The SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund (QNF) hosted its third Queer Nightlife Talks session, “How do you live without the party?” The talk, held on Zoom, featured two community mental health professionals who offered coping strategies along with a facilitated discussion about the current mental health challenges facing queer nightlife workers and the overall queer community.
QNF believes in sharing and that any information or resources that can benefit people in queer nightlife should be readily made available for anyone to use. As we did with our first two Talks to ensure that the ideas and comments that arose during the discussion are offered to the entire community, we are summarizing the night’s proceedings here.
Here is an abbreviated, high-level summation of the evening’s discussion. For a more robust account, read the Details section.
- Everyone is finding the pandemic challenging, but queer people, and queer people of color and others who are marginalized, often have overlapping struggles. Queer nightlife workers often fall into multiple categories of struggle.
- One of the harsh outcomes of queer nightlife and gathering venues being unavailable is that queer people often benefit from being in environments in which they see themselves reflected and that is unavailable to us right now.
- The stress of sheltering in place, perhaps not working, perhaps otherwise economically challenged, all of it can chip away at our sense of life meaning and without meaning we don’t do well. We must find the meaning in our lives in order to muster the strength to persevere until the vaccine allows us all to return to some normalcy.
- To help develop coping skills, Bruneau offered a “tapping in” tip and Burke offered some resiliency tips.
- There is a concept that we each have a certain amount of surge capacity. Another way of saying this is that we each only have so much we can deal with at any one time. We reach a maximum. We are all experiencing a sort of collective chronic fatigue. It’s important to say when we are not OK, have reached our capacity. It’s important to reach out to others to help us get through those times. Don’t say “I’m fine” when you’re really not. It’s important to acknowledge that it’s likely we are all experiencing some level of depression and anxiety. At the same time, it’s entirely all right to say when you are fine. You’re allowed to be both fine and not fine because that’s how life goes sometimes.
- Pre-pandemic, our queer nightlife and other socializing was likely seen as a nice to have, a luxury. Now we are all experiencing skin hunger and missing the connections we took for granted. We need to be honest with ourselves that online meetups and events are not a fully adequate replacement for our nightlife, our spaces.
- We should not assume that our post-pandemic queer nightlife or our lives generally will simply be a replication of pre-pandemic. We will create new realities that support us and allow queer nightlife to thrive, but we should accept that change is both inevitable and perhaps good. In reality queer people have always functioned as overlapping communities and they have always been creative in adapting and thriving.
- For queer communities and queer nightlife to resurrect and live again we don’t have the luxury of having an us versus them mindset. We are all in this together and must help each other get through this. We can come away from this trying era with our sense of individuality as well as a sense of identity as a community of human beings.
- Many of us are stronger than we realize. Research supports that if you have past experiences dealing with rough times (for example, surviving the AIDS pandemic or a bad health crisis), you might have an internal blueprint on how to navigate through the current times.
Here is a more extensive, detailed account of the evening’s discussion. Some of this detail is in quick note form- so, expect incomplete sentences. It was difficult to consolidate the evening’s discussion into themes. This is presented more or less the way in which it unfolded.
Angel Garfold, QNF Steering Committee member, moderated the evening with panelist guests, Angelique (“Red”) L. Burke, and Ralph Bruneau, both practicing psychotherapists with deep involvement in queer communities.
Angelique L. Burke, MS, EdS, LPC, ChT, has a proven and long-standing commitment to community involvement, leadership, and education, and one of her current passions is creating new communal connections while presenting and educating at various community and professional events. In other adjacent worlds, she is a PhD candidate and psychotherapist who graduated from The Florida State University’s College of Education with dual Masters’ of Science in Career Counseling and Mental Health Counseling, and an Educational Specialist degree.
Ralph Bruneau, PhD, is International Mr. Leather (IML) 2017. Dr. Bruneau has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is a LMFT in Los Angeles working both within and outside the kink and fetish communities. As IML, he traveled over 118,000 miles as an ambassador to the leather community around the world, participating in 43 weekends of events out of 52 in his title year. He is on the Board of the Los Angeles Gender Center and President of Avatar LA. He has presented/taught at CLAW, IML, IMsL, ONYX Blackout, among others.
After Garfold gave some introductory remarks and the discussion guidelines, she introduced the night’s two guest panelists and then Burke started off the evening with a few opening comments.
Among Burke’s initial thoughts were:
- Ways in which we do and do not tell the truth to ourselves and to others about what’s really going on. There is tremendous liberation and freedom in telling the truth even if the truth isn’t pretty or if it’s messy.
- POWER (people of wellness exchanges resources) Talk is a free weekly support group for people in the kinky queer lifestyle offering emotional support, especially in these challenging times.
- There are common impacts for marginalized people in all the intersectionalities of communities during this pandemic as well as in this this of civil unrest and distress, and things are even harder for those who find themselves sitting at multiple places of intersections which includes the entire spectrum of queer people.
- Anxiety, fear, and trauma are responses we’re having during this time. Challenges for us personally, relationally, and communally.
- Resiliency tips.
- Grounding and guided meditation to integrate our sense of wholeness as well as to mark our own grief and loss experiences.
Bruneau then offered some opening comments:
- Loss of visibility for us. Those of us who are in nightlife have a loss of visibility in the capacity to own the specificity of who we are (kinky, queer, outliers).
- Jacques Lecan, a French psychoanalyst, offered the concept of the reflected sense of self. His premise was that there is no inherent “I”. We are not born with a self-concept, but that self-concept is granted us by others who view us. So, if people say things about you, those things granularly over time come to comprise our self-concept. When we are not mirrored, we forget our self-concept. We forget who we are. So, since we are not gathering at our normal meeting places, not able to be seen by our regular reflected practices in our regular venues and our regular groups is impoverishing our sense of self and that impoverishment has a real consequence on our neural network and our resilience.
- Growing up in Manhattan in his 20s with his first gay bar being the Mineshaft in the West Village, that was how he found himself, how he found an identity. He was granted identity by the other kinky men there. That was his party for the whole time he was in New York. He left New York in 1984/85 and the Mineshaft and so many other establishments were on the brink of closing and soon closed. It was devastating to lose our bathhouses, bars, sex clubs, meeting places, and that was devastating to him because he had nowhere to express himself. The party was over.
- He recalled the movie Longtime Companion centered around the devastation of AIDS. He also recalled Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that examines the effect of concentration camps and the Holocaust on the survivors and how those who thrived and survived were able to do so and how those who didn’t weren’t. He also recalled a book called Tapping In by the woman who taught Bruneau EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) which is his form of trauma therapy and he mentioned one aspect of that therapy is a nice takeaway, portable, and easily self-administered.
- He read the last scene from Longtime Companion that follows a group of friends through their lives together as they come together and gradually most of them die. At the end there are three survivors on the beach, and they are talking about what it’s like to go forward and live. They ponder what it will be like when there is a cure for AIDS. At that moment everyone the viewer met in the film comes on to the dunes in a memory of living and they hug, kiss, embrace, and talk and it’s a beautiful moment imagining what it’s like when we get to reunite with those we haven’t seen because they passed. Then the crowd disappears and it’s back to reality and they’re not there. The lead character says again that he just wants to be there. Bruneau likened wanting to be there to himself wanting to attend International Mr. Leather, to just be there and experience something that’s been denied us currently.
- What Viktor Frankl discovered was that when people were incarcerated into the concentration camps there was originally denial. They could not believe that was happening to them. Then there was a surge of hope that maybe they were going to a place that was okay. Then they were relocated. Every day they had to imagine a meaning for their life to have the resilience to go on and create a life that had sustenance for them. So, there were people who practiced for concerts that would never happen. There were people who stayed alive for their kids to be born. There were people who stayed alive for the holidays, for birthdays. The people who had something to look forward to were the people who had a more salient life than the people who became grief stricken and apathetic. What he found was that that meaning, that forward momentum of meaning, was helpful. While of course we are not experiencing anything like the Holocaust, there are parallels with sheltering in place and having a virus outside our door, having racial injustice and violence outside our door, having Bill Barr, having Mike Pompeo, having Donald Trump, all that outside our door, is the authoritarianism of the regime we live under up until the election, and still afterward, It’s not a safe world. There was hope on the pervious Monday that there will be a vaccine and everyone who came in his office that week had a mixture of relief the election was over, profound hope that a vaccine might work, and a through line of dread that this was going to go on and that this wasn’t over and that we would be amid the shitshow until January 20th, and probably beyond.
- There is a researcher that Bruneau likes who has been writing about surge capacity which Bruneau likes because it feels like an electrical grid and the neural network feels like an electrical grid to him. She wrote about her writing a paper about COVID and then crashing, and then some time went by and she vegetated at home like we all did. Then she wrote another article, and then she crashed again. She talked about how the incredible network of our neural network allows us to tap into this capacity to profoundly overcome our circumstances, but then there’s a payback. We fail. We falter. What she’s saying is we’re not meant for this, even if you think we were initially told we’ll stay inside, we’ll address everything, flatten the curve, and then everything will be back to normal and that was months ago and it’s not back to normal still. It’s been a surge, then a relapse, then a surge, then a relapse, then a surge, then a relapse. So, everyone is suffering under this chronic fatigue. There are various trauma amelioration techniques, and there are varying opinions about them, but Bruneau has seen tremendous results addressing trauma specifically using EMDR. There is a piece of EMDR called resource installing, tapping in, which can be taken out of the EMDR protocol and used for whatever we want it to be used for. Trauma relief comes from the idea that we have a neural network which has two parts of the brain. Trauma is like a hand grenade that goes off in the brain and there are bits of shrapnel that are inside the brain from that trauma. So, it can be sparked by sound, sight, smell, any of our senses can bring that alive. When the shrapnel gets stuck it doesn’t move through to wholeness like your body wants it to. It gets clogged. EMDR creates a dialogue between the two sides of the brain so that the neural network opens and flows through into wholeness because that is the impulse of the neural network if it’s not stuck. It’s meant to be flowing. If you have a traumatic incident and you have trauma, you need something to help you work that through your body. Otherwise, the trauma lives there unbounded with no sense of time or place. The one piece of EMDR Bruneau wanted to talk about is bilateral stimulation and it uses your imagination. We all live with the capacity and history in our imagination and lived experiences of joy and hope. All the resilience we need lives inside our memory and inside our body. Our imagination and the neural network can bring that alive. In moments of dark despair, moments of hopelessness, moments of depression and anxiety, we can use bilateral stimulation to install back in our hope and our joy and our experience that we’ve lived that will propel us into the next moment. Bilateral stimulation uses various types of back-and-forth stimulations (lights, sound, etc.). The method Bruneau demonstrated was placing his arms crossed in front of him with his hands on his shoulders and tapping back and forth on both sides of the body in a rhythmic fashion to create a dialogue between the two sides of the brain. It’s good for performance anxiety, enhanced performance, for anything that is forward movement that needs the resources attached to it that we already own.
- He recounted the day the election was called and the excitement in his part of the city. He ran upstairs to see his partner and a friend who did not yet know. He was able to recall specifics about where he was and what he saw, heard, smelled, the experience of that moment. He wanted to remember that moment of joy. So, he used bilateral stimulation (tapping in). He explained you can do 30-60 taps to tap in an experience or special place that has been profoundly important to you. He recalled using it during a moment of anxiety in bed when he quietly moved his toes as the tapping mechanism to help him recall a more peaceful place. This technique draws on hypnosis, guided meditation, spiritual principles, groundedness of Eastern meditative practice, and is firmly rooted in science. So, there is a way to recall, even in our darkest moments, things that we already have inside us to solve problems that we need solved at that moment.
Garfold then tossed out the general question to the attendees to indicate if they had felt any stress recently. Many of those present raised their hands. Garfold pointed out that QNF’s hope was to help reduce some of the stress and anxiety people were feeling and to share resources and tools to help in that regard.
Burke pointed out that even people who are therapists or people who have done a lot of psychotherapeutic work are impacted by the pandemic and all that is going on.
Part of what Burke was referencing when she talked about telling the truth to ourselves is that if we recognize that we are fear walking, we have a sense of courage and resilience, that does not mean that we don’t also have the opportunity to name the challenges and the shitshow, the depression and anxiety, and those moments when we don’t want to get out of bed.
Burke referenced Bruneau’s mention of surge capacity and that it resonated with what she experienced with everyone being heads down at the beginning of the pandemic and then at about six months there was a huge shift. When it got to six months there was a realization that nothing was changing and there was a sense of chronic despair for herself and those around her including clients in her practice. Some were able to gird into hope. Other people totally crashed and had nothing else to go forward with. Having community is important in this regard. Members of a community can be at different levels of strength and resilience at a certain point in time and those with more of it can lend it to others in the community who need it now. And community is what we’re missing, not being able to gather with friends and do the social things we’re used to doing.
Burke said that our queer nightlife and other socializing was likely seen as nice additives, luxuries to our lives pre-pandemic. Now we are all experiencing skin hunger and missing the good chemical-releasing experience of being hugged. You walk into a gay bar or a queer gathering and you hug your friends, thereby releasing oxytocin to make us feel good and increase bonding. We are missing that right now. So, that’s part of telling the truth. We can have all kinds of alternatives such as Zoom, but it’s still important to tell the truth that it’s not the same. However, in the meantime, these are some of the things we can do to get to the next day or next hour. That is part of resilience. That is the resilience that’s needed to get through a challenging situation and that resilience builds upon itself. We must go through things to get through things.
Garfold brought up that that while everyone is going through tough times right now, marginalized people such as LGBTQ+, gender non-conforming, polyamorous, leather, BDSM, and kink already had struggles being marginalized and now it’s compounded. Garfold asked the guests and audience if people are aware of any resources, tools, exercises, solutions, or other ways these communities can muster some resilience.
An audience member asked Bruneau how he thinks we should regroup after losing our bars, restaurants, and safe spaces. How should we regroup as a community? How should we collectively recover psychologically, socially, and economically.
Bruneau offered that he is older and lived through the AIDS crisis. During his performing career in New York and Los Angeles two of the men he was in love with died. Caring for the two men essentially turned Bruneau into a hospice worker and that gave his life a different aspect of meaning. That led to him going back to school for his Masters and Doctorate. He used that as a springboard for mentioning that the people in his practice did better who are open to reimagining what the future looks like, not a replication of the past, but that it might look different.
As a way of envisioning such reimagining, Bruneau mentioned the idea that there has never been a single, monolithic community. There have always been pods of ideas and pods of people doing different things. After AIDS, what happened is gay men ended up forming alliances with the women’s community which we had never really had much interaction with. Things got smaller and things got more salient for gay men. Gay men reimagined the ways in which we came together, in smaller groups, and people are doing that now already. People are podding up and QNF is a perfect example of an organization that started because of a societal and cultural need that’s trying to meet some new thing that we never anticipated we had. Our communities will have people who will create new ways to pivot to new ways of congregating, relating, sexing, and communing so that we can find that ecstasy of expression and identification with each other again. It’s going to look different for everyone but it’s not going to look the same. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be interesting to see what the next iteration of queer nightlife looks like. Bruneau is a fan of Brené Brown and one of the things she talks about is the idea that we are all leaders. Stop trying to rule someone else’s house. Make your own house and rule it. We have a perfect opportunity to start thinking in different ways about different things, particularly with the vaccine. Maybe we can roll out of this with some more integrity and some more diversity and some more acceptance. Things don’t have to fit in the same boxes they’ve fit in before because they’ve been in those boxes for decades.
Burke said the current situation calls us all to a responsibility to pay attention to things we have taken for granted in the past. We must be open to newness. As creatures of habit, we must go back to equilibrium. In Atlanta, where Burke is located, people are still doing nightlife and wondering why they’re getting sick. That’s an illustration of how we are creatures of habit and want to go back to the status quo because it feels safe and comfortable. Now we have an opportunity to sit in uncertainty and do those things that are not familiar to us. That’s how we’re going to evolve and make it through all this. As for the economic piece, we need to be willing to share resources. It can’t be about I’ve got mine and doing great but rather who else can I support out of my abundance and not just my family and community but also people we don’t know and who will never be able to thank us. This is an opportunity to do some intrinsic evaluation of ourselves and put some action to it because we can’t make some movement unless we’re moving together. As a world we are all having our own byproducts of this tragic experience of life right now. So, we do not have the luxury of having an us and them on so many different levels. Us and them in terms of community. Us and them in terms of people who have spiritual connections. Us and them in terms of people who have resources. Us and them in terms of people who have mental health issues. The hope is that we come away from this with our sense of individuality as well as a sense of identity as a community of human beings.
Garfold asked the presenters and the attendees about acknowledging when we do experience trauma and how do we identify and honor that? What are the signs or symptoms that one might be experiencing trauma?
Burke mentioned the “I’m fine” default and mentioned the “Fine Dog” comic strip with a house ablaze around the dog while the dog exclaims “I’m fine!” Burke also offered an acronym tip off for the word “fine” which is, as it applies to some people, “fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.” It offers new meaning to what fine sometimes actually is.
Burke also suggested that this time we’re in is an opportunity for dialectics, the ability to hold two things that are seemingly opposite from each other as true or valid.
So, in addition to us saying “no, I’m not fine” Burke suggested that it’s also okay for us to indeed be fine. It’s okay to be okay because sometimes we experience the who is more fucked up Olympics (I have more problems than others) and that can be destructive. Telling the truth that one is indeed fine, good, and thriving is important too. By doing so, it can make clearer when one is not actually fine, not doing good a certain day. We need to tell the truth about being fine and not being fine equally. Burke recounted recently telling their doctor during an appointment about the schedule they keep, and the doctor asked if Burke needed anything from them to help with that and Burke said no, I’m not fine, but I’m okay.
Telling the truth about this point in time that’s challenging helps one to not have a splitting of thinking that one should be fine, pretend one is fine, or act like one is fine when one does not feel fine inside. It’s okay to say we’re tired, or it’s hard, or something is emotionally challenging. This allows us to legitimately hold space for others who are experiencing troubling things like racism or violence, It’s important to acknowledge both sides of being fine or not.
Bruneau recounted an experience of coming back from a large kink event, Darklands in Belgium, just as the lockdown started. The event took place in a large warehouse with thousands of people, just as the world was beginning to learn about the growing, worse than some realized, COVID-19 problem. Many of the attendees at that event fell ill at the event from COVID-19, including Bruneau and his husband. They later returned to the United States and Bruneau immediately began to default to Zoom interactions. He did not slow down or take a break. His psychotherapy practice ended up surging due to a growing need. When he finally had time to see his doctor, dentist, and eye doctor they each ended up asking for a quick conversation with him about how trying these times were for medical professionals. Such medical care professionals have few people to talk to and feel they need to always project a professional demeanor and be “fine” all the time. Those of us who are overachievers and used to being incredibly successful and proficient had a really hard time pivoting to doing okay, to be C students instead of A students. Perhaps that’s one of the things that the pandemic has taught people, that we’re allowed to be just okay today. We’re allowed to just be getting by. And also, to have the honesty to be able to say we’re having a really good day, for no reason perhaps. Just having a good day. It’s important that we say that out loud.
There have indeed been silver lining benefits to the pandemic. That we all sheltered in place. Learning how to live inside some else’s identity when you walk out the door and your life is in danger. Bruneau said that he’d been beaten with baseball bats as a young queer in New York, but he had never experienced what it’s like on a daily basis to fear for your life walking outside your door. The whole planet got the experience to be othered, to be in danger, and to be afraid. Perhaps there is some vulnerability and empathy that we will walk away with from this experience as a species if we don’t ignore it. It’s profoundly important for us. There are benefits to being able to say neurodivergence is fine, that everyone lives with some depression and anxiety, Bruneau experienced a depression that was really unlike any he had had before, and he had to reach out to friends he trusted to be honest about his despair. He did not envision what was next for him. This was not what he had planned. His imagination was failing him. His friends made him realize he knew better and that he had inside him that which got him through everything up until this time.
Queer and marginalized people have the experience of being outsiders, fighters, showing up and getting through, knowing that the world is not safe for us, does not accept us, and we must make space for ourselves that is not granted us. We have the superpower already, but we also must exhibit self-care. We can’t carry that with us all the time. It’s exhausting. That’s why events like the Queer Nightlife Talks are important. Bruneau mentioned he has groups he meets with that replenish him. He mentioned how he worked in an office building with other clinicians and rarely sees his colleagues since now most of them are working online. So, when he does see a fellow clinician in the building, he’s so happy for the interaction. We were so used to the frequency of contact and satisfying skin hunger. He recounted a friend who was in town who came into the office to talk with him for an hour between therapy sessions and it was so needed. Many of us are now relishing things that we took for granted, especially relationships. It’s coming down to the simple things – a partner present, a favorite television show, and a good night’s sleep. We wish we were traveling or going to events, but there will be other chances for us to do those things. We must sit in the knowledge that our organisms are moving toward health once we get some roadblocks out of our lives, such as the past White House administration.
Garfold reached out to those in attendance to ask for their input to hear about other experiences and tools people are using to cope. Some of the tools we’ve used before aren’t working now and we need to adopt new tools and coping mechanisms. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes we just need to get through stuff and survive and sharing skills we might use with others can help.
Burke pointed out some research that concluded that if you have experience in the past going through rough times like the pandemic, major health crises, or other such difficulties, you might have a blueprint on how to navigate through the current times. People who went through the AIDS pandemic, for example, have a type of muscle memory of having been through something similar. and came out the other end as survivors. Having the hope to go back to wholeness is important. Younger people may not have such a background. Burke’s own young children have had highly elevated anxiety lately. When talking to pediatricians, Burke learned that a lot of adolescents are indeed experiencing a lot of anxiety right now and they don’t know what to do with it because there’s no language or lived experience that they can make it through, or even that they know their parents made it through tough times. We’re all living in hope but it’s not always a hopeful situation, making it doubly challenging.
Phil Hammack, QNF founder and Steering Committee member, offered that while many acknowledge that we\’re all feeling a loss of community there isn’t always a truly shared experience. Some people are still traveling. Some are still partying. There are various definitions of what constitutes a safer pandemic pod. Also, people are more silent on social media regarding their social lives because they don’t know if they are going to get shamed. This makes it that much more challenging for people who are deeply community oriented.
Bruneau again referenced Longtime Companion and how back as the AIDS crisis was upon us there were discussions of judgments regarding what gay men would do sexually and that in the movie they said sure they will judge, they always will. The silencing effect of judgment can lead to tremendous isolation. Everyone is having their own experience of the pandemic but that makes it all the more important that we all speak to the specificity of what our experience is, what’s actually helping us get through. At present with all that’s going on people are nervous about being entirely honest and transparent on social media about what they are feeling and doing. We are all truly having a different experience of what this pandemic fees like. We all have the experience of having to wait for something important to happen, and it can feel like a thousand years at the time, but it’s going to come. Our body holds that memory, and we can translate with imagination to translate those situations into something that is applicable. For the current circumstances.
Judgment occurred at the height of the AIDS crisis. Some were barebacking, Some were not. Bruneau said he and his husband, a serodiscordant couple, did not talk about their sexual lives publicly, but eventually decided it was important that they do so, to talk about the specificity of their relationships and sexuality so others would be emboldened to talk about their situations. If we think we are supposed to speak into a monolithic experience we’re always going to winnow down our record of what we’re actually doing into something that fits a characterization that doesn’t really encapsulate the complexity of who we are. We are complex creatures. It does not help us to be silent about the complexity of our experience. It makes for a much richer conversation if we’re all true to what we’re doing. Bruneau recalled a recent Avatar Club Los Angeles panel discussion he presided over, and all four panelists were navigating the pandemic differently. It made for a richer discussion because there was no judgment about people making different choices, some of which was dependent on locations and local lockdown status and comfort levels.
Burke highlighted that we are having shared loss but not necessarily shared experiences. The silence on social media for fear of being judged fosters shame and guilt. Some might feel they can’t have a lived experienced that feels good whether that’s traveling or doing something fun and then post it because we don’t’ want to be shamed for it or expose our own sense of guilt about it. It’s helpful to acknowledge this. When one asks someone about their possible violation of our own sense of pandemic propriety, the nervousness we feel is we’re individually concerned how we can navigate all this and still feel safe. If we’re willing to have those conversations instead of shaming each other or putting our open guilt out there and saying to others we’re nervous about something that we feel was necessary for us like getting out in nature or taking some calculated risk. It’s similar to when we started to have safer sex conversations because disagreements in strategies are going to happen and it’s very divisive to shame, ourselves or others, and it doesn’t help us. Some have a need to state that they have a certain need or desire. We need to have these conversations to help each other navigate what safety for us and others looks like. Burke mentioned these conversations are happening a lot within polyamorous relationships with different individuals in the poly arrangement having different pandemic guidelines. We should be honest and have open conversations stating we’re envious, excited, curious, or nervous about what others are doing. One might feel like they must quarantine away from someone for a while and that robs them of the connection they might otherwise have had with that person. We can’t control other people’s behaviors, but we need to be able to tell the truth then we have to shift, perhaps just needing to get something off our chest. Being open about and acknowledging that we have fears, concerns, shame, guilt allow us to say it out loud and move on to the next moment together.
Bruneau pointed out that there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy, a difference between privacy and shame. Secrecy and shame are far more deadly to the queer and marginalized communities than it is to the larger community. Bruneau said he and his partner were not immediately forthcoming about their COVID-19 diagnosis and he knows many who are not willing to be public that they tested positive for fear of judgment. It’s like HIV all over again. It has a real consequence for us as a people who are shamed by the world to sit in that kind of shame for actions that are by human beings. It’s a virus, again. It’s not a morality, it’s science. It is at our peril that we hide and go back in the closet shamefully about actions that we take or don’t take. He mentioned the varying comfort levels with his patients coming into the office with some fearing that if they choose not to, they will be judged which of course he does not.
An attendee suggested that Gen Z does not need a gay ghetto. This generation will grow up not having some of the intimate interactions that previous generations have as a result. Many of them don’t need the party. They don’t know the party. They don’t know there is a different party. If you have a group of young LGBTQ folks who have grown up not being able to touch each other and they don’t need LGBTQ parties and they don’t need LGBTQ events, Hypothetically, what if Gen Z grows up and decides that also don’t need the Democratic party?
Burke suggested that it might be a bit of a leap from Gen Z not needing the party to not needing the Democratic party. That said, Burke stated that human beings are hard wired to be with other people, So, even though for a short period of time they need to remain apart for safety’s sake without physical connection, we cannot survive without human interaction, There is a lot of research that human beings atrophy, Yes, some young queer folks are having a different experience right now, some of that due to the fact that certain spaces were not accessible to them or not safe or comfortable, but at the end of the day we need people. We need to hear people, touch and be touched, to survive. Perhaps these younger people will simply end up having a different kind of party. The party that’s right for them might be right for them and not others, or others might indeed be invited. But that party makes sense to those having the party. Our parent’s party is not the party we are having now. The party we are having now is not the party younger people will be having. We might not know what that will all look like, but there will be a party because it’s important to have a party.
Bruneau agreed. He mentioned that we biogenetically are pack animals and humans will always need a pack, mammals will always find a pack. The packs will just look different. If the packs are online or if the packs are in Animal Crossing or the packs are pissing on each other, it doesn’t really matter what the pack looks like. The party will reconfigure in groups, in relationships. We don’t know if they will be online, virtual, Zoom calls, knitting circles, fisting clubs. It doesn’t really matter what the organizing principles are, but people will organize. It might look quite different, Politically, the two-party system may recongregate and do it differently, but it will be done in packs or tribes. Relationship will always be at the center of human interaction. Touch is likely part of that, or that will be outdated too, but an entire society of lone wolfs doesn’t resonate as probable. But it is exciting to see what new formulations for groups will be.
Garfold mentioned that while she is an introvert and has done well living alone for the first three months of the pandemic lockdown, but after three months of not seeing or touching anyone she realized she need to do those things. She realized she needs some sort of 3D interaction every two weeks or so. All the introverts she knows have gone through a similar process. We all have different thresholds for what we can tolerate. Introverts often says they’ve been practicing for these pandemic times all their lives and that they end up having sympathy for extroverts whose needs are not being met.
Garfold then read what an attendee wrote in the meeting chat, which was: I think what Red (Burke) said is true about us not being able to afford an us versus them mentality when it comes to interactions with people who are “spiritual” in the same way that the LGBTQ community needs alliances with the women’s movement and to support communities of color, we should also be supporting the religious sects that support us. We may find a good ally in Christians who believe in LGBTQ rights, especially as the far-right loudest voices claim to be Christian. Christian moderates could be helpful in disrupting the grip that the far-right has on their followers. This is an unpopular idea because most of us have experienced trauma at the hands of religious people in one way or another, but perhaps that’s also where the answer lies to healing our community lives.
Garfold mentioned that for her being amid a pandemic when the George Floyd incident happened and having the response that it did, she thinks the response as it happened could only have happened because we were in a pandemic. People had time and energy since they were not doing what they do in their normal day-to-day lives. Perhaps that’s a good thing that came out of a bad thing. Perhaps these opportunities to broaden our horizons can be a silver lining experiencing being sheltered in place and less social in person.
Burke said she was reminded of the concept that we can’t use the same divisive weapons to dismantle the systems of oppression, harm, and abuse. When we utilize the same weaponry used to try to tear down a system that is at its core violent, it doesn’t work. The alliances, figuring out how it’s us and us, makes a lot of sense. We must not lose our own individual identity. We can all proudly say who we are, hold our space, be who we are, and also make space or get out of the way so there’s space for other people to do the same.
Bruneau liked the distinction that was being made between spiritual and religious. Working for as many years as he has to try to ban conversation therapy, it’s about people practicing bad clinical work that is injurious to his people. He has no problem with religions. He has a problem with providers who hurt people. A therapists first duty is to do no harm and conversion therapy harms people in the name of Christianity, in the name of religion. That does not mean that he believes that religion is the enemy having gone through all his schooling in Catholic institutions. But he does think a lot of things are done to harm him and his friends in the name of the Catholic church. So, we must make a distinction between allies and dogma that is injurious to queer people. He is all for creating allies where we can find them, but they must be able to step outside of some of the dogma to embrace the fullness of who he is in order for him to stay healthy, to be made better by those relationships rather than injured by it. We learned a long time ago we are not going to survive if we do not have allies. We just must be thoughtful about who we trust and what their intentions are and if they affirm us or negate us.
Burke acknowledged that while the discussion did not cover all the impacts from the pandemic it does not discount that everyone can be going through a wide range of things and that those on the fringes, the marginalized, have seen even greater impacts. Burke also offered nine coping and resiliency tips which are:
Red’s Nine Coping and Resiliency Tips
- Taking care of yourself does not equal “self-care”
It is paramount to cover ALL of the “llys”/Pillars: physically, spiritually, sexually, emotionally, mentally, financially, communally.
- Participate in caregiving and support of others.
- Boundaries and Limits: know, practice, safeguard and maintain them diligently and intentionally.
- Things coming in: be mindful of, in charge of, and limiting of the things coming in.
- Things going out: be mindful of, in charge of, and discerning of the things going out.
- Non-judgmental permission: allow yourself to be or not to be…including to be sad, scared, and grieving the losses.
- Know thyself: Is more more, or less more for YOU?
- Taking care of your mental health: it’s not an option, but a requirement!
Remember that with intersectional identities, there may be a potential for more risks and heightened negative impacts. For example, LGBTQIA+ folx of color experience all the distress, in addition to the other health and social risks.
The Washington Post published an article on how COVID-19 is infecting and killing Black Americans at an alarmingly higher rate due to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, making folx even more vulnerable.
Similarly, older adult LGBTQIA+ folx may experience an increased sense of abandonment and disenfranchisement.
- Remember the importance of Dialectical Thinking: In the most basic sense, dialectical refers to “balance between opposites.” This is opposed to falling into “all or nothing” or “black or white” thinking.
Thus, “telling the truth” about the grief and loss of things AND cultivating a “Living” Mindset (as there is exponential power in hope, future planning, life and creating), is essential.
Additionally, it may be helpful to actually care for plants, gardens, or pets even more now. To nurture and experience things growing and living helps us to remember the reality of the dialectics that are so potently simultaneously occurring right now.
According to John Hopkins University, the fact is that as of Saturday, more than 237,000 (354,000 as of the writing of this report) Americans have died from COVID, and there have been nearly 9.8 million confirmed cases in the US and 49.6 million worldwide. And, while Wednesday the United States became the first country to top 100,000 cases of COVID in one day, that is opposed to the UN’s estimated 360,000 born a day. This is a quintessential dialectic.
Burke mentioned that she has formed several groups from free to sliding scale to low cost that some attending might want to check into, and they are listed below.
Burke concluded the evening by leading everyone in a grounding and grief and loss integration meditation exercise for the group.
Resources from Angelique (“Red”) L. Burke
Red/Angelique L. Burke, MS, EdS, LPC, ChT’s follow up to QNF’s “How do you live without the party?” (Nov. 2020)
Stats and Implications:
According to CDC (Center for Disease Control):
Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
According to ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America):
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
- It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): The leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
- Related Illnesses: Many people with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring disorder or physical illness, which can make their symptoms worse and recovery more difficult. It’s essential to be treated for both disorders.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time, along with depression.
- NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom) and KAP (Kink Aware Professionals); www.ncsfreedom.org
- My Groups (ranging from free or minimal donation to lower or sliding fee):
- WOC/BIPOC* Mental Health Practitioners Only Peer/Chat Group* 1st Tuesday Evening of the Month
- WOC/BIPOC* Group, 2nd Tuesday of the Month
- QGNCTPOC** Group, Ages 18-25, 3rd Wednesday of the Month
- QHQ (Queers helping Queers in Quarantine Times) Facebook Group and Support Group on the 4th Tuesdays of the Month
- P.O.W.E.R (People Of Wellness Exchanging Resources) Talk Calls Weekly on every Thursday Night, 9:35pm EST
*WOC/BIPOC: Self identifying as a Woman of Color/Black Indigenous Person Of Color
**QGNCTPOC: Self identifying as Queer, Gender Non-conforming and/or Trans, Person Of Color
For more information about these: RawServicesRequests@gmail.com
- Disaster Distress Helpline ,1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
- National Domestic Violence Hotline,1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224
- National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network, www.nqttcn.com
- BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective); www.beam.community
- Therapy for Black Girls; www.therapyforblackgirls.com
- The Refuge (FL); a residential program treating adults with PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, depression, and co-occurring disorders