The Velvet Journey
Stuck in a senseless rut of cruising and clubs? We report on a new personal development programme for gay men
What happens when you've exhausted gay London's playground of bars and clubs and come away feeling empty and unfulfilled? This is one of the questions that troubles life coach Tony Selimi, one of the men behind a new personal development programme for gay men.
The Velvet Journey is a wellbeing and social events company that offers gay men ways to interact outside of the gay scene. Its aim is to facilitate change through a range of workshops, 'webinars' and events which incorporate everything from personal training and nutritional advice to alternative healing and cognitive behavioural therapy.
The initiative is similar to Alan Downs' book 'The Velvet Rage', which made waves in the gay community when it was published last year. Downs argues that deep-seated anger and feelings of inadequacy stemming from childhood experiences can lead to compulsive acting out and self-destructive behaviour in gay men in adult life.
'Although it was not my starting point, I loved Alan Downss' book,' explains Selimi, who moved to London from war-torn Yugoslavia 20 years ago. 'It came to our awareness when we were researching and bouncing ideas around. It's one of those books you either love or put down immediately as you're not ready to face the issuesthat it tackles.'
Selimi and his business partner Will Pike loved the book so much that they created a series of workshops that address and expand upon the issues Downs discusses. These help identify the stages each person is at in various areas of their life and the improvements they want to make.
'What we want to do is give other gay men the choice to embark on a path that will help them add great value to their life and enjoy the company of like-minded men,' says Selimi. Working with his clients has given him an invaluable insight into some of the problems faced by gay men in London. He has encountered everything from sex and drug addiction to depression and an alarming increase in HIV rates.
'Many gay men are now realising that they have a lot of baggage as they get older and it's just getting heavier,' says Selimi. 'They are looking for release and the release they've found through drugs, clubbing and sex simply isn't working anymore. The Velvet Journey is a call to action. It's about tackling those issues and empowering gay men to lead a life of their own design.'
Some of the trends that Selimi has encountered are truly worrying. He has 50 clients with HIV who are not at the point where they can reveal their status to their parents, let alone their sexual partners, for fear of rejection. Increasingly he is being approached by desperate gay men who feel that their sexual behaviour is spiralling dangerously out of control. What role does he think the gay scene plays in exacerbating these issues?
'I go into a gay bar and don't see anything that encourages personal development,' he says. 'Everything is so sexually focused. There's nothing wrong with sex, but there's so much more to a person. The really sad thing is that people come up to me and say they just don't believe there are any monogamous guys out there any more. As gay men, we each have a responsibility to become the change we want to see and support each other. We are all fellow travellers.'
The next Velvet Journey one-day workshop, Go Beyond Your Fears', is on Sept 8. For booking details, visit www.thevelvetjourney.com