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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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,
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
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.
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
Victimization creates distress by shattering
a person’s denial, trust, and sense of control (Janoff-Bulman and Frieze,
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.
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
locks all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and
|| 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
conditioning compromises the integrity of heterosexual people by
pressuring them to treat others badly, actions contrary to their basic
|| 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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).