International Men’s Day – Baring All?
When Dee Bailey asked me to share a little about Power In Discussion as part of her phenomenal International Men’s Day event, I quickly agreed.
Opening the Spotify app my thumbs glided over the screen with muscle- like memory as subconsciously searched for an audio ‘pick me up’ ahead of my talk. Naturally I was drawn to one of my favourite podcasts, Busy Being Black , with an episode full of rich discussion about the intersections of Blackness, masculinity and queer idenitity.
The words of the host reverberated in my mind: “living in the fullness of our Black queer lives” . Surely I was about to use this mantra to seamlessly weave in annecdotes about my grapling with my multiple identities as a Black queer man? After all, I regularly talk about the benefits of being vulnerable.
I now felt prepared to cram in three (plus) years of hard work and passion into a short, punchy and thought provoking talk about Power In Discussion.
The room was engulfed in energy. There were tears of joy, pain and laughter as the community came together to share stories. Substance abuse, physical health concerns and mental wellbeing were some of the topics explored with a beautiful sensitivity. It was also a fantastic opportunity to witness the excellent work undertaken by local organistions such as Directional, a Community Interest Company, aiming to inspire the younger generation through sport, mentoring and music (amongst other things).
As I looked out to the audience, something changed. I would decide not to be vulnerable. I would decide to offer a censored version of Power In Discussion’s history .
I casually dropped in ‘LGBTQ+’, as if it were a code word, whilst silently hoping that people would wholly understand what I had meant by this, that I was part of that community, standing before them as a BLACK QUEER MAN.
I carefully omitted parts of the genesis of Power In Discussion where I had decided to create a space for conversation to help people understand that there are others going through a similar experience. I left out that I needed to know that there were people ‘like me’ because my own mental well-being suffered whilst coming to terms with my sexuality.
I missed out that social media, namely Twitter, was the safe space for discussion about Black queer idenitity that I required. I failed to say that had I not seen this reperesenation of other Black queer men online I still would be that young man seraching and grappling with his identity.
I didn’t say that I needed Power In Discussion. I needed to be connected. I needed to be heard. I needed to have my experiences normalised. What I should have said is that I want Power In Discussion to be all of these things for others. A physical and virtual space for discussion.
Since Saturday I’ve questioned why I offered this censored version. I guess the answer to that is multifaceted and something I am willing to explore further. Turn inwards, if you like. Perhaps it was fear of not being accepted.
Being in a space full of men was hugely uplifting. No doubt there were important and difficult conversations, but most of all I felt connected.
I’ve learned that I need to listen to my own advice, particularly the message that I start every Power In Discussion event with; “Share what you feel about to” . I don’t owe anyone my story, but I understand that the sharing of a story can be transformative, for all involved.
There’s no rule book when it comes to vulnerability. Sharing what you can, in the way that you can, is important. It’s your journey to process, understand and communicate in your own time.
I’m learning to create my own rules and learn that these boundaries do not have to be fixed. What I have the capacity to manage on one day may be very different the next. I’m learning and unlearning what it means to be a man.
Saturday reminded me to be kind and patient with myself. This is when I feel most vulnerable. I’m reminded that my version of a ‘man’, no matter how Queer, will always be valid.
Happy International Men’s Day