The Shadow Saga
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He's weird--that nerd hanging out in front of the theater. His shadow is showing. We all can see it, can't we? How campy he looks! Look at the strange colors in that shirt! Yeah. And the way he's standing. He sees us looking at him. He grins and says "How goes it?" Is he really as campy as he looks?
Or, perhaps, are we projecting our own campyness on him? Eee Gad! Who really owns the shadow we think we see? Is it him or our projection of us? We do see things from our own perspectives, don't we? Yes, our shadows can be projected onto others. We can see them there.
It has been known for centuries that the shadow can erupt, too. It did so in the story "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." When the puritanical, oh-so-proper, Dr. Jekyll became disinhibited he emerged as Mr. Hyde. Yes that can happen even to YOU! Beware of becoming disinhibited! Read on.
It can erupt more gently as well. Sometimes the shadow is even playful. Consider this happy occasion: The home team won the game. The gang is out celebrating by having a few beers. One boy is a lot more interested in another boy than in the game, however. After becoming disinhibited with a beer or two, he slides his hand under the table to feel his buddy's crotch. Subconsciously he has been hungering for that cock ever since he first saw the other boy. He giggles when his hand is slapped away. He has another beer and tries again. The next day he says: "Boy was I bombed last night!" He is not gay. Oh no... He believes that, too. Queers are just awful! He is not one of those. Only his shadow knows...
Some people's shadows are so sneaky that they can hide in camp humor. "Of course I have nice clothes, honey. I practically live in my closet." Sadly, I do live in my closet a lot of the time, even now. Only I do not always consciously know it.
In an Apollonian, conformist, society such as ours, all citizens are forced to repress a great deal of our true selves. Often we are not even aware of it. We are always doing what is required of us: what we are told to do by society. Yet, some of us are different from others. Some of us would march to a different drummer. Our government is Zeus. We are treated as if we all are, or should be, young Apollos. Where does that leave those of us who are really more like Dionysus?
We each construct an ego, a persona, to present to the world. That tells others who we are--or, more accurately, who we think we are. The ego can be a person's worst enemy. Is it not the ego that denies the shadow? Where else does denial come from? There is a very real fear that in delving into the realms of the shadow, the ego, who we really think we are, will be shattered. Our souls will be revealed. It means a change will take place. It takes courage to make such a change.
"Don't you dare to peek under my ego, honey!"
Sometimes it is necessary to go through hell in order to reach heaven. Facing the shadow can be that way. Releasing the shadow can be painful. It can be like going through hell. It is much like coming out for the first time. However, once that passage is made, the feeling of freedom can be heavenly.
Most of us can remember a time before the specifically gay shadow began to form--a time of pristine innocence. This was in childhood before adolescence. This was at an age when boys naturally grope and feel each other. They sleep over with each other, pull each others pants down, and laugh and giggle without shame. No one, yet, has told them that it is so terrible. No one, yet, has accused them of being "different." Those early times are beautifully memorialized in the words of the gay (and martyred) poet, Federico Garcia Lorca:
"I will go very far, farther than those hills, farther than the seas, close to the stars, to beg Christ the Lord to give back the soul I had of old, when I was a child. . ."
Reclalming childhood freedom is partly a matter regaining that soul of old, the soul of the inner child still living within. And it requires facing and dealing with the shadow.
Childhood innocence was shattered. Stabbed with such words as: "QUEER" and "FAGGOT," gay boys were, and are, wounded. They begin early to develop their gay shadows. Growing into adults, many gay feelings are repressed to the point where they are no longer aware of them. One might remember some of the hurts but not truly remember the whole circumstances, the how and why of it, or how it was before the hurts. They do not know what was repressed. They may not be aware that there is gold among the dross. And much of the shadow is actually false accusation that has been put upon us and then internalized.
Without consciousness of the shadow, however, it is not possible to live an authentic life. We develop a facade, a false face.
"There is nothing false about mine, honey. Go ahead. Feel."
Sometimes there is real danger in failing to recognize the shadow. In real life there was a well-known clergyman in New York who established a haven, a safe place, for street kids. He did a good job of it, too. This man was also active in fighting pornography; he was a member of the infamous Meese commission. He staunchly promoted strict morality--too strict. However, he failed to recognize his own shadow. Unexpectedly, he was caught sucking off boys in his care. Probably no one was more surprised than he was. He had repressed his lust for underage boys so thoroughly that no one, not even he, was aware of it. This was an eruption of his shadow.
There is also beauty in the shadow. Even though the image can be frightening as well, and there are dangers there, there are values there, too. As Nietzsche said: "Be careful lest in casting out the devils you cast out the best thing that's in you."
What is repressed, because we have been told it is ugly, might be beautiful if it was brought up and recognized. What could erupt as lust might then be expressed with love. At the very least one might construct a safe way to discharge the shadow energy and prevent an eruption. Think of the love and beauty that could be expressed. Why, we might even realize that we are all poets and artists!
A man might be upset when he sees ads for erotic clothing. He calls people who design and wear clothes like that "femmes." When he was little he yearned to sew. But he wouldn't really do that now. Not him! Why, that is sissy! He should learn manly skills. That has been drilled into his head by his father all his life. A skill that could lead to beauty is repressed.
How many of us have been told that "Real boys" don't sew? "Real boys" don't cook? And so on. True talents can remain hidden, repressed, for a lifetime. Perhaps, for many of us, there is more repressed beauty than ugliness in the shadow.
We gay men have a rightful place in the world. Our predecessors were the shamans and seers of old. Gay men were respected. Though we are often scorned and put down by today's society, there is a true beauty in being a gay man. We need to recognize that and be proud of our faerie nature.
What it boils down to is recognizing who we truly are; what is behind the facade of the ego. We are beautiful! We, who are different, are not ugly ducklings. We are swans! Release the hold of the shadow. Celebrate our beauty!
"And please, honey, invite me into your closet. I bet that you have really nice clothes, too."
Don Dimock lives in rural Oregon.
Last update Dec 15 2000