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“As LGBTQ+ people, who is teaching us how to have sex with pride instead of shame?”

With his brand new play Toxic coming to HOME Manchester 18-28 October looking at the impact of shame on LGBTQ+ relationships, writer and performer Nathaniel J Hall explores how we can have sex with pride and most importantly, joy, in this new blog.

A selfie of Nathaniel in his home with shaved, bright pink hair. His eyes are closed and he is smiling.

Whilst scrolling Twitter the other day, I read a post that irked me.

‘Not me doing the walk of shame again last night’.

Now I’m not criticising the person who tweeted it, or the act itself – quite the opposite.

I have walked that walk many times myself and have definitely labelled it the same.

Walk of SHAME.

Shame is a word that has featured heavily in my past.

But this throwaway tweet got me thinking: as LGBTQ+ people, who is teaching us how to have sex with pride instead of shame?

As a person who tells stories for a living, I know the power that they can hold.

And the stories we tell ourselves can be the most powerful.

In Mean Girls (not the most academic of cultural references, but a banging one nonetheless), Tina Fey’s Ms Norbury tells an assembly room full of wounded girls that when they call each other ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ they only give boys permission to do the same.

The language we use every day can be a powerful tool to build us up, or to cut us down.

You know, when I look around at our LGBTQ+ community celebrating with pride (and there is so much to be proud about), I know that behind closed doors so many of us are drowning in shame.

In the past for me this manifested itself in toxic relationships, treating myself and others badly, anonymous sex, sex whilst high or drunk…

Shame-riddled sex that was often thrilling, but not always that fulfilling.

Queer sex and identity have a complex past shaped by dehumanisation, medicalisation, criminalisation, even murder and genocide.

In the past, criminalisation forced us into the shadows of toilets, woodlands and backstreets.

Speaking during these exchanges could lead to arrest from an undercover officer or a queer bashing from another man drowning in his own society-induced shame about the act he was about to partake in.

And let’s be clear here, it’s society that has the problem with gay sex, not us.

Times may have changed, but that secrecy and shame has been passed down to the app generation.

Hook-up apps offer the ultimate tool for non-communicative sex.

Hey, I’m not here to bash anonymous sex – I’ve had some amazing, earth-shattering, life-changing hook ups (big up the boy in the backseat in Wales), and I’ve had many terrible ones too (sorry to the guys who ended up counselling me over my ex).

But the risks we can take whilst using apps can become a powerful psycho-sexual drug that keeps us coming back for more, and harder.

A community that lives in the shadows and fringes will always live in secrecy and shame.

It's why the Pride movement is so important – out of the bars and clubs and online spaces and on to the streets – unapologetically us.

But who is teaching us to live with pride in our everyday lives?

Charities like Stonewall and THT have been calling for LGBTQ+ inclusive sex and relationship education since the 1980s and still young people are still missing out on this vital education in 2022.

For me, sex education at school was no better than Coach Carr in Mean Girls (hey, it’s hilarious, highly quotable and full of top life lessons): ‘Don’t have sex, you will get Chlamydia and die.’

Except for me as a young gay boy the message was: don’t be gay, you will get AIDS and die.

School’s fail us, so it’s left up to us to educate ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago when Holocaust Memorial Day landed in the middle of LGBT History Month, I decided to share the history of the pink triangle.

From the Nazi’s use of it to brandish gay men in the concentration camps, to ACTUP’s reclamation in the fight against AIDS, it has a long term cultural, political and artistic significance for gay men.

Every time I share this story, I’m astounded by how many people didn’t know about it, both from outside and from within our community.

But if our history isn’t reflected back to us, how can we ever feel pride in it?

We have always been here, even if our stories have been erased or hidden from view.

But in the absence of seeing our stories and history in the mainstream, how do we ever escape the narrative of shame?

I’ve worked hard (with the help of many therapists, lovers and friends) to ensure every future sexual encounter makes me feel a million dollars.

The only walk of shame I do these days, is from the fridge back to my desk, snack in hand, and even then, I’m trying to dismantle the snacking equals shame narrative put on us by a society obsessed with being thin!

But unpicking the habits of a lifetime that stem from growing up in a homophobic and HIV stigma-riddled society isn’t easy.

One thing we can all do is ask ourselves the question: does what I’m doing bring me pride, queer joy and fulfilment?

And if the answer is yes, move towards that.

Find out more about Toxic and book tickets here.

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