In Search of a Tribe

I’ve written about this specific topic in the past, but the treatment that it’s gotten has often been hazy or has had indirect references to many facets of my personal life and personality.  The more that I talk with people within the climbing and tech communities about the very vulnerable, personal things that I am dealing with behind closed doors, the more that I’m finding that these things are actually more common and seem to serve to make my relationships with these individuals more enriching and fulfilling.  What I feel like I’m missing at this point however is a feeling of belonging, that feeling that no matter what’s going on, there’s always a handful of people I can call upon to not just see me but know me, lend a sympathetic ear, or just plain hang-out and drink some beer.

Listening to the Enormocast Podcast Episode #87 with Madaleine Dimont Sorkin earlier this week really put a few things that I’d been thinking about lately and knocked them over onto their sides.  For example, how closed-off it seems like a lot of people are from each other, the importance personal identity plays in how we perceive ourselves and how we interact with other people, and how that affects our group affiliation and affinity.

Madaleine’s blunt confessions around not feeling comfortable about her sexuality in the context of other climbers and how she fit into the climbing community struck a pretty strong chord with me.  I don’t feel like I fit in a lot of the time.  In this instance, I’m the anomalous variable in most situations with my climbing friends seeing as how I’m (primarily) gay, not dating, and so focused on training and improving that there isn’t much to talk about in the way of personal life stuff outside of negative past experiences (something my training partner Zac would call “learning experiences”).

This kind of scenario has been a constant issue throughout my life: never quite feeling as though I belong or “fit” within a group.  There’s that awkward sort of lull that arrives at certain points in conversations that is as soft and unnoticed as an assassin’s blade between the ribs; which is to say: the conversation just sort of deflates because either the energy “isn’t there” or the awkwardness just becomes so overwhelming that people just feel like bailing (something I recognize all too often).

That being said, rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts are among the most real people I’ve ever encountered.  There seems to be a much higher barrier-to-entry for people who spew bullshit and a much higher risk-to-reward ratio in being as real with such people as possible.  I’ve had some of the best exchanges with climbers, skiers, snowboarders, skydivers, BASE-jumpers, and many others of the same type over the last year.  Since I’ve started being more “real” and up-front about the fact that I’m seeing a therapist and attending group sessions once a week, people seem way more willing to be open and honest with me.

That honesty and vulnerability is something I’ve been looking for in the circles that I’ve connected to in the past, but there are still a ton of gaps there.  There’s gaps in shared vocabulary for sure, but I feel like the bigger ones center around mental illness, coping and communicating it, and the most difficult of them all: sexuality.

There’s maybe one or two folks that I can identify at the climbing gym I go to that I can identify as belonging to the community and making the effort to reach out to them and get a better sense of the size and scope of the community in the Boston area feels exceptionally difficult.  Few people seem as driven in training and direction as I do, and even fewer of those exist in the gay community.

I’m not sure if I’m over-thinking it, if I’m worried about appearances with people, or if I’m trying to avoid a situation like my last relationship where I was too busy training and trying to improve to be able to actually have a relationship.  Or much in the way of friends outside of work and the occasional belay-partner at the gym.

Maybe I’m putting too much on my plate for not much benefit.  Food for thought.

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