Tone It Up: Discussing mental health among queer men

Collin Clay Chace.

Collin Clay Chace. - Credit: Archant

On Tuesday of next week (Oct 8), the Homerton-based charity Core Arts is hosting a night of presentations and discussions on the condition of mental health in the local gay, bisexual, trans and queer men’s community.

Free to attend and open to everybody, Tone It Up will present the findings of the GBTQ Men's Reference Group; a collective commissioned by Core Arts to give GBTQ men space to "share their experiences, examine mental health challenges unique to their community, and explore pathways to well-being."

Collin Clay Chace is the Group's facilitator. "We've had the Men's Reference Group meeting up over the course of several months," he says. "[Tuesday's event] starts off with a report on the results and our findings, then it turns in to our usual monthly Core Arts night, [with] singing, people doing their poetry and all that."

Initially created as a response to "suicide rates being drastically higher for men who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender or queer," Chace anchored monthly meetings at Core Arts' St. Barnabas Terrace base, drawing different responses from attendees.

"We were a diverse group of people from different walks of life and with different opinions," he adds. "Some people talked very specifically about how important identity was [to them] and needing to be out, and there were others who felt that they didn't want to be defined by their orientation, and didn't feel like they had to come out."

One of the significant themes covered in the group's discussions were what Chace refers to as "minority stresses - micro level pressures that we experience daily.

"These moments of stress may not embody a clear horror story like being queer-bashed, but they add up over time."

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Chace, an American, gives an example of a conversation he had in a taxi, where upon hearing that he had moved to the UK because he had fallen in love and gotten married, the driver asked what his wife did for work.

"In that moment, even if that person has a good response, there's a moment of tension that's anticipated," he explains. "So there's the constant pressure of having to be ready to navigate potential homophobia."

Although Tuesday's event is listed as a panel discussion, Chace anticipates that he'll do the lion's share of talking as he relays points of interest that arose from the group's discussions. The 45-year-old says he has "a huge spot in my heart for these guys and the bravery it took [to speak up] - we're not conditioned to speak about these things in such an open and vulnerable way.

"It was sort of like talking about the things you talk about in therapy, but more in a friendship circle, without the formality and distance you might have with a therapist. I think it was freeing - people were able to speak about issues that don't come up amongst straight friends."

Tone It Up will open with discussions from 5pm, with the musical second-half starting from 7.30pm culminating in a DJ set of "club night bangers in celebration of LGBTQ creativity."

For Chace, Tone It Up will be a success if it gets people talking. "For myself, I'd like to get the key points across," he laughs. "Hopefully it will give GBTQ Men a sense of unity and representation.

"I'd also really like straight people to hear a bit about it - it begins to help folks think about their queer mates' experiences in maybe a different way. It should be a blast, with some awesome performances, ending with a DJ set and a celebration of LGBTQ arts in general. Hopefully it will end with people dancing!"

Tone It Up is at Core Arts, 1 St Barnabas Terrace, E9 6DJ, on October 8 between 5 and 10pm. More details here.

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