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Childness and Self-Compassion. A Gay Men's Perspective.

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Childness and Self-Compassion. A Gay Man’s Perspective. by Markus P.J. Bohlmann CMSC, Circles of Practice, Newsletter, July 19, 2020 —✦— As a gay man, at 42, I can say that self-compassion practices have become a sanctuary for me. They have allowed me to nourish myself, to soften, soothe and allow, and to find peace and calm at the centre of each storm. One practice in particular comes to mind as I write this, “Affectionate Breathing,” with its focus on the breath, the anchor of our attention.

Breathing in. Breathing out. In and out.

As I am writing this, my heart becomes tender, opens. I am sitting here breathing, with my heart in bloom, telling me it’s going to be ok. One word at a time. One breath at a time. I can sense childhood knocking at the door. I must admit, I struggled with this meditation practice. It both touched and alleviated my pain. My childhood pain.

One breath in. One breath out.

Fear and judgment arise. Unwanted visitors. What will people think of me when they read this?That I am weak and so not a Man? Shame. It’s ok, whispers my heart. You got this. They, too, belong. I return my attention to the breath. And here it is, the phrase in the instructed guidance that has both shaken and opened me, that is, the phrase that asks me bring my attention back to the breath “like a curious child or lost puppy.” A phrase that hurt.

A gay child illuminates the darkness of the child. -Kathryn Bond Stockton The phrase brings back memories for me, painful ones. It shows me childhood innocence and bliss, which, however, as I remember, were not so much part of my lived childhood experience. However things appeared on the outside—surely, there were happy moments—I feel that the light of childhood innocence wasn’t shining for me on the inside. Rather, there was darkness.

One breath in. One breath out. In. Out.

Taking a deep breath in for myself and one breath out for Markus,

the gay child, I am offering kindness and gentleness to both.

My heart begins to open, letting things in and out. I continue to think about that phrase, about childhood.

I revisit gay childhood and that phrase in the guidance that reminds

me of childhood innocence, this idea, that is glazed over children

like chocolate sauce over steak, which has become the lens through

which we view children: cute and innocent beings, so far removed

from experience, which we have reserved for the adult.

And then there are bodies (of children) that must live inside the figure of the child. -Kathryn Bond Stockton

I am sensing my body, sitting here, breathing. In and out. Here, alive. I return to the phrase “like a curious child or lost puppy” and sense anger, worked through by having revisited the phrase in the meditations again and again. Anger at the world and myself. Anger that the world casts children as innocent, slips on that form over them like a condom and that refuses to see what is really going on. A world blinded by childhood innocence.

One breath in. One breath out.

It is a world that keeps homosexual folks in childhood, reserving adulthood for straight people. With reproduction being the goal of adulthood, or so it seems, adulthood is for straight folks and not for homosexual people, who are unable to reproduce and who are thus deemed unworthy of ascending into adulthood.

One breath in. One breath out.

I feel a knot in my throat, and a tightness in my chest. The knotted experience of hearing the phrase “like a curious child or lost puppy,” of allowing those words to resonate in my body. Resistance. I was resisting the phrase, dismissing it as childish for a long time. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want that reminder of childhood pain, those restricting sensations in my body.

Once can remember the desperate feeling there was simply nowhere to grow. -Kathryn Bond Stockton

One breath in. One breath out.

Nowhere to grow. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to be.

Fat is the visible effect in this instance of a [sexual]child unable to grow “up” in his family as his preferred self. -Kathryn Bond Stockton

Yes, I was a fat child, too. I grew sideways into the width of my body, at least in the later year of my childhood and early teenage years.

Breathing in and breathing out. One for me. One for you. Breathe.

I notice my chest loosening, my heart opening ever so slightly, sweetly hurting with tenderness. The pain of denial, of having been denied a space to grow as a gay child, to flourish just as I am, begins to subside. The anger at the world, at other children, who were thriving in a space I didn’t have, I longed for, begins to dissipate.

Breathing in and breathing out. Noticing the rocking breathing sensations in the body. Just like the movements of the sea.

In and out.

The phrase “gay child” is a gravestone marker…. For this queer child, whatever its conscious grasp of itself,has not been able to present itself according to the category “gay” or “homosexual”—categories culturally deemed adult, since they are sexual, though we do presume every child to be straight. The effect for the child who already feels queer (different, odd, out-of-synch, and attracted to same sex peers) is an asynchronous self-relation. -Kathryn Bond Stockton

In and out.

I breathe, come to rest. This time, it feels different. I remember when my friend Sean called me up one as we were doing research for our co-edited essay collection. He asked me whether I had come across the word childness. I said no. I hadn’t come across it in my research. Turns out that the English language had a word for children and childhood other than the two words childish and childlike, by which we describe children and childhood: childness. Childness is a word that has left the English language after the Renaissance period. English fostered the growth of its two babies, childlike and childish. Childness is a word that touches experience, that gestures towards something that has to do with children yet is unable to fully grasp it. It is elusive, making room for

…some inaccessible sine non qua without which “the child” could not be conceived. -Markus P.J. Bohlmann and Sean Moreland

Childness gives space. It is a word-space that is not limited to children either. It is available to children and adults alike, opening up the qualities which we have associated with children, such as openness, tenderness, vulnerability, to the child and the adult. Viewing the phrase “like a curious child or lost puppy” through the lens of childness shined light on a word that I hadn’t seen clearly, dismissed as childish: curiosity.

Breathing in and breathing out.

Childness has offered me spaciousness. It allowed me to turn to the gap of asynchronicity where self-hatred and despair had nestled, and to gradually come home.

Heart beating.

I am sensing my heart. It offers me tenderness. It offers me space.

Breathing in. Breathing out.

I realize that my heart has been here all along, has offered me its space, a space that I longed for as a child. It has always been here. Right here.

Compassion in. Compassion out.

So close and yet so far. I am dropping into my heart space as I close this writing, residing in the boundlessness of this space that is connected to the world, the earth. Pulsing, vibrating, alive. It is a space that is holding me, whispering gently, “You are home!” May we all find our way home. To Sean and Kathryn. My mentors. My friends.


Bohlmann, Markus P.J. and Sean Moreland, eds. Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015.

Germer, Chris and Kristin Neff. Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide, January 2019, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

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