on a straight line, being (only) a man on the one far side and (only) a woman on the other far side. Such a description begs the ontological question: “If man exists on one side and woman on the other, what exists in-between? What exists within the space between the two polarities? Even that question is problematic, namely, “Why are there polarities in the first place?”
Polarities can only exist with binary thinking.
What if there is no binary, for anything? Instead, this is how we have seen and understood the world for so long that it seems AS IF there are only binaries to explain almost any extreme and it’s opposing side of the equation. Yet there is nothing but space between these concepts because there can never be agreement what creates the limitations that define the polarities of a binary.
When we experience the space in the gap as the true nature of the universe, we will no longer see duality.
Have you ever felt like you left the best parts of who you are in the closet?
Think about that question for a moment. When we come out of the closet as LGBTQ people, most often we experience coming out several times (each time we have to reveal who we are to a new person). Sometimes we regress, fearful of having revealed too much of who we are, and we put some parts of who we are back in the closet.
In this episode, I share two times in my life when I was living fully out, gay and proud, and freely expressing who I was (other than how I live my life, now). What I learned is that GBTQ men are unique and valuable contributors to society, with insights that are different from our heterosexual counterparts. If we hide any parts of who we are, if we don’t live fully out, we are hurting ourselves and the rest of the world misses out on our contributions.
This doesn’t mean that we need to assimilate and become part of the status quo in order to fit in. Deep, truthful, profound happiness requires being and expressing all of who you are without apology to anyone else. Acceptance for who we are requires vigilance and visibility, for our “otherness” to be seen as uniqueness.
There are two examples from my life when I was living fully out, gay and proud, and expressing who I was – other than now when I feel like I’m all gay all the time! 🙂 In retrospect, within the limitations of the status quo at those times, I came out “too much and too far.” The outside influences and opinions of other people forced parts of me back into the closet.
When I was 35 (2001) I had a faux-hawk haircut done for Toronto Pride that June, and for the first time ever I dyed my hair. The tips of my faux-hawk were dyed stop-sign-red. I love the colour red, it’s aggressive and vibrant and that was the energy I wanted to express at Pride that year.
I remember going to see one of my personal training clients at her home. The look she gave me when she opened the door and saw my hair cut…. She suggested I should tone it down to try and fit in.
A symbolic example of me living fully OUT was when I got my ears pierced.
In the late 80s I got my ears pierced. I wore different types of hoops for years, but always larger than what most men would wear at that time. When I took a position at a high-end gym in the Toronto Financial District, management told me I’d have to take my earrings out. Men were not allowed to wear jewelry for “safety reasons.” The truth was nothing short of homophobia, the status quo, and fitting in.
I took the earrings out, but they were a physical symbol, a way I could say without words, “I’m gay. Notice me. I’m queer. I’m different.” I wasn’t wearing small studs that people wouldn’t notice, I wore big hoops that really drew attention to me. Perhaps I needed the attention, but now I realize for the 10 years I worked at that club, I never once put those earrings back in – even when I was done work.
For every year I didn’t wear those earrings, I lost touch with parts of my identity and the best of who I was.
I put parts of me back in the closet to try and fit into the status quo, to do well in my training business. In truth, my clients at the gym wouldn’t have given a fuck about my earrings. They only wanted two things: a great, safe workout, and an excellent relationship with their trainer – both of which they received.
Perhaps taking my earrings out was symbolic of why my personal training business never took off. I’m not boasting, but I was an exceptional personal trainer, movement and nutrition coach. I was a consummate professional. But if you can’t be all the parts of who you are, if you have to closet and suppress any part of your gifts, talents, and identity – especially when a core part of your identity is being a gay man – you can’t be completely you. You can’t fully express all the best parts of you that come together to create the whole.
One of the beautiful things about being a gay man is being able to look at the world in a different way, being able to see through things in ways that other people don’t see. Things like, Why do gay men connect so well with women? Why are gay men so much better at listening and empathy than straight men?
If you want to excel as the best of who you are you need to live out all of your qualities and strengths.
It’s like the story of the ‘Princess and the Pea’. If you’re laying on top of 10 mattresses and you’re pressing on a hidden part of you that’s been stuck under the last mattress for many years, that’s going to make you uncomfortable until you pull it out and deal with it.
When you hold back any part of who you are, you will always be second guessing yourself. You might wonder if your actions are perceived as too gay, or if someone will see a part of you that you don’t want to reveal. There are times when we need to protect ourselves from physical harm. There are situations in the workplace where you might worry about being too out, if that could limit your career growth. But what the fuck is, “too out?”
Why can’t we just be ourselves?
Meaning, why can’t we be gay, bi, trans, queer and all your other qualities, skills, and character traits – in other words, why can’t you live our your uniqueness, your who-you-are-ness? Why can’t you live without the discomfort of hiding any parts of who you are? How can you embrace your gayness, along with all your hopes and dreams that you may have tossed back into the closet when you first came out.
You – WE – as GBTQ men, are valuable contributors to society.
We are unique individuals with valuable insights that are different from our heterosexual counterparts. We may stand on the margins and feel excluded, and sometimes we think that if we just step a bit inside the box we will be accepted. But that’s not what we need to do. As soon as we step into that box we suppress and oppress the best parts of who we are.
Much of this depends on how old you are, when you came out, and where you live. I came out when I was 18 years old in 1984 thinking, “OH, I can finally explore who I am. I can explore my sexual identity by having sex with men.” But then AIDS happened. What the fuck!?
Suddenly this virus was killing gay men and no one knew how to stop it or prevent it. Politicians and religious leaders were condoning gay sex, saying this was god’s wrath on the evils of gay men and sin. Fear, guilt, and shame made many gay men go back into the closet, or at least hide major parts of themselves from others, and/or to protect their self-esteem. Many men didn’t want to have to face these emotions and criticisms.
Whenever you came out of the closet – with all the drama and time it took to get to that point – and whether it was AIDS or something else you thought, “Oh shit! So I’ve come out but maybe I need to go back into a box to fit in and feel safe.” Then you put parts of you back into the closet. You suppressed your human expression – your identity.
What happens when you live fully out?
As a GBTQ man, are you at a point in your life asking, “What the fuck? Why have I gone back into a kind of closet after coming out the first time? Why am I not living out the best of who I am?”
Deep, truthful, profound happiness requires being and expressing all of who you without apology to anyone else (which is not the same as being arrogant or disrespectful). If someone can’t accept you for who you are, that’s their issue, not yours.
Once you get to that place of living fully out all the parts that make up who you are, that’s when you can do great things. That’s when you can have an impact on the people around you, or on the world.
It’s not just about flaunting your gayness (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), it’s about embracing your gayness, your queerness, and living it with ALL the other parts of who you are. Because THAT’S who you are!
You are more than just a gay man. You deserve to love and express that part of yourself and to be loved by others for every iota of who you are.
This is the Living OUT Movement
I am working to help contribute to this movement of GBTQ men of similar mindsets who want to break free of the box that they’ve built up around themselves. Let’s help each other learn, grow, evolve and build the potential of each other’s unique identity. Let’s use our difference to make a positive difference in the world.