Healing @ Homobloc
Photo credit: Instagram @jodyhartley
Last weekend I had a transcendent experience in an unlikely place. I attended Homobloc, a LGBTQ+ festival at Mayfield Depot, Manchester (home of The Warehouse Project). The night was a huge statement and the organisers did an incredible job of creating a space where people of all identities could express themselves freely in the knowledge that they were loved, celebrated and safe. The night provided a necessary balm to the pain this beautiful community often battles with. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t just a night of music and dance - it was a healing experience.
In a world so full of judgment and division, it’s no wonder so many of us feel we need to hide parts of ourselves. For some of us this could be nervousness about how we might be perceived. For others, hiding is a matter of life and death.
There is always a cost to hiding, of course. I paid with toxic shame. Trying to hide my sexuality and femininity as a child, with nobody around to reassure me that I was ok and there was nothing wrong with me, I told myself (subconsciously) that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, something was broken and I was a bad apple. Worse still, I thought if anyone found out my shameful secrets, I’d be abandoned and my worst fear, that I was unloveable, would be confirmed.
Fast forward 20 years and I’ve come a long way, yet still the shadow of shame hangs over me. Our brains are so impressionable when we are children and the beliefs we develop before adolescence can be stubborn to shift. Thanks to science, we now know that the brain is elastic, and you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks (phew!). It takes effort, and creating new beliefs about myself has been a conscious process that continues to this day. After five years of affirmations (that at first I didn’t believe), plenty of therapy and surrounding myself with loving relationships, I notice that these days when I mess up, my default position is not to shame myself. If anything I take a neutral position and see it as a learning opportunity. Change is possible.
As I danced to Honey Dijon with my friends (a great set!), I looked out across the dance floor and felt my heart expanding. So many LGBTQ+ people are on the front line in their day to day lives, fighting for their right to simply exist. What a wonderful moment it was then, for us to know we could let that go and be held by each other for an evening. My friend leaned in at one point and said, “Build me a village with these people and I’ll live there forever.” We both cried. My partner described it perfectly the next day, saying it was as if “everyone’s ‘protector parts’ simultaneously fell away so we could all love each other and be free”. And how free we were, dancing, loving, smiling. It was truly, truly magical. We were home.
Mid way through the evening someone came on stage to greet the crowd. They reminded us all that whilst we were experiencing a taste of freedom in this moment, not everyone was so fortunate. It is devastating to me that still, in 2021, there are countries in the world where being gay can lead to a death sentence and here in the UK, there appears to be a politically motivated attack on our trans community. The person on the stage said, “none of us are liberated until we are all liberated.” I’ve heard this before but this time it resonated somewhere deep.
Anyone who follows me knows I am politically engaged. I believe that governments can only control people, hold onto power and get away with wrongdoing if the people they govern over are divided and fighting each other. Imagine for a moment that people stopped turning on their neighbours because of the colour of their skin or because of who and how they love. Where might their attention turn instead? How might they feel about the fact that whilst people died in a pandemic, the UK government facilitated one of the biggest wealth transfers in living history, giving billions of public money to their friends in the process? Imagine for a moment, that instead of people attacking each other for the way they choose to express themselves, people turned their attention to the slow erosion of civil liberties that are taking place for everyone, facilitated by big tech giants colluding with world governments. What might happen then?
It struck me on the dance floor that this community, my community, was playing a huge part in the liberation of humanity as a whole. That we were trail blazers, showing what it looks like to set your differences aside, embrace each other fully and wholeheartedly and focus on freedom for all. I realised that anyone who doesn’t fit the prescribed “norms” are ambassadors for liberation. We are freedom fighters. Whilst others can be swayed to conform with social pressure, for those in the LGBTQ+ community our identities are not something we choose. Our differences are not shameful, they are powerful.
If you feel shame for being ‘different’ it is likely because at some point (usually in your childhood) you perceived your differences as being ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ in some way, just like I did.
These perceptions are rooted in systems of Power (e.g. government, religion, patriarchy) that impose their rules and values about how to be human, as if they are the source of Truth. The real truth is that imposing these things is a way to get people to conform.
Imposing ‘rules’ and ‘values’ around identity and self-expression is also a way to control, oppress and divide people. This is necessary for Power to sustain itself - when we are fighting each other, our attention is turned away from those creating the divisions.
People like me who are ‘different’ threaten Power because by definition, we challenge the status quo. To neutralise this threat, Power tries to shame us. Shame can be an effective weapon because it paralyses and silences us. It is a coercive attempt to get us to conform.
Healing shame involves rejecting these ‘rules’ and recognising that there is nothing wrong or bad about you, you were simply shamed by Power so you’d stay silent and fall in line. Healing shame is taking back your power and stepping into your most honest expression.
On that dance floor, we all took back our power. It was our church, and for a moment, we got a taste of collective liberation. Today, we’re back in the wider world, continuing the work of loving, accepting, and liberating others.
To those of you who attended, thank you for the healing. To those of you hurting, know that your pain is not in vain. And to those of you out there still hiding, we see you. You are loved, you are enough and your freedom is coming.