by Sarah Chown
If you are someone who is not a gay guy, and works with gay men – as a health care or service provider, sex educator, teacher, social worker, volunteer, or researcher, this blog is for you! Since it is so, so important that there are lots of people working towards gay men’s health, we thought it may be worth it to share some reflections on working with gay guys as someone from outside these communities.
My name is Sarah. I’ve been working gay men’s health for roughly three years in Vancouver, BC, unceded Coast Salish Territories. I am so grateful to the many gay men I have had the opportunity to work alongside on research projects and in community organizations. I am by no means an expert, and am still always learning how to best support the gay communities I care about so deeply. However, I do still get things wrong and its not uncommon that I make mistakes. These are a few of my thoughts about things that work for me in my efforts support and strengthen the health and wellbeing of gay men.
- It is crucial that diverse gay men lead this work, and that they are supported by a lot of people – including those of us who are not gay men. To do this work, it is super important to earn the trust of the communities we are working with. A good starting place for that is by actively affirming gay men’s ongoing leadership and initiatives. For example, we might highlight initiatives led by gay men to our colleagues. In groups of gay men, we may choose to do more listening than speaking. It may also mean creating space within your work for gay men to take on leadership roles. Jessica Danforth, an indigenous activist working in sexual and reproductive health, reinforces the importance of communities choosing to work with you just as much as you deciding to work with them.
- Earning trust of gay communities is an ongoing process. It demands a certain amount of intentional thought and consideration about our social location and the power dynamics that may unfold as a result (also known as self-reflexivity) within our work. Since most of us are taught some degree of homophobic attitudes that are pervasive in mainstream society, these ideas are often so ingrained within us that it is not always obvious how they shape our thinking. A major part of working with gay men is recognizing these attitudes within ourselves, as hard as it can be to admit they are there.
There is no one point in time when we get a lifetime membership to working with gay men. There is no one prescriptive way to do this work. Instead, it is an ongoing process of learning, working alongside communities, considering the ways our roles impact the work of gay men, and always, always looking for ways to support communities we so deeply care about in building the kind of world they want to live in.
Sarah lives and breathes gay men's health in Vancouver, BC, unceded Coast Salish territories. She also loves the colour purple, baking, and spending time with the many fabulous gay boys in her life.
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