F Ken Freedman







Articles by F ken Freedman

Gay and Lesbian Mental Health (Part 2)
F ken Freedman


So there you have all of it that’s important. Or at least you almost have it. I’m an invisible man and it placed me in a hole--or showed me the hole I was in, if you will--and I reluctantly accepted the fact. What else could I have done? Once you get used to it, reality is as irresistible as a club, and I was clubbed into the cellar before I caught the hint. Perhaps that’s the way it had to be; I don’t know. Nor do I know whether accepting the lesson has placed me in the rear or in the avant-garde. That, perhaps, is a lesson for history....

Let me be honest with you--a feat which, by the way, I find of the utmost difficulty. When one is invisible he finds such problems as good and evil, honesty and dishonesty, of such shifting shapes that he confuses one with the other, depending upon who happens to be looking through him at the time. Well, now I’ve been trying to look through myself, and there’s a risk in it. I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied--not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to "justify" and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it. They received a feeling of security. But here was the rub: Too often, in order to justify them, I had to take myself by the throat and choke myself until my eyes bulged and my tongue hung out and wagged like the door of an empty house in a high wind. Oh, yes, it made them happy and it made me sick. So I became ill of affirmation, of saying "yes" against the nay-saying of my stomach--not to mention my brain (Ellison, 1947, pp. 572-573).

Even though Ralph Ellison was talking about the Black experience in America in his time, the sentiments relate directly to the Lesbian and Gay experience. Unless we speak up and mention the "L" or "G" word, we are largely invisible. Why? Because it’s more comfortable for most people to not deal with the issue, either within themselves (internalized homophobia), or in a larger social context (institutional or cultural homophobia).

Why is homophobia such an important issue in counseling? As you’ll see in the last section of this paper, everyone suffers from the effects of fear and hatred, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. The problem is compounded when the client presenting, for example, with depression, is Gay or Lesbian. It’s easy to treat for low self-esteem, for childhood trauma, or for neglect, for example. But to overlook the debilitating effects of homophobia does a great disservice to both client and counselor.

Using Ellison’s articulate words as our window to the issue of hurting (homophobia) or helping (healing) ourselves, we see that Gays and Lesbians have both contributed to and been victims of the code of silence. We learn at a very young age not to tell our "secret" not only because we hear others say that being "that way" is bad but also because we convince ourselves of "their" truth about being "that way" and then live as if the lie were true, rather than questioning it and then rejecting it as the canard that it is.

This paper looks at counseling issues in Gay and Lesbian mental health, including homophobia and its effect on the counselor, the client, and the emotional well-being of the whole population, including non-Gays. For it is within oneself, that the work begins: our own internalized homophobia. Healing ourselves will have a much more profound effect on healing institutional homophobia for the very reason that our own mental health is a reflection of and is reflected in the values around us.


...experience suggests that the attainment of a healthy self-image, confident feelings about one’s identity and sexuality, and the self-assurance that one is not inherently damaged because one is Gay, is a lifelong struggle with origins deeply rooted in society, family, religion, etc. (Alexander, 1996, p. 1).

It is a part of American psychological lore that a distant father and an overprotective mother are at the root of homosexuality in males (one presumes but rarely hears the opposite about females and Lesbianism, and that is a significant omission). I discussed in a prior paper that other theories counter this distant-father-overprotective-mother idea with one that states that the parents might be reacting to some inborn feature of the child and that the distance might be because of the perceived differentness and not the cause of it.

This is an important concept (the irrational fear of "otherness") and is a part of the root system of any phobia. And it’s important for a client to "get" that the phobic response that caused their injury was possibly a function of, say, fear, and not necessarily a function of any perceived internal damage.

In either event (nature or nurture), the counselor’s job is to help clients see normality and perhaps even the gift of their homosexuality and overcome the internalized homophobia and its damaging effects. In this process, it is vital to keep a perspective that disallows either paranoia or narcissism. It would be a fairly easy leap from homophobia to paranoia, especially with today’s news headlines; and it would be easy for narcissism to prevail if the client became convinced that his or her homosexuality was the singly most important issue in his or her personal, social, and political life.

An individual who, on the one hand, views his own sexual feelings and identity as natural, yet, on the other hand, receives broad condemnation of such feelings risks developing what Masterson (1988) has identified as a false sense of self. According to Masterson, the false self is defensive in nature, setting out to avoid painful feelings at the expense of mastering reality. Allowing the false self to control one’s life results in a severe lack of self-esteem. The false self sends a message to the individual that the self-destructive behavior is the only way to deal with the conflict between his feelings and the demands of reality. Masterson writes, "The false self has a highly skilled defensive radar whose purpose is to avoid feelings of rejection although sacrificing the need for intimacy" (1988, p. 66). For Masterson, narcissism is one key manifestation of the false self.

Many Gay persons feel shame, guilt, and depression, but mask these feelings to others, often exaggerating the opposite feelings in interpersonal relations. This use of narcissistic defense has led to a stereotyped notion that there may be a higher incidence of narcissism in Gay men than in nonGay men (Alexander, 1996, p. 2).

I can attest to the false self. It was, indeed, a defense I developed when I realized I wasn’t acceptable as a "homo," as we were called back in the 1950s. I also had other reasons for developing that false self, but the result was the same: I withdrew my real-time, emotionally engaged self from every day activity and substituted a persona that could accomplish many different tasks, take risks, even enter into pseudo intimate relationships. Alas, that persona was transparent to many people but never to myself. It took many rounds with different therapists, and a battle with bone cancer to get my attention in a way I could see and act upon. I wonder if that narcissism is what helped me take the risks (and I still take big risks): that I have to value my accomplishments extremely highly to compensate for my internalized homophobia. (Of course, it’s possible that I take the risks out of a genuine sense of adventure, too.)

If I presented to myself as a client, however, complaining of general unhappiness (in light of some of the exciting things I’ve done in my life), I’d have, as a counselor, to look at narcissistic injury as well as homophobia, in addition to what probably is some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would be the person who

...seems to have everything including wealth, beauty, health, and power with a strong sense of knowing what they want and how to get it. However, according to Masterson, the individual maintains the defensive false self in order not to feel the underlying rage and depression associated with an inadequate and fragmented self (Alexander, 1996, p. 3).

When I went into therapy when I was 10 (I was caught stealing), my therapist had no knowledge of homophobia, sexual abuse in boys, or PTSD. Would that he had! Had I been diagnosed more thoroughly, there would have been a rather different outcome, I hope for the better.

This is why I carry on about counselors (as well as clients, not to mention the general public--Gay and straight alike) learning about homophobia and Gay culture and Lesbian culture. One cannot counsel effectively without having been in the territory, at the very least through books. There must be an understanding of the pervasive and debilitating effects of homophobia, without which, a client might begin the healing process but never understand the underlying issues of the narcissism or low self-esteem (which is not to say that homophobia is the only cause of those conditions.)

Another reason this condition is difficult to diagnose is that we (Gays and Lesbians) usually tend to be fairly high functioning:

Meloy (1988) notes that the narcissistic personality disorder represents personality function and structure at a relatively higher developmental level of borderline personality organization. Kohut (1971) writes that whereas the borderline personality has a less cohesive self, and is thus subject to episodes of fragmentation, the narcissist has more transient episodes of fragmentation and recovers his or her sense of self more readily. Narcissists are therefore able to "snap back" and repair their narcissistic injuries with more ease than the borderline, according to Kohut (Alexander, 1996, p. 3).

For a Gay-affirmative counselor (whether he or she is Gay or Lesbian or not), the issue in this circumstance should be fairly plain, though perhaps difficult to diagnose. The unhappiness or low self-esteem could easily be chalked up to the homosexuality itself. And the narcissism could be attributed to self-aggrandizement, unless the perspicacious counselor sees it as "a focus on the self...as the individual looks within to formulate his own view of self compared to what he senses from others" (Alexander, 1996, p. 10). What this meant for me is that I had to create another person besides my "real" self to cope with what I experienced as a hostile environment. At least part of that fear was internalized homophobia. I tried to formulate my view of myself (through others) and came up with "a sick homo." "Homos" can’t be anything but "sick," I thought, and yet I’m one of them, and yet didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t act "that way." There being no psychological support for my "condition," I created another me as a way of seeing myself the way others wished I was. As Ellison said, I told everyone what they wanted to hear to protect myself from what was surely going to be harmful to me, and nearly killed myself in the process. It was not easy to live the charade and I longed for someone, anyone, to see through it and help me extricate myself from the emotional Hell in which I lived.


Relationships & Intimacy

The general rule in the U.S. around relationships is that we grow up, fall in love with a person of the opposite sex (even the toothpaste ads make that point clearly), have kids and a house and a job and live happily after (and while this isn’t always true in the world today (or even in America), many still hold the dream up as an ideal that, once again achieved, would bring happiness, contentment, and, miraculously, and end to social problems). Gays and Lesbians are also socialized for that vision while being told unequivocally that same-sex unions are not only illegal but are also sick and are not viable.

While problems in any relationship are legion, they are especially difficult when two Gay men or two Lesbians get together. This is mainly because women are socialized to be cooperative, supportive, and nurturing, where men are socialized to be independent, strong, and decisive. Put two women together and there’s the potential for merging without separation or individuation; put two men together and there’s the inability to be intimate and the fear of expressing real feelings, although this is a vast oversimplification of the process. And it is up to the astute counselor to be aware of these possibilities, keeping in mind the overlay of homophobia that pervades almost any counseling.

In previous papers I have discussed the dangers of merging in Lesbian relationships. In this paper, I take a different approach and look at women’s socialization as another way for a counselor to be of help in couples counseling.

Gilligan’s (1982) research on women’s ethical development shows that women even make ethical decisions differently. Gilligan found that women typically make decisions based on their desire to preserve and maintain personal relationships, whereas men generally make decisions using abstract standards about fairness (Alexander, 1996, p. 97)....

On a positive note, the ability of women to merge creates a very strong emotional bond and sense of connection to one another. This bonding is frequently cited by women as the primary reason for why women say they are Lesbians (Gray, 1987 in Alexander, 1996, p. 98).

While it is important to work on separation and rescuing issues, it is also important to recognize the sexism that accompanies the roots of the merging. If women were not willy-nilly cast in the role of nurturers and peacemakers and raised as equal persons in the human process, healthy merging (without loss of self) could more readily takes place in an intimate relationship. And this is how homophobia plays into the picture: were it not for the almost single-minded concentration of the Religious Political Extremists (RPEs) on the evils which homosexuals bring to society, the real focus could be discovered (recovered?), and that is the inequality of treatment of anyone who is different--in this case different from white, straight, "God-fearing" Americans who cherish the ever elusive concept of family values. But more of that later.

With men, homophobia is prominent in their fear of intimacy.

Homophobia isolates us, and male conditioning inhibits our awareness of feelings. The Gay male subculture also tends to reinforce men’s reluctance to self-disclose.

Successful Gay male couples report a high level of emotional intimacy (Deenan, et. al. 1994). It seems that once men experience sustained intimacy, they like and value it (Alexander, 1996, p. 104)....

Socialized to be analytical and critical, both members of a male couple may be so focused on their own independence that neither is oriented toward the emotional needs of the relationship. Unaccustomed to disclosing their feelings or listening to others, they withdraw emotionally or end up in competitive arguments over who is "right," rather than saying how they feel (Alexander, 1996, p. 105).

The issue for a counselor, should a couple or individual present with relationship problems, is to help the couple understand the homophobia that may have been responsible for some of the intimacy problems, and also the socialization trap into which they probably have fallen. The fears around intimacy are just that--fears--and with that realization and some deep processing (or, perhaps, some cognitive-behavioral assistance, or any other workable modality), and some bibliotherapy, the work can progress. I feel, however, that it is important for a counselor to be aware of the internal as well as societal processes involved. It is not enough to assume that being Gay or Lesbian is the problem, or even that homophobia alone is. We are very much the product of the society in which we dwell, regardless of whether we’re "perfect children" or rebellious teenagers, or destructive adults. As Buddhists say, "You become what you resist."

Homophobia interferes with same-sex relationships by undermining the belief that intimacy with another man is even possible. It inhibits men’s ability and willingness to be emotionally vulnerable, discounts men’s feelings of love and attachment, and associates both sexual and emotional involvement with guilt and shame (Alexander, 1996, p. 106).

Naturally, homophobia isn’t the only factor in a relationship where intimacy is the issue. There are myriad causes. My point is that the aware, Gay-affirmative counselor will delve into the issues of homophobia and socialization rather than remain ignorant of them, or worse, pretend they’re not an important component of the therapy.


I cannot cover all cultures, but attempt here to include some information about Latinos as part of counseling awareness. There is, of course, a considerable cultural difference between African-Americans, Latino/as, Asians, American Indians, Alaska Native groups (Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida, Athabascan, Inupiaq, Inuit, Aleuts, and so on), Russians, Deaf people--the list goes on. There are many subgroups within the larger cultural identities, and many different perceptions about homosexuality within all groups. There are, likewise, major differences a counselor would take in approaching the subject with these different groups. As an example, some American Indian Gays consider it quite all right to "cheat" outside the relationship as long as it’s with women; some American Indian tribes consider a two-spirit person to be more of a union between the male and female parts of our souls (a real and whole person) and less of a sexual identity; some African Americans consider themselves Gay only if they’re the "bottom" (person being penetrated).

For a counselor to be sensitive to a Latino/a client, the best option is to be Latino/a. Barring that, and the client willing, mutual education would seem in order.

It has been previously noted that there is no equivalent in the Spanish language for the term Gay. Bilingual/bicultural men often feel frustrated because they believe the Spanish term homosexual, carries a negative connotation and wish there were a term that depicts a more balanced picture of who they are.

Several authors have pointed out that often there is a splitting of verbalized experience from emotional experience, depending upon which language the client is utilizing. Bilingual people may spontaneously switch to the primary language in order to better express what they are experiencing, and sometimes they may choose to speak in the secondary language in order to avoid the stress provoked by emotionally charged material (Atkinson, Morten, and Sue, 1989; Falicov, 1982; Parés-Avila and Montano-López, 1994 in Alexander, 1996, p. 144).

For a Gay-affirmative counselor, when working with Latino/as (in addition to considering familismo, personalismo, and simpatía (discussed in previous papers)), the double issue of homophobia and racism is important to add to the psychological mix. Again, it would be easy to diagnose depression and treat for it without delving into homophobia or racism. More than likely, the depression, if that is the diagnosis, would be strongly mitigated by internalized as well as institutional homophobia. If that factor isn’t addressed in counseling, a great gap in treatment will occur and leave the client only partly healed.

One antidote for the sometime dilemma of "do I live as a Latino/a or as a Gay/Lesbian?" is socializing in a familiar milieu:

A fourth "world" is becoming more and more apparent that acknowledges all aspects of a person’s life: the Lesbian/Gay community of color. The majority of the men in the Rodriguez (1991) study reported that socializing in the Gay Latino community was one of the main support systems that helped them deal with the "missing" or overlooked cultural parts of themselves (Alexander, 1996, p. 148).

Other factors a counselor might keep in mind (and many of these issues would apply to non-Latino clients, as well) deal with generational differences. A first generation immigrant will see his or her sexuality very differently from second- or third-generation men and women reared in the U.S. (Alexander, 1996, p. 153). As has been discussed in previous papers, there is a difference in pre- and post-Stonewall Gays and Lesbians: attitudes about what being Gay or Lesbian is, as an identity, can be quite different. A Gay-affirmative counselor would want to be alert to those subtleties. And there might be more or less need in some men and women to reclaim their Latino/a identity. If the client has been Anglicized, there might even be serious transference if the counselor is Latino/a, and the client perceives it as a threat to his or her non-alignment with the culture (Alexander, 1996, p. 153).


The history of spirituality in the Gay and Lesbian communities has been, at best, spotty. Most mainstream religions reject outright openly Gay or Lesbian parishioners, and only two or three national churches welcome Gays and Lesbians with open arms. As has been mentioned in previous papers, there are several Gay and Lesbian churches that were started by Gays and Lesbians, and there are also groups that have spun off from the mainstream churches to form their own sub-group of that religion (one example is Dignity for Gay and Lesbian Catholics).

In counseling, it may be as much a matter of reclaiming a spirituality that was lost during the discovery and coming out process as it might be to reinvent a new and more accommodating spirituality.

Ranging from former or present members of churches or synagogues to agnostics or atheists, most of them develop a strong relationship with their own "higher power." Some relate to this being as God and simultaneously maintain or rekindle religious affiliations of some sort. Others form a spiritual connection ranging from a goddess figure to a less palpable but distinctly comforting presence that nurtures them and infuses their journey with meaning and morality (Alexander, 1996, p. 180).

It seems worthwhile to explore spirituality with a client, even if the form isn’t necessarily recognizable as "mainstream" worship. Whether the exploration of one’s spirituality comes in the form of yoga, hiking in the wilderness, meditation, journaling, volunteering in a homeless shelter, or getting involved in a talking circle, the point is to connect with other people and through other people connect with some sort of higher power or heightened awareness. While some clients may not care to explore this area, others will find solace in a direct connection to their "higher selves." To me, the idea of spirituality is not so much a matter of giving up one’s responsibilities and thoughtfulness to the care of some omnipotent and omniscient father figure in the sky as it is to build a direct connection from one’s heart to the very source of life, which could include anything from a god or goddess, to the environment, to a talking circle, to the hearts of other people, to a sense of connectedness of all people and things in the universe. That awareness can help lift us out of an egocentric view of life and provide a perspective that can change the way we act toward ourselves and others.

...there is something sacred about the therapeutic relationship. To the extent that a person may come in and find deeper, quieter, and more thoughtful places within themselves is definitely part of the spiritual journey. Though we do not always think of one’s spiritual journey in this way, this path also includes learning ways to connect with people or communities that reflect our values, accepting ourselves as well as others, developing perspective about injuries and disappointments (both real and imagined), learning to feel power, dignity, and respect for ourselves and others, working through and learning to let go of much past pain and grief, developing tools and strengths for reframing anxieties and challenges, and experiencing ourselves as part of something beyond ourselves (Alexander, 1996, p. 187).

The very homophobia that forces us out of most of our churches and synagogues can be mitigated and transformed into an intense spirituality. The counseling imperative, I believe, is to help a client to see themselves as children of the universe and not as freaks of nature.


Lesbian and Gay domestic violence is probably vastly under-reported, most likely due to anticipated homophobia and ridicule on the part of the authorities who might be notified. It is, nonetheless, a problem, and in my practice, I have seen at least one couple that regularly beat each other up.

Proponents of the feminist theory see Gay domestic violence as due to internalization of sexism and stereotyped masculine roles by the batterer. Rigid male/female roles, internalized homophobia, substance abuse, and HIV may also contribute to disinhibition and act as cofactors to domestic violence.

Conversely, Gay male domestic violence can be understood in a more general human context as occurring when there is an imbalance of power. The batterer adopts the powerful role and the victim the powerless role. Control of the victim by the batterer is the basic dynamic (Klinger, 1995, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, p. 120).

I don’t wish to delve into a detailed account of Gay and Lesbian domestic violence and the methods of dealing with it. My intent is to talk briefly about several issues that might be addressed in counseling--homophobia, sexism, and racism among them.

In the case I referred to in footnote #2, there was a considerable power imbalance. The partner with the most actual power (the part-Native man) didn’t realize he had it and assumed the other had the real power; the (White) partner who thought he held the power actually didn’t. The issue became more complex when the partner who is part-Native denigrated himself because of his racial and cultural heritage. Both partners were physically (though probably not sexually) and emotionally abused as boys and young men.

The issues are more complex than I’m presenting here, but I want to talk about my experience with them.

I saw the sexism in their expression of inequality in the relationship. They both believed that one had to be in control, and the White partner felt if he weren’t in control both physically and emotionally, he would literally go crazy and have to be institutionalized (a member of his family had been institutionalized and he was threatened with this fact as a child). The provenance of his view of how a man was supposed to act and maintain control was from his father, who regularly yelled and two-fisted his way through most every event in his life. He never understood sharing, cooperation, and compassion. Only physical abuse. The boy was forced to endlessly repeat jobs his father had assigned and deemed not well enough executed. The mother was docile and the father always in rage, frequently beating the boy who was not allowed to even raise a hand in self-protection while being beaten up. I would have counseled him through exercises designed to share power in a safe way so that he might learn that sharing power doesn’t have to be about relinquishing control. There would also have been massive amounts of PTSD counseling.

The part-Native partner saw himself as deficient because of his Native heritage. Additionally, his self-esteem (as was his partner’s) was extremely low: he stated on many occasions that he didn’t see how I could like him, and frequently interpreted my hugs and expressions of happiness when I saw him as false and unfounded. His internalized racism was clear though his internalized homophobia was more subtle. He was not supported by his family around being Gay (nor was the White partner), and was uncomfortable in non-Gay social milieus if the subject came up. He wasn’t as closeted as his partner but still saw being Gay as a problem.

The issues are extremely complex and there is much more to the psychological story than I am revealing here. I want to mention, however, that in counseling, while I would eventually have taken up many different issues, during the short time I worked with them, we worked mainly on anger management, self-esteem, and the balance of power and the roles they each thought they and the partner "ought" to portray.

I saw the part-Native partner a year after they broke up and he was reeling from PTSD symptoms though I don’t think he was aware of it.

During the abuse and after leaving, victims may experience affective and anxiety disorders, particularly a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD may occur immediately following the incident or much later. Persistent anxiety, hyper-arousal, re-experiencing of the traumatic event, and avoidance for at least one month are characteristic of PTSD (Klinger, 1994, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 1995, p. 121).

Personally, I’ve never dealt directly with the PTSD part of the abuse I suffered. It is true to this day that I have difficulty with emotional as well as sexual intimacy. I don’t presume to tie all of that to the sexual abuse, but I know it’s a part of my difficulties. In counseling, were I counseling myself, I would want to get into those aspects of the abuse and the aftermath. There is internalized homophobia left to deal with, that has had a profound effect on my development and growth and has never been discussed in any therapy I have had.

The most common psychiatric diagnoses [for batterers] would include personality disorders (e.g., borderline, narcissistic, antisocial), substance abuse, organic mental disorders, intermittent explosive disorder, anxiety and affective disorders. Co-morbidity is probably common.... Even if a co-morbid disorder does exist, the therapist should be careful not to excuse or attribute the battering to this disorder.

The therapist should include issues of accountability, alternatives to violence, and cognitive and affective awareness in individual psychotherapy with Gay male batterers. Countertransference can be a major issue; and therapists who treat batterers should pay careful attention to this (Klinger, 1991). Supervision, consultation, and personal therapy can be helpful in addressing countertransference issues (Klinger, 1994, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, pp. 124-125).

Anti-Gay violence (violence perpetrated against Lesbians and Gays by straights) is also a major concern. Generally, studies show that over half of all "socially active Gay men and Lesbians have experienced some form of physical anti-Gay violence. Men are victims more frequently than women" (Klinger, 1994, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, p. 127). The typical perpetrators are male and white and usually strangers to the victim. They are more likely to attack in groups and less likely to use weapons. In their "other lives" many are respected in their communities and schools. Among youth who are attacked, the larger percentage are attacked within the family (Klinger, 1994, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, pp. 127-128).

In counseling, these issues must be seen both from the standpoint of homophobia and from individual suffering, meaning that a hate crime that is not necessarily a personal attack and is separate in some ways from how the client deals with the experience on a personal and internal basis. Among many other factors it is important to deal with issues of self-blame.

Victimization creates distress by shattering a person’s denial, trust, and sense of control (Janoff-Bulman and Frieze, 1983).

As with domestic violence survivors, assessment and diagnosis of serious psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, suicidality and homocidality comes first. The stage of the coming out process should be assessed as well. Standard psychiatric strategies should be targeted to specific DSM-IV disorders....

Internalized homophobia and resulting low self-esteem may cause Gay men to take undue risks such as entering dangerous cruising spots or neighborhoods that are known for anti-Gay violence. Alcohol and/or drug abuse can also contribute to disinhibition which may also block the potential victim’s usual cautious behavior....

Therapists should be aware that victims of anti-Gay violence and their support networks can be subject to what Berrill and Herek call "secondary victimization" (1990). Rejection and stigma can follow an attack in which their sexual orientation becomes known. This can include loss of housing, employment, child custody, family support, and being blamed for their victimization. (Klinger, 1994, in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, pp. 130-131).

This discussion deserves more space and detailed consideration than I can provide here. It is meant as a start and an alert to counselors and therapists that the issue of violence and its strong homophobic component cannot be overlooked in treatment of Gay men and Lesbians (even though I haven’t covered Lesbian-bashing here). Most straight (or should I say most non-Gay-affirmative) counselors, I think, overlook the importance of many of these factors.


Early in the Gay rights movement, I was told that as long as one person is oppressed in any way, we are all oppressed. Whether it is racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, heterosexism, or religious zealotry, we all suffer. What this has to do with counseling is simply that we need to heal; and "society" is that "we" that needs to heal, both as individuals and as that collective consciousness. Healing begins with the individual, and healed individuals can make a difference in our social institutions and the healed social institutions can make a difference in national mental health, and by extension, world mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

...homophobia functions systematically to keep us from understanding the nature and depth of large-scale social problems as well as the ways in which we need to address these problems collectively if we are to bring about change....

Some familiar sentiments speak of "a threat to the family," "moral decay," and "corrupting innocent children." This "threat to the American way of life" has been linked to Communist infiltration (as well as "leftism" in general), the liberal cosmopolitan aura of major cities, and feminism--perspectives that are seen as challenging traditional religious and patriotic values, thereby weakening America....

We are so used to seeing homophobia as a matter of irrational prejudice with its roots in religious intolerance and sexphobia that we may be missing the ways in which completely different sets of fears are being projected onto sexual minorities. What if the notions of corruption, loss of innocence, and weakness that appear in homophobic thought and speech are displaced responses to actual corruption, loss of innocence, and weakness elsewhere? (Udis-Kessler in Blumenfeld, 1992, pp. 250-252).

I think the implications for counseling are pretty clear. Here is an opportunity to take a person presenting, for example, with depression and anger about how the world is going to the dogs and it’s the homosexuals and liberals who are responsible, and look at the issue of homophobia in light of his or her projection. If even a small part of the problem can be relieved by alerting the client to the fact that this projection is little more than a self-examination avoidance pattern, the first step can be taken. The real issue is scapegoating, and it’s a national pastime, or so it seems: rather than taking personal responsibility, many people are willing to place blame (external focus versus internal focus). The subject becomes convoluted from the start, because blame is a complex issue and one that has to be resolved before moving on to what the client perceives as so bad that they must blame someone else for their woes, much less look into their own fears, motivations, feelings and prejudices.

What is obvious to me is that homophobia draws an incredible amount of energy away from the core issues. It is easy to cast the blame and, consequently, not deal with one’s own issues, and issues of sexuality in America seem to draw vast amounts of energy far out of proportion to the issue itself. It becomes a self-perpetuating smoke-screen.

There is, indeed, a loss of innocence in America, but it has more to do with political and economic corruption in high places and low than with sexuality. There is, indeed, a threat to the family, but it appears in contaminated water supplies and toxic dumps, hangs overhead in pollution, and waits silently in the possibility of hunger and homelessness. Workplace policies that force both parents to hold two jobs in order to keep up with the bills or that exhaust and embitter workers pose more danger to families than Lesbian or Gay child rearing ever has. Our educational and medical systems, the radioactive isotopes used to make atomic weapons, and the very roads we drive on are decaying faster than anybody’s morals.

Moreover, the very lack of resistance to these threats suggests that despair is infiltrating our souls far more effectively than so-called perversion....

How is it that clear and present dangers that threaten our very survival are the subject of dejected and cynical talk rather than collective action while some forms of love and erotic connection are able to mobilize thousands of people overnight in protest? (Udis-Kessler in Blumenfeld, 1992, pp. 252).

Again, from a counseling standpoint, I posit that displacement is as great a danger as blame. I would want to work with a client to help him or her see the danger of putting the responsibility for his or her unhappiness on others, especially Gays and Lesbians. In that projection is the kernel of avoidance that says I cannot bear to look into my own soul, my own hurts, or my own fears, and discover the core me because I’m afraid that there won’t be anyone there, or worse, I’ll hate what I discover. All of which is a patterned response to some hurt or trauma, perceived or real.

This way of framing the problems hides their structural aspects and also provides us with scapegoats. Thus, problems will be individualized and made to seem a matter of personal will rather than of social forces, and there will be particular people or sets of people who can be blamed for them. It is this sort of process that may be responsible for the "homosexualizing" of American decline.

However, there may also be a multitude of deaths from toxic waste, drunk driving, nuclear accidents, hunger, exposure due to homelessness, lack of medical care, assault against women, and workplace hazards that would not occur if the energy that goes into homophobia went instead into organizing for consumer safety, environmental cleanup, a just economic system, alternative energy sources, socialized medicine, and the like. (Udis-Kessler in Blumenfeld, 1992, pp. 253, 255).

As an openly Gay counselor, I feel I can be of tremendous influence in helping people past the damaging effects of what I’ll call homophobic blame. Whether they come to me for counseling (I won’t hold my breath), or I go to them as a speaker or workshop facilitator doesn’t matter as much as counselors in general becoming aware of this issue.

How Homophobia Hurts Everyone

I’d like to conclude this paper with a brief homophobia checklist (Blumenfeld, 1992) and some of the counseling alternatives they suggest to me. The list is not exhaustive, nor are the suggestions meant to be all-encompassing. This is more of a brainstorming list than a complete exposition.

  • Homophobia locks all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self expression.

|| look at how the client might have patterned their lives after gender-based roles, roles that were learned but never analyzed for their effectiveness/ineffectiveness; what’s the payoff?

  • Homophobic conditioning compromises the integrity of heterosexual people by pressuring them to treat others badly, actions contrary to their basic humanity.

|| examine the client’s core belief systems about how they really see and relate to themselves; help them to peel away the layers of internalized heterosexism.

  • Homophobia inhibits one’s ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one’s own sex.

|| help the client to look at their own internalized responses to negative stereotypes and how that has conditioned them to denigrate their own intimate same-sex relationships.

  • Homophobia generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits family relationships.

|| work with a client to overcome the self-judgment that stops creative dialogue with others; possibly become involved socially/politically, as a counselor, helping others through speaking engagements and one-on-one dialogue to overcome their fear.

  • Homophobia is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

|| help clients, young clients in particular, to come to terms with their sexuality so they don’t feel pressure to act out inappropriately to prove conclusively to their peers that they are of one sexual orientation or another.

  • Homophobia combined with sexphobia (fear and repulsion of sex) results in the elimination of any discussion of the life-styles and sexuality of sexual minorities as part of school-based sex education, keeping vital information from all students. Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of AIDS.

|| help clients (especially teachers and parents) to overcome their own hurts and fears around sex and homosexuality so they can give needed information in an unbiased manner; work with young men and women, and boys and girls, helping them to see that what they’re feeling inside isn’t bad, abnormal, or dirty, and that there is concrete and useful information to augment their needs and feelings.

  • Homophobia can be used to stigmatize, silence, and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual but who are in actuality heterosexual.

|| help clients to define their own sexuality, even in the face of peer pressure that labels them in what might be an inappropriate way; help clients to drop the need to label others (which keeps them, perhaps, from not looking at their own, deeper issues).

  • Homophobia prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by sexual minorities: theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to family life, indeed to all facets of society.

|| help heterosexual clients to see how, by stigmatizing an entire group of people, they cut themselves off from creativity, good counsel, friendship, and love (not that all Gays or Lesbians embody all of those things).

  • Homophobia diverts energy from more constructive endeavors.

|| work with clients to see that by blaming Gays and Lesbians for various ills, personal as well as public, they demonize an entire peoples, avoid their own inner fears, and prevent important work from being done in the sectors where help is in fact vitally needed (pp. 8-13).



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