Congratulations, you have survived another family Thanksgiving. Or if you are truly blessed, you experienced a day of warmth and closeness with the people you cherish and who cherish you. Holidays sharply focus the need to belong, to be safe, to be connected.
In primitive society (and by the way, our biology is still Stone Age), if you were thrown out of the tribe, you died. But is today really so different? Think of your own pre-coming out self. Did you feel that if your secret was discovered, you would be humiliated and ostracized from the pack?
In parts of the world, we can be murdered for who we are. But it is not just Africa that is to be feared. Just ask the relatives of trans folk. We all hunger for a loving and supportive tribe.
Fortunately, our minority status can result in great gifts: creativity, empathy, passion, resourcefulness. Historically, we created clever ways to signal one another and perfected the art of the lingering glance. We founded secret societies. We smashed through old boundaries and demanded a place at the table. We anointed divas. We created safe places in bars and clubs. In these environs, we could experience love, sex, affection, and connection.
My older brother had a tribe that I didn’t understand. It was filled with camp, pronoun gender shifts, verbal lacerations, secrecy. Later I developed my own tribe in the bars of New England and the clubs of New York. It was a heady period in our history, fueled with copious amounts of drugs, alcohol and sex.
Over the years, my tribe has broadened to include the denizens of many ghettos. However, when the wounds of trauma heal, the world becomes much larger. The LGBTQ part of our identity is part of us, not the whole. We can leave the confines of the ghetto and build community that truly is an expression of our authentic selves.
But some opt out of the larger tribe. And unfortunately, minorities fracture into many opposing tribes: lipstick lesbians, femme vs. butch, twinks, bears, leather, radical fairies, and on and on. Is it any surprise that millennials often opt out of any nomenclature?
Tribes are not optional. And each tribe has its own rules for admission or exclusion: A-list Gays, straight-acting only, no in-your-face PDAs, tread majority waters carefully, us vs. them.
The growing visibility of the LGBTQ community has made the unknown known. The trauma due to sexual orientation has lessened for many and is nonexistent for some.
As a historian, I am intrigued by generational differences and perspectives. Hopefully, one day there will be no need for a special ghetto to protect and affirm us. But as the courageous forebears of our movement have demonstrated, we never have to wait to create a loving and supportive tribe.
In his work and life, James Baldwin reminded us of the transcendent power of human beings to create and forge authentic lives. In a 1984 interview, he recalled an old friend’s advice:
If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all. [/QUOTE>
So. Look at your tribe. Does it exclude? Does it nourish? Does it value generosity and kindness? Does it recognize the power of difference without resorting to condemnation of such? Too often, I see clients, both straight and LGBTQ, who reside in tribes that are small, critical, claustrophobic. The result is a profound sense of disconnect and loneliness. Despite Grindr, Scruff, dating sites, meet-ups, and other resources, genuine community takes time and effort to achieve. It requires us to be vulnerable and open and trusting. So please evaluate your tribe, because none of us, even the most misanthropic, can achieve a full life without one.
Mark McCarthy, LPC, has been providing therapy to couples, groups and individuals for more than 25 years. He has lectured on issues related to addictions, HIV and LGBTQ concerns. He also facilitates a support group for gay men who have been or are currently married to women.