Improving the Lives of LGBT People

Improving the Lives of LGBT People

A gay-centered approach to psychotherapy recognizes the immense value of each gay and lesbian person’s well-being and potential and seeks to create a 1000% supportive environment for personal acceptance and growth. Such a nurturing, gay-positive environment can serve as a critical counter-force to the destructiveness that homophobia and hetero-sexism still wreak in many areas of our society. A gay-centered environment can also feel wonderfully empowering for many heterosexual, bisexual and non-binary and queer individuals who are seeking support for their own unique “differentness.”

The L.G.B.T. movement, at least in some western societies, has made astounding progress attaining a level of tolerance not seen before in modern history, allowing gay, lesbian and transgender people access to unprecedented levels of safety and support.

And yet, for many of us, the joy and relief of newfound freedoms too often mask the memories of suffering experienced as children growing up in toxic environments, and we are still all too-frequently painfully reminded that bullying, suicides and murder still occur1. Anti-gay, homophobic discrimination is still a ubiquitous problem that causes serious, often unacknowledged damage to same-sex loving peoples. The CDC website says that L.G.B.T. youth “are more likely than their peers to experience negative health and life outcomes…and are at greater risk for depression, suicide, substance use, and sexual behaviors that can place them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Nearly one-third (29%) of LGB youth had attempted suicide at least once in the prior year compared to 6% of heterosexual youth. In 2014, young gay and bisexual men accounted for 8 out of 10 HIV diagnoses among youth.”

These old wounds, mostly hidden from conscious awareness, continue to wreak damage throughout adulthood, causing such ailments as depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors. Even after successfully come out and integrated into the gay community our quality of life can be compromised in ways undetected.2 A gay-centered stance asserts that virtually all gay people have had no choice but to absorb neglectful and hateful attitudes because of our differentness, and that for most of us, this “internalized homophobia” lurks hidden under more conscious attitudes of self-respect and “gay pride.” We might even be able to attain a fairly strong positive self-attitude, but that only can be maintained at the expense of overlooked hurts and injuries, which must be repressed under layers of denial. Full emotionally healing and empowerment thus cannot occur3 unless we begin to address how childhood experiences of homophobia and defended-against traumatic self-oppression continue to affect us4.

For too many, our parents, peers and environment were actively hostile toward our early expressions of gender differences and homosexual feelings. In these cases, homophobically caused trauma is indisputable.For others, the childhood situation might not have appeared so bad, or even be perceived as positive, and yet subtle forms of homophobia are often pervasive and pernicious. As an example, benign neglect is when the family may encourage heterosexual romance but never acknowledge homosexual possibilities for love. Another is the father who emotionally distances himself from his fay son, as I my stepfather did with me. For me, it was apparent that he resented me and treated me unfairly, and I resented him for it, but I didn’t understand that he was homophobic, nor did I understand deep that anti-gay neglect had poisoned me, nor that I actually deserved his love.

Such insidious forms of homophobia can be even more problematic than blatant ones precisely because they may seem normal, creating a gaslighting effect on the child, who’s made to feel for no clear reason that there’s something inherently wrong with him for feeling hurt.5

Gay-centered therapy offers the critically important opportunity to uncover unconscious feelings of self-hatred and toxic shame and aim to separate out such destructive feelings and thoughts from the core sense of self. This can have a psychologically liberating effect also while a transformative process is occurring. The “me” is “freed” from possession by those unconscious feelings, patterns and complexes (though they never completely go away!). The ironic thing is that when one is able to separate out and active-imaginationally work with those terrible feelings (see Inner work: using dreams and active imagination for personal growth by Robert Johnson), we then actually may want to intentionally delve back into the difficult feeling, this time to learn more about it and conscientiously try to integrate it.

I regularly practice in different ways relating to my own hurt Little gay Chris by imagining his physical presence while empathizing with his helpless, hopeless despair and thwarted yearning for manly love. In this way, I am no longer completely merged with the trauma, even though I am still feeling it (which can often be confounding and confusing). Through this engagement with “figments” of my imagination, a stronger sense of Self develops that is increasingly capable of regulating how I experience my trauma patterns or complexes. This process if practiced regularly, along with working imaginally with archetypal imagery of same-sex love, can lead to ever more profound levels of appreciation for the precious worth and magic of being gay and a much-enhanced capacity for love, as well as more creative possibilities for work and enhanced meaning in life.5

It helps to have some sense of the wealth of history involving same-sex-loving individuals, ideas and cultural contributions that can be said to stretch back to the dawn of humanity. Just a few examples include exquisitely lesbionic-loving lyrics by the ancient Greek poetess Sappho, Plato’s musings on the nature of homosexual Eros brotherly, egalitarian ideals and democracy, DaVinci and Michelangelo’s divine sculptures and paintings, Walt Whitman’s revolutionary celebration of “the dear love of comrades,” and Bayard Rustin’s gay and civil rights activism alongside Martin Luther King6

Here are just a few additional gay-affirmative resources:

WikiHow has an entry titled: ”How to Deal With Internalized Homophobia,” https://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Internalized-Homophobia), which offers an outline of suggestions including to learn to identify internalized homophobia, be determined to overcome it, and then a few problem-solving tips such as confronting someone who says something bigoted, stay away from violent people, and surround yourself with supportive people.

GLBT National Help Center:

LGBT National Hotline:

888-843-4564

The Trevor Project:

866 4-U-TREVOR

The Los Angeles LGBT Center:

323-860-5855

Footnotes:

  1. Mangia, J. (01/22/20). Gay Men Are Dying From a Crisis We’re Not Talking About. New York Times.
    Chernin, J. N., & Johnson, M. R. (2003). Affirmative psychotherapy and counseling for lesbians and gay men. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. And McDaniel, J. S., Purcell, D., & D’Augelli, A. R. (2001). The relationship between sexual orientation and risk for suicide: Research findings and future directions for research and prevention. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 31, 84-105; Malyon, A. K. (1993). Psychotherapeutic implications of internalized homophobia in gay men. In Carlton Cornett (Ed.), Affirmative dynamic psychotherapy with gay men (pp. 77-92). Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
  2. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1994). Verbal and physical abuse as stressors in the lives of lesbian, gay male, and bisexual youths: Associations with school problems, running away, substance abuse, prostitution, and suicide. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 261.
  3. Ritter, K., & Terndrup, A. I. (2002). Handbook of affirmative psychotherapy with lesbians and gay men. New York: The Guilford Press.
  4. Blum, A., & Pfetzing, V. (1997). Assaults to the self: The trauma of growing up gay. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(4), 427-442.
  5. Walker, M. (1997). Men loving men: A gay sex guide and consciousness book. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press;
  6. Whitman, W. (1998). Leaves of grass. New York: Oxford University Press; Plato: The Symposium.