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My Queer Health Journey.

Updated: May 9

For Mental Health Awareness Month, Neil Hudson-Basing shares how he overcame self-limiting beliefs and fell in love with running as a Queer person.

A photo of Cindy Nehme,  Khatoun Abdmasih, Sevi Koppe and Yassine Senghor at the first WCS Queer Women in Business Meet Up in Barcelona.

Running is my happy place. It’s my way to relax, destress or vent. To think, to breathe, to feel free. It’s my therapy, medicine and escape all in one. It’s my time. Whether that’s blasting a banging album in my ears, listening to one of my favourite podcasts, planning an event in my head or working through a personal problem. It’s a non-negotiable for me.

Let’s rewind a bit though, because I didn’t discover my love for running until a little over a decade ago as I tipped into my 30s. I was never a very active or sporty kid. I took part in the odd sports day and even a game of rounders every now and then, but I never enjoyed it. By secondary school I hated it.

I didn’t like getting dirty or playing rough. I couldn’t kick a ball, I wasn’t strong enough for the gym and I couldn’t run. Or so I thought, and everyone around me assumed. All of this, coupled with being keen to avoid getting hurt and being called every homophobic slur under the sun, meant that I steered well clear of any physical exercise of any kind. Only now I know that’s not uncommon for many other gay people, particularly as teenagers. I was quite effeminate and most of my friends were girls which came with some intense bullying around the way I spoke and moved. Whether a sports hall, field, or even the changing rooms, each elicited fear and dread.

I carried this fear with me into adulthood, both the fear of abuse and fear of trying held me back. I believed that I simply couldn’t do ‘sport’, wouldn’t be any good or that I’d look stupid trying. I see now how wrong this was and was undoubtedly the result of the limiting self belief that queerphobia has on many of us.

It’s no surprise that LGBTQ+ people generally feel that sport isn’t for them. A study by Out on the Fields and OutSport, considered to be one of the largest pieces of research in this area, found that 80% of participants have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport, with homophobic language being the most common. Any queer person travelling in a big city on a match day can probably attest to feeling an element of threat when getting mixed up with rowdy football crowds.

My university life was no different. No sports clubs or societies for me, just the LGBTQ+ society and the student union. Hitting the dancefloor and running around London drunk was as much cardio as I got. Until I turned 30.

Neil, a white cisgender gay man, is wearing a red latex outfit and partying at "The House of Happiness", the queer sober clubbing event he is co-founder of.

The reason I started running was pretty vain. A friend of a friend once said, “The body you have when you turn 30 is the body you have forever”. Gulp. As someone with body issues and low confidence, this wasn’t a fun thought. Thankfully, I’m old and wise enough to know now that: a) that isn’t particularly body positive or helpful and b) It’s a crock of shit.

However, whether good or bad, this gave me a kick up the ass to MOVE. So I thought I’d give running a whirl. And guess what… I hated it. Until I didn’t. I stuck with it and despite not being able to run around the block at first, I built up my distance creeping into double digits. I did a few ParkRuns. I got faster. Like, really quite fast. And it felt good! 

Learning to love running is a process, I know many who find it boring. Some people never get the runner’s high but they feel great once it’s over so they persevere. I’ve experienced utter euphoria when running albeit not every time. Even when I don’t, every run is an adventure - it’s different every time. You can be creative with your routes, explore new places and get lost. All of this helped me to push past the ‘I hate it’ stage.

Next stop: the gym. Another place that I didn’t think was for me either and for sure, this was due to a fear of being gay in an environment dominated by straight men and all that comes with that. I went with a friend at first and having an ally by my side helped me work through the discomfort. As I gained confidence I discovered that I loved HIIT classes and lifting weights too.

Neil, a white cisgender gay man, surrounded by friends after finishing an Ultra Marathon.

I could definitely feel the physical benefits of my new found hobbies. What I didn’t expect was everything else that came from it… everything in my first paragraph. I loved challenging myself. I entered a half marathon and despite being hungover, I scored a personal best that I am still proud of to this day - and haven’t been able to beat! Whether hitting the gym, pounding the pavement or taking on trails, I was in my element, and in places I belonged.

In 2019, I decided to give up drinking, drugs and smoking whilst I trained for an ultra marathon - running 100km from London to Brighton. I know I’d never be able to give it my all without properly throwing myself into it. Five months of gruelling training gave me a real focus and a much needed lifestyle shift. My anxiety dissipated. I was happier. I even decided to attempt to conquer my fear of public speaking. 

A five month booze snooze didn’t seem long enough and it soon became six months. Then a year…. It’s 2024 and I’m now over five years sober and if I hadn’t set myself that intense physical goal, my life would look very different. 

My mental health has always been up and down throughout my life. But in moving my body, and especially running, I am able to manage it so much better. Especially when teamed with a clear, sober head. I began with saying that exercise and moving my body is non-negotiable… and it is, now. Last year, I experienced the worst mental health dip I’d had in years in the form of severe burnout. I’d let my exercise slip as work got too much and I compromised my wellbeing by neglecting the way I keep on top of it. 

I now know research shows that movement is good for avoiding and working through burnout. So whether it’s getting up early for a workout, taking a slightly longer lunch break to walk the dog or blocking out a whole day over the weekend for a longer run, I make moving a priority. Keeping myself accountable in this way keeps everything else in check - my mood is better, I am more productive and the day feels correct. Scheduling walks & runs with friends mixes things up and leading our new WCS LDN Queer Hikes has provided another way to get my body moving!

I’m not saying running or exercise is the answer to everyone’s mental health problems but for me, it’s both preventative and healing. The headspace, being in nature and moving my body brought me back to where I needed to be. It’s a lifeline, source of joy and a fundamental part of who I am. The kid who hated PE but now runs for fun, fulfilment and a happier, healthier future!

With today’s current anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, engaging in physical exercise can provide a much needed release, focus and community. Fitness and sport is for everyone, including us queers. There’s groups, teams, organisations and individuals striving to make fitness spaces more inclusive, accessible and representative. Do a bit of research and see what and who is out there to help you on your way. Ask a friend to accompany you to a class perhaps? Or simply buy a pair of cheap running trainers and hit the streets.

Gone are the days where a football flying towards me elicits a scream-and-run-away response. And whilst I still can’t kick one to save my life, I’ve learned that I get to decide what my body is capable of, which spaces are for me and where I’ll run to. 

Neil Hudson-Basing (he/him)

With over 18 years experience in the events industry, Neil has a real passion for bringing audiences together. He is an experienced emcee & public speaker. Neil has hosted events, spoken and written about a broad range of hard-hitting & sensitive topics including violence against women & girls, male allyship, racism, sustainability, LGTBQ+ inclusion, menopause and sobriety. He is the co-founder of alcohol and drug-free clubbing event "The House of Happiness", a venture, to help address the lack of LGBTQ+ sober spaces.

Find more information about Neil here.


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