"Our stories are important" he told us. "For too long the stories, details, and desires of gay men have been ignored. We owe it to them to let our voices be heard".

So spoke the leader of a writing workshop for gay men that I've been attending recently. He did preface his remarks by saying he was getting political, almost sounding apologetic at first.  Nasty politics. But his conviction shone through; his commitment to a sense of community among gay men was sincere, his passion evident in his dedication to the group itself.

I joined the group for a number of reasons. Primarily, there's a play in my head that needs to get out; and as the world's worst procrastinator, I thought joining a workshop would enable me to find a midwife or two to get labour under way at last. For that reason alone, of course, it didn't have to be a group of gay men, and I have been part of another writers' group before, where sexuality was irrelevant. But it's also part of my journey in getting back to a healthier way of relating to gay men, outside the meat-market of the scene or the fantasy world of cyberspace and phonesex. If you only meet people in a sexual setting, or in the frenzy of a sexual fantasy, then only part of you is seen, and that's not the whole of you.

This is so simple and self-evident that I am amazed to find myself writing it; it's as if I'm confiding in you, dear reader, the startling fact that air is cleaner in the mountains.

But life is full of discoveries of things we already know. It's a different kind of knowing, perhaps.

I've been digesting his exhortation to write because "we owe it" to those whose voices were previously unheard. I'm not sure whether much good comes from a sense of obligation, a sense of duty, a sense of indebtedness, when one hasn't consciously chosen to take on the responsibilities in the first place. If one accepts that sexual orientation, the way one's compass points, is not changeable by force of will, then to go through the process of coming out only to discover that there's a plethora of people whose sacrifices have to be honoured, whose achievements have to be rewarded by further effort, whose deprivations are used as a guilt-inducing persuader, strikes me as rather similar to growing up in a family where one or both parents complain bitterly "after all I've done for you" whenever the child dares to grow up and challenge their authority. Such a dynamic disempowers, for one starts off in life not with a clean slate, but in debt. New, all-improved, pinker-than-pink Original Sin.

What I am about to propose instead may sound similar, but there's a subtle difference.Somewhere along the line, I think it's important to choose to be gay. I don't just mean acceptance of the fact, although God only knows how difficult, sometimes impossible, it is to accept that one is different.  (For some, of course, their bisexuality precludes any such acceptance, for their compass veers from one point to another at various stages of their lives.)  I mean at some later stage, one chooses to join the tribe of those like you, and take on the privileges and support and responsibilities of being a life-long member as if it is the most precious thing in the world to you. For what draws you together is not that you share similar tastes in shopping and fucking, but the capacity to love. Looking at the way gay men get together now, and especially at their press, you may be forgiven for forgetting this. I certainly forgot it. I'm trying to remember now.  I don't mean the intoxicating fix of adoration and idealisation that is mistaken for love so often, the ecstasy of casual intimacy, "falling" for objects of lust and being disappointed when their sheen rubs off when the dirty deed is done, when the hoped-for magic hasn't happened, when the gap inside hasn't been filled. That's not the love that heals, that helps, that warms, that makes the world go around. It's the love that destroys, that undermines, that sucks you dry, that owes more to obsession, control, and hurt, rather than  caring and tenderness. Both are undeniably aspects of love, of being human; I am not in any way arguing for the eradication of such passion. King Canute springs to mind.

What is lacking at the moment is some  counterweight  to the powerful commercial clout of the gay sex industry, the saunas, the phonelines, the prostitution. Not a banishment of it. I am not anti-sex; rather, I'm against the way gay sex has become commodified, packaged, exploited and corrupted so that love and affection appear to have been written out of the picture. To many ears, this sounds like a Christian message, as if I'm preaching from the pulpit the values of traditional heterosexual sexual morality. It can be met with a hostile reaction, as if I'm aping an outdated traditional model, that I'm trying to turn back the clock and put sexual liberation back in its box where it belongs.

However, I believe the liberation clock has got stuck on sex, and needs to get past it. Perhaps the concept of tribe is a way forward. What if, at some stage, gay men could choose to join a queer clan or a fag fraternity or a benders' brotherhood? What if a newcomer was asked to say the following before being accepted by the tribe?

1. I choose to join this tribe of men who love men, freely and willingly and with all my heart
2. I promise to treat other members with the same respect with which I ask them to treat me
3. I promise to take care of my body, and not to damage it with drugs, alcohol, or unsafe sex
4. I promise to celebrate my sexuality with passion, dignity, responsibility, and fun; to avoid demeaning myself or others in the process; remembering that at its best, sex between us is a deeply spiritual experience. In my relationships with other members of this tribe, I promise to play with honesty and courtesy, engaging in safe, sane and consensual acts
5. I promise to share my feelings with others, and to encourage others to share them with me; in a world in which men's feelings are denigrated and often mocked
6. I promise to love the woman in my soul, and to be open to the riches in the hearts of those outside this tribe. Our enemies are not women or heterosexual men; but ignorance and hatred of difference
7. I promise to support other members who suffer from injustice, discrimination, and homophobia, and also to discourage feelings of shame, bitterness and victimisation, which can destroy self-esteem as effectively as any outside oppressor
8. I promise to support other members who are in committed relationship, to help them stay together if that is their wish, and to work towards the time when such relationships are as respected and honoured in society as any other
9. I promise to value the friendship of other members, and offer the hand of friendship where possible to those who are on their own, who are ill, or are elderly.
10. I promise to work towards the time when no-one, within the tribe and without, through ignorance or lack of self-love, infects him- or herself with HIV or any other disease. I acknowledge the extent to which AIDS has caused such suffering and loss in our tribe, and dedicate myself to healing that wound, starting by understanding all the ways it has affected me and those that I love. Through healing ourselves we may be better able to heal others who have suffered in a similar way.
11. I offer my creativity and imagination and support as gifts to the tribe and to the world outside, and honour the gifts that those members living and dead have given to and for the tribe before me
12. I look to no-one for leadership, but follow my own conscience; no-one speaks for me, and I speak for no-one but myself. My tribe is no secret society; I promise to work towards it being a shining example of solidarity and companionship to the world

The concept of a group of people, especially men, banding together in such a way can provoke the most intense opposition, with talks of ghettoising and exclusion and elitism. Many gay men would shudder at the idea. The reaction to the Million Man March a few years ago in the States, when black men organised themselves, is one that springs to mind. But I know of no other group that needs to get its act together as much in our society as gay men; there's too much self-hatred around, too much loneliness and illness, objectification, co-dependency and addiction. Too many young men commit suicide, probably members of our tribe. We were born like cuckoos, most of us; aliens in our family and schoolyard, with feelings we weren't supposed to have. Hurt little boys (of all ages) need to grow up and make a choice, and take on responsibility for our own well-being, supporting each other.

Want to be in my gang?

  4th February 1999  

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