Personally Speaking: A Word about Claiming My Own Power

A bit about my history as a powerless child, and how I grew into my authentic power.

This week a colleague of mine challenged me to reveal more of myself publicly, and to share why I created Powerful U and the other Gay Men of Wisdom programs. I’ll admit this feels foreign to me: I create because I’m inspired to do so. I listen to the muse and follow it. I do this work because I feel I absolutely must do so. Talking about myself seems irrelevant to this work, and revealing myself feels very uncomfortable.

Still, I considered his challenge a stretch. So I’ve taken him up on it. Here I’ll attempt to answer the question: why, personally, have I created Powerful U—and Gay Men of Wisdom itself? 

When I published Gay Men and The New Way Forward, William Smith, who runs the website Gay Life After 40, sent me a questionnaire for a personal profile that would appear on the site. One question really struck me: “If I could meet my younger self, I would tell him…”

My answer: “Everything you’re experiencing now is preparing you for what’s to come later. You first have to experience powerlessness to come into authentic power. You are much more powerful than you give yourself credit for. You have to learn that.”

It astonished me to read what I wrote.

When I have heard stories about children who have been bullied, I have often felt envious of those who could retreat to a safe place, like home, to escape it. I had no such space. My mother died when I was age two, and my father remarried less than a year later. With this new marriage came a new mother and four step-brothers, most of whom were violent, unhappy, and abusive. Their favored phrase, when speaking about my brother, sister, and I was that, “We came from the streets. You are liberal and soft.” I lived with physical and emotional cruelty at their hands, and rage from an overwhelmed and unhappy new mother.

At school, the scenario repeated itself, only to a lesser degree. In some ways, the bullying in school seemed a relief: I could go for longer stretches of time without being physically assaulted or belittled. Places like band and chorus gave me relative reprieve. And yet, between school and home, I lived in constant fear of other boys, and of the unpredictable rages of my new mother.

To survive, I made myself as invisible and amenable as possible—anything to evade or defuse the torment. When I realized I was gay, I became devoutly religious, determined to change my sexual orientation. The energy I expended surviving childhood left little for me. I am certain I wore an energetic “Kick Me” sign. I had little sense of myself. I took up as little space as possible, and did what I could to escape notice. I hibernated. When I came out at age 19, it was about much more than just acknowledging my sexual orientation. It was about claiming the right to take up space as a human being.

Since then I’ve done a lot of very conscious work, including many years of therapy. I’ve lived through and overcome depression and panic attacks. I took a 17-year hiatus from my parents and step-family so I could learn who I was. I’ve made bold choices and lived according to my values. In my 40s, I chose to forgive my parents—to recognize that while the execution of their plan deeply wounded us, they had good intentions and made considerable sacrifices for us. My history no longer runs me, yet it indelibly shaped me.

At times in learning about myself as an adult, I have underestimated my own power. I’ve used it forcefully, yet still felt like I had no voice. I learned how destructive that could be. I liken the experience to a superhero who has to hone his laser beam without setting the town on fire. Sometimes it still surprises me to see others mirror my power back to me, and to learn of people’s expectations of me as an author and leader of this project.

So why did I create Gay Men of Wisdom, and Powerful U in particular? It must be the path of the wounded healer. I understand being disempowered, and I understand the process of developing and claiming personal power. And by this, I mean power arising from one’s deepest self, from the core of one’s being. Of standing tall in one’s self-knowledge, and in finding and expressing one’s voice.

To be truthful, this is still an ongoing inquiry for me. I personally struggle with the paradox of being a powerful gay man in world run by men who are not so different from the ones I was raised with. In some ways, the teacher teaches what he needs to learn. And if he’s any good at his job, he facilitates learning and learns from his students. I fully expect to learn and grow from, and be inspired by the men who take Powerful U and all of the Gay Men of Wisdom programs.

I didn’t set out to create Gay Men of Wisdom or any of its programs with the intention of being a wounded healer. I followed my muse and expressed it. And I have done so with conviction, passion, determination, and persistence. It seems clear to me that a project that invites gay men to claim their authentic power is right on my path.

This article was originally published at Words to the Wise, my blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.