Owning and Managing the Shadow
An excerpt from Gay Men and The New Way Forward. Ray will be leading a retreat, Celebrating Gay Manhood, November 13-15, at Easton Mountain.
Gay men’s distinct gifts exhibit the remarkable generosity that we bring to the world. We heal, nurture, challenge, serve, teach, and forgive humanity. We are engaged in a revolution of evolutionary proportions. Gay men are what the world has been waiting for.
For as much generosity as we bestow upon the bulk of humanity, and for as much mutual support as we give each other in many instances, gay men can be remarkably hurtful toward each other. I have heard this sentiment expressed in every group I have run. In fact, throughout the Gay Men of Wisdom work, I have heard near consensus that gay men feel more wounded by other gay men than by heterosexuals.
What’s going on here? A group of men that has the capacity to help humanity discover The New Way Forward finds itself more wounded by its own members than by those who oppressed them? Of course, that is not the whole story. An emotional response does not mean that gay men actually victimize each other more than the larger world oppresses us. It might just feel that way. We would not have the friendships and romantic partnerships that bring us together; nor our social groups, community centers, and advocacy and social service organizations if we victimized each other more than we expressed care. Still, the double standard—that we give our gifts generously to heterosexuals and often withhold them from each other—warrants attention and action.
This dark side of gay men reflects what the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called the shadow. According to Jung, the shadow consists of those (mostly negative) aspects of our personality that we deny the existence of or remain unconscious about. Because we refuse to acknowledge these traits and deem them unacceptable to us, we project them onto others.
Thus, the traits that we dislike the most in others are often the hidden and disowned parts of ourselves—our personal shadow. For gay men, in many cases, the shadow represents the dark side of our gifts; in others it simply reflects our human flaws. Acknowledging and managing one’s shadow requires a willingness to confront oneself.
It is easy to point fingers, to become enraged, and to reenact the drama of being the victim within our own group. It is much more difficult to accept our own responsibility for victimizing others. Few people truly see themselves as perpetrators of harm. Most want to believe that they are fundamentally good, and that they act nobly—or at least they “do the right thing.”
The fact is that we are all perpetrators. Every gay man has, at some point—and sometimes at many points—cast judgment upon, belittled, dismissed, ignored, insulted, derided, demeaned, jabbed at, avoided, recoiled from, expressed disgust for, or otherwise hurt another gay man. Each of us has perpetrated these acts of violence on each other.
Check out Ray's workshop, Celebrating Gay Manhood, November 13-15, at Easton Mountain.