Being Gay is Our Super Power

Image from The Young Protectors by Woolfson, DeKraker and Gandini

Image from The Young Protectors by Woolfson, DeKraker and Gandini

You know that question where you’re asked what your super power would be? To fly like Superman or swing like Spiderman or throw fire, turn invisible and mind-read like a whole academy of X-Men? Well I’ve already got my superpower thanks and it’s called being gay.

What? Being gay doesn’t sound like a super power? Tell me about it. I spent most of my life struggling with that misconception.

When I was born in the UK, midway between the moon landing and Margaret Thatcher, being gay wasn’t even discussed. It was like being part of the Illuminati but without the perks: something that had a secret handshake and its own language. And it’s no wonder the super power of being gay had to hide itself. A bit like practicing witchcraft, for which you could still be convicted in the UK until 1956, being gay was illegal up until 1967, and then only partially decriminalized. In a world away from Harry Potter, being one of the gay was still widely believed to be bad. If you were gay in the 1970s, the only power you were supposed to have was the power to damage children.

I grew up in Wales watching superheroes like Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman fight crime in their shiny 1970s tights. But when I dressed up in a pair I became a problem who needed correction. When I danced or minced or twirled or behaved in any way decreed girlish, I was hissed at to stop. Though no one said the word gay, the looks of alarm shamed me all the same. Whatever I was, it wasn’t good.

By the time my penis started working, I knew I was a boy who fancied other boys. But I’d learned enough to know that unlike heterosexual desire, my own was never to be mentioned. By now it was 1985 and as if the received prejudice that all gay men were going to lead lives of tragic loneliness before going to hell wasn’t enough, AIDS came along. Adding iceberg to gravestone, I was now a disease-spreader as well as a pervert. With fear yelling at me from the Daily Mail at every breakfast, the only thing that felt super powerful was my disgustingness.

When you have a super power but don’t know you have a super power and just think you’re wrong (because that’s all you hear from everyone around you) you end up turning all that hatred on yourself in the most super powerful way. It almost doesn’t make a difference by the time you’re 16 and come out to your mother to hear her say it’s as bad as if you’d told her you’re a murderer. You’ve already got shame to spare from the day you were four and reached for your grandmother’s face powder in front of everyone.

After university, I went along with my friends in pretending to be career-focused, but all I cared about was hiding the self-hatred I’d been told to feel about my big gay self and hurting myself even more. I became increasingly self-destructive until one afternoon, age 26, I decided the world would be better off without me and I tried to kill myself.

Sometimes you think you’re done with life but life has other ideas. I didn’t die. Instead I woke up literally in the shit and was sectioned into a mental hospital. It was like that moment when your computer, overloaded with popups, is buffering to all fuck and all you can do is hold the power switch until everything goes blank. Waking up in the mental hospital the other side of a nervous breakdown was like the Apple chord signaling a new start.

I had a lot to learn again. One of the first constructive habits I started was to take myself to the swimming pool and teach myself breaststroke. Back at school in the 80s, swimming was rigidly gendered like so much else. Boys were taught front crawl. Only girls swum breaststroke. Now, with no more fucks to give except not to keep fucking myself up, I would swim the stroke that worked best for me: the girl’s stroke.

Over the years I took this approach to more areas of my life. I reclaimed dancing barefoot, growing plants from seeds and appliquéing t-shirts. I started keeping a journal and learned how to cook by heart. And with each stitch I was learning the art of how to love myself.

To reclaim my super power I had to recognise and let go of the shame I associated with my gayness. Like racism and sexism, homophobia was written through the wider culture like letters through a stick of rock. Along with other LGBT+ folk, the justification that I was required to make about my existence (continually, for there is never an end to coming out) was necessary, but it didn’t mean anything until I’d cleared my own internalized homophobia.

So while researching the book I was writing about the last 5000 years, I came to realize some things about being gay.

I realized that LGBT+ people had always existed. In other cultures, we were known by many names of which ‘two-spirit’ is the most now known. We weren’t penalized but respected. We were spotted by our elders at an early age, as the boys who wore the habits of girls and the girls who wore the habits of boys.

My book became The Parable of His-Story and as I researched I saw that in pre-patriarchal cultures, people we would now call gay “were seen as being remarkable individuals with extraordinary powers, and their welcome into the circle was guaranteed… The social respect given to such people meant that to partner them was one of the highest honors.” Despite the best attempts of this patriarchal culture to demonise them, I was realising that LGBT+ people were ever-present, and they came with very particular gifts.

As I continued on my healing journey, I learned that the role of the shaman, of the walker between worlds, was one of the most important roles for a human to occupy. Such a person acted as a bridge between men and women, between adults and children, between humans and animals and between those in body and those in spirit. And more often than not, this figure that walked between the worlds of female and male was gay.

The stronger I became the more I saw that being gay wasn’t a psychosis or a punishment. Our gay ancestors had been vilified because the patriarchal system had sought to take power away from women, nature and any man connected with it. Out of fear, the femininity of openly gay men had been manipulated to seem an evil, just like witchcraft, when it was actually a blessing that connected us with Mother Earth. 

I realized it was this age of patriarchy, propagating the shaming of LGBT+ people, which was so harmful. As it had done with the systemic burning of witches, the patriarchal order had persistently degraded queer people in an attempt to limit us coming into power and threatening the rule.

Now it grows clearer that it’s patriarchy that has run its course. The world of the gay grows stronger each day, bringing with it more tenderness, compassion and beauty under the inclusive banner of the rainbow. The young get it without being told twice. More culturally mixed, more gender fluid and sexually open, embracing androgyny and defying boundaries as hurriedly as they are erected, they dance around the border posts of rigid identity in a most shamanic manner. And they’re the future.

Which is just as well: because with the whole planet needing medicine of the most super-heroic sort, we need heaps less shaming and way more shamans.

So it’s because of this that I’ll continue to stand up and tell my story.  Because while it’s easier being gay in some places (I can marry my boyfriend in the UK and there is legislation demanding we recognize everyone as equal), there are still too many environments where fear is the law and gay people are abused, imprisoned and killed for being who they are: magical beings with great powers for the mend of the world.

So for all my sisters and brothers who might be, like I was, hurting themselves because of a shame that was never theirs to suffer in the first place, I offer you this story. To remind all of you that we are gifts to this planet. We are the gay and the lesbian, the bisexual and the transgender, the queer and the questioning. We are everywhere, always have been and always will be. And we are superheroes.