Damaged but determined to survive. Strength for gay men in the Nine of Wands

Nine of Wands. From the Son Tarot
by Chris Butler.
Published by Schiffer Books.
We're all damaged goods and all of us enter the LGBT+ family wounded when we come out of the closet. I can only speak as a gay men for that's where my identity lies. That said, I hope what I'm writing will resound with the rest of the LGBT+ community and maybe even for others. After all, straight and queer folk are more similar than we're given credit for.

Each of us bring our own unique wounds, fears, weaknesses and defensive postures to the mix when we come out. The first three generally speak for themselves and for the most part, we're likely to find understanding from our fellow gay men. It's more complex with our defensive postures however and these take courage to overcome.

The problem is, we forget to stop defending ourselves, even when we're in a safe space. Before we know it, we've hurt each other through bitchiness, being on the defensive or through overt emotional toughness. It's too easy to adopt a loud, even ferocious persona than to let your gay brothers see the real you. When everyone's doing the same thing, our supposedly safe community becomes a dangerous place.

The defensiveness I'm talking about often manifests through prejudice. Femme shaming, fat shaming, body fascism, ageism, racism, class snobbery etc; these are all hallmarks of people assuming a superiority mask to conceal their shattered sense of self worth. The Son Tarot Nine of Wands shows a battered, bruised and wounded man clinging steadfastly to the nearest of nine wands to steady himself. The remaining eight form a defensive wall. In effect, he's on guard against future conflict and when it comes, the wands will be his weapons. 

We really have to ask ourselves though; are we still on guard when the real threat has disappeared? Maybe we're fending off friends instead of potential enemies. We need to learn who to let our guards down to and when to stop fighting.

Let's take 'femme shaming' as an example of the dark side of this card's message. How many times have you seen a gay man proudly proclaim himself to be 'straight acting' on a dating profile? The assumption here is that it's shameful to display what society would deem as 'effeminate' behaviour. Furthermore, these guys would have you know that they'd pass for straight in the outside world. I'd like to challenge this whilst admitting to having behaved similarly in the past. Firstly, why is it so shameful to be obviously gay? Why should any of us have to pass for straight?

Secondly, what's so shameful about effeminate behaviour? Maybe this attitude is rooted in misogyny and that by 'femme shaming' our gay brothers we're upholding the very homophobic attitudes that repressed us all in the first place. Some guys display both masculine and feminine traits so we need to get over it. What's so shameful about behaving in ways similar to how a woman might behave? Do you seriously believe that female typical behaviour is inferior or a sign of weakness? If you do, then you need to look at your own internalised sexism. 

Letting our guard down involves acknowledging that the world was wrong for branding us 'sissy faggots' and accusing us of being less than a man. It also means we can stop fearing those very qualities we were once berated for; in ourselves or in other gay men. 

The Nine of Wands is sometimes called the card of Great Strength. Genuine strength incorporates being honest about your weaknesses. Becoming vulnerable or honest when appropriate is one of the bravest things you can learn to do. Real strength isn't just about toughness, although that's a part of it when needed. It's also about transparency and authenticity. It's the courage to be yourself and to let others do the same, regardless of what other people may think. The exclusion barrier shown in the card can be a good thing but it needs to be there for the right reasons. Healthy boundaries keep those who want to hurt or shame us at bay. If we're using them to segregate ourselves from people we feel are different or somehow inferior, then we need to think again.

Another example is ageism in the gay community. It's still rife (and in both directions before you say anything). The young often deride the more mature to bolster their own sense of beauty, whilst the mature deride the young for their immaturity. Very often, both young and old are sexually objectifying each other simultaneously. 'Sleeping with a Daddy is the next notch I want to carve on my bed post' or ' I got off with a Twink - he was dumb but hot'. Do these sound familiar to anyone? 

We need to cut the objectifying and start listening to each other. If we could just dare to be vulnerable and learn a little respect,  those of us who are more mature can learn a lot from our younger brothers who, let's face it, have evolved in a different world from us. Likewise, younger guys can learn a few good lessons from the mistakes us older men have already made. It's called co-operation and listening. 

It's no small thing learning to be wholly ourselves without the approval of anyone else. That said, it's an essential path for us all. It's only when we become unshakeable in ourselves that we become able to love others fully. If we've moved beyond judgement, comparison and condemnation, we're secure enough to let others be themselves too without asking them to change. That doesn't mean turning a blind eye to bad behaviour, but it does mean allowing everyone to be unique, even if that uniqueness isn't what you're looking for.

This is what the Nine of Wands is about. In its positive aspect, it shows the wounded healer and the scarred protector. This is who we can all be if we try. He doesn't hide his wounds - far from it. These are the wounds inflicted by people who wanted to keep him in the closet and keep him from being who he really is. His wall of Wands keeps those people at bay. If he's protecting anyone, it's his brothers and sisters who've been through similar experiences. With any luck, they're looking out for him too.

In his negative aspect however, he can be someone who lashes out at anyone he fears, or anyone who shines an uncomfortable light on the parts of himself he can't face. Feeling inferior, he'll try to belittle others to build himself up and he'll build walls to keep the wrong people at a distance. We've all met this man. Worse still, we've all been this man. It's time to leave him behind.

Great Strength is the ability to erect healthy boundaries, for ourselves and for others. Great Strength isn't just about toughness. You can be tender and vulnerable too but your boundaries can exclude anyone who might abuse that vulnerability. It's the courage to tell people they've overstepped the mark and to demand respect when necessary. It's also the courage to walk away from individuals when they refuse to show the respect you deserve.

Dare to be yourself. Let others do the same and learn to show respect for difference. We'll never all be equal - that's what diversity's about. What we do deserve though is equal respect and the right to be loved and accepted in equal measure.  This should be who we are as gay men and that's what the word 'community' really means.

Chris. xx

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