The London mental health service for LGBT People
As a therapist working in London with LGBT people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, I hear a lot of people talk about loneliness and isolation. They are surprised that even in a big city, surrounded by people, they feel isolated and lonely. This lack of meaningful connection to others leaves them feeling empty. The revolving door of casual sexual hookups can feel meaningless, with drugs and alcohol being an easy escape.
The greatest example of true ‘LGBT Community’ was the AIDS crisis starting in the 80’s. This was a time when LGBT people got together to fight a terrible virus that was to go on to kill thousands of young men in the prime of their lives. To see LGBT people of all ages and backgrounds, coming together to support each other, with passion, strength and love was an example of a true, real community.
However, in the years following the crisis, that sense of support and togetherness, as a community, has dissipated. Even Soho is being rapidly gentrified, with the bar/club scene disappearing before our eyes; our dark and exciting world now far too clean and shiny. An online virtual Soho doesn’t work!
But amazingly we have made it through the AIDS nightmare, with incredible medication available and a new acronym U=U. To understand that to be on medication and undetectable means that you cannot pass on the virus, is changing gay men’s attitudes to sex. The HIV positive men I meet in therapy who are on medication, are finding new confidence in their undetectable status with issues around disclosure to partners, sometimes questioning if they need to discuss status at all. Safe in the knowledge that they can have all the sex they want without fear of transmission. Negative self-judgment which can lead to shame, can be discussed with new optimism.
So today, with a more fragmented society, we need to come together and support each other more than ever. U=U has changed the way we think about ourselves as gay men and will go a long way to minimising the stigma often associated with HIV.
HIV positive guys feel a higher degree of confidence and self-esteem not only in their sex lives, but in their sense of self in the wider world. Whilst HIV negative guys can choose to look after themselves with PrEP and enjoy sex with far less fear than even a few years ago.
Online communities are an incredible way to include people who live outside urban areas, but it is face-to-face encounters that so often leave us with a true sense of connectedness. Community can be created if we want it. The young can learn through the life experience of the older members and the old can engage with the energy and enthusiasm of the young. It’s a tough world out there right now, with hard won liberties being threatened from all directions, but if we love and support each other, young and old, each in our own way, one person at a time, we can create the real LGBT Community we truly deserve.
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