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Author Britt East: Why We Can Only Heal What We Love

We can only heal what we love. And for those of us who have spent our lives roiling in the cauldron of inequality, self-loathing lingers long past the pain of prejudice. In the case of gay men, straight society breaks us and then mocks us for our brokenness, first as the objects of scorn and ridicule, and then shame and violence.

Many gay men find themselves trapped in a series of no-win situations. If they don’t live honestly and openly, they won’t have the skills, wisdom, or relationships necessary to manifest their dreams. But when they do come out, they must confront the full force of societal homophobia, and consider a variety of questions: Can I create family without mimicking the norms of straight society? How do I cultivate sustainable gay friendships amidst my internalized homophobia? In a world of hook-up apps and disposable relationships, how do I find lasting love?

In A Gay Man’s Guide to Life, Britt East answers these questions. Britt sat out to write an approachable, no-nonsense path for gay men, to set down the excuses and get to the business of improving their lives. I recently caught up with Britt to see what inspired him to write the book, his favorite idea he shares with readers, and how that idea has impacted his own life.

Thank you for joining us! What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

Our stories are our medicine. When we peel away the layers of our daily roles, expose our hearts, and bear benevolent witness to one another, together we are healed. I started telling my story twenty years ago, first in talk therapy and then in small groups. But it was not until I found myself in a 12 step program that I first learned the thrill of getting real.

In those meetings there can be a social currency in shock value: radical vulnerability runs rampant. And while that might seem overexposing to the uninitiated, to those of us who have lived our lives behind masks, the experience is liberating. It allows us to first find our voices and then begin again.

I’ve been a writer my entire life, but my background was in poetry. So last year when my life coach said he wanted me to write a book, I rolled my eyes. I had no desire to put my therapeutic process in print and then inflict it on the world. And I was especially leery about harming anyone who had been along for the ride.

But I realized I could turn the concept of memoir on its head, by making this project about service work. I could use my experience, strength, and hope to offer practical and pragmatic advice to gay men around the world, and be the family that maybe they never had. I could offer some wisdom that maybe they were lacking. I could articulate and validate some of the feelings that maybe they had locked away.

That realization was the key to unlocking this project. Once I made this work explicitly about helping others, the words just flowed.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

We can only heal what we love. And for those of us who have spent our lives roiling in the cauldron of inequality, self-loathing lingers long past the pain of prejudice. In the case of gay men, straight society breaks us and then mocks us for our brokenness, first as the objects of scorn and ridicule, and then shame and violence.

It began with our bodies. Maybe our swishy gestures and fey voices betrayed their cult of fragile masculinity, or our own aversion to what we feared might be feminine led us to adopting and fetishizing the superficially macho. Perhaps our lust for the very boys that bullied us, caused us to conflate sexuality with danger and distorted the contours of our love. Homophobic laws preventing our congregating rendered our lives illegal, our families impossible, and created a culture of prurient hunting, ruthless self-sorting, and fleeting transactions.

If we are going to heal, we must learn to fall in love with our bodies. To stand tall and take our place in society. To counterstrike the offensive tropes and clichés. To be our unapologetically weird selves at all costs. Admire our cellulite, muscles, and thinness. Celebrate our skin tone and hair texture. Embrace our abilities, challenges, and limitations. Light up at the sound of our voices, and revel in our gestures. Love all of it.

This is about being beautiful, not pretty. Beauty is a state of radiant authenticity, which does not require external validation. Beauty goes to the gym to build health and wellness, rather than biceps. Beauty moves for the sake of fitness, dance, or play, rather than mere weight loss. We are beautiful when we live our lives openly and with a sense of freedom. And it all starts with loving our bodies.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?

As a child my parents enrolled me in sports, hoping it might make a man of me, and obliterate my tenderness. But instead I first found the bodies of other boys, and learned what it was like to run free on a field of play, at least until a tidal wave of homophobia swept away all that might have been.

Many years later, my partner convinced me to enroll in an introductory yoga class, for which, frankly, I had no foundation. I was completely uninitiated, had never experienced traditions of togetherness, or participated in ceremonies of solidarity. For many gay boys, lineage is lost, and rites of passage closed. So it’s a minor miracle I agreed to attend this class at all, much less stick with it.

Yoga is that union of movement and meditation that nurtures the art of living through the cessation of thinking. It was in these classes that I first fell in love with my body, and learned what it might be like to live life as I was, rather than who I thought I should be.

Eventually I trained to be a yoga teacher, which is another way of saying my practice is empowered and portable. I can close my eyes anywhere, and move as my body needs, because I had the privilege, good fortune, and determination to invest in the requisite training.

I allowed myself to be dragged to those first few classes, but then recognized the desire and curiosity to explore further, on my own. I had the discipline to begin again each day, on the yoga mat, with nothing but my body. And I had the courage to continue, which has shown me that I might reclaim that little boy who was never really broken to begin with.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Zach Obront

Zach Obront

Co-Founder of Scribe, Bestselling Author of The Scribe Method

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