Background to making the documentary: When I was younger I concealed important aspects about myself. I was very confused about my sexual identity. I felt different but didn't know why? Keeping my sexual identity a secret left me feeling empty, unfulfilled and unhappy. I felt I was existing not living.
Every day, every week, every month, the pressure inside me continued to increase. It felt like a pressure cooker ready to blow. Whilst I felt this way on the inside, on the outside, I acted like a chameleon and nobody seemed to realise. I felt very much alone and it was exhausting and stressful leading a double life, always living in fear of someone finding me out.
Jack Drescher (2004) stated that hiding activities learnt in childhood often persist in young adulthood, middle age and even into older age, leading many gay men to conceal important aspects of themselves. He goes on to say that closeted individuals frequently can not acknowledge to themselves let alone others. When I read this article I realised that I was not alone with these feelings.
I realised that for years I was repressing my emotions to avoid internal suffering. It was my way to cope with the negative feelings I had about myself instead of the positive aspects of who I am. I learnt that emotional repression can occur due to growing up in an environment where little or no room was given to experience and express emotions.
Social constructs about being gay may have dictated that what I was feeling was wrong, shameful or disgusting. When I was a teenager the AIDS crisis was impacting the world and I remember newspaper reports talking about the gay plague and gays being bashed over.
In my teens, I was very frightened by the stories of gay men dying because of AIDS and remember at the time not acknowledging my own sexuality as it was portrayed in a very negative light. Even nowadays I've interviewed men from Uganda who are facing discrimination because of their sexuality and live in fear for their lives.
I remember all these hidden emotions are raging beneath the surface, invisible to others, but knowing they bring on a range of psychological, physical and social consequences.
According to Garssen (2007) individuals who cannot view themselves as a whole, acknowledging both their positive and negative traits may have an unrealistic view of themselves that hinders their ability to admit they have a problem and ask for help.
If these feelings are allowed to fester, just like an open wound that becomes infected, the accumulation of unaddressed emotions can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, even a higher rate of suicide. Watch the short snippet below from an interview I had with Walt Odets, Clinical Psychologist and Author.
It has been reported that those that struggle to cope may turn to coping strategies such as overeating, substance abuse, anonymous sex and can have a lower immune system that can increase the risks of other health conditions such as cancer.
I remember that being repressed restricted my ability to connect intimately without others in my life. It took years before I found a partner as I put all my energy into my work and study. I think the biggest challenge for me was not being authentic about who I was because I kept my sexual identity a secret for so long.
Why a documentary: I believe that there are a significant number of secretly gay men who do not feel they can self express themselves fully and therefore are living in pain and as a result are facing the consequences mentioned above.
I am creating a documentary of real-life stories about why gay men feel that they need to conceal important aspects of themselves and highlight the value of expressing their stories and feelings. At the same time, I also want to raise awareness of the pressure that gay men feel in society and encourage everyone in society to respect and recognise individual differences throughout the world.
Here is a story of someone I met recently. He didn't want to share his name for reasons that will become obvious when you read this story, so I will use the name John in this instance.
John was born in the Middle East and left to go to university in USA when he was 20 years old. Whilst he was away he had the opportunity to explore his feelings towards other men.
On return to his own country, it was not possible to be open because his religion believes homosexual sexuality deserves the same punishment as adultery i.e. death.
Being back in his home country he felt he couldn't be himself and tried conversion therapy to stop him being gay. Eventually he approached a counsellor who supported him to accept who he was.
At this point John wants to be open about his sexuality with his family, but finds it a step too far at the moment.
Stories like these are not uncommon and I want to support men who are in similar situations to be able to express themselves by telling their stories in a confidential and non-judgemental space. I found it liberating to be able to talk to someone confidentially when I was growing up, so I hope to offer this to others.
This documentary aims to bring focus to the fact that a significant number of gay men still feel they need to conceal important aspects of themselves and I want to raise greater awareness about this with the view to more gay men to self express themselves either to themselves. Whether they decide to express themselves to society, then this is very much a personal choice, but I want to at least support them be open to who they are to themselves first and foremost.
If you would like to find more about my documentary or want to be involved, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you.