Changing the World from the Margins

David Nimmons – Manifest Love

I really do believe that we as Gay people have an involved role in the world. I see Gays as a kind of perpetual Peace Corps. We are meant for something far beyond ourselves and our own selfish concerns. This is a part of the meaning of being Gay. –Reverend Malcolm Boyd


The national project by that name, Manifest Love, is a whole new kind of project for Gay/queer men. It exists to help Gay men find new ways to be with and for each other. Men who take part get a chance to explore our shared patterns, look at our values around community, nurturance, and affection. We offer concrete new ways to experience ourselves and conduct our relationships. By helping frame more nurturant patterns with each other, we envision and create the more sustaining queer world we want to live in.

There is no simple box for what we do. It is part social movement, part applied spirituality. Our gatherings are not encounter weekends, human potential groups, some dating service or sect. Nobody will ask you to loan your life’s savings or tell you how to vote. You can go to the bathroom as often as you want and do whatever you want, when you’re there.

The Manifest Love movement invites a range of queer men to create a new kind of world together, one that better reflects our best values and aspirations. Our focus is to craft the lives–social, intimate, sexual, communal, voluntary, moral–that we want to experience with each other. Call it a great Gay experiment in applied affection. To date, about 1,800 of us have taken part in these events from San Francisco to Providence; from Ukiah, California, to Ellsworth, Maine. You may have heard something of the discussions of these ideas now bubbling at Gay gatherings and conferences. If so, you may already be familiar with the basic thrust of this work. Men come because they are hungry for some changes in how we are with each other and what we can be for each other.

This work tries to link ethical analysis to action, to more mindfully foster creative forms of beloved community. Local chapters work to promote critical understanding of our cultural innovations and to find concrete ways to manifest sustaining values in our communities. A key focus is on creating individual and collective acts to help us reflect, experience, and practice values of care and nurture in new ways. We call them Loving Disturbances.

Loving Disturbances are just that: innovations and experiments in applied affection. They are concrete real-world experiments devised to nudge the patterns and practices of Gay lives in more affirming and humane directions. They are social actions that bring values into being, and are the action core of Manifest Love’s local work. They may happen at a bar, on the street, or in a meeting, between friends or tricks or neighbors. They may happen alone or with others. The point is to broaden the habitual patterns of queer men’s cultures to help us meet and interact in new ways, and have fun doing it. A Loving Disturbance aims to leave a corner of queer world just a little better off–a tad more affectionate or less defended, slightly more in line with the values discussed here, a moment aglow with an aura of promise fulfilled.

In local groups, we devote much time to helping men brainstorm all manner of new institutions and practices we could create with each other, to enlarge the possibilities of our interactions. In Providence, a group decided to do a “gang affection bang” when a gaggle of friends teamed up on one of their own to cook him a meal, bake him cookies, clean his house, give him massage, walk his dog, sing him a serenade, take him to a movie, and generally celebrate his presence in their lives. The Minneapolis troop invented the idea of a “group date.” Troops in Boulder and Atlanta have experimented with creating various events for voluntary, nonsexual, touch that are free and available to all. In San Francisco, men experimented with using their eyes differently to cruise for affection, not just sex.  Each Loving Disturbance is an example of that shameless kind of love Plato talked about.

If we could somewise contrive to have a city or an army composed of lovers and those they loved. . . when fighting side by side, one might almost consider them able to make even a little band victorious over all the world. — Plato, Symposium

Work in local troops affords a chance to reflect on yourself and the givens of your Gay world, why you sought it out in the first place, and how it’s working for you. Most important, it is a chance to reflect on what all of us are doing here together, at a deeper level than we usually think about it. If the ideas here have struck a chord with you, you are invited to join the ongoing conversations of men talking with each other, seeking new ways of being for and with each other.

In an interview with a French Gay magazine, Foucault once made this observation: [Homosexuality] would make us work on ourselves and invent, I do not say discover, a manner of being that is still improbable.

It is to the invention of improbability we are now called. Its exact shapes and forms depend on us. But basically, it comes down to this: If we want to rewrite the code of conduct in this Queer Kingdom, everybody has to grab a pen. The only way to get a more trusting and affectionate queer men’s world is to make it. Because, it turns out, when we’re all being that way with each other, the next thing you know . . that’s what we are to each other.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

We cannot yet know what will happen when this confederacy of beloved men unabashedly claims our values before the world. If we better understood and celebrated our best practices, Gay lives would never look the same. Then, of course, all hell might break lose. In a world beset by violence, with male nurturance and caretaking in short supply, for a society confused and guilty in its sexuality, where practices of intimacy and the pursuit of pleasure are viewed with suspicion, where relations between the sexes are fraught with risk and confusion–in such a straining world, might not the lessons of such men help us all? As our distinct habits diffuse, how might that change the life of our larger culture?

Who knows what it could look like if our gender were less prone to violent solutions; if new varieties of communalism and caretaking now seen in many of our lives were a broader norm; if celebratory sexual exploration were a more accepted feature of our culture, enjoyed and explored, not hidden and lied about; if we structured our intimate communities in more inclusive ways; if our national life included more freely loving, publicly altruistic men; if we could find new understandings across gender lines. In a dozen demonstrable ways, our habits have the potential to shift the most deeply held values of the majority culture. How might that transform the experiences and fears of women, of children, and of men? What promise does it hold to sweeten the shared life of our planet?

If, as facts suggest, society harbors a hidden army of lovers in its midst, the challenge is to celebrate and nurture these gifts, this genius, It is a cultural patrimony we can offer to our shared life as a nation. Equally important, it is a gift to ourselves that will transform our own experience with and for each other. For now we know only this. A resolute community of fiercely loving males can only heal the world. We, whom Plato called the best of boys, the bravest of men, can compose his army of lovers. When we more fully manifest love in word and deed and we live out the values of our hidden hearts, the larger culture can only follow. It always has.

David Nimmons, formerly President of New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, is founder of Manifest Love, a national project helping Gay men find new ways to be with, and for, each other. This text was excerpted by the author from his recent St. Martin’s Press book The Soul Beneath the Skin.