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International Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Workshop

I attended the International Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Leaders' Workshop in Rhode Island, USA, in June of this year. Around a hundred people were there, including six other Australians, a South African, and people from Sweden, The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Cornwall, and many states of the USA. There were separate men's and women's workshops first and then a combined one, running for a week altogether. David Nijinsky led the men. Jeanne D'Arc led the women and the combined workshop.


The key focus of the workshops was to challenge our isolation. Every three years we get together, heal, lick the wounds, build alliances, set goals, and head back out into the world to move toward those goals. Our common permanent projects are to end Lesbian, Gay, and bisexual oppression, to end homophobia, to end all oppressions, and to bring about the complete transformation of society.

At the men's workshop there was a focus on "group re-emergence." Although there is no conflict between group or individual re-emergence, we're socialised to go for one or the other - to forget the group or forget ourselves. It's important to make a decision early to commit ourselves to a group of people as part of a commitment to end our isolation. We had sessions on where we might be vulnerable to getting lost, to giving up RC, to withdrawing into isolation. We grieved people we have lost, in order to continue to remember they were in our lives. We discharged distress around HIV/AIDS as it rests on earlier hurts. We counseled on life/death decisions and on suicidal thoughts and feelings.


The systematic winning of allies is the key strategy towards creating a human-based society. Nothing breaks our isolation more. It's great for allies to discharge with other allies, but sometimes they won't and need a hand. As counsellor to an ally, we were encouraged to say in a loving tone: "I welcome you to 'blow it' with me, and I'll never forget that you're good. I've given myself that permission and I'm offering it to you, too. Get oppressive with me. Say the wrong thing. Put your foot in it. I'll let you know!"


As young people, we were conditioned to look for "our kind." We're also pressured by families and peers to stick with the people we share certain fears and feelings with. We get pushed into a box and made scared of what's outside it. Our humanness narrows, and we eliminate closeness with people perceived as unlike ourselves. We must remove the walls of the box, immerse ourselves in the cultures of other groups, find out about everyone. Every set of limitations around an identity keeps us "smaller," more limited, more isolated. "Identity" is a barrier to becoming really "big," to challenging the system, to becoming an expert in everything. The only real identity to aim for is that of human being.

Places to counsel include: "I am a human being. What do I have to feel to claim everything as mine, everyone as my people?" "Only I know how much this identity has been limiting me. I want more, I want more." Make a list and counsel on the ways in which we've been limited or limited ourselves because of the identities we have (e.g., our age, race, sex, class, sexuality, occupation, nationality, etc.).

Because of oppression, it's tempting to throw out our identities first, but the more workable process is to fully claim them and get close to our groups, clean them up by discharging the internalised oppression, and then throw them out. We don't turn our backs on them - the groups we belong to will always be home, but they are too small a home and often too rigid and limited a life for a human being. We throw them out as the "only" home.

Challenging an identity may cause us to feel like we'll lose ourselves. It may feel like the oppression is trying to take the identity away from us. But we won't be losing anything; we'll be reclaiming more of our humanness. To give up the identity will mean discharging the undischarged feelings around taking it on in the first place.


Lesbians, Gays and bisexuals are identified as different because of who we are sexual with. It's the excuse for the oppression. We're the "sex people." For Co-Counselors to get clear around us and for us to get clear means a strong commitment to counselling on early sexual memories. Another good commitment for Gay and bisexual men, and probably for men generally (and for many women) is: "it's logically possible and certainly desirable for me to give up my age-old habit of being constantly preoccupied by sex, and instead to choose to pay attention to the far more interesting things happening in the present. I do so choose and decide and will repeatedly so decide until the ancient habit has been broken. Fortunately I still have sessions where I get to talk about sex a lot."


Men and women need to get close, to listen to each others' stories, to challenge any "decision" we made not to trust each other, to reach for a rational connection, to find out why we'd want to know each other. We don't need each other in ways we've been taught we do. We do need each other in ways we've never known or learnt.

For men, counsel on openness with women, on following women.

For women, counsel on openness with men, on leading men.

Women still tend to be polite, careful, and timid in sessions about sexism. It's very powerful to combine the rage at sexism with opening up to men. There is a big layer of pretense that often operates between us of pretending that the "isms" aren't there. Much sexism between men and women who are close to each other consists of unawareness, not active sexism. There is a tendency for men to let women put themselves out for us and then say, "But I didn't ask for that." It's a way that men use sexism to make our lives easier. Men don't have much slack in this area. There is a terror of not being needed if women were liberated, plus a huge layer of undischarged heartbreak at seeing what sexism has done to women.

In white culture, the historical context is that the relationship between men and women has been one of women's slavery (and still is in some places, at some times). There is a similar barrier between other group of humans, for example, middle/owning class and working class, whites and people of colour, adults and young people.


Make a permanent commitment to a leader, to a common project of liberation, to your group. Hold in your mind the image of running towards each other. Commitments may include: "I promise you (leader's name) to remove every obstacle in getting completely behind you and every other person in this group. It's my job to stay connected to you. This love is stronger than death."

It's good to get behind leaders even if you don't think they're doing a very good job and to "suffer foolishness gladly" - and give them a hand where it's hard. We tend to have low expectations of leaders, to isolate them, and to feel numb and hopeless around them. It's useful to "go after" people with patterns we don't want to deal with.

Keep things consistent with RC policies and guidelines, but don't just watch as people in RC have difficulties. Help them, give them a session. Require things of them as client, for example: "We can't let this go on . . . ." Learn how to do it elegantly, to notice there's a problem and find a way to put warm attention on it. RC is not about safety and "niceness" - it's about pushing ourselves and each other into the hard places, shoving each other out of the nest. Don't be liberal. Liberalism is bad policy. It means letting things go on that don't make sense because they're hard to handle. It means staying comfortable when irrational things are happening. Don't hide behind, "I'm just a counsellor," or the no-socialising policy - the policy is there to stop "huddling" and to limit restimulation, but we've often used it in the direction of isolation and ungenerousness.

We must assume and plan for permanence. Jeanne told a story about a company that designed beautifully intricate wallpapers. Hundreds of years later, people restoring a grand old home went back to the company looking for the required design. All the designs had been carefully stored away in the knowledge that they were worth keeping forever. Our RC relationships are like that - worth caring for and keeping for always. We must also do this to get the closeness, openness, and realness we want and need. We mustn't underestimate the significance of these relationships - they are this real, this committed, this challenging. Take them seriously and pull them right into our hearts. Every other relationship will get easier if we do this, because we're doing the key thing, contradicting our isolation.

Things are moving. We're getting "bigger" and more influential. We can do almost everything that needs to be done anywhere. There are no limits to our leadership in the wide world. Take charge, create long-term plans - we need to work from a bigger picture than just reacting to things. We need to lead with ourselves in the midst of our leadership, not lose ourselves in it.


Capitalism is the backdrop to all the struggles we are engaged in. It has produced a world organised on the basis of greed. As young people we felt the terrible wrongs, but there was nowhere to go where we could be heard. We were told, "Don't think about it, don't talk about it, we can't do anything about it." By the time we reached an age where we could handle things, when we were outside the young people's oppression, we were hurting so badly that we felt we couldn't look at it and survive. To live, we had to act like the oppression was normal.

It's no use acting on panic and urgency - we have to be able to think about all this, work it out, work out how to remove our numbness and pretence that everything is okay. We need to be upset - our upset at the oppressive society's misfunctioning interferes with its functioning. We need to feel and then act to change things. We're in the era of figuring out the next period of society in which human values reign supreme.

Don't settle for the "good life," for stability. Capitalism says it's all we can have. It's too small a life for a human being. It diverts attention and energy away from changing things and from getting close to each other, towards pulls to comfort, status, and appearance. We're taught "middle-class" values more and more, which means more isolation, more pretence, more terror, more consumption. Looks and appearance are seen as the most important things. The message becomes so ingrained that certain people are seen as not worth playing with, talking to, having.

Generosity contradicts greed and isolation. It means treating every person you come in contact with as fully human. It means making RC accessible and inclusive for young people, people of colour, people on low incomes, people with disabilities, people with literacy difficulties, etc. Have sessions on generosity: "Where am I still ungenerous? Where do I still focus on trivial needs or just on my own needs instead of focusing on wider needs?" When choosing counselling partners include thinking, "Where can I give people a hand?" not just, "Who is the best for me?"

Gay men, Lesbians, and bisexuals threaten capitalism. We don't fit, we question things, and we're more disruptive. We are less accepting of the nonsense, the norms. In many cultures, we're the first line as intentional targets of people's upset (as are Jews). We're being scapegoated more and more - it's getting both worse and better, depending on the place and time.

The Lesbians, Gay men, and bisexuals in RC are a small section of the spectrum - we're not representative. We need to have a diverse group of friends. We need contact with people right across the spectrum of our group to lead our constituency.

H. M.

(Reprinted from the August 1995 Tasman Reality, newsletter of the Re-evaluation Counselling Communities of Tasmania)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00