Gaydar*
Archive
2005

Psychotherapist Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills. He also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and columns have appeared in The Detroit Free Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and other publications. Besides providing therapy for individuals and couples, he conducts a number of groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their Lives. www.joekort.com or joekort@joekort.com

* Gaydar (gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular feature where gay readers can discover the many questions and hassles their straight counterparts--and themselves--must face!

Gaydar


I'm pleased to begin writing for menstuff.org. For a while now, I've been a fan of this men’s website and feel as if I finally have a seat at the table. For me, the phrase, “A man among men” has lots of meanings . Writing a column on this site makes me a gay man among non-gay men. It means we no longer need to segregate--we can all co-exist in the same environments, even on the same webpage! Of course we can still have our own separate cultures. But when it comes to being men, we're all in this together.

"Gaydar" is the keen ability that lets us gays and lesbians identify one other. According to Donald F. Reuter, author of Gaydar: The Ultimate Insider Guide to the Gay Sixth Sense, only gay men—and occasionally, ultra-savvy straight people—seem to possess this near-telepathic talent. But its main function ultimately, is to help gay men recognize one another in the "camouflage" of the general straight population. Recently Palm Gear products created tongue-in-cheek software they've named Gaydar--for the gay man who's not so adept at identifying other gays. Once you've downloaded it, apparently you can activate it, point it at someone, and identify if he's gay--and how gay he is! According to their ad,

“Gaydar, the inherent ability to detect the sexual orientation of another person, has been a long treasured talent among the gay community. Unfortunately, some men have trouble developing this mental skill, and haven't been able to reap all of its wonderous benefits. Now, thanks to modern technology, the power of Gaydar is available to anyone with a Palm handheld computer.

"With a simple push of a button, Gaydar will scan the thought patterns and physical makeup of a target, displaying the results quickly and accurately, letting you know if it's time to make a move, or to just sit back and drool.”

I'd like to make this column a forum where straight men can improve their gaydar, heightening their sensitivity about gay men. Here, non-gay readers can learn the data and the facts about our psychological and social lives. Of course, it can't hurt for gay men reading this column to discover the various issues and hassles that straight men face!

How great it would be to go back to our childhood playgrounds, with us all--gay and straight alike--being who we are, openly, with homosexuality no longer being a negative issue. This is already happening in the media. Right now, the Bravo channel’s summer hit show, “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy,”puts gay and non-gay men together in a postive way. “Boy Meets Boy” is a show featuring gay bachelors in search of Mr. Right, even though some of the candidates are “Mr. Straights"! "Queer Eye" is the first time I have seen gay and non-gay men on television, playing well together and enjoying each other’s company--truly enjoying what each can bring to the table.

On "Boy Meets Boy," non-gay men are finally developing their realization of what it's like to live in the closet. For the purposes of the show, they can't be "out" as heterosexuals; they have to “play” at being gay. Most straight men who've been on the show said the experience made them more aware of what gay men go through in hiding their orientation.

Of course, gaydar can be much more than simply identifying whether someone is gay. I'd like to broaden its definition to include what gay life is all about. Ideally, gay and non-gay men can feel empathy and compassion about what each one of us faces. As men, we can connect on many levels. Although different in orientation, we're still men--every one of us.

Oh, Father


Freaking out about Father’s Day? As we approach the big day, psychotherapist and self-help author Joe Kort offers some ideas on nurturing this very special—and for many gay men, challenging—relationship.

Q: Father's Day can be a difficult, awkward time for some gay men whose fathers have rejected them. What’s the best way to handle it?

A: If your father has rejected you I would recommend asking him if you could put your differences aside and enjoy a nice day with him. It’s in your best interest to spend time with him and see what it’s like to put aside your own feelings and see what issues come up for you.

Doing this might help you see what could be potentially in your way of finding Mr. Right and/or conflicts that exist in your current relationship. What bothers you most about your experience with your father will inevitably end up coming out in your relationships with partners.

Whether you have a father that is affectionate or not, be sure to show him your affection. Meet him on his own terms—meaning if you often try to get your father to do things your way, spend the day doing things his way.

If your father is not very talkative, ask him questions about his life. What was it like for him growing up? Tell your father your best memory of him in childhood. Make a list of all the good things he did that impacted you.

Remember, doing all of this is not just for your dad, but for you too! It is a way to resolve your own masculinity issues and affection issues with other men in your life and with your own self-esteem and feelings about your own masculinity.

What about all the gay dads out there? How can they best talk to their children about having a gay father?

So many gay fathers feel they have let down their children—especially their sons. They feel they are a disappointment to them. I strongly recommend talking to your children about what it is like for them to have a gay dad and be open to both the positive and negative feelings and thoughts they have about it. The truth is usually they will have more good things to say to you than you would expect.

Keep an open dialogue—whether it be good and/or bad. The worst thing you can do is to stop talking, especially over your differences. In truth, differences are okay and you can grow from listening to others points of views.

However, if there is verbal abuse or put downs then there is no longer room for a discussion.

Ways to have talks between fathers and their children:

1. Keep reactivity to a minimum. If you find yourself ready to have a strong reaction, take a time out or stop the conversation completely and resume later. Reactivity is what makes people do and say things they regret.

2. Use "I" statements.

3. Don't judge.

4. Keep open mind.

5. Allow yourself to see the world through your father's or children's eyes, in addition to your own eyes. Often we get into trouble because we refuse to see the world through our father's glasses or our children's glasses. Be willing to take yours off temporarily and put theirs on and you will add to your consciousness of who these people really are and move away from the story you have made up about them in your mind.

Homo for the Holidays!


We gays and lesbians are still recovering from the trauma of the recent political elections; the passing of the bans against marriage for gays and lesbians. With the holidays approaching, my clients talk about how they dread the further trauma of going home to their families and not being able to—or feeling able to—be out and open with them about being gay. They call it depression, but I say trauma because it better expresses something emotionally charged and distressing that happens, leaving you nowhere to release and express the emotions.

Over the past weeks, I’ve listened to clients shout and weep, expressing their hurt, pain and fear at knowing they live in a state that passed a law against them. Among those they pass on the street, they wonder who might have voted to ban marriage for gays. They wonder—as I do—who betrayed us?

They really want to express their dismay at work, in their families, to their neighbors, but many don’t dare out of fear of rejection, alienation and abandonment. They do not want to experience the betrayal all over again.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD), first identified in soldiers returning home from wars, is a psychological disorder that follows having endured life-threatening events. Later, psychologists noted that those who experienced other traumas such as natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, rape and childhood sexual and physical abuse also displayed PTSD. Symptoms include difficulty sleeping and concentrating,, becoming easily startled and agitated, irritability, outbursts of anger, depression, intense anxiety, substance abuse, nightmares and flashbacks, and feelings of helplessness. We lesbians and gays are vulnerable to PTSD, because we often lack social and family support, get blamed for others’ homophobic and heterosexist remarks, and must live with the threats and dangers, perceived and real, of being discriminated against. And I would say the recent election was a natural disaster, in my humble opinion!

In my office, I see more lesbian and gay couples and individuals struggling on a daily basis with the media’s political views about us. Even if they aren’t planning to marry or currently in a relationship, this issue feels personal—as well it should!

For me, the days following the election results felt similar to how I felt after 9/11. and the passing of my mother-in-law, with whom I was very close]. Events seemed to be happening in slow motion. There was a silence all around me, and I felt numb. For years I have spoken about the covert trauma we feel each time some anti-gay rant appears in print or on the airwaves. The recent election made that trauma go overt.

It’s high time to start identifying the posttraumatic stress and depression we experience from having basic rights and privileges wrested away from us. It is time to claim back our rights, regardless of the passage of ignorant laws or what others do (and don’t) want for us. No longer should we wait for others to give us permission to heal ourselves.

This holiday, download your emotions. Don’t remain silent about being and living gay and lesbian. Even doing one thing differently with one institution, one group, one person can relieve your depressive PTSD symptoms and help you feel more empowered. Taking action is our one antidote to keep us from internalizing the hate and oppression coming our way, and treating ourselves and others badly as a result.

Avoidance, as in hiding, avoiding, fleeing, freezing, submitting—or conversely, fighting, shouting or being irrational—will only keep you traumatized. Herewith, some tips to keep yourself from being depressed during the holiday season, when many feel guilty for not feeling joyous.

How to be Homo For the Holidays

1. If you are not completely out, tell at least one family member, colleague, or friend that you are gay.

2. Take your partner home with you for the holidays, don’t go separately to your own families.

3. Refuse to keep silent about how you feel about this past election. Talk about GLBT issues with one group of people, be they friends, family, colleagues, or fellow students. You don’t have to get personal in terms of telling them you’re gay yourself; you can just express your feelings on the issue. Whether or not you’ve come out, that’s a step in the right direction.

4. If your religious institution supported the ban, write or talk to someone in that organization about how that impacted you.

5. Volunteer for a GLBT organization or donate to help them fight for our political and social rights.

6. Seek professional mental health help from a GLBT-affirmative therapist.

7. Write an editorial to your local newspaper.

8. Locate—and work for—GLBT friendly candidates

9. Write to the American Family Association, Women For America or another anti-gay organization and tell them you will not be oppressed by their hateful views.

10. Buy books on marriage and other rights for GLBT’s and be informed!

I Read You Loud and Queer!


Coming out is a very hard thing to do. National Coming Out Day is October 11, 2005. When you come out, or when you did, were you are turtle or a hailstorm? Coming out is a relational experience, in that to come out to other people, you need to be involved. You must feel closely attached to those you tell. Safety is of utter importance, without which we’ll use our instinctive defenses to protect ourselves. The closer you are to someone the more you will either turtle or hailstorm.

Most partners and individuals are either minimizers or maximizers. Whether or not someone’s in a relationship, when conflict with another person arises, individuals usually minimize (Turtle) or maximize (Hailstorm) — either because of nature granting us survival mechanisms either through genetic neurological adaptations to our environment, or learned styles for survival. Children learn to adapt to their surroundings to make it through growing up. They don’t consciously look around and exclaim, “Wow, things are a mess here! I better find a way to get by!” But unconsciously, that’s exactly what all kids do—adapt by unconsciously deciding whether to Turtle or Hailstorm in whatever environment they find themselves. Likewise it might just be a natural tendency for someone to either turtle of hailstorm.

When minimizers feel danger coming their way, they’re more like the Turtle. In Dr. Harville Hendrix’s two books, Keeping the Love You Find: A Guide for Singles and Getting the Love You Want: a Guide for Couples, he states that the minimizer is “passive, almost immobile, fleeing inward to avoid the danger of being emotionally or physically abandoned.”

When maximizers feel unsafe, they’re more like the Hailstorm—which, writes Dr. Hendrix, is “the active one, often expressive and explosive, discharging his high energy, fighting to get what he needs”.

Minimizing (or Turtling) can be ineffective and used against one’s self. Minimizers avoid conflict, but coming out requires that you be comfortable with conflict—or learn to be. Minimizers’ alibis for not coming out include “People don’t need to know what I do in the bedroom,” and “I don’t want to lose my friends, family, and/or my job.” Usually these reasons arise during the first three stages of coming out Minimizers should examine their reasons closely to see if they’re legitimate, or only to support their natural self-protective instinct to stay inside their shell.

Informing people that you’re gay does not mean telling them what you did in the bedroom the night before. I absolutely agree that your sexual life should be private; that you should be selective in whom you choose to tell. The word “gay” is not synonymous with sex. If many people choose to hear it that way, that’s the issue of the person learning the information. Being gay is an affectional, relational, and spiritual experience, as well as sexual. So the argument that not telling keeps one’s sex life private doesn’t hold up. I often say that if I never had sex again for the rest of my life, I’d still be gay.

Minimizers are often reluctant to come out, out of the fear of losing friends, family harmony, and livelihood. This consideration is important, since the emotional and economic consequences can be serious. Often, however, it’s just an excuse to avoid conflict. Minimizers often demote and diminish themselves by making themselves less important than other people.

And the psychological consequences can be extreme, leaving the minimizers secretly resentful, passive-aggressive, defensive and distant in their relationships. Friends and families often complain of missing the minimizer because they don’t see much of him. For their part, minimizers miss out on strong relationships with friends and families, but fear the risk of rejection far more. So they keep their true selves hidden inside their socially acceptable shell.

Maximizing (or Hailstorming) is the complete opposite of minimizing, yet can be just as ineffective. Often in people’s faces, they scream to the world that they’re gay, confiding what they do sexually to shock others. Usually they’re in the fourth or fifth stages of coming out, where their Inner Gay Teenager is asserting himself. They argue that “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” and want the entire world to know it.

Unfortunately when maximizers are out there Hailstorming, all others see is the hail, and their message is lost. This is just what heterosexists and homophobes love to see, since they can use it to reinforce their claims that gay life is all about S&M, drag queens and “in-your-face” behavior. While coming out, maximizers tend to be righteous, forceful, and cross boundaries; and it’s very difficult to calm them down.

The consequences of someone’s maximizing himself is that he never obtains the very thing he’s trying to achieve—to be seen and heard. This leaves him feeling hurt, abandoned and ignored, which most likely he felt already, driving him to maximize in the first place.

Effectively, minimizers can work “behind the scenes” contributing to the gay community through volunteer work, donating their money and time, and being selective in who they tell. Maximizers can be the best activists when keeping their boundaries and learning how, where, and with whom to use their maximizing skills by being out and publicly visible in big ways. Whether you’re a Turtle or a Hailstorm, learn to avoid the exaggerated state of feeling endangered and defensive and can come out in the way that works best for you!

Extreme Makeovers: What Reparative Therapy is Really All About


A recent survey asked San Francisco gay men whether they were born gay. Eleven percent of the men felt they were born gay, while the remaining 89% claimed they were “sucked” into it!

That joke is funny only because it’s absurd – almost as absurd as the idea that anyone can change from a gay to a straight orientation, or vice versa, for that matter. But there exists a body of literature on so-called reparative rherapy and clinical workers who call themselves reparative therapists. I call them extreme makeover artists. If you believe their accounts, when their work is done, clients look in the mirror and suddenly see themselves as heterosexual! Imagine that!

The theory behind reparative therapy is that homosexuality is a result of a person suffering a broken gender identity and a stunted, “stuck” sexual development that’s “gone bad.” Their “repair” work, to help clients regain their heterosexuality, is almost always directed more at males than females. The person—again, usually male— is labeled with “low gender esteem”; the cure-all is to make him “more of a man” and her “more of a woman.”

The problem is not that there are people with a homosexual orientation who want to live heterosexually. That is an individual decision... The problem is, these extreme makeover artists state repeatedly that being gay is wrong and that everyone should be heterosexual and live that way. Who can make that decision for anyone else?

Reparative therapy never uses the word gay, only the term “homosexual.” As Richard Cohen says in his book, Coming Out Straight, “There is nothing ‘gay’ about the homosexual lifestyle.” True, for some individuals with a homosexual orientation, there is nothing pleasant or appealing about coming out and living affirmatively as a gay or lesbian. These individuals cannot reconcile being gay, which is about the inability to be affirmative toward one’s self, living in integrity, honoring one’s sexual and romantic inner life, and living congruently—as heterosexuals do with their sexual and romantic orientation. Some decide they cannot live as a gay or lesbian, so they create and support a life of heterosexually. They do not change their sexual and romantic orientation, simply their behavior!.

In my writings and presentations, I talk a great deal about the covert cultural sexual abuse that gays and lesbians undergo these days, with so much homophobia and heterosexism in the media surrounding marriage for gays and lesbians. Reparative therapy is perhaps one of the biggest assaults out there. Reparative therapy is, in fact, an overt form of sexual assault on individuals and is usually inflicted on children.

Sexual abuse can take the form of degrading one’s gender. Reparative therapy’s inherent abuse is telling those with homosexual desires that they are not “man enough” or “woman enough,” and that they should feel ashamed for being the “kind of” male or female they are. That is gender abuse, which is a form of covert sexual abuse.

Probably the worst, most abusive book toward gays and lesbians is Preventing Homosexuality by Joseph Nicolosi. In its veiled way, this book gets around the American Psychological Association’s warning that if you try to help homosexuals suppress their sexual and romantic desires, they might lead lives of depression. So Nicolosi and his wife wrote a book on preventing “homosexual” orientation in the first place.

Nicolosi and others in his extreme makeover camp have gotten wise to the criticism of their approach and so have disguised it. They’ve softened their terminology, by telling parents to correct children but not shame them for playing with opposite- gender toys. If your son plays with a doll, they advise taking it away and saying you are giving it to a little girl who needs it. To me, this is abominable. They want men to be good fathers, but stop them from playing with dolls – which is one way to learn how to parent. Nor will playing with dolls make a boy homosexual or lead to orientation problems. Taking toys away, whether you do it nicely or in a shaming way, will only wound the child’s self-esteem.

Preventing Homosexuality tells mothers to “back off” and turn away from their sons, giving the example in the book of a mother who was “disgusted” by her son’s asking to use her makeup. The only good thing they advise is for fathers to get more involved. I couldn’t agree more: Fathers have abandoned their sons, gay and straight alike, causing much of the anxiety and depression in men today. More involved fathers can help their sons become more mature men, but cannot make them straight or gay.

Quite selectively, reparative therapy promotes antiquated beliefs and theories about homosexuality and uses outdated psychological views. Religious groups continue to turn out “ex-gays” and supporting their extreme makeovers. After their “sexual conversion,” I can just imagine these men and woman looking in a mirror and screaming, “I never dreamed I could look so . . . straight!!!” The groups promoting and supporting “ex-gays” include Exodus, Courage, Homosexuals Anonymous (a 12-step group to help those “powerless” over their homosexuality). PFOX, Parents of Ex Gays and Lesbians, is the evil twin of PFLAG, an affirmative support group for families of gays and lesbians. These various groups claim to have helped hundreds of men and women “heal their homosexuality.” The most visible proponents are Joseph Nicolosi, Charles Socarides, Richard Cohen.

As a disturbing side note, Socarides himself—who has written extensively on how absent, distant fathers contribute to creating homosexuality in their boys—has an openly gay son who is active in politics. And Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote the foreword to Richard Cohen’s Coming Out Straight, published in 2000—at which time she denied that she was speaking out against gays and lesbians. How can she make such a claim after contributing the foreword to a book that’s completely anti-gay from page one?

Those who review and critique reparative therapy have done extensive work of their own, uncovering the bigotry and lies that these extreme makeover artists spew. These authors include Martin Duberman, who wrote Cures; Wayne R. Besen, author of Anything But Straight; and Jack Drescher, editor of Sexual Conversion Therapy and the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy.

I’d like to expose several myths that reparative therapy perpetuates, along with the misconceptions, sexism, and cultural sexual abuse inherent in each one.

10 Smart Things to know about Homosexuality

Myth #1: Being gay or lesbian results from stunted, immature sexuality and gender.

Truth: Gay and lesbian children (and we adults) are shamed for being the type of men and women we are. What is wrong with a boy being effeminate or a girl being tomboyish? It’s sexist to insist that certain actions or appearance define being male or female. Also, this concept doesn’t explain those heterosexual males or females who are sexually immature or stunted in their gender development.

I attended The New Warrior Adventure Training, a men’s workshop sponsored by the Mankind Project (www.mkp.org), because I wanted to heal the wounds left by those who, over my lifetime, tried “to make a man out of me.” Most of them were straight men, so my wounds were around what straight advocates – like Joseph Nicolosi and Richard Cohen –did to me. The workshop did not make me straight, but made me a stronger gay man who built bridges with other straight men.

Myth #2: Having permission to explore your sexuality in ways other than heterosexual can make you gay.

Truth: If someone suddenly comes out as gay or lesbian, that may make people think they can change their orientation, being straight one day and gay the next. However, if people felt free to explore sexual and romantic orientations of any kind, they would then not have to suppress their innate sexuality and need to come out later in life.

Myth #3: Being sexually abused as a child can make you gay.

Truth: Totally false! Sexual abuse cannot shape someone’s orientation. But it can shape behavior and confuse individuals as to what their real sexual orientation is. Adult males who abuse boys sexually can cause what’s called homosexual imprinting: The boy can grow up and re-enact his own sexual abuse by seeking out sex with other men. This is not homosexuality, since it is based only on behavior.

After psychotherapy clears away the trauma, often the imprinted behavior subsides and the sexual abuse survivor’s true orientation—either gay or straight— surfaces. There is a link between early sexual trauma and later sexual acting out, which can include same-sex behavior. But again, the link explains orientation only, not behavior.

Myth #4: Homosexuality is just sexual behavior.

Truth: It’s also about attachment and attraction—psychological, emotional, mental, and spiritual—to a member of one’s own gender. For gay and straight alike, behavior follows from one’s orientation.. Gayness and lesbianism are sexual and romantic orientations, based on the heart.

Myth #5: Homosexuality can be prevented.

Truth: Totally untrue! By trying to prevent homosexuality in a child, all the parent winds up doing is shaming and abusing the child, causing gender confusion or low self- esteem, no matter how gentle or loving they try to be.. In my office, countless gay men and lesbians have shed tears remembering how a parent took away their toys or imposed stereotypical male or female behaviors on them as children.

Myth #6: Homosexuality is an “alternative lifestyle.”

Truth: Gay or straight, we are taught since childhood the homo-negative belief that being gay is a more difficult way to live. Calling homosexuality “alternative” implies that heterosexuality is the standard. But this “straight alternative” of heterosexual living is actually harder for gays and lesbians, and can lead to depression and self-defeating, even self-destructive behavior. For gays and lesbians, heterosexuality is an alternative lifestyle!

Myth #7: Homosexuality is caused by a smothering, overprotective mother and an absent, emotionally distant father.

Truth: Very early on, a mother can tell that there’s something different about her child, and she may be more protective to prevent him or her from being teased and abused for being a gay or lesbian. The father, sensing that his son might be gay, will distance himself but most often, won’t know how to react.

Historically, schizophrenic children were believed to be the product of “refrigerator moms.” Later, we learned that schizophrenia is a biological disorder and that the mothers acted cold toward their children after feeling a lack of attachment in return. One day, I believe, we will learn that children are biologically gay or lesbian, and that a parent’s response to their sexual orientation absolutely does not form it.

Myth #8: Anyone can choose to change one’s orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Truth: Anyone can choose to live as they wish and be anything they want to be. But orientation is as stable as temperament. Children are born with a definite temperament that can change somewhat as they move into adulthood and learn to adapt, but it stays mostly within the same range.

The same is true of homosexuality. People can change their lives to support a heterosexual life style, but do not change their true sexual orientation. Study after study shows that for those who try and change their sexual and romantic orientation, the relapse rate is very high. I suspect that those who’ve been “successful” at changing their orientation were not essentially homosexual to begin with, but were either acting out sexual abuse (acting-out is behavior only), or were bi-attractional, tending more toward woman then men. This is entirely different from changing one’s basic orientation.

Myth #9: Everyone is born straight.

Truth: There is no scientific evidence that people are either born straight or born gay. Anti-gay fundamentalists, and other extreme makeover artists like reparative therapists assert that no one is born homosexual. That is their viewpoint only, since no scientific data supports any genetic or biologic basis for opposite-sex attractions.

Myth #10: Adolescence offers a second chance at heterosexuality.

Truth: By the time individuals become teenagers, their sexuality is set. We are now seeing more and more adolescents, gay and straight alike, experimenting with same- sex and opposite-sex behavior. They are not magically converting to one orientation over the other, simply playing and experimenting—and ultimately, not afraid to give themselves full permission for self-discovery. I say they’re to be admired. They seem to understand that in the end, your orientation is your orientation, whatever that may be.

Handling Homophobia: Gay Rights or Children’s Needs?


When people think about children, rarely is their focus on how homophobia can hurt them. Usually it is raised when talking about a gay parent and how they may “impact” their offspring, or how the behavior of gay and lesbian adults will influence them. But even more rarely do people concentrate on how homophobia impacts children, gay and straight alike—which is far worse than anything a child might be exposed to in a gay pride parade or in observing gay relationships.

Studies show, in fact, that developing gay or lesbian adolescents can handle their sexual orientation. What they can’t cope with is the homophobic acts and verbal statements they encounter in the media or in their schools, homes or communities. A heterosexual adolescent can no more handle acts of homophobia upon him or her as well.

In this article, I’ll first define homophobia and talk about words related to it, then address how we all, straight and gay alike, pay a price for it.

In his 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, George Weinberg coined the term homophobia and wrote about how it related to gays and lesbians.. Since then, the word has been examined with a discriminating eye. People claim that it does not apply to them, inasmuch as they aren’t afraid, or “phobic,” of gays.

Phobia

Phobia is a persistent, abnormal or irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid the feared stimulus.

Homophobia

Homophobia is the feeling(s) of fear, hatred, disgust about attraction or love for members of one’s own sex. It is prejudice, based on the belief that lesbians, and gays are immoral, sick, sinful or somehow inferior to heterosexuals. It results in fear of associating with lesbians and gays in close proximity—physically, mentally and/or emotionally—lest one be perceived as lesbian or gay, and fear of venturing beyond “accepted” gender role behavior. (This can be true of gay men as well, though straight men are typically more homophobic.)

When a heterosexual asks if I’m married, I tell him that I am. When he asks my wife’s name, I educate him that I am gay and that my male partner’s name is Mike. Usually he takes a step back and says in a manly voice, “Dude, I am not gay.” I respond, “Dude, I didn’t think you were. I was just responding to your thinking I was straight.”

A young heterosexual man of high-school age once asked me if gay men are attracted to straight men too. I told him, “Yes, just as straight men are attracted to all women, lesbian or straight.” He gave me a frightened look and said, “No more questions!”

I tried to educate him that this attraction wouldn’t always be acted on, but he rapidly walked away from me with the parting line, “You and your kind are sick!” This is a prime example of homophobia!

Homonegative

Homonegative is the term for those who hold negative beliefs and feelings, but aren’t afraid about being perceived as gay to the point that they’ll avoid gays and lesbians. These people say things like, “I have gays and lesbians as friends. I just don’t agree with their lifestyle.” These people are friendly toward gays and lesbians. They can be co-workers, family members and even be gay or lesbian themselves—but still hold negative views about gays and lesbians!.

A client recently told me that his mother is “against my being gay, but loves me anyway.” This is a good example of homonegativity.

Homoprejudice

The word homoprejudice means discrimination against gays and lesbians. At a recent talk I gave, a woman told me that she thought I was “promoting the homosexual lifestyle” and telling her to “accept” gays and lesbians. I smiled back nicely and said, “No ma’am, I am asking you not to accept discrimination toward gays and lesbians.”

That people would pass laws to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying, making them lose their jobs and/or their housing, are examples of homoprejudice. Most people don’t even know that no federal laws prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace—and that you can be fired for simply being gay!

Another example is when Governor Mitt Romney dusted off an old 1913 law making any marriage in Massachusetts void, if that marriage would not be legal in the couple’s home state and encouraged his attorney general to enforce it. This prejudicial statute was the same one used to prevent inter-racial marriages. Think of using this same law against other minorities, and it’s hard not to see the homoprejudice on Governor Romney’s part.

Homo-ignorant

Most people fall into the homo-ignorant category. If you’re never exposed to gays and lesbians and have no interaction in the gay community or with gay and lesbian traditions and customs, then you’re just not familiar with the culture.

I recall going to college as a freshman and discovering how many people were not familiar with Jews personally, much less Jewish customs. I had to teach my friends what being Jewish was all about—which seemed odd, since I came from the predominately Jewish city of Oak Park, Michigan.

Most gays and lesbians, of course, are not hetero-ignorant. We are forced to interact with both the gay and the straight world. As children, we are forced into playing the heterosexual role and conforming to what’s expected of our gender. Later in life we come out and then, as adults, learn to create a seamless flow back and forth, between gay life and straight life.

Warren J. Blumenfeld edited an excellent book called, Homophobia: How We All Pay The Price, in which he writes about how not only gays and lesbians, but heterosexuals suffer from acts of homophobia. Specifically:

1. First, homophobic conditioning compromises people’s integrity by pressuring them to treat others badly—actions contrary to their basic humanity. This is where bullying begins, particularly against young boys who might be gay or effeminate ones who don’t conform to male stereotypes. Calling other boys “faggot” and “queer” takes the focus off of the bullies.

2. It inhibits the ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one's own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits family relationships. Limited communication contributes to the alarmingly high 30% suicide rate among adolescents who are either gay or lesbian and/or worry they might be. Some minimize this number by saying it’s inflated or applies only to gay and lesbian teens, but they should consider numerous teenagers who are sexually abused or do not conform to socially accepted gender roles. These teens worry that they might be gay and in their confusion, also make suicide attempts—and are often successful.

3. Homophobia is used to stigmatize, silence and, on occasion, target people whom OTHERS perceive or define as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but who are actually heterosexual. It locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self expression. Many parents are preoccupied with ensuring that their children play with gender-appropriate toys, denying them the right to develop their own interests. I think the best example of this is our expectation and desire for men to be good fathers. Yet we don’t allow little boys to play with dolls, so they do not get practice in nurturing. Later, when they become fathers, we scorn them for not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, girls get permission for lots of practice in handling their doll “babies”—a mixed message that is very hurtful to men.

4. Homophobia is one cause of premature sexual involvement, increasing the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (or STDs). Young people of ALL sexual identities are often pressured to become HETEROSEXUALLY active to prove—to themselves and others—that they are "normal."

5. Societal homophobia keeps some LGBT people from developing an authentic self-identity, adding to the pressure to marry. This in turn places undue stress and often trauma on them, as well as on their children and heterosexual spouses.

This reminds me of the joke, quoted in my book, by gay comedian Jason Stuart: “I wish you straight people would stop trying to prevent us from marrying each other. If you let us marry each other, then we’ll stop marrying you!”

People never stop to think of the children who suffer as a result of mixed marriages between a heterosexual and a gay man or lesbian. Society tells us not to live an out and openly gay and then, when we finally can no longer live in the closet, questions them and asks, “Well, why did you get married in the first place?” This is crazy making!

6. Homophobia, combined with fear and revulsion of sex, eliminates discussions about the lives and sexuality of LGBT people 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. And homophobia (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response to the AIDS pandemic.

As Blumenfeld goes on to say, “The meaning is quite clear. When any group of people is scapegoated, it is ultimately everyone's concern. For today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are targeted. Tomorrow, they may come for you. Everyone, therefore, has a self interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of bigotry, including homophobia.”

Blumenfeld believes “that all of us are born into an environment polluted by homophobia (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. Some people’s spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, but no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have an opportunity—indeed, the responsibility—to join together to construct protective shelters from bigotry’s corrosive effects, while working as allies to clean up the homophobic environment we live in.

Once enough steps are taken to reduce this pollution, we can all breathe a lot easier.”

50 First Marriages: One person, One partner


After Massachusetts legalized marriage for gays and lesbians earlier this year, my partner Mike and I decided to plan our summer vacation in Provincetown and tie the legal knot after 11 years together. This wasn’t our first marriage, however. And there were no divorces in between—we were never married to anyone else. And the other 49 marriages we intend to have will be the same: one state at a time.

This statement sounds like either a riddle or the life of Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor. The truth is, we were religiously wed under Reform Judaism in the fall of 2000. Our family and friends joined us, and for us it was a romantic, emotional, affectionate and spiritual day. However, as we all know, it was not legal. Under Reform Judaism, all we had to do was agree to raise our dog Jewish and we assured the rabbi she would have a “Bark Mitzvah.” For us, though, this marriage was political. We want to be a part of the process of legalizing marriage for gays by being a part of the process as it unfolds. As in the movie, 50 First Dates, we’re intending 49 more first marriages.

Ironically, only four hours after our legal nuptials in Massachusetts, we learned that California had nullified the 4,000 marriages they licensed over the summer. What a letdown! And we knew that of course the minute we returned to Michigan, our license would be nullified as well. But we didn’t care. We wanted to go through the process anyway.

Before arriving in Provincetown, we contacted Massachusetts officials, who told us to have our blood work done. On our arrival, we began telling people that we were there to be legally married. Store owners, cab drivers and even people in restaurants were slipping us the names and phone numbers of those who will perform gay marriages for out-of-towners, but telling us to keep it on the QT. It was like being in the middle of a mystery novel, but to be honest, it actually made us feel like second-class citizens.

At town hall, we decided to just go in quietly and complete the paperwork. Everyone behind the counter immediately congratulated us. So much for keeping a low profile! But we didn’t need one. We were ushered to a room where a lesbian couple from New York was filling out the same forms. They were very nice, and all four of us laughed and joked about how this felt so adult, so “grown up.”

I thought about two books I’ve read, Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage by Davina Kotulaski and Gay Marriage by John Rauch. Both speak about how we, as gays and lesbians, are forbidden from joining the adult fraternity of married couples. I resent that to no end, and resented it even more after reading them. I particularly like the way Rauch puts it:

“Marriage confers status: to be married, in the eyes of society, is to be grown up. Marriage creates stakes: someone depends on you. Marriage creates a safe harbor for sex. Marriage put two heads together, pooling experience and braking impulsiveness…We all need domesticating, not in the veterinary sense but in a more literal, human sense: We need a home. We are different people when we have a home: more stable, more productive, more mature, less self-obsessed, less impatient, less anxious.”

He points out that even if you’re not married, the sheer prospect of marriage is a great domesticator. “If you hope to get married,” he writes, “and if your friends and peers hope to get married, you will socialize and date more carefully…you make yourself marriage material.” I am 41 years old, and have been an adult for long enough that I deserve to be treated like one.

When Mike and I turned in the paperwork for our marriage license, pride and honor overwhelmed me. We fell in love with each other all over again. Just as when we married religiously before, now doing it again, legally, brings back the romantic times of our early experience together. Marriage is a way to re-romanticize your relationship! We were so excited about this political adventure of ours now turning into an emotional and romantic one again that we decided to buy more rings! Yes, gay men and jewelry jokes aside, we decided that our initial bands had been engagement rings. Now, our diamond rings from our religious ceremony would become our formal religious rings and our new rings would be our legal rings. We’re making up gay etiquette as we go along!

Entering the jewelry store where we found what we wanted, we discovered that newspapers around Massachusetts had nicknamed it “the Gay Tiffany’s.” A couple who had been together for 52 years bought their rings here, and appeared on “Good Morning America,” as did these jewelers, who sold them the rings and showed us their photo and pictures of others who bought rings from their store and married in P-town. I actually started crying as I looked at the picture of these two men who waited 52 years to make it legal! Then when they took our picture, I was filled with pride and honor.

After we bought the rings, we now had to wait three days for the license to become official, and meanwhile, find ourselves a justice of the peace. We called several and left messages, then found one who answered her phone when I called. I could hear her smoking like a chimney as she talked incessantly about the injustice to gays and how she loved being part of this momentous occasion for us. She scheduled our appointment for April 12, Thursday—right after we picked up our license.

The day came. We took photos going to town hall, going in, picking up our license, and coming back down the stairs holding our license. I have to tell you, holding that piece of paper meant so much to me!

We met the minister, who in person was as nice and pleasant as she’d been on the phone. A lesbian couple and their friends cheered us on as we kissed, following the minister’s prompting. It felt right. It was right. We were applauded at shows when asked by Lesbian comic Kate Clinton, Margaret Cho, and a drag queen (who did a really bad Cher!) if anyone got married while in P-town.

And there we were, legally married. For the remaining two days of our trip, we were legal kin! Getting married was a politically and romantically joyous experience. I cannot wait for our next 49 chances.

Anger Under New Management


I'm angry every time I open the paper or watch a news story about marriage for gays and lesbians, I get some homophobe’s position on it. (I refuse to say “gay marriage,” because we’re talking about the same kind of marriage that heterosexuals enter into. Gay marriage sounds like something different). Using misguided facts or veiled hate and prejudice in their words. I close the television or the paper and am enraged.

As a therapist, I know only too well about unresolved anger and resentment. As Debbie Ford, a nationally known coach, puts it, it is “like swallowing poison and hoping the other guy dies!” Yikes! This is not good to have all this anger and do nothing with it. I looked to my books on anger management, none of which helped me or seemed effective. So at a psychotherapy conference last month, I attended an anger management presentation—which to my delight, was user friendly in how to deal with anger and resentment.

In his first five minutes, the presenter, Steven Stosny (www.compassionpower.com), caught my attention with these words: “I don’t believe in anger management. Studies show that after one year of anger management classes and therapy, people relapse back to their old angry patterns. You must find core value in yourself. If you do not value yourself enough, you will carry unresolved anger and resentment.”

Hearing this, I was intrigued. It made sense to me. I started thinking about how we gays and lesbians are devalued from birth. Ignoring someone is one of the cruelest forms of punishment, and growing up we are largely neglected for not being heterosexual. We all know the rest of the story: burying our core selves and going into hiding for being ashamed of who we are. And now in the reports about marriage for gays and lesbians, we are reminded daily of how little the media values us, “Don’t Say ‘I Do’ to Gay Marriage,” the headlines read. The military tells us we aren’t those “few good men” they’re looking for, so it’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It only makes sense that our culture of gays and lesbians might not value ourselves and thus, carries unresolved angers and resentments.

Stosny spoke about how unresolved anger can shorten one’s life span. It can also lead to heart disease, strokes, cancer, hypertension, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug-addiction and other compulsive behaviors. As a therapist I see people struggle with addictions and putting themselves at risk for STD’s and legal problems and I know much of their behavior comes from not valuing themselves enough. The antidote, he said, is learning to value one’s self more: “Self-compassion and compassion for others makes us virtually immune to the ill-effects of anger.” He goes on to say that unresolved anger is from feeling “unimportant, disregarded, accused, devalued, rejected, powerless and unlovable.” So the more you value yourself, the less unresolved anger you will harbor. He says that “one cannot have compassion for one’s self and others and carry unresolved anger at the same time.”

During this time of legalizing marriage for gays and lesbians, we must take time to value ourselves more and not wait for others to validate us. Yes, anger can be productive, but it must not linger and arise from valuing ourselves and one another as gays and lesbians. If we are devaluing ourselves and each other, then “they”— those individuals who trying to pass laws against us—will gain the upper hand.

For anger and resentment to resolve, probably hardest to do is the very thing Stosny calls for: compassion for the objects of your anger. He believes that the more compassion and value you hold for yourself and those you are angry with, the more resolution you will accomplish; and the more productive you will be. In his words, “You have to regulate your own emotions, not the environment. Anger is not for solving problems.”

I understand exactly what he means. When you are angry, other people see and hear only your anger, and not your message. Stuck in anger, you can’t be productive enough to complete the work that needs to be done on yourself!

The ways to value ourselves more are; 1) come out to one new person each week, 2) talk to your family about the issues, 3) respond to articles in the paper with letters to the editor, 4) help the Triangle Foundation, Affirmations and/or Human Rights Campaign, 5) Whatever else you can think of that is productive and afterward would make you feel more valuable as a gay or lesbian individual.

Rather than get mired in anger and resentment, let’s value ourselves—knowing that in our valued state, we can push our way through this negativity we face. Rather than letting ourselves grow negative, devalued, or “bad,” let’s concentrate on correcting the situation by regulating our feelings and taking care of ourselves and our own.

Queer Eye for the Straight Therapist: Creating an affirming practice for gay clients


The year 1978 wasn’t a good year for me. I was 15 years old and miserable. My grades were going downhill, I was avoiding my peers, and I was a sullen zombie at home. My mother noticed these developments and took me to a therapist. He was psychoanalytically oriented (as most were, then), and he shrewdly sized me up and asked whether I liked boys or girls. I can’t say I was entirely shocked by the question. I’d already discovered that I had to fake the hormone-enhanced enthusiasm for girls that came naturally to my male friends. In fact, I found several of the boys in my class much more alluring than any girl. True, I was horrified to hear it put right out there like that, but also excited and relieved. Maybe, at last, this was somebody I could talk to about these weird and terrible and thrilling yearnings that nobody else I knew seemed to feel.

For a few sessions I hedged and avoided answering his question, but I finally admitted to him that, yes, I guessed I might possibly be a “homosexual”—the word itself reeked of transgression and perversity in my ears. He very graciously explained to me that it wasn’t too late for me, that adolescence gives us a second chance to recover and repair our “lost” or “broken” heterosexuality—a line of reasoning still espoused by a number of reality-challenged therapists, even in these presumably more enlightened times. The problem was, he said, that I had a smothering mother and an absent, distant dad; my psychosexual development had been caught, as it were, in the Oedipal death trap of Mom’s clinging tentacles.

I saw him for the next three years as he valiantly soldiered on in his campaign to help me recover my “true” and “natural” sexual orientation—to no avail. Even as I bit the bullet and tried manfully to act like a “normal guy,” it was no go. Touching girls, holding hands with them, dancing cheek to cheek was a real strain, requiring enormous energy to trick them into thinking I was as hot for them as my male peers were. As time passed, it became ever more obvious that my therapist’s project to reclaim me for the straight world was going nowhere. I didn’t like being the way I was, but I was coming to believe that changing it was impossible. My therapist wasn’t a bad guy. Even though we disagreed over my ability to go straight, I felt heard by him, and the freedom to speak quite matter-of-factly about my sexual orientation reduced the shame of self-acknowledgment.

When I went off to college, I hoped that things would be different and that I might meet other gays. I must have walked up and down the stairs to the room 20 times before I got up the nerve to attend a gay group in the student union. But the men I saw there were effeminate and stereotypically gay; I was scared and horrified. I wanted to meet more masculine and mainstream guys who were “straight acting.” These men were friendly, however, and took me to the gay bars. I met other gay men there, but didn’t like the bar scene. I couldn’t find gay men to whom I could relate anywhere. I felt lonely and isolated.

When I came home that summer, I angrily told my parents I was gay and informed them that my therapy had taught me that my gayness was a result of a domineering mother and an absent, distant father (both of them fit the description exactly, so it was easy to pin it on them). I imagined living out a life of doom and gloom as a lonely gay man, not being able to find other likeminded gay guys. My parents and I went into family therapy with a different therapist who also was psychoanalytic. She looked at me and said, “Joe, why would you tell your parents and then blame them?” I recall being surprised by her question. I so wanted her to tell me that what I’d done was an act of courage and honesty. Besides, hadn’t I just passed along to my parents what the therapist in her own agency had told me?

I went back to school the following semester and back into the closet. I found a girlfriend and led an underground gay life, meeting men for sex only in various hidden places at the university. In my senior year, I met other gay men with whom I could relate at a crisis center where I worked. I ended my relationship with my girlfriend and came out for good that year to my family and friends. This time, I didn’t blame anyone and or act so negatively about it.

I majored in psychology and social work and studied gay and lesbian issues as much as I could. When I went to work in the social work field, I wasn’t out. I didn’t feel safe and I was worried I’d lose my job. When I was 26, two female coworkers pressed me on the issue of the “women in my life.” Unsatisfied by my vague responses, they pushed for more information about what type of women I dated. So I blurted out that I was gay. I thought that they knew and were fishing for my admission, but they were stunned. They said they’d had no idea. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I watched them, frozen and silent, as I said it again. It was a true turning point. It brought feelings of both fear and freedom to be able to admit this at work. I was afraid of being fired and at the same time felt liberated by finally being able to be me at my job. Afterward, I told all my coworkers. All were accepting and supportive. Soon I was being given more and more of the agency’s gay and lesbian clients

At first, I didn’t come out to them. Most didn’t ask about my sexual orientation, so I thought it wasn’t an issue. But as they talked about their loneliness and isolation and struggles with coming out, not sharing that I was gay began to feel increasingly uncomfortable; I felt like I was hiding.

In those days, my personal and professional experience with lesbians was minimal to none. I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn about how they related to one another and socialized, which was different from my own socializing or that of my male clients. While knowing I was gay helped, lesbians still felt that, as a man, I couldn’t understand their experience of sexism. And they were right. So I asked them to tell me about their experiences, and how their lives had been affected by them.

Gay men were difficult to work with at first, too. I’d tell them in the first session I was gay. They’d often start with strong positive transference toward me, seeing me as a successful professional.

Later, however, I often became a target for their anger, when they realized how much work was required to achieve a positive, gay selfhood, and they became worried that they might not succeed. They’d fault me for being a few minutes late for their appointment or comment on weight I’d gained. I began to tell them that it was perfectly normal for them to feel threatened by me and to try to keep me at a distance, because closeness is so frightening for gay men—the imprint from childhood is to run from each other. In the face of their negative transference, I began asking them questions like, “Is it possible as a gay man you want me to feel inadequate and impotent in being able to help you?” or “Is this your way of maintaining a distance between you and another gay man?” As I explored these underlying dynamics more closely, I found that my work with my male gay clients began to deepen.

Eventually, when I decided to go into private practice, several therapists cautioned me that being out would kill referrals. I was afraid at first; I didn’t want to be marginalized and not have other therapists refer to me. Then I remembered the poor therapy I’d received as a teenager and young adult. I knew I could have come out earlier and more positively had my therapist blessed my sexual and romantic orientation. I decided that I wanted to be able to advertise my gayness, so potential clients would know they could be out with me from the minute they phoned to make an appointment. I hit a nerve in the Detroit area and found my caseload filled with gays and lesbians wanting assurance they wouldn’t be judged for being gay.

Gay-Affirmative Therapy

Over the past 10 years, I’ve been trying to change the hopelessly antiquated perspective of many heterosexual therapists—and, I have to admit, of some gay and lesbian clinicians, too—about how to treat gay and lesbian clients. With very few exceptions, clinicians are anxious to assure me that they’re not homophobic and can absolutely work with gay clients without prejudice of any kind! “Why,” they usually say, “people are all just people, and couples are just couples—and there’s no particular difference between working with heterosexuals or gays and lesbians.”

“That’s homophobic,” I usually reply, letting them down as gently as I can. I tell them that discounting the specific issues that gays and lesbians face in our society implicitly denies the widespread social loathing that targets gay people, which they internalize, making them even more prone to self-hatred than other clients.

Much of my approach to therapy is based on a growing body of clinical work and literature called Gay-Affirmative Psychotherapy (GAP), which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s when gay and lesbian psychotherapists started writing about their own lives and talking about the need for therapy and therapists who were free of heterosexist bias and homophobic prejudice. Prior to this, virtually all the writing about psychotherapy with sexual minorities presumed that homosexuality was an abnormal perversion. GAP practitioners felt that it was crucial for clinicians to understand the degree to which heterosexist and homophobic laws and judgments were the real problem for gays—not being gay in and of itself.

When working with students and trainees on Gay-Affirmative Psychotherapy, I don’t immediately ask them to divest themselves of all their old, comfortable opinions, attitudes, feelings, stereotypes, psychoanalytic folktales, and urban legends. I just ask them to put aside these security blankets for the moment and listen to some factual information about what it’s like to grow up and live as a gay man or lesbian woman.

I start by doing a 10-minute guided imagery developed by Brian McNaught, author of Now That I Am Out, What Do I Do? They close their eyes and imagine they’re heterosexual, that they were adopted at a young age by gay parents, and have an older openly gay brother or sister. Their schoolmates are all gay. Their teachers, the media, books, and billboards all feature people of the same sex. And everyone in this fantasy thinks that they’re gay, too! This usually sets the tone to sensitize what it must be like to be gay in a predominately straight world with everyone thinking that you’re straight. Then I ask them to give one or two words of what it felt like to imagine they were the only straight person around. They use words like “scary,” “lonely,” and “angering.”

Although it may not seem so important, one of the first hurdles in helping students and trainees be more attuned to gays is getting around the use of the term homosexual, which still carries the taint of its long public association with unnatural sexual deviancy, neurotic pathology, and moral degeneracy. I tell students and trainees that the term homosexual is offensive to many gays and lesbians, analogous to referring to African Americans as coloreds. Gay-Affirmative Psychotherapy encourages the use of the words gay, lesbian, and even queer—a former epithet that gays neatly turned into a statement of gay pride.

Another point I try to get across early with my students is how marginalized gays feel due to their sexuality. Because heterosexuality is still largely assumed to be “natural” (while homosexuality is, of course, “unnatural”), it’s also thought to be superior to the other, lesser, inferior brand of sexuality. People are assumed to be straight until proven otherwise. Belonging to the church of the officially sanctioned “natural” and “superior” sexuality entails rights and privileges denied to gays and lesbians. While American society has begun to address some of the most egregious legal biases by instituting domestic partnerships, civil unions, workplace protections, and adoption policies and overturning antisodomy laws, there’s still widespread discrimination against and opposition to gays and lesbians.

I try to explain to my students the daily psychic toll extracted from gays and lesbians by ordinary homophobia and heterosexist assumptions of superiority. Many of my gay and lesbian clients are still wounded by what they heard as children in church or synagogue (and continue to hear) about the “evil abomination” of homosexuality, what they learned from their teachers and schoolmates, what their own parents said to them. Try to imagine, I tell my classes, what it’s like to be a young girl or boy listening to the people you love and admire most—parents, coaches, teachers—talk with contempt about the very condition that you’re just discovering describes you! Males are taught that, if they’re gay, they’re effeminate, immature, unable to control themselves sexually—particularly around straight men—and sissies. Females are taught that lesbians just need a good man, are unfeminine, and butch.

Few straight people have much of an idea of the impact on gay and lesbian kids of the constant social pressure to behave, think, and feel like heterosexuals. The constant hammering to behave sexually and romantically in ways they’re not programmed to blocks the natural course of their psychological and sexual development, violates their sense of bodily integrity and autonomy, and shreds their self-respect and personal identity. We’d consider forcing heterosexual children to behave homosexually as a form of sexual abuse. The fact that, as children, adolescents, and adults, gays are forced into sexual and romantic situations that aren’t congruent with their orientation is, from my perspective, cultural sexual abuse.

In addition to clinical sensitivity, there are several basic principles that are crucial to becoming a Gay Affirmative Therapist:

Don’t make assumptions—Start by asking clients how they self-identify, rather than deciding for yourself whether a client is gay. Some men self-identify as heterosexual, but enjoy sex with men once in a while. While these men might have sex and be affectionate with other men, they wouldn’t self-identify as gay. As a therapist, it’s important to ask your clients how they self-identify. If they’re confused or coming out, you can explore with them what their sexual attractions and romantic interests are, and help them see what works best for them.

Be frank about your own sexual orientation—You need to demonstrate your bona fides very early in the therapy by revealing your own sexual orientation and where you stand on the issue of gay and lesbian legitimacy. If a client asks, “Are you gay?” you can first ask the client why he or she is curious about your orientation, and then disclose. Disclosure provides safety for your client.

Loosen up—Drop the detached therapist pose—the flat affect, minimal or no feedback, embargo on sharing personal history. That neutral stance just won’t cut it with most gay clients. They tend to regard detachment as dislike, even abhorrence, and they’ve already experienced so many bad vibes from people, they aren’t likely to stick around to take any more from you.

Be sensitive to the effects of homophobia on gays—Just as therapists working with African American or other minority clients have to be on the lookout for internalized racism, so clinicians working with gays and lesbians need to understand the devastating impact of internalized homophobia. Many gay and lesbian clients come in to therapy secretly believing the most bigoted myths about themselves, but they don’t enter your door saying they’re struggling with internalized homophobia. Some of the signals of internalized homophobia are when clients say:

• They’re afraid someone will think they’re gay or lesbian

• They’re uncomfortable with obvious “fags, queens, and dykes”

• They believe that, as a gay or lesbian person, they’re no different than their heterosexual counterparts

• They’re looking for a straight-acting gay partner

Your job as the therapist is to identify the homophobia in these remarks and challenge these ideas.

Be sensitive to language—Use the phrase sexual orientation not sexual preference. A preference is something you prefer; an orientation is something that’s constant and unchanging. Remember that saying you’re gay isn’t about sex—it’s telling people that you’re not heterosexual and that your romantic, spiritual, social, and psychological life is different in many positive ways.

Be aware of your own lack of knowledge about gay issues—Give yourself permission not to know. Just don’t take up too much of your clients’ time to learn. Seek supervision and read books to get the information you need.

Finally, there are many small but significant steps therapists can take to support their gay clients beyond the therapy itself. For example, make your waiting room and office gay-friendly, with relevant books and magazines; use intake forms that ask about specific sexual orientations; and be aware of community resources for gays and lesbians.

Awareness of the stages of coming out or having a gay-friendly waiting room won’t make a difference if you’re confused about your own sexuality. But if you’re sexually secure, attuned to how gays’ life experiences are radically different from those of the heterosexual majority, and clear about how to affirm gay identity, your work with gay clients can improve dramatically.

**Originally published in the Psychotherapy Networker National Magazine May/June Issue, www.psychotherapynetworker.org

Monogamous Ever After? 10 Smart Things Gay Male Couples Can Teach Other Couples about Sexual Non-monogamy


I’ve wanted to write an article on this topic ever since I began working with a gay male couple who told me that they were monogamous. After several months, however, they informed me they had had a three-way. When I asked if they had changed from monogamy, they said, “No.”

I was confused. Maybe I hadn’t gotten the correct information in our initial consultation? I told them, “I thought you told me you were monogamous,” and they said, “We are.” Now I was REALLY confused! So I said, “But you just told me you were monogamous.”

Their reply was, “We are monogamous. We only have three-ways together, and are never sexual with others apart from each other.” Okay, now I was slowly getting it.

I quickly learned to ask what a couple means when they say they’re monogamous. Now, in fact, I routinely ask each couple, gay or straight alike, what their contract is around sex and commitment. Do they have an assumed or an explicit contract, verbal or otherwise? I don’t assume that every couple or individual who comes in for therapy is in an open or closed relationship. Nor do I assume that they have—or have not—talked about it.

Books on affairs have been exploding in the self-help market in the past 10 years. This seems to acknowledge the lack of conversation and openness amongst couples—gay or straight—which leads to a rupture in the relationship and exits from intimacy.

When it comes to open relationships, judgments are changing. Historically, it was believed, and still is, that if a couple was open to bringing in others for sex, that was the beginning of the end for their relationship. Also the thought of a couple in an open relationship coming to therapy has been--and still is--seen as one of the problems for them, even if they themselves denied it. But too many happy and successful relationships, both gay and straight, have open contracts around sex. Meanwhile, some monogamous couples struggle and disintegrate for not being willing to open up their relationships at all.

It’s not appropriate to judge couples for behavior that society does not believe to be “proper” for any relationship. The therapist can challenge the couple about open relationships and share their thoughts and concerns. However, if the arrangement is working for them, then the therapist needs to stand back and let them make the final decisions.

Open relationships are controversial, to be sure. Claiming that gay male couples can show how to manage them successfully is even more controversial, at a time when the issue of gay marriage is making headlines. However, many heterosexual couples’ lives are torn apart because of affairs and cheating; and only rarely do these couples talk openly about their sex lives. This is far worse than a couple talking openly and honestly with each other about a sensitive topic like sexuality.

At a recent talk I gave on gay marriage, a group of Caucasian CEOs challenged me on the concept. One man in particular asked, “If we open the doors to gay marriage, then what’s next--polygamy?” Interestingly, another man in the group looked at him and asked, “How could you be against polygamy? You’ve divorced three wives and are looking for a fourth!”

This debate is not about Polygamy—which involves including another person permanently—but about episodic experiences. It’s about openness, honesty and commitment to the contract that two people make. Heterosexuals have a lot to learn from gay couples about this.

Here are 10 smart things Gay Couples can teach other couples about sexual monogamy versus non-monogamy:

1. Responsible Monogamy

Here, both partners agree—openly and honestly—about keeping their relationship monogamous. Both partners should discuss and agree on what monogamy means to them—usually sexual and emotional intimacy with each other, and no one else. If either or both want to open the relationship to others, it’s with the understanding that they’ll both discuss changing the contract through intentional dialogue and both agree on it. This is something that could take many conversations. One hesitant partner should never agree, and the other partner should never push too hard.

2. Responsible Non-Monogamy

For an open sexual relationship with others, mutual consent of both partners is essential. Here, each agrees to open the relationship in ways satisfactory to both. Some partners prefer not to know about their partner’s sexual behavior outside the relationship; others want to know, and many insist on knowing. Rules are important here. I have heard gay male couples say, “We only do it on vacation,” or “only with people we don’t know.” Working this out is imperative.

3. Staying True to Contract

Never assume there’s a contract on sexual exclusivity. Any couple should understand that by itself, being married and/or in a relationship isn’t enough to ensure monogamy. Each may have different ideas about what “marriage” and”relationship” mean. So it’s vital for the couple to mutually agree on a contract stating their agreement about monogamy, or non-monogamy.

4. Cheating

This, then, occurs if one or both partners stray from the agreed- upon contract. The relationship would not be in trouble over the affair as much as about the contract, consciously and intentionally prepared by both partners. I’ve noticed that for gay male relationships, cheating has less of a negative impact than for heterosexuals—or even lesbians, for that matter. My concern is that gay men may think that cheating is a “natural” part of any gay relationship and therefore, a foregone conclusion—which is not the case.

5. Playing Safely

When sexually playing outside their relationships, gay men are (or should be) very cautious about STD’s, and use condoms. The idea is to assume that everybody else is HIV+ and act accordingly. It’s neither appropriate nor realistic to hope the person you’re with is telling you the truth—­­or how recently he’s been tested. . Play safe, no matter what.

6. Fidelity without Sexual Exclusivity

In their book The Male Couple, David P. McWhirter, M.D., and Andre M. Mattison, MSW, Ph.D. (1984) write that among male couples, “Sexual exclusivity . . . is infrequent, yet their expectations of fidelity are high. Fidelity is not defined in terms of sexual behavior but rather by their emotional commitment to each other.”

Gay couples often report that what works best for them is to engage in sexual encounters based on sexual attraction only and not emotions or affection. It is about sex and nothing more. They avoid getting to know temporary partners at any deep level, to avoid turning the encounter into something emotional that might develop into a full-blown relationship. In other words, any sexual inclusion is simply behavioral in nature, not relational.

7. Waiting Five Years

Many gay couples say they waited an average of five years before opening up their relationships. Much of my clinical experience, journal articles, and in The Male Couple all demonstrate that the most successful time for couples to begin opening their relationships is after five years have passed. This gives them time to move past the romantic love part of their relationship (which typically lasts six to eighteen months) and sexual desire toward each other begins to decline. After five years, they have bonded and “nested,” and an open relationship is more likely to be a success at this time.

8. Renegotiating Contract

Another thought that gay couples have found helpful is to not make any contracts in stone! Theirs can be a living relationship that is open and closed at various points in time, with no hard rules about it. It’s more important to know when and how to discuss desired changes in the contract.

9. Maintaining Intentional Dialogue

Effective dialogue is the best thing couples can do to ensure safety and trust. The best form of communication I have found is called the intentional dialogue, developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and explained in his book, Getting the Love You Want. One partner is the receiver, and the other is the sender. One partner at a time speaks, and the other listens actively by reflecting back what was heard. This guarantees there won’t be any judgments, interruptions, interpretations, or reactivity and defensiveness during a partner’s sharing. The sender should speak only in “I” statements and talk about personal feelings and judgments, never presuming to know what the other person thinks. This kind of respect and communication is essential for any open relationship.

10. Knowing What Problems Can Occur with Non-Monogamy

When couples open their relationships, jealousy is bound to rear its head. I’ve heard couples, gay and straight, voice their anxiety that their partner liked the other person more, enjoyed some sexual behavior from the other person more, and so on. Resolving this, again, requires dialogue and safety between the partners. Knowing in advance the kinds of issues that an open relationship may present can help prevent some of these conflicts in the first place.

I think that when gay couples are having an open relationship, it’s most important that they distinguish between emotional and sexual affairs. In general, men can have sex without being intimate or emotional with their partners. This is why, I think, gay men can do this effectively—not because they’re gay, but more because they’re men.

Relationships are hard enough so why add another element like non-monogamy. If this is what you choose to do as a couple, make sure you take these ten precautions and keep a dialogue going. Do this, and you can keep heading in a positive direction. It would be easy to judge gay couples negatively from this article if you are not in favor of non-monogamy.

And remember most of all, safety and trust are imperative to all relationships. This is why contracts and dialogue are essential no matter what the topic.

Gay and Lesbian Love Language


What do we call our other half

This is the topic of chapter four of a new book called “Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage”, by Davina Kotulski, Ph.D. The ongoing question, discussion and debate in the Lesbian and Gay community is what should we call the person with whom we are spending the rest of our lives. The person with whom we share a bed, a household, a family, and our finances. And if we have a ceremony to ritualize and publicly declare our love for this person what do we call the ceremony? Civil Unions? Commitment Ceremony? Marriage? Party? Heterosexuals have it easy. They call their other halves husbands and wives and they have marriages. Kotulski states there is not any love language for our community. She satirically writes this:

How Romantic!

“Marge and I are going to be domestic partners!”
“Will you civil Union me?”
“I love my reciprocal beneficiary”
“Do you take Rudy to be your lawfully registered domestic partner”
“My reciprocal beneficiary and I are going to the Bahamas after our commitment ceremony”

She goes on to say there is nothing romantic, sexy or spiritual about any of that language. I couldn’t agree more. She asks one very important question which I think is something that Lesbians and Gays should ponder. “Is it fair for an entire group of people to be infantilized?”. In other words, marriage comes with terms and legal benefits which go along with it are a sign that you are now a grown up. Lesbians and Gays are denied this rite of passage keeping us away from this “adult fraternity” as Kotulski writes.

What to call the other half of your relationship has been something I have struggled with since beginning to work with Gays and Lesbians as a psychotherapist and also when I entered my relationship 11 years ago. I have a hard time listening to couples of 10, 20 or even 30 years call their other half, boyfriend or girlfriend. I always think about what it would feel like to hear a long-term married heterosexual couple call their significant others boyfriends and girlfriends. I think it would diminish the couple as something other than what it is. Saying wife or husband comes with specific understanding that these folks have made a strong life long commitment to one another and that they are serious. Saying boyfriend or girlfriend sounds adolescent to me as Kotulski also states in her book.

I know that heterosexuals and some gays and lesbians have said that even they prefer calling their unmarried significant others “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” and that it does not diminish how they feel about each other or even see it as minimizing the seriousness of their relationship. I believe them.

I want to make the argument that everyone should have a choice. Since Lesbians and Gays historically have not had a choice we have had a “pink ceiling” put upon us that was not our choice.

I have my own ideas of what we could do as a community in deciding what words to describe our relationships and want to share them below. I hope it provokes thought and discussion for you in your own lives as much as it has in mine.

Lover

I have never liked this word to describe a significant other. It has always sounded more like a word for an affair rather than a serious relationship. It also lends itself to sexual imagery more than it does romantic and affectional imagery.

Significant Other

Too many syllables! Can you hear the minister, priest or rabbi saying to you on your wedding day, “Do you, John, take Steve, as your lawfully wedded significant other”. Kotulski is correct. It is not romantic.

Partner

I actually do use this word however the problem I have faced is that others think I am talking about a business partner. At my sisters wedding I introduced Mike as my partner. The woman shook his hand and introduced herself and then looked right at me and said, “so are you dating anyone? Have any women in your life!”. She was so embarrassed to learn from my response that she had just shook hands with “her”.

Other Half

I know a lot of folks do not like this word. I hear people say it implies that you are not whole and that in relationship you should be two wholes partnering with each other. I have a different understanding of “other half”. In my training in IMAGO we learn and I believe that your partner is your other half in the sense that you are drawn to people who carry unexpressed and buried parts of your personality. So if you were taught not to be playful than you are going to be romantically drawn to people who are playful. I once had a client call it “buried treasures” meaning that an important part of who you once were as a child had to be buried to survive and adapt to the family rules and messages. It is a buried treasure that usually only a romantic partner can uncover. So “other half” works for me with this idea in mind.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend

Too adolescent and not meaningful in a serious committed way to me. I don’t care how serious the couple feels when I hear those words the image in my mind is marriage lite. Also I think it is important for these couples using these words to explore if that really does work for them or is it the heterocentric training we have received to be blocked from using other labels.

Spouse

I like this word. However it usually implies marriage. It also sounds formal and awkward as if you are reciting legal terminology or medical form terms.

Incidentally I discovered to my horror one day from an attorney that even though Mike and I are “married” under Reform Judaism that I cannot write that I am married down on legal forms. I often go to doctors or fill out forms for insurance and such and put my partner down under the “spouse” headings. There are legal fines against that if you do this that I did not realize since it is not legally true. Now I still do it but at the top I write in “not legally”.

Some people feel that we as Gays and Lesbians should not be trying to use the Heterosexual model of marriage since it does not seem to be working well at all anyway. I am in favor of thinking up new language to have our own. We are a culture which is missing many traditions. Why not start our own.

Gay Marriage and Judaism


Gay, Schmay, Just don't be alone! These were the words of my Jewish Grandmother when I told her I was gay. Her words are embedded in my soul. But her acceptance of both of my spirits are not shared these days by others. Being both Jewish and Gay and I feel attacked from both sides. The President of the United States says that discrimination against the legitimacy of my marriage to my partner should be written into the constitution, and the movie "The Passion of the Christ" is implying that my people killed Christ.

Yes I said "my marriage". My partner and I are married under the laws of Reform Judaism which recognizes same-sex marriage and we were married by a Rabbi. While it is not "legal" it is "religious".

A quote from President Bush is that he is "interested in protecting the "sanctity of marriage". My dictionary defines sanctity as the quality of being holy. But our marriage is somehow not considered "holy" enough by some. And therefore it does not deserve to be part of the group that the phrase "sanctity of marriage" is meant to represent and protect. How can a religious ceremony conducted by a religious officiate not be considered traditional and holy?

If the arguments used against same-sex marriage were purely legal this would not be a factor. But again and again the religious aspects are brought in, but only those that meet certain criteria. This is unfair and a violation of freedom of religion. In some cases, as ours above, we seem to be discriminated against twice. Once for being gay, second for being a part of a gay friendly religion that values us.

Now I find myself in the position of not only being part of the group who is trying to destroy the sanctity of marriage; but I am also part of a people responsible for the death of Christ. And this was brought home very clearly as the news media covered both stories at the same time.

But there are always positives to be found, even at the worst of times. As those speaking against marriage talk about how marriage should be between one man and one woman, only a few are saying that being gay is "sick and wrong" These people are now seen as extremists and even conservatives distance themselves from them. The old arguments that being gay was wrong, or a sickness are not the main arguments against same-sex marriage. This implies we as gays and lesbians have achieved a higher level of acceptance in our society. Consequently, the fact that we as gays and lesbians are even being talked about by default lets us know that we have achieved a place at the table.

But this is not equality. Separate and unequal has never worked.

Michigan State University recently mounted an exhibit titled "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945," This quote, posted on the wall, recounted what led up to gay men being captured, tortured and killed:

The growing visibility and acceptance of homosexuals in some circles challenged traditional social norms. As liberal and left-wing activists campaigned to promote homosexual civil rights, conservative nationalists fought to preserve and even expand restrictions against homosexuality.

May history not repeat itself here in the United States of America.

Mad Vow Disease


Lesbian comedian Kate Clinton came up with that very funny play on “Mad Cow Disease” in talking about the current media madness surrounding gay marriage. I recall Oprah Winfrey, airing a show on Mad Cow Disease and stating that she’d never eat another hamburger again for the rest of her life. After her on-the-air remark, sales of ground meat allegedly went down; Oprah was sued a cattleman named Paul Engler and other cattleman for that and later, found not guilty.

Imagine if Oprah devotes a show to Mad Vow Disease and says publically, “I will never marry Stedman or any other man—or woman for that matter—as long as I live.” Heterosexual marriages decline across the nation. She gets blamed for it and hauled into court.

If this sounds absurd, it is. This scenario is as ridiculous as any of the arguments currently used against gay marriage. But why don’t more intelligent, reasonable, rational minded people understand how absurd the arguments against gay marriage are? Many against gays’ right to marry do not like being equated with other minorities not being granted given equal rights. My response to that is simply refer to the fact that arguments against gay marriage are the exact same ones formerly used to forbid interracial marriage, African-American rights, and women’s rights.

Usually that stops people short, because it’s true. After that, what more is there to say? However, even the comparison weren’t wholly valid, let’s take a rational, logical look at some of today’s the arguments used against gay marriage and see how they hold up.

First, some people claim that being gay is a choice, while being born a woman or an African American is not. I agree—but only partly. Living out as a gay man with integrity, in congruence for who I am on the inside, is exactly what I want. I also want equal rights for being my authentic self But I don’t have to live this way. I could try to “pass” as straight or make myself act differently to please others—much as what some light-complected African-Americans tried to do in the past. I’m a big fan of the Supremes, but I cringe when I watch old tapes of them performing in the straight-haired wigs they were required to wear on television, with Caucasians dancing around them. How ignorant and racist that was!

Another argument is defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Historically, that meant one white man and a white woman. Blacks were not allow to marry. An article in The New York Times quoted a racist who once wrote, “If God meant for the races to marry, he would not have put them on separate continents.” Today we see his argument as ignorant and illogical. However this man—and plenty of others—genuinely believed this, and used it and similar statements to argue why blacks and whites should not marry each other. There were even claims that any resulting offspring would be born retarded.

Another objection is that if same-sex partners are allowed to marry, then will polygamy follow next? The argument against that is simple—gay marriage wants to remove the restriction that same gendered couples cannot legally marry. In other words, gays aren’t saying, “Change the legal contract!” We simply want the same inclusion as blacks, who until the mid 19th century were not free to marry as white couples were, and whose interracial marriages were prohibited until the 1960s. We’re saying that our inability to be recognized as legal couples is an exclusion under the current law, as used to be the case with other minorities. We basically are saying that civil marriage should not only be for heterosexuals.

Yet another argument is that gay marriage will have a bad influence on children. The usually stated reason—not based on any facts—is that gays and lesbians make poor parents. The truth is, studies show no differences between children raised in gay homes versus straight homes. As a therapist, I suggest that instead of looking at a parent’s gender and orientation, we should be considering whether someone can be a fit parent, period. My whole profession is based on helping people, whether gay or straight, who were raised by unfit parents. Isn’t that the problem we should be examining more closely?

Finally, critics complain that the children of gay families will be subject to discrimination. Isn’t that also true for most children of minority-status parents? Children of color or of religious minorities are teased mercilessly and bullied by those who consider them as “different” and “wrong.” Do we bar their parents from marrying and raising children?

I love the argument that marriage was intended for procreation, which is why only men and women should marry. My usual response is that it then follows that infertile couples and elderly couples, no matter how mutually loving and devoted, should also be prohibited from making it legal. If that argument holds, then even more heterosexual couples would be forbidden to wed, including those choosing not to have children.

But the argument that most interests me, as a therapist, is that marriage is feasible only if the couple remains monogamous. This statement bears the covert implication that gay and lesbian couples are not—or cannot be—monogamous. I can’t begin to count the number of heterosexual couples I see in my practice who don’t meet that criterion. They’re either cheating, or else they’ve agreed to open relationships. In short, marriage doesn’t automatically solve this issue.

For me, the most glaring aspect of Mad Vow Disease is the “separate but equal” stance of those who seem to favor civil unions for us, but not full marriages. How can it not be seen as separate but equal? Some say that in years to come, we’ll look back and see all of this more clearly for what it is, as we now do with other bygone forms of discrimination. I want to end the denial and rationalizations today. I don’t want to wait for years and years. I want us to see it now.

Smart Valentine's Day Tips for Gays and Straights


Valentines Day is soon approaching. For some this is a very important holiday. One of the things I specialize in is working with couples and singles in building relationship skills. I believe in relational healing. In Imago Relationship Therapy, Harville Hendrix says that "we were wounded in relationship therefore healing can only take place in the context of relationship". I couldn't agree more. So, whether you are in a romantic relationship or not, I recommend taking the time on Valentine's Day to do something relational whether it is with a significant other or someone else you love and care about be it a friend, relative or child. Showing appreciation can be gratifying to those receiving and to those giving. It establishes contact and connection which in our fast paced society is becoming less and less.

In relationships partners often spend more time focusing on the negatives and the things that they are not getting and things that are not happening. Valentines day is a time to focus on the positives and the things that are happening and the things you are getting.

Here are 10 Smart Valentine Tips:

1. Do Unto Others As They Want To Be Done Unto Them. This is the platinum rule we have in Imago Therapy. It is very different than the golden rule which is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". As you can see the difference is that in the platinum rule you are granting something that they want. The golden rule, while well intended, assumes you know what person wants based on what you would want.

2. Positively Flood Someone. One of the re-romanticizing exercises we have in Imago Therapy is to positively flood a partner by having them sit in a chair while the other partner circles them and tells them positive things about how they look, behave and their character traits. If you are uncomfortable circling someone than sit down with them and tell them these positive things verbally. Usually if you do this with kids the love to be circled and then they love to have you sit down and do it back to you.

3. Express Appreciation. One way of reinforcing someone's positive behavior is to let them know how much you appreciated what they did. Often people are quick to tell what they did not appreciate and overlook saying the things they did appreciate.

4. Surprise Gifts. This does not have to involve expensive and lavish gifts. In our relationships with friends, family and colleagues people usually will say in passing things they wish they had or want. It can be nice to remember some of the things they said and surprise them with them. If you are with a significant other than you might recall the things they liked in the romantic period of their relationship and do one of those things to gift them.

5. Engage in a Behavior Change. If you have had difficulty engaging in a behavior change that a significant other, relative or friend has asked of you than this is a great time to stretch and gift them with what they have asked. It can be as simple as telling them you are thinking about what they have asked of you to doing the actual behavior. Even just telling them you are thinking about them in this particular way can be very validating.

For more ideas purchase the book, "Getting The Love You Want: A Guide For Couples" by Dr. Harville Hendrix.

How To Be Gay


For the past seven years, I’ve taught a course at Wayne State University for Master’s level social workers, on how to help their gay clients learn to be comfortable about their orientation. This class could be in jeopardy, if some folks here in Michigan have their way.

Fuss over a course “How To Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation,” scheduled this fall at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, seems to be voiced loudest by Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan affiliate of the conservative American Family Association. Mr. Glenn wants “to stop letting homosexual activists use our tax dollars to subsidize this militant political agenda” to promote “queer studies”. His agenda is to stop David M. Halperin’s class because he feels taxpayers shouldn’t be “forced to pay for a class whose stated purpose is to ‘experiment’ with the ‘initiation’ of young men into self-destructive homosexual lifestyle”.

Is the class I teach next on his agenda to remove? I teach my master’s level students in the field of social work to “initiate” gays and lesbians into achieving healthy self-esteem and becoming positive, hard-working, responsible people. Maybe Mr. Glenn overlooked my class because its title, “Social Work and Sexual Orientation,” doesn’t imply that it “initiates” anybody or help anyone do so —even though I do exactly that!

What would be the public outrage if Mr. Glenn and his AFA supporters felt the same way about university courses that “initiate” women, African Americans, Jews, and other minorities into understanding of their own specific political and cultural heritage? Should tax dollars be withheld from courses that teach these individuals to achieve healthy identities?

On my first day of teaching my sexual orientation course at WSU, I reviewed the class’s Gay Affirmative syllabus, along with informing the students that I was gay. An African American woman politely raised her hand and said, “I had no idea I had enrolled in a gay studies class.” She needed credits, and my class was the only one available to her, adding that her Christian beliefs did not support homosexuality and that is was a sin. But this was her last term, and if she wanted to graduate in June, she had to stay in the course.

Some of the other class members felt that because of her homonegative views, she shouldn’t be allowed to stay. But she said she related to gays and lesbians because when she “came out” with her Christian beliefs on homosexuals, others discriminated against her—and she felt that same way about my class not wanting her.

I assured her that I was open to her difference of opinion. All I expected from her was that she learn the gay affirmative stance I teach, to help gays and lesbians overcome homophobia and heterosexism. In her papers and class discussions, she could show that she’d absorbed my input, and could certainly add her own disagreements along the way. I urged the class to take the same stance--which they did. Our agenda was to honor everyone’s opinions and not enforce our own, much less make any one of us feel “bad” or “wrong.”

Each week, she listened to my lectures and our guest speakers. She wrote two required papers on the “initiation” of gays and lesbians into healthy, well-adjusted, affirmative lives. Yes, her papers did include her biblical views and moral beliefs that disagreed with my teachings—particularly that gays and lesbians can become well-adjusted. I, in turn, honored her opinions and judgments, which made sense to me because of the way she was raised and what she’d been taught throughout her life.

I empathized with her difficulty. Heterosexism—believing that a heterosexual orientation is superior, romantically and sexually, to all others—is hard to overcome. We’re taught this erroneous belief from early childhood, and its imprint remains unless we work hard to challenge it.

I didn’t agree with her, but was able to see her outlook from her point of view. By the end of the semester, she demonstrated her full understanding of many facets of “initiating” gays and lesbians. She hadn’t altered her moral or religious beliefs, and still felt that homosexuality was a sin. But she did graduate (in both senses of the word) with a wider understanding of what gay people must go through, and said the course “humanized her thinking of what gay people were like. She admitted she’d been horrified to learn that I was gay, surprised that I seemed so happy and well-adjusted--and troubled that I’d become so comfortable with “living in sin.”

I told her that she’d opened my eyes, too. What must it be like, to hold strong religious beliefs and not be able to express them freely, without others’ discrimination?

Again, I have no problem with her beliefs, or anyone’s, only with what people do with their personal judgments. I told her I hoped that as a social worker, she’d never provide treatment gay or lesbian because of her negative judgments. How could she assist them and help them feel good about themselves, if she herself didn’t approve of them? Much as she tried to help them, she would just be committing homophobia in her conviction that they were sinners. Thankfully, she agreed!

If only those like Gary Glenn and the people in the AFA could realize the acts of homophobia they are committing! It’s one thing to disagree over a class that helps students adjust to being gay, and dealing with those who are. It’s quite another to try and prevent anyone, academic or not, from offering information to those who want it and need it. Shouldn’t universities offer a class for people who take their righteousness and wield it as a weapon against others? To my mind, that is the biggest sin of all.

10 Smart Terms Gays and Lesbians Use to Self-identify


Over the years other minority groups have changed how they wish to be referred to in an attempt to change how they are treated. A good example of this is the African American community has changed the way they self-identify going from “negro” to “colored” to “black” to “people of color” to the now politically correct term “African American” that they wish to be called today. Actually, “negro” and “colored” were labels coming from non-African Americans.

These days, the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-attractional, Transgendered and Questioning) community have also changed how we self identify. “Homosexual” has become a negative word as the words “negro” and “colored” would be to call an African American person. The best thing these days is to ask how someone self-identifies. Even many women, both lesbian and straight, are starting to write the word “women” as “womyn” so to recognize their separation and difference from men.

For us all to get along it is important to be respectful of each other’s self-identification. As a therapist, I may not like to use the word “homosexual” however if a client comes in and does not identify with the word “gay” and self-identifies as “homosexual” that is the word I use. Using the word “gay” is affirmative and refers to a lifestyle of being out and open about one’s sexual and romantic orientation. Many folks in the beginning of coming out are not comfortable with using the word “gay”. Likewise, a heterosexual who enjoys sex with the same gender however might identify as hetero-emotional and not see themselves as gay or homosexual. They would refer to the word “homosexual” as a “freaky” side to themselves in behavior only.

When I was a young boy, degrading, humiliating names like “faggot” and “queer” were hurled at me repeatedly. Today, younger kids and teenagers use the word "gay" to degrade and humiliate others. "That is so gay!" you can hear in school corridors and in the malls. It’s reminiscent of slang expressions like, "I Jewed him down," or "I was gypped.” These verbs have become so overused that people use them without even knowing where they originated or how it offends people.

Today, however, we see the word "queer," once a pejorative, often being used in a positive way. Dozens of books and articles are getting published with Queer in their titles, and the term has come into common, affirmative usage by lesbians and gays as well. Originally, the adjective “homosexual” was mostly derogatory or pathological, as in calling someone a "known homosexual." Today’s "homosexuals" don’t want to own that title, because its negative connotations remind us of the bad old days. The “sexual” part of the word reflected the homophobic belief that homosexuality is primarily or “only” about sex, which it isn't.

The labels “gay” and “lesbian” were therefore adopted, to the extent that today’s reparative therapies often refuse to use the word "gay" because of its affirmative connotation!

Then bisexuals were included. These days—again, removing “sex” from the word—the politically correct term would be “bi-attractional.”

Gay culture then adopted the acronym GLB to welcome in bi-attractionals. Next to come on board was “transgendered,” an umbrella term for drag queens, drag kings, transvestites and pre-and post-op sex reassignment individuals; and so the acronym changed to GLBT. When those questioning their orientation came into the fold, the acronym expanded again to GLBTQ.

As a result of the addition of letters maybe it all just seemed to much and the best letter for us is just "Q" for Queer. We see it in the media "Queer as Folk" on Showtime and now the hysterically funny and well done "Queer Eye on the Straight Guy.”

These days it is important to know

1. Lesbian: A woman or young woman who forms her primary loving and sexual relationships with other women; a woman or young woman who has a continuing affectional, emotional, romantic, and/or erotic attraction to someone of the same sex. Some lesbians prefer to call themselves “lesbian” and they use the term “gay” to refer to gay men; others use the term “gay” to refer to both gay males and lesbian females.

2. Gay Male: An affirmative word for a man or young man who forms his primary romantic and sexual relationships with other men; a man or young man who has a continuing affectional, emotional, romantic, and/or erotic attraction to someone of the same sex. Women use this word as well (see above).

NOTE:

“Homosexual” is an outdated term and offensive: It historically refers to a lesbian or a gay male. Homosexual is a clinical and technical term that is not generally used by lesbians or gay men to refer to themselves or their community. For example, a person refers to themselves as gay or openly gay not admittedly homosexual or a practicing homosexual. These latter terms have negative stigmatized connotations. This term is also widely used by Reparative Therapists and Religious organizations to reinforce that homosexuality is negative and that “gay” is an affirmative lifestyle.

3. Bisexual or Bi-Attractional: A person or young person who has the potential for or forms affectionate, emotional, romantic, and/or erotic attraction with members of either gender.

4. Transgendered: A person who is expanding the societal boundaries of female and male genders. This includes people who are undergoing sex/gender reassignment (transsexuals) and transvestites/cross dressers. Transsexuals and transvestites may be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. An example might be of a heterosexual woman becoming gender reassigned as a man and now self-identifies as a gay man. His gender is now changed however his sexual and romantic orientation has not.

5. Homoerotic: The enjoyment of watching two men or two women being sexual with one another. It is also a man eroticizing his sexual contact with another man and a woman eroticizing her sexual behavior with another woman. The person enjoying this might be straight, gay or bi.

6. Hetero-emotional: A man or woman who is heterosexually emotionally attached and drawn to members of the opposite gender and sexually attracted to members of either same gender and/or opposite gender.

7. Homo-emotional: A man or woman who is emotionally attracted and drawn to members of the same gender and sexually attracted to members of one’s own gender and/or opposite gender.

8, Questioning: A person who is undecided and/or confused about their sexual and romantic orientation.

9. LGBTQ: An umbrella acronym to refer to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning community.

10. Queer: A mostly political term to describe gay, lesbian, bi-attractional and transgender persons. It is an umbrella term to refer to the gay community as a whole. This can be a simpler way to refer to the queer community without all the letters! Examples in media that this is becoming more acceptable are “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Queer as Folk”. Many gay and lesbian self-help books now use the word queer in its titles and contents.

I have to admit I still cringe when I hear the word queer. It takes me back to the playground where I was made fun of and put down. However, I am getting used to it as it is used more and more. When in relationship with someone "queer" my judgment is the best thing to do is to ask them how do they self identify and what would they like to be called. I prefer to be called gay. That is how I self-identify. How do you self-identify?

A Man Among Men


As Robert Bly pointed out in his best-selling book "Iron John" few heterosexual men have appropriate initiations into becoming a man. Most initiations into manhood as a young boy, adolescent, and young adult are through sports, religion, and dating girls, getting “at-a-boy’s from other boys and men. However if none of that is part of your life, then male culture pushes you aside and abandons you. This is true for gays and straights alike. We gay men, however, have fewer rituals, if any, to initiate us into manhood.

As a young Jewish man, my bar mitzvah served as a gateway into becoming a man. At least it was something. For many boys, sports serves as an initiation—which, unfortunately, a gay boy often doesn’t like or isn’t good at. Even if he is, he often feels there’s something “different” about himself from the other teammates and not really “one of the guys”. He may not feel true acceptance or a sense of belonging because he knows he is hiding something that would alienate him.

A lot of heterosexual men didn’t get blessings from their fathers or other men in their lives. They are deeply wounded and starving for that male mentoring. They are straight men in need of healthy male role models. The same wound and need is true for gay men, only more so. In addition to the lack of blessings from our fathers, not being attracted to women and the negative messages about homosexuality leaves us feeling even more wounded as men. It wounds us for being gay, leaving us feeling less than masculine.

As Gay men we’re taught that we’re effeminate, as if there were anything wrong with that—pure sexism! We’re called sissies, pansies, mama’s boys, weak, less than men because of emotionally distant fathers and smothering mothers, cowardly, and unable to control ourselves.

Our gay male culture has long been under attack for our sexuality. We are verbally abused through homophobia and heterosexism, marginalized and seen only for our sexual acts. You see this all the time, particularly in fraternal organizations. The Boy Scouts don’t want gay boys or scoutmasters in their troops, but you never hear the same concern in Girl Scouts. The military doesn’t want to hear or know about gay soldiers, yet you rarely hear an enlisted female worry about showering with a lesbian for fear of being watched. The church is always concerned about gay priests acting out sexually, but there’s little to no concern about nuns.

Even puppets and toys are attacked for being homosexual and bad role models for children. Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby, was criticized for carrying a “purse.” Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie were outed as a gay male couple and, for the most part, have been separated ever since. The same accusations are not made toward Peppermint Patty of Charlie Brown who Lesbians have told me is clearly “butch” and resembles many “chapstick” lesbians. And what about Velma of Scooby Doo? While this may make one chuckle, it is clearly sexism that a male who acts effeminate or bonds closely to another male is “less than a man and therefore gay” and that there is something wrong with that.

From birth, every child is imprinted—bombarded—by messages that everyone else is heterosexual. And if you are not, then something is wrong with you. Homophobic slurs (“You fairy!”) and heterosexual praise (“Way to go, stud!”) are constantly heard in the playgrounds at recess. This is hard to shake, and most gay men spend the rest of their lives trying to remove it from themselves.

As a young gay boy, teen and now man, I felt inferior and alienated from my straight male counterparts. Gay men judge harshly their heterosexual counterparts for being unemotional, insensitive and poorly groomed. Straight men judge Gay men to be overly sensitive, overly emotional and groomed to “pretty”. However both sides in general agree on one thing; it is better to be perceived as straight acting than gay acting regardless of your orientation.

I never minimize the lack of ritual and initiation we gay men have had to endure. Our society lacks images of men, particularly gay men, touching and expressing affection.

Within our gay culture, we have few if any role models available to teach us these things. There’s no initiation or blessing into gay manhood. Older gay men are afraid to come forward and be role models, lest they be accused of trying to satisfy their personal sexual desires. So gay youngsters suffer.

Typically, a gay man’s initiation into manhood is purely sexual. Society doesn’t approve of our gay elders nonsexual contact with a younger boy or teen, because it is assumed that sexual contact is all the elder wants. So when a young man reaches his 20s, his initiation is through sexuality—often by a “mentor” he’ll never see again.

Just coming out, not sure of himself, he hasn’t the nerve to start conversation with gay elder. He hasn’t learned it’s OK to approach a gay man nonsexually. So he does so sexually. Within these sexual encounters, his gay elder won’t have much to tell him, except for, “What turns you on?” To me, this is so sad. If older and younger gay men could gather in groups and sit down for tea and coffee, how different things would be!

In Gay Spirit Warrior: An Empowerment Workbook for Men Who Love Men, John R. Stowe writes: “Imagine a society different from our own, in which older gay men are treated with honor. Imagine a Council of Gay Elders who sit together in order to share wisdom and advice with the entire Tribe. Imagine going to this Council--being sent by your parents, even—the moment you first recognized your attraction to other men. Imagine sharing your concerns with a silver-haired mentor, a man like yourself who loves other men and who listens to you with respect. Imagine how you’d feel about yourself if you could call on this man’s guidance, insight, humor and perspective whenever you need it.” This is what my work and life mission is all about as an openly gay therapist and openly gay man.

Post Holiday Depression


After the holiday season is over, many people suffer from depression. The fast pace to get presents, visit with family, send our cards and get school and work business done keeps the depression at by. However, returning to work and school, dealing with the family issues which surfaced over the holidays and facing the winter blues can be very depressing. The following article, while written for Lesbians and Gays, can in fact be helpful to any of those suffering from depression.

Many factors can contribute to depression. Situational depression is related to an event in our lives and can involve job loss, relationship problems, breakups, medical problems, and other stressful situations. Chemical depression involves hereditary familial depression, continuing low-grade depression and ongoing situational stress or trauma that change one’s body chemistry.

In “Queer Blues: The Lesbian and Gay Guide to Overcoming Depression,” Kimeron Hardin and Marny Hall write about a compounding problem for gays and lesbians:

“We are very likely to oppress ourselves and to internalize negative feelings directed at us.” They go on to say that we internalize the guilt thrown our way from religious institutions who declare homosexuality as “immoral” or “sinful”, the disapproval and rejection of growing up as a sissy or tomboy. And of course, AIDS continues to factor in, whether we are HIV positive or love someone who is.

How do you know when you’re depressed? For some, it’s obvious—a sudden shift, in which you feel sad, most or all of the time. But this is not always obvious, particularly if you’ve been living with depression a long time.

Clients tell me they’re not depressed. It’s just that they’re “in a negative situation,” or breaking up with a partner, or having a work related problem, or just coming out and grieving the loss of heterosexual privileges. But once the event or situation clears up, they continue to report symptoms of depression.

Warning signs to be aware of: Are you more irritable or easily agitated than usual? More sad than usual? Do you feel more hopeless or helpless than usual in a given situation? Is your self-esteem low? You feel badly about your looks or physical self for no apparent reason, especially if nothing’s changed. How’s your ability to concentrate on things and make decisions? Are you losing interest in what you normally find interesting?

Our bodies talk to us every day. If you—your body—is experiencing multiple health issues and chronic illness, unusual weight gain or loss, severe energy fatigue, then you need to pay attention. Do you find yourself listless and more tired than usual? Are you weeping more than usual, or having crying jags that force you to pull over to the side of the road, or go to the restroom at work, because they’re out of your control? Do you dwell on thoughts about death and dying, and what it would be like not to be here on Earth? Do you wake in the middle of the night, without being able to fall asleep again ? Are you sleeping too much, or not enough?

How about your appetite? Are you eating too much or too little, with a change of more than 5 percent body weight in a month, either up or down, without dieting? These last few symptoms—suicidal thoughts, sleep and eating disturbances—are very serious and need immediate attention by a mental health professional.

We all have days (and weeks!) like this. But those with a clinical diagnosis of depression, if left untreated, can last two years or more—or an entire lifetime.

Many clients want me to treat their symptoms of depression only, but not their source. Men and women deal with depression differently, as do gay men and lesbians. One gay man complained of excessive weight gain and blamed his worry about his weight on the gay culture and its overemphasis on weight. A lesbian came to me to deal with various health concerns. Various medical exams proved there was nothing inherently wrong with her medically. She was unable to access her anger, which she took out on herself. These are just two examples of clients not dealing with depression.

The problem is often apparent. Some people aren’t out to their friends or families. So when a conflict or breakup occurs—or a friend or partner dies—they’ve no one to go to. Isolated, they begin to suffer depression.

Not being out to the people most important to you in your life can prolong, if not worsen depression—if you can’t approach them for support and help.

For others, there are actual health problems that are from being depressed and not caring for one’s self. And still for others there are unresolved childhood and family problems which have not been dealt with and show up in adulthood through depression.

I recommend a psychotherapist who works closely with a psychiatrist. They can assess if your depression needs “talk” therapy, “medicinal” therapy or both. Meanwhile, you should also consult your physician, to rule out medical problems—but I don’t recommend prescribed medications for depression by any other than psychiatrists. They’re up to date on the current psychotropic medications, since that’s their specialty.

Few if any, in our heterosexist society will take notice of our depression or even want to help us as Lesbians and Gays. We have to help ourselves. In these times, when we’re fighting and making headway into marriage, parenting, and equal rights—all of which we’re entitled to—we have to stay strong

Would the small child you once were look up to the adult you have become?

10 Smart Things Gays and Lesbians Can Do—at Home with Their Families During the Holidays


1. Talk openly—and honestly—about Gay issues. To keep the peace during family gatherings, both gays and lesbians tend to avoid any gay topics—particularly if they’ve recently come out. But the longer you postpone talking openly, the longer their acceptance will take. My advice is to open a dialogue about your gayness and keep the conversation going.

Don’t censor and edit news about gay issues. If family members tell about their vacations or nights out with significant others or dating partners, then you do the same. Don’t wait for your family to ask. You go first and take the lead for creating your family’s comfort and acceptance of your being gay.

2.Bring your significant other along with you. When I ask many of my partnered clients what they’re doing for the holidays, often each one goes to their family home separately. I encourage you to go together instead. The more your family sees you together, as a couple, the more accepting they’ll become. Also, this also sends the message to you both that you and your partner are a couple and a family unit; that you are important enough to each other to spend holidays together.

3. If you plan to come out, do so before or after the holiday. Learning that a family member is gay or lesbian can be difficult and troubling. If you want to come out to your family while you’re home, then do so a few days before or after the actual day of the holiday. This is more likely to keep the focus on you and your news, rather than have anyone say, “How could you ruin this special day for us?”

4. Educate your family about Gay issues and bring materials and books to share with them. If you’re about to tell your family—or if they’re still struggling with your recent announcement—offer them pamphlets from PFLAG (Parents, Family/Friends, of Lesbians and Gays). Bring them some books on families of gays and lesbians, such as Now That You Know by Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward. Arm them with literature and let them know they aren’t alone. Make an effort to bring up gay issues or gay news in the media. There is a lot to talk about in terms of gay marriage and gays in television.

5. If your family is not okay with your identity, agree to disagree. Many gays and lesbians claim they shouldn’t have to worry over their families’ difficulty in accepting their homosexuality. But if we want them to come around and accept our position, we ourselves should be open and tolerant of their feelings. Unless your family is actually abusing you—verbally, emotionally or physically—then insist on talking about your true feelings, as well as theirs. If differences exist, let them. Continuing to talk, even if not in agreement, is healthier than breaking of without allowing for everyone’s judgments and points of view.

6. Insist that someone you’re partnered with and/or seeing romantically be invited to holiday gatherings. Imagine if heterosexual family members were invited to a party or holiday event and not their significant others! They would be offended—and rightfully so. But in situations with gays and lesbians, families often don’t know how to respond. It’s your responsibility to educate them. Let them know it’s important for you to be invited along with your significant other, just like anyone else who’s serious about someone. If they still won’t do so, either attend alone or don’t go at all—it‘s be up to you.

7. Before loyalty to your family, make your first commitment to yourself and/or your partner. If you decide not to mention about being gay, or if you decide not to bring your partner home for the holidays, then you’re committing is to your family over yourself. This lets your family know that your being gay is far more than what you do in the bedroom, just as their heterosexuality is. First of all, stay committed to your partner and your own integrity.

8. When you come out of the closet, your family goes in. While I encourage most of my clients to be out and open, I recommend that they do so with sensitivity—with the understanding that they are going through an inner struggle of their own. Be patient and loving, while at the same time letting them know that your goal is to be out and open. Most often, they’ll be are going through a grieving process of who they always hoped you’d be. They may well be divided on how (or even whether) they’re going to let friends and other relatives know. What reactions will they have to face, when you’re not there to answer for yourself?

9. Do ask, do tell! Too often, families halt any discussion of gay issues because they think their “ignorant” questions will offend you. Or they assume you’d rather not discuss the issue. Assure your folks that it’s okay for them to question you—no matter how silly they fear their questions might be. Tell your family that you intend to keep the dialogue open, just as you do on so many other issues; and to share what’s happening in your life politically, socially, relationally, and otherwise—much of with will inevitably have a gay theme to it.. In the movie, Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey Fierstein’s character says to his mother, “I am not going to edit out the things you don’t like.” Though he says this in anger, you can say it in matter-of-fact way: “My gayness is a part of me that I want to share with you and you deserve to know about.” The more you discuss the subject the less foreign it will seem to them.

10. Your being out is an ongoing process—especially to your family. Coming out is a lifelong task—as challenging and rewarding as life itself. Often, telling your family demands that you talk about it repeatedly, because you’re not the only one who has stages to go through. So do they! Telling them that you’re gay may be simple enough—to begin with. But bringing dates or partners around opens up entirely new issues. Your family may need a breather to get accustomed to seeing you with someone of the same gender. You may hear comments like, “Why do you have to rub your lifestyle in our faces?”

Be patient and understanding—but also, ask that they be the same with you. For this holiday, perhaps it’s enough of a challenge for them to adjust to your being gay. Your next family fathering gives you all a chance to talk more about it. And on the one after that, you might ask about bringing home your significant other.

What if your family absolutely won’t consider discussing your being a gay man or lesbian and won’t let you feel comfortable about it? Always keep alternative back-up plans in reserve, so that you’ll still have somewhere to go and friends to be with for the holidays.

Stages of Love


Lesbians and Gays are a sexually abused culture. We are under sexual assault regularly from society. We are only seen for our sex acts and are told that we are dirty and bad for having sexual feelings and for wanting intimate relationships with members of our own gender.

With a lifetime of receiving these messages we run from each other so as not to be exposed or identified as one of those "forbidden and dirty people." We have no one to tell. Oprah Winfrey talks about the first time she saw African American people on television. She was watching Ed Sullivan introduce the Supremes and ran through her home yelling to her family in excitement and pride that African Americans were on TV.

Can you imagine any of us as gays and lesbians doing this as children - or even adults - yelling through our home that homosexuals were on television? Of course not.

We enter adult love relationships with internalized messages that we are inherently damaged and flawed as people. Problems begin to arise as a result. What we do not realize, however, is that these problems are supposed to happen and they can offer us the greatest amount of personal healing. Problems can also help a relationship grow and strengthen.

We enter relationships through the doorway of romantic love. This is a time when people report feelings of elation, exhilaration and euphoria. Partners will say things like, "Oh, I can't live without you," and/or "It seems like I've always known you. I feel whole when I'm in your presence."

This feeling is strongest in the presence of one's partner. It is during this period of time we can go without much sleep. If we have been depressed, we are less so. Addictions seem to subside and so on. This stage is what our society calls real love.

Movies, books, television, songs, etc. focus on this period because it feels so great. But it is not real love. It is only nature's way of bringing two people together. It is supposed to happen and supposed to come to an end. Most people do not know this. For us, as lesbians and gays, it is a time that has even more importance to us.

It is like we have found something that we were told we would never have. We feel so loved and authentic. We have waited a lifetime for a connection to someone like this and we don't want it to end. And when it does end, it moves us to sometimes even more despair about relationships than we had before. It is like confirmation that we are doomed and cannot have long-term healthy relationships.

After romantic love ends, the next stage of a relationship is called the power struggle. It, too, is supposed to happen and supposed to end. However, this phase does not feel as good and disillusionment arises. It is here that we are most aware of the differences between ourselves and our partner. Conflict arises as a result of the belief that these differences are not good for a relationship when in fact they are.

This conflict is growth (both personal and relational) trying to happen. It promotes a way to differentiate from one's partner and for each to keep a sense of self and also be a couple. For lesbians and gays, it is even more important to us in relationships to keep our sense of self because we have spent a lifetime being forced to conform and disown ourselves.

Thus, it seems easier to terminate the relationship, have affairs, and engage in addictions rather than face the conflict and fear of losing ourselves.

Many also feel that it is confirmation that we cannot have relationships. The good news, however, is that the power struggle we face with our partners is a positive indicator that we are with the right person. It is that person who will challenge us to make necessary changes for ourselves. It is an opportunity to maintain closeness while still maintaining one's own individuality.

Isn't that what we want for ourselves from society as a whole and from our families anyway? To be who we are, they who they are and to allow the differences to exist. Incompatibility is grounds for a relationship and is the norm for partnerships. If you don't know this information and what to do about working it through you can walk away from your dream partner.

Real love, mature love can only emerge once partners move through romantic love and the power struggle. Gays and lesbians deserve to know this information and to have the relationship of their dreams. It is our birthright.

Real Love... Can Only Emerge
Once Partners Move Through
Romantic Love.

Toy Makers Say Tinky Winky, Bert & Ernie and Sponge Bob are Straight.


Jerry Falwell and others can rest now that the Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co. has reassured them that the Teletubby doll they license, “Tinky Winky,” is not gay. This reminds me of the hype surrounding Sesame Street characters Burt and Ernie who were accused of being a gay couple a few years ago. Since then Burt seems to have almost disappeared from the show.

Spokespeople for these characters assure the public that they are just dolls and puppets and that they do not have sexual orientations. I would like to imagine just for a moment that these puppets are gay or that they symbolize gay men and youth.

What is wrong with that? We don’t have a problem imagining that the puppets are straight. How nice it would be for children to witness tolerance and acceptance toward what looks like a feminine and sensitive boy that could possibly be gay. As a gay man who once was a gay little boy like that, I bag the question, “What is wrong with that?”

What is wrong is that our society insists on equating “gay” with sex. Consequently, when a child is considered to be gay they immediately think of adult gay sex. People want to protect children from adult sexuality. That is appropriate. But “gay” does not equal, “sex” anymore than “straight” equals “sex.”

We don’t do this to children thought to be heterosexual. Gay and Lesbian adults were once children too. In my generation we had no role models. Television shows with characters like Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space,” or Miss Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies” were hardly role models. If images of gay and lesbian adults and children were shown being accepted and tolerated as just different, not bad and wrong, our suffering would have been less as children. But people are afraid that this would “encourage homosexuality” and then “everyone might want to be one.” Is heterosexuality that fragile? I think not.

I shudder when I hear people state that homosexuality is a learned behavior. Again, the assumption is that homosexuality is a behavior and nothing more. I usually ask where would we go to “learn” this behavior. Gay and Lesbian charm schools? My question is as outrageous as the first. I often joke about when I “decided to be gay” and say that it was immediately following the first time I was harassed for it. If it could be learned, then it would not exist.

Certainly our society does everything it can to prevent homosexuality from even existing, let alone being taught. We are seeking this with the most recent push for the acronym HC (Homosexual Content), to be aired immediately before a television show begins that involves gay and lesbian characters.

If we continue with my imagining that puppets and dolls could be gay and lesbian, how healing that would be for gay and lesbian children and adults. Then Bert and Ernie could come out as, in fact, a gay couple and adopt Tinky Winky as their child. This would offer Tinky a home without judgment and role models that are healthy gay adults. Tinky is already perceived by his Teletubby friends in a positive way. Maybe he could avoid some of the traumas we all went through as gay and lesbian youth.

Instead of withdrawing and hiding from scorn and hate, he could evolve with healthy self-esteem and contribute to society as a well-adjusted gay male doll. Too bad this is just my imagination. And it is very sad that even puppets and dolls are not immune to the homophobia and heterosexism that is so prevalent in today's'’ world.

Of Families, Love, Isolation and Acceptance


Of all the relationships that we will encounter in our lifetime, our family ties are usually the most intense, tightly organized and consist of the strongest loyalties. We want to stay connected to our families and so we nurture and protect these relationships.

There is comfort and a feeling of safety in having a history with these people and seeing the similarities we have with one another. So imagine what it is like to tell your family that you are lesbian or gay. That you are a minority in your own family.

Imagine your fear of introducing something so different and sometimes despised. Imagine fearing that not only will you lose the support and respect of society but also the respect and love of your own family. It is chilling.

I told my parents I was gay in 1981 when I was 18. It was one of the most frightening things I ever did. I felt I could have lost everything. There were no role models, nothing to give me direction in how to proceed with this. I was alone.

I had nothing at the time other than therapists and literature telling me and my parents that I was gay because of how I was raised. So, you can imagine the pain, guilt and devastation when I told them.

I tried to tell my mother originally at the age of 15, in 1978, during the Chanukah season. I was driving with my driver's permit and we were on the expressway. My timing was not great. I started crying, telling her I had something awful to tell her.

I started by telling her I was different. I could not go on. She lovingly touched my shoulder and told me that everything would be fine, and she gave me some Chanukah money. She then got me in therapy.

Although the first therapist I had pathologized my gayness, he at least provided me with a safe forum to talk about it at length, which totally desensitized me. I needed this. But I needed more.

What did I need as a gay teenager? I needed to be applauded for the courage to talk about it at all. I needed to explore my sexuality without someone telling me that being straight was a better way to be. I needed to be told that my mother did a good thing by taking me to therapy.

I really believe that. Later she would tell me that she had some idea that I was gay but did not know what to do about it. She felt that when you do not know what to do, you ask for help. And, knowing she had limitations on what to do with this subject, she did get me help.

When I finally came out to my family, I needed the therapist to address the safety, honesty and integrity of me and my family.

Gays and lesbians want to tell their families, but they are scared. There has to be a strong commitment to staying connected to the family in order to tell. The family has to have instilled a sense of safety for gay or lesbian children to tell something so deep and core about themselves.

My parents needed to know that. They needed to know they did a good job in raising a child who took such a risk and valued the parent-child relationship that much.

My family needed to be told that when a gay or lesbian child comes out of the closet, the family goes in the closet. The experience of saying you have a gay or lesbian child will parallel the experience of a gay person "coming out" to various people. My parents needed to know that they did not make me gay.

As a psychotherapist, I have had the luxury of meeting many different kinds of people over the last 12 years. I have treated many heterosexual men with the exact same backgrounds and childhoods as mine, and they do not have a gay bone in their bodies. This supports my belief that how one is raised has little or nothing to do with sexual orientation.

My family needed to know that being gay and telling others cannot kill someone and is not contagious. I recall relatives warning me that if I told this one or that one, it would "kill" them, that "they may decide to be gay themselves."

I have never heard of a death certificate which cites cause of death as "relative told him he was gay." Nor have I heard of a medical diagnosis classifying homosexuality as a contagious disease.

This is just ignorance and misinformation. We needed to know this. My family needed to know that 30 percent of adolescent suicides are related to sexuality issues. They needed to hear that it is OK to disagree with me and have a difference of opinion about my gayness and to talk to me openly about it.

It is acceptable to have differences in the family. It's when there is no communication and everyone stops talking about it that the risks and problems arise. Not talking leads to abandonment and total rejection.

My family would have been relieved for me to stay quiet about this part of my life at first. But I would have been miserable. And we would not have had the closeness we have now because they would not have been a part of my personal life that I have developed with my life partner.

I am always moved to tears when I hear one particular father talk about learning his son was gay. He says he had the Bible in one hand and his gay child in the other, and he did not want to get rid of either. So he worked hard at finding a way to keep both, staying loyal and true to himself and to what he believed. And he was able to have both.

He is a PFLAG member (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.) PFLAG has numerous chapters across the country.

There is a song written by a man named Fred Small called "Everything Possible." I think the song applies to us all. Some of the words go like this:

You can be anybody that you want to be.
You can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads.
And know I will love you still.
And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're gone.

I wish someone would have 'sung that song to me. I now sing that song to myself. And I will sing it to my new nephews. We all need to hear these words.

Love is never wrong: Why Gay Marriage is right


Recently editorial by Bishop Keith Butler, a pastor of Word of Faith International Christian Center Church from www.wordoffaith-icc.org titled an editorial in the Detroit Newspaper titled “Keep defining marriage as between man, woman”

A few simple comparisons are all that is needed to show the ignorance and bigotry in Keith Butler’s editorial on same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general.

He states references to the beginning of creation, God, and sacred relationships as though marriage has not changed over time. He ignores the reality that some religions such as Reform Judaism now allow same-sex marriage. More importantly he ignores the fact that within a short time span he was not allowed to marry outside of his race.

If we were to use an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary for today’s world there would be no concept of African-American civil rights, and I’m sure the definitions of race would today be considered extremely offensive.

Marriage is changing. Inter-racial and inter-faith marriage are now allowed, these changes affect both religious marriage and civil marriage.

It is unclear how allowing same-sex marriage in any way denigrates or diminishes traditional marriage. This terminology only reminds me of when someone says property values in a neighborhood are diminishing because THEY are moving in. That logic is ridiculous as is the marriage correlation logic.

I should remind Mr. Butler that if public polls were used to determine civil rights we would not have seen much progress since the 1960’s. The issue is equal civil rights for gays and lesbians and an end to heterosexual privileges regarding marriage. Mr. Butler also seems to imply that couples that cannot reproduce should not be allowed to marry.

Mr. Butler then launches into a mean-spirited, bigoted attack against gays and lesbians. Calling homosexuality a choice ignores evidence to the contrary. Saying equal rights for gays and lesbians is not a civil rights issue ignores the ongoing discrimination that exists.

What is so misguided about his attacks and the examples he uses, are that these are the same attacks used against African-Americans during the civil rights struggle. People were not against Blacks because of their skin color, they just used skin color to identify a person whose lifestyle they did not like.

To say that gays endanger family, children and the core of society is a statement used against all minorities at one time. These bigots were also afraid a lifestyle was being forced upon them. It is not a lifestyle; these are simply people deserving equality.

Playing word games with the term homophobic is a recent strategy by people who are tired of being called bigots. They think by dissecting the word they can avoid responsibility for their actions. Words change over time and homophobic has become the term for bigotry against gays, just as racism means bigotry against African-Americans, and Anti-Semitism for bigotry against Jews. All have broader meanings when dissected but that is irreverent.

I started this letter angry at the content of the original editorial and angry at Keith Butler. But looking at Mr. Butler’s words I see he has placed a sense of his own superiority in them. In essence the oppressed has become the oppressor, the abused has become the abuser. I abhor what he has put into words in his editorial, but I see he himself is to be pitied. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Just Married


My partner and I were married by a rabbi under reformed Judaism in October, 2003. Some people would not validate that fact because as a man I married another man. If you asked most people if their wedding was political they would look at you as if you were crazy. It is a celebration, a spiritual and social event" they say. Politics is the furthest thing from their minds. While Royal Oak debates whether or not we as Gays and Lesbians qualify for civil rights and others fight against legalizing our marriages, most of us are simply going on with our lives. So having a wedding becomes political simply because it is not legal in Michigan. My partner and I decided we want to deepen our commitment and publicly share our love for one another, as any other couple in love wants to do. We had been together six and one-half years and decided to ask for support from our families and friends to honor our deepening partnership. So we decided to have a formal religious wedding.

As two men we ran into some difficulties as well as benefits that were sometimes humorous and sometimes serious. First, what were we going to call it? Some Gays and Lesbians call it a commitment ceremony, others call it a union. Vermont only went as far as to grant civil unions and is the only state to recognize the legality of our partnerships, but only within that state. For us, the words wedding and marriage fit the most since that is what it was. We are a couple of traditional guys, although some would challenge that just because our romantic love interest is in another male. Nothing traditional about that some would say. I beg to differ. Other difficulties developed as both of us being male, we knew nothing about planning a wedding. Women tend to be the force behind weddings and talk to their girlfriends, sisters and mothers and they support each other in the planning. Magazines are focused on the bride, language revolves around the bride as do Bridal showers, bridal dances, and bridal party. So we recovered from that by hiring a party planner. He took care of all the details. Next we had to decide where to have it. Thankfully Reform Judaism recognizes Gay marriage and I am a Reform Jew. Our wonderful rabbi agreed to perform the ceremony.

We considered ourselves engaged and decided to publicly declare it in print as other couples do. So we sent in our picture and announcement to a publication only to have it all returned with the reply, we are not ready for this right now. This hurt us greatly but Mike and I had a wedding to plan, this didn't stop us.

The next step would be selecting Gay friendly and supportive photographers, videographers, florists, bands, etc. That is where the benefit of our party planner would come in. He would face the homophobia in the search. And sure enough he did. I told the planner to assure them that this was a traditional, conservative wedding and nothing unusual would occur. Many people equate Gay with sex and so their minds focus on that aspect only. He said he had the most problems with the bands and that their concerns were about seeing the emotion between two men. We realized this is not a Gay issue so much as a society we live in that does not honor or support affection between men in general. Even with limited choices we found an excellent band.

The next obstacle to overcome was the throwing of the bouquet and garter belt since there would not be any to throw. We decided to throw Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street since they were outed as a gay couple years ago by some organizations, (they take baths together and sleep in same room together, this is modeling homosexuality). We honor Bert and Ernie as a fine Gay couple.

Registering for our gifts and marriage contracts and various things required a few changes to people's forms. We laughed at how when it asked for names of bride and groom, whomever filled it out made the other partner the bride. Hopefully someday there will be choice for groom and groom. Although we had some fun with this it also was sad that there is not a place for us in language with regards to weddings.

Next was the bachelor party. One luxury of being two men is that we could be at each other's parties enjoying each other and our friends. One straight male friend of ours found that after being banned by his wife from bachelor parties in the past due to getting into trouble, that his wife had no problem for him coming to a Gay male bachelor party.

Everything else went smoothly and as planned. Our family and friends were all there and we felt loved and held. We want to be out and open about our love and commitment. We wanted a place at the table and took it ourselves. We will not wait for others to decide what they think we should be. Mike and I will continue to be activists for the right to marry and for civil rights for Gays and Lesbians. Why should we not have the same privilege others enjoy? When people see and witness our romantic love and commitment and stop focusing solely on our sexual behavior, I think then changes will be made.

Recognition Of Relationships Could Replace Criticism


All of us human beings long for contact and connection with one another. We adults yearn to be in lasting, loving relationships. Straight or gay, there’s no difference.

But gays and lesbians are told that our committed relationships are “forbidden” and “dirty,” that our same-gender unions are “bad” and “wrong.” We’re the only minority that mainstream society shames and criticizes for desiring and longing to be in committed relationships within our own culture. We want nothing more than what everyone else enjoys: to have our relationships acknowledged and recognized as valid.

All I’ve ever wanted are the exact same rights and privileges as my sister. She is legally married, wears her wedding band, talks openly about her husband, and brings him to all events and family gatherings—where he’s always invited. No one would even think to say, "Honey, we don't want to hear about your sex life, so take off that wedding band. Don't tell us about your husband. Don't bring him around to anything that puts us in contact with him. That just feels like you’re shoving your heterosexuality down our throats!"

Our culture struggles under the blanket assumption that everyone is heterosexual, like the one that everybody’s is a Christian. Every year, people wish me a “Merry Christmas, Joe," and "Happy Easter". Most times, if I inform them I’m Jewish, they politely say, "Oh, I apologize! Happy Hanukkah or “Happy Passover”. Never has anybody said, "Why do you need to tell me that? Now, all I can do is imagine you praying a yarmulke on your head in a tallis (the prayer cloth over your shoulders), praying in synagogue and I’m disgusted!" But if I tell them that they’ve mistakenly assumed I’m straight, they’ll say I’m “pushing this in people's faces” or “trying to make a statement.” Yet no one would ever accuse my sister or any other heterosexual of doing that.

The term for this attitude is heterosexism, the belief that heterosexuality is “natural” and therefore superior; that everybody is innately heterosexual and can be somehow cured or “reprogrammed” from being gay. It’s about rights and privileges granted to heterosexuals that are denied to lesbians and gays. It perpetuates the myth that gay and lesbian relationships are brief, being primarily sexual, rather than affectional in nature.

Gay men especially are regularly criticized for our sexuality. Mainstream society tells us we are promiscuous, that anonymous sex is all we want. But when we push for our monogamous relationships to be valued and legalized, we’re told we can’t have it and are wrong for wanting our committed unions to be officially recognized.. It seems that some straight people want it both ways, and that isn’t fair.

For any gay or lesbian, it’s easier to be single than partnered. Single, we can be less visibly part of a culture. Our identity can be kept more separate, even closeted. And society is marginally more comfortable with things that way: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

When partnered, however, we become instantly visible and must suddenly struggle over how much to share with family, friends, co-workers . . . . We’re asked whether we’ll be bringing a date to the upcoming bar mitzvah or wedding, or when we plan to get married, or who our "friend" is and why he shares our living quarters.

The decision to tell can often be painstaking. How to tackle it depends on one's comfort level, because reactions to our disclosures will vary. Human beings tend to project their own feelings onto other “different” cultures—including ours. If they feel uncomfortable themselves, they claim that we are trying to shock them for admitting who we are. If they’re preoccupied with our sexual behavior, they accuse us of being sexually preoccupied; when all we’re trying to do is be ourselves.

I’m always startled when anyone challenges me on my desire to be completely out and for telling people that I’m partnered with another man. Yes, I know that if I were silent or more hidden, they might be more comfortable. But I wouldn’t be!

Before Mike and I were married under Reform Judaism in October, 2000, we had the same desires as most other soon-to-e-married couples. We wanted a shower thrown for us before our wedding, to see our picture in The Jewish News announcing our engagement, and a wedding to publicly celebrate our love for each another. We wanted to be each other’s insurance beneficiary; as well as the Social Security benefits just as the survivor of a married couple is legally entitled to. Should either of us fall ill or suffer an accident, we wanted hospital visitation privileges and to be involved in making decisions. But we’re denied these rights, because men cannot be legally bound to each other anywhere in the United States of America.

None of this would be in question if we could legally marry. That doesn’t feel unreasonable, yet people tell me it is.

I do grow tired of being minimized down to a sexual being, for society’s inability to look past my being gay. Because we are all much more than that. Of course lesbians and gays have a human sex drive, as well as emotional needs like everybody else. Legally, we too should be granted the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s everyone's birthright to be loved, to be sexually and emotionally fulfilled, and to be able to embrace that desire without shame.

I have a strong emotional investment in making my partnership with Mike work. He is my family, my confidant and friend, and also my sexual partner—and has been since 1993. I want the world to know how proud I am, for all of that.

Would the small child you once were look up to the adult you have become?

Opinionated Talk Show Hostess Touches Off a Heated Controversy


If my mother were to call into Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio show, she would say: "Hello, Dr. Laura, I am my gay kid's mom." Dr. Laura first would tell my mother that her son's sexuality is a result of a "biological mistake" This is her belief and opinion, with no scientific evidence to support it. Then Dr. Laura would correct my mother by telling her that I am "homosexual, not gay." Dr. Laura has said that changing the term "changes how we perceive it, and how we can behave toward it." On that point, she's absolutely right. As a community, we do want to be called gay, not homosexual. We want to remove "sex" from the discussion so that people can see who we really are-and no more sexual than our heterosexual counterparts. (I prefer to speak of "romantic orientation," whether gay or straight.) Dr. Laura would also inform my mother that "homosexuality is no more than a deviant sexual behavior and not normal, and thus should be called what it is, sexual deviancy." She would make it clear to my mother that her son and other gays are not entitled to equal rights such as marriage or adopting newborns "because of their sexually deviant behavior, just like bestiality, pedophilia and sadomasochism." If my mother were to mention my relationship with my partner of six years, Dr. Laura would correct my mother and call him my "sex partner." As she has said before on her show and in her writings, Dr. Laura would tell my mother that it is a "sadness for men to have to have sex with men." She would tell my mother about "therapies that help a reasonable number of people successfully become heterosexual."

The American Psychological Association has stated that to suppress one's sexual orientation contributes to depression. In 1973, the association removed homosexuality as a disorder from its diagnostic lists. Dr. Laura would tell my mother that decision was "about politics, not science." I don't think that physical love between two consenting adults is a "sadness." Media-driven ministries such as Dr. Laura's radio show and others are stuck in old-school themes, which have been devalued and disproved by more recent research. People such as Dr. Laura are using shock value and exaggeration. She does not do her homework and feeds one-sided and erroneous information for her own agenda-and, of course, ratings. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) sent an alert to members about Dr. Laura's on-air remarks, out of concern that she is promoting intolerance and non-acceptance of gay Americans. When you view another person's sexuality as the result of "biological mistakes" and "developmental errors," you're less likely to treat that person with respect. That's why it's so gratifying to see positive gay role models on television. After years of being invisible, or the all-too-visible source of nightclub jokes, we are starting to be perceived as people. Better yet: as everyday people!

GLAAD pleaded with Paramount to control Schlessinger's on-air rhetoric, but their attempts to "out" Dr. Laura's homophobia weren't even slowing her down. Meanwhile, another gay group, the San-Francisco-based Horizons Foundation, launched a nationwide ad campaign to educate the public about the danger Schlessinger's anti-gay rhetoric poses to children. Finally, after seeing that Paramount was still moving forward with premiering her television show, a group of gay activists, public-relations executives, and media professionals teamed up to create StopDrLaura.com - both a web site and a coalition.

We stood up, said, "We are not going to take this," and were effective. Stopdrlaura.com received thousands of hits. The site became very well known and received lots of publicity. Stopdrlaura.com activists felt that since Paramount was going ahead, then the next step would be to target the advertisers of the show, pleading for people to ask them to withdraw their support. He posted companies' names, phone numbers, fax numbers and emails. Many advertisers were not prepared for the volume of complaints. Major companies, starting with Proctor and Gamble, Sears, and Kraft, pulled their advertising. With less ad money to keep it running, Dr. Laura's was shunted from its original prime weekday-morning location to early-morning and middle-of-the-night time slots. Ultimately the show was cancelled. Proof that protests do not convince, but profits do!

Today, on her radio talk show, Dr. Laura says virtually nothing about gay people. She has, however, done a foreward on a reparative therapy book which explains how to become an ex-gay and talks about how homosexuality is the result of flawed sexuality and sickness. So she is still out there committing her acts of homophobia.

Happily, history does repeat itself. Back in the 1970s, Anita Bryant (who didn't even boast a Ph.D.) was a spokesperson for Florida Orange Juice. Gay groups protested her, for the same kind of ignorant rhetoric. Thanks to her unwanted, wholly self-generated controversy, Florida Orange Juice canceled her contract.

Wanted: Meaningful Relationships


When I saw this saying embroidered on a pillow, I bought it to display in the office where I do my relationship workshops, because it reminded me of statements that clients and workshop participants have made to me over the years. They usually ask me why they cannot find Mr. or Ms. Right and why they keep having short, quick and unsatisfying relationships.

In reply, often I ask them questions like these:

  • Are you doing what you say you should do to find a relationship?
  • Does your lifestyle support and leave room for a long-term relationship?
  • Is your behavior and lifestyle in line with whatever agreements you’ve made with your partner?
  • Are you satisfied with your decision about how you are in your relationship?
  • Are you in charge of your decisions about your sexual acts, or are they in charge of you?

My clients frequently tell me how very depressed they are at not being in a relationship. They complain that other gay men want nothing but quick sexual hook-ups. Lesbians state that all other women are either “heterosexual” or “already in a relationship.” Even heterosexual men and women make similar comments, like, “All the good men are gay” or “All the good women are married.” Unconsciously, however, they often use these as excuses to end relationships abruptly and to have quick one-night stands. They protest that they really do want a relationship, and that being single, seeing others enjoying relationships makes them feel lonely and left out. Also, some clients are in relationships but having “meaningful” outside encounters, claiming they do so because their current relationship feels unsatisfying and lacks the intimacy they crave. Very often, they’ve made their relationship a unilaterally open one, without their partner’s knowledge or consent.

Other clients have all sorts of rationalizations for not entering into a committed relationship. If single, they hesitate to commit to the real work and self-examination that any solid relationship requires, and cannot be honest with themselves about that. For partnered individuals, the reasons are much the same, and often called “exits” from the relationship’s intimacy. For others, a “meaningful overnight relationship” is all they want. They feel shamed by society’s pressure to get married or at least in a committed dating relationship.

If they’re interested only in short-term dating, then as a therapist I try to help them accept this about themselves and be accountable for it. There’s nothing wrong with “meaningful overnight relationships” if, in fact, that’s what you want and are clear about it—both to yourself and your sequential partners. It’s less effective when you keep telling yourself that you want a full, committed relationship, but still keep going to the baths, meeting others at gay bars for one night stands, or conducting affairs with married men. This can signify a lot of things, many of which I’ll address in a moment.

Often I see clients who compulsively act out quick, short, problematic relationships—either romantic, sexual or both. They are often troubled by this, for reasons other than brevity. which is what brings them into therapy. Others have managed to convince themselves they do want to behave this way; that it’s what they really want. On further investigation, however, we find that actually, they’ve adapted to their compulsive, impulsive needs rather than exploring them and gaining control over them. As with other forms of addiction, their needs are in control of them.

When I first heard about sex and love being an addiction—and a very common factor in “overnight” relationships—I just laughed. How absurd that sounded! How could these two things, both so sacred and core to who we are, constitute an addiction? But after seeing many of these clients, I quickly learned that in fact, it wasn’t sex or love they were addicted to, but internal chemicals. The “rush” of attraction and arousal made them feel better and provided an intoxicating, addictive high. They compulsively sought relief from loneliness, isolation, and early childhood trauma like abuse, neglect and physical and sexual abuse. In fact, sex and love addiction isn’t even about sex or love, but is far removed from either one.

Sexual Addiction is a disguised form of some sort of early childhood trauma. (For more on this topic click on http://www.joekort.com/articles18.htm) Ironically, sexual addiction’s whole purpose is the unconscious attempt to keep intimacy at a distance. So overnight relationships are all that can be —or want to be—accomplished. Most of the acting out is actually just a higher form of masturbation. One client told me that for him, sex is like “theater.” He invites strangers into his “play” and has them “act out” their parts through role play so he can have an orgasm. These are not intimate, reciprocal relationships at all, just a solo act with others playing roles with the sex addict as audience.

When we experience romantic love, the main internal chemical called phenylethalimine (or PEA for short) is mainly activated. Strong evidence suggests that PEA and thus, sexual arousal are highly induced by the presence of fear, risk and danger. Its molecular structure is similar to amphetamine. In our bodies, it is naturally strongest when first released and we are in the presence of our object(s) of desire—whoever or whatever that may be. In other words, it’s PEA, adrenaline, and other internal chemicals like endorphins that people become addicted to, and not sex.

Love addiction is caused by much the same internal chemicals. But the high is different, though, in that the person is addicted to the feeling and experience of being “in love with love.” This, the honeymoon period of relationships, lasts only from between six and 18 months. Its only long-term purpose is to bond two people together. Known as romantic love, this is the first of love’s three stages. (For more on this topic, click on http://www.joekort.com/articles03.htm) If someone is addicted to romantic love and the feeling wears off (as it’s supposed to do), he or she ends the relationship and goes on to a new one. They never do the “work” that any intimate long-term relationship requires.

I help my clients decide whether they want short-term or long-term relationships. If you’re interested only in fun and having pleasant, affectionate experiences, then it’s fine to decide to be in relationships for the short run and to move on when they’re no longer exciting. However, it’s important to be honest about what you’re doing with yourself and your dating partner du jour. Does each of you understand that when the relationship is no longer fun and has moved into a more serious mode, you want to end the relationship—pleasantly? Many decide to do this. There’s honestly nothing wrong with it, as long as everyone involved behaves with integrity, knows it, and consents to it.

Many are torn between wanting only this transitory thrill but also the satisfactions of a deepening, long-term relationship. Usually, however, you cannot have both. Longevity involves conflict and recognizing differences, along with the fun. Only at the beginning are relationships totally enjoyable, with all the conflict and irritations minimal to none.

Especially after they’ve been together for a while, many couples decide to be non-monogamous and agree to open their relationship to include others. In fact, studies show that 75% of gay male couples are non-monogamous after passing their five-year mark. You can read more about this in David Nimmons’s book, The Soul Beneath the Skin. Overall, the research into non-monogamy among gay couples is positive, because a sharp distinction exists between emotional and sexual fidelity. Some couples decide to have three-ways only; some decide to play separately from each other, while others mix it up.

All in all, with any of these “meaningful overnight relationships,” problems arise for couples if secrecy is involved, in that the contract between the partners is one thing and one or both partners were doing another. If any couple wants to be non-monogamous, making it work within their relationship requires a lot of dialogue, communication, and trust. Trust is broken if an agreed-upon contract changes and neither partner tells the other. That is cheating.

For singles and individuals, the problem with meaningful overnight relationships is that if compulsivity is involved, it can lead to addiction. It’s also problematic for an individual to say he wants a long-term relationship, while exhibiting behavior that contradicts that. Otherwise, it is up to you as an individual whether you want “meaningful overnight relationships” and how you want those relationships to run.

Intimacy with your partner—and yourself—requires honesty, communication, self-awareness and integrity. It demands that you say and be who you authentically are, to yourself and potential partners. It means being upfront, aware, conscious, open and communicative—all of which takes a lot of work. Most people are not up for it, because it is often painful, rife with conflict and overall, basically not a lot of fun. But the truth is, doing the painful work can be extremely satisfying, even fun. The two aren’t mutually exclusive; both can come together. It’s up to you to decide.

Are You What You Orgasm?


In the talks I give around the country, audiences often ask me about what being gay or straight really is. Most people believe that if you engage in—or even think about—certain homosexual sex acts, then that reveals your basic sexual orientation of being gay. Interestingly, the opposite is not true. If a gay or lesbian person thinks of or engages in heterosexual sex than that is either meaningless to many or a sign that “maybe they might be straight”.

This line of thinking is not necessarily true. In fact, it’s often not the case at all! You can fantasize about all kinds of activities that have everything, or very little, to do with your sexual orientation. You can engage in and even enjoy sexual acts that are the complete opposite to what your sexual orientation really is.

Confused? Many people are—even therapists! So let’s break this down.

Sexual Identity or Orientation

Sexual identity or Orientation refers to how someone self-identifies, and not how others may categorize him or her. Some self-identify as heterosexual (straight), gay or lesbian, homosexual (a person who is not “out” but enjoy homosexual sex), bi-attractional (bisexual) or questioning (bi-curious, or “If it feels good, no problem”). Sexual orientation is a constant and does not change. This can be confusing when someone comes out of the closet. It looks as though the person changes orientation when in fact they are coming out to who they always really were. They stop role-playing the wrong orientation. An example of the constancy of sexual orientation is a transsexual who undergoes gender reassignment surgery. I know of men who are heterosexual who feel they were born the wrong gender. They are sexually satisfied by females only. However they feel as though they are female themselves. They undergo a gender reassignment from male to female. They are now lesbians. It is not an episode of bewitched where now they are suddenly attract to men just because they are now female. This is a good example of how sexual orientation is constant.

Sexual Preferences

These are sexual acts, positions and fantasies that someone prefers to have when engaging in sexual activity. They can take it or leave it however they enjoy it when they do it. This is different than sexual orientation which is one’s identity and the object of passion for which they are compelled and naturally drawn to. Preferences can change over time and one can become more open or closed to certain sexual fantasies, behaviors and acts.

Sexual Behavior

Sexual Behavior is any behavior intended to pleasure oneself and/or one’s sexual partner. But the sexual behavior you engage in won’t necessarily reflect your orientation.

Sexual Fantasies

Sexual Fantasies are any thoughts and ideas that arouse you. They can be about virtually anything—not just body parts, but clothing and shoes, and even natural objects such as trees and mountains—especially if they remind you of a previous erotic encounter. Memories of music and of aromas (perfume) can have a similar aphrodisiac effect.

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to offer some sweeping generalizations by way of examples (though of course there are many exceptions to what I’m about to describe).

Heterosexual Men

Men who are heterosexual enjoy the company of women, romantically and sexually. They are aroused and feel compelled to have sex with woman. However, when they’re in prison or in the armed forces, where woman aren’t available, often they will find sexual gratification with other men. This doesn’t mean that they have switched to a gay or bisexual orientation, simply that they have no one but other men available for sexual release. Once these heterosexual men get released or discharged, back they go to their female objects of desire and usually, never again have sex with men.

Heterosexually Married Gay Men

Conversely, heterosexually married gay men have often fallen in love with their wives and been sexual with them. They’re often monogamous, performing sexually and enjoying orgasms with these women. They are sexually satisfied. These men are not bisexual; nor are they heterosexual men gone bad! They have either chosen—or felt compelled—to live heterosexually, but are innately gay. In some ways this is a personal prison imposed upon one’s self by not permitting their homosexuality to come out. Once divorced, they seek out other men exclusively for sexual gratification. and never do return to women.

Homosexual Imprinting

Homosexual Imprinting occurs when a boy or teenage male has been sexually abused by an older man. In my practice, I see many such cases. These men come in concerned or merely inquisitive about their homoerotic impulses and enjoyment, wanting to know whether this means they’re gay. Upon further evaluation, we discover that many of them were once abused sexually by male authority figures. Their psychosexual mapping now includes being sexual with other men.

Sex & Love Mapping

By mapping I mean that one’s love and sexual preference map are determined early on in childhood. It is how we learn how to love. We observe and absorb how others love or neglect or abuse us and that becomes our “love map” according to John Money, a pioneer in the field of sexology. This map becomes a template for what you seek out for pleasure in your adulthood. It

Early in childhood, we’re all imprinted with family beliefs and societal norms. Imprinting is the psychological process by which specific types of behavior are locked in, at an early stage of development. All of us, gay and straight alike, are conditioned to think, feel, and act the way our early childhood caretakers nurture and teach us.

The first important thing to consider is this doesn’t mean the client is gay or even bi. He is simply left with an imprint to re-enact his homosexual abuse and find “pleasure” in what was inflicted on him as a child. In reality, this isn’t pleasure at all, but trauma turned into orgasm. In the book, Male Victims of Same-Sex Abuse: Addressing Their Sexual Response by John M. Preble and A. Nicholas Groth they say it best:

“……this may actually reflect an effort at mastery of the traumatic event …..when he was being sexually victimized, someone else was in control of him sexually. During masturbation he is literally in control of himself sexually, and this may be a way in which he attempts to reclaim mastery over his own sexuality. Likewise, his participation in consensual sex reflects his choice and decision.”

The authors go on to say that “the fantasy thoughts are prompted by fear more than desire, by anxiety more than pleasure”. In other words, they become a way of managing the fear and anxiety.

Second, just because the sexual abuse was committed by a male doesn’t mean that it constituted homosexuality. When men sexually abuse girls, we don’t claim it’s about heterosexuality! We say it is simply sexual abuse—which involves power, violation and rape. Nothing about that is related to orientation.

Homoeroticism

Homoeroticism is the concept that men and women (who are basically heterosexual, of course) can enjoy some sexual activity with members of their own gender—if only vicariously. Surfing the Internet, you can find thousands of sites that offer tag lines like these:

“Do my wife while I watch”

“My husband is too small—I need to show him something bigger”

“My wife wants a female partner to join in with us”

“Voyeur to watch you and your spouse”

“Wife likes to watch me suck cock”

These preferences don’t necessarily imply sexual abuse or homosexual imprinting, nor do they necessarily involve bisexuality or homosexuality. There are simply men and women who, from time to time, become aroused by the same gender enjoy sexual activity with them.

Indeed, research has shown that some men and woman are even turned on by the idea of their spouses having an affair. For them, there is something homoerotic in the idea, just as in “swinging,” when couples enjoy bringing in others to be sexual with them, temporarily, without breaking up their committed relationship. They may not admit to homosexual desire however. In his book, Extramarital Affair, Herbert S. Strean writes that “couples who openly advocate extramarital affairs also derive a great deal of pleasure [because] they identify with their spouse and unconsciously have sex with [their] spouse’s lover.”

Stream says that also, “because this is unconscious process, most couples who sanction extramarital activity deny their homosexual involvement and justify their stance on the basis of free expression.”

There is so much more to say and be written about this topic. I hope that after reading this, you’ll be able to expand your mind about your own sexual fantasies and desires—and also, understand be aware that not everyone is “what they orgasm.”

“It’s a Beautiful GAY in the Neighborhood”


Just recently, I’ve become even more political. For years, people labeled me political because of my being “out” as a gay man. But primarily, my reasons for being so out have been psychological and social.

At the age of 25, I remember telling a female relative active in NOW, the National Organization for Women, that I didn’t believe in , much less care about, politics. She talked to me sternly about the importance of being more active—yelled at me, in fact, for not being more political.. “Joe,” she said, “you should be especially concerned, because as a gay person, politics affects your life tremendously.”

I didn’t validate much of what she said. (To be honest, I argued back and told her to mind her own business.) But more recently, this past year especially, I’ve come to understand the essential importance of being politically active and aware.

Like most of us, I don’t understand many things or relate to them until they happen to me personally—and/or to someone I care about. In 1993, when President Clinton spoke openly about gay issues and supporting gays in the military, I recall sobbing, being caught off guard. How touched I was that this patriarchal figure was validating us gay men. When my partner and I planned to marry and the local newspaper told us they wouldn’t run our photograph, I began to recognize the legal benefits that others who can marry can enjoy, but we couldn’t. GLBT politics started grabbing my attention. But I still wasn’t that involved.

In 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the Texas law banning private consensual sex between adults of the same sex, declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional. When the news broke, I joked to my partner sarcastically, “Great! Now we can all have anal and oral sex, and it’s not against the law.” He told me that wasn’t funny and explained how sodomy laws like this were used to keep gays and lesbians from marrying and adopting children.. That sobered me up right there!

Also in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cleared the way for lesbian and gay couples to marry in the state, stating that “government attorneys failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason” to deny us right to marry. And we read about Ontario, Canada—right across the river from us in Detroit—legalizing same-sex marriages. If you weren’t politically aware before, it was sure hard not to be now.

My approach has always been to examine the psychological impact of existing laws and policies that deny gays and lesbians their rights and privileges. So while I was peripherally aware of laws and politics, I wasn’t overly interested. But this last year, what most caught my attention was the purchase of the Human Rights Campaign building. In HRC’s invitation to contributors for donations, they showed the Family Research Council’s building and its funding, then spoke about how we gays and lesbians deserved a presence too. This prompted me to want to become involved.

Hearing talk about the importance of a GLBT presence in Washington, I was moved to tears. I began to realize how vital it is to have our voices heard and our faces seen in government. To me, that’s where it begins. If rights and privileges are granted us on an equal basis, much of the psychological trauma and damage we suffer will be diminished, even avoided. But correcting the symptoms, without the cause, of any psychological or medical disorder is marginal, at best. So far, my work as a psychotherapist, helping the GLBT community deal with the pain of being closeted and suppressed, was only treating the symptoms of a bigger problem. The causes are the legalities and politics contributing to prejudice against us and create the shame and anguish we’ve had to endure while growing up lesbian and gay.

So nowadays, I’m more political. This year, I co-chaired the HRC dinner. From those involved, I learned a great deal. I met some very passionate activists, working hard to correct the “causes” of GLBT problems. As a psychotherapist, I now feel better equipped to help my clients in their struggle for quality lives as LGBT people.

I feel fortunate to be alive in a time of such sweeping changes. I never expected that I, as a gay male, might someday be able to legally marry the man I love, watch television shows reflecting my life and my people. It was like a dream to meet Governor Jennifer Granholm and see her be supportive of GLBT issues. I saw Governor Granholm earlier this year at a Triangle Event. The Triangle Foundation, (a Detroit based organization fighting hate crimes against Gays) honored a woman with an award. Said she, “When I told my family I was gay, I never dreamed that that would mean I would be rubbing elbows with mayors, governors and other wonderful activists.” Hearing her speak, I thought to myself, “Neither did I”.

And I’ll continue to do so by being involved and active, particularly during this election year. And I encourage all of you to do the same. Don’t wait until circumstances affect you personally. Recognize that they already do. This is going to be an important year and we need all the help we can get!

Gay Men and Sexual Addiction


In treating and helping sexually addicted gay men, we must understand how homophobic acts constitute covert cultural sexual abuse. Lacking this understanding, we can't heal what I believe contributes to the development and continuation of sexual addiction among gay men. For this article, I’ll argue that the claim that “being gay is nothing more than just a matter of sex” is covert cultural sexual abuse. And just as with sexual abuse survivors, as a result of this covert sexual abuse, the world can become overly sexualized for gay men. Over time, many of them grow to believe the homophobic assertion that gay equals sex, and thus become prime candidates for sexual addiction.

Heterosexism is defined as the assumption that everyone is (or should be) heterosexual; the belief that homosexuality is subordinate and that heterosexuality is superior, or somehow more “mature.” In “Healing from Cultural Victimization: Recovery from Shame due to Heterosexism,” Joseph H. Niesen, Ph.D., details the painful effects of sexual/physical abuse—and heterosexism, which he defines as “a form of cultural victimization that oppresses gay/lesbian/bisexual persons.” He states that this stymies individual growth and development, just as [in] individuals who have been sexually/physically abused.”

In fact, most of the literature on sexual addiction reports that a high percentage of sex addicts have been sexually abused as children. Various writers have reported different percentages, all of them high. In his book, Don't Call It Love, Patrick Carnes reports that an estimated 81% of sex addicts are victims of childhood sexual abuse. In a 1994 article in the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity Journal, Mark Schwartz, and William H. Masters, explore how the development of sexual addiction is fused with earlier sexual development in childhood, and examine various ways in which traumatizing sexual abuse may later promote compulsive sexual behaviors. “Deviant sexual arousal and compulsivity symptoms,” they state, result from “the influence of stigma and trauma to unfolding sexuality.” Writing about how deviant arousal manifests during adolescence, they see sexual-acting out as a survival mechanism, developed to cope with their “need to depend on other people [who] they fear can injure or destroy them.” The symptoms, they explain, “become functional in dealing with anxiety, depression, loneliness and myriad other emotions, and thereby become ‘both necessary and distressing.’

Overt sexual abuse involves actual touching; examples include inappropriate holding, kissing, sexual fondling, masturbation, oral sex and forced sexual activity. But sexual abuse and sexual addiction don’t necessarily involve physical contact. In Don't Call It Love, Carnes talks about forms of abuse in which there’s no touching of any kind, sexual or otherwise. He gives the example of a father becoming turned on while talking to his daughter about her developing breasts. The daughter, feeling violated, vainly tries to change the subject. Even though physical touching is never involved, Carnes still considers the father guilty of sexual abuse.

Covert sex does not involve physical touch; Carnes gives the examples of flirtations and suggestive language, propositioning, household voyeurism/exhibitionism, sexualizing language and preoccupation with sexual development. I believe the gay male community is the victim of indirect, covert abuse, and that some individuals develop sexual addiction as a result.

One definition of sexual abuse in general is when any person dominates and exploits another sexually—violating trust and the implicit promise of protection. Typically, someone who sees himself as “in control” uses his status to control, misuse, degrade, humiliate, or even hurt others—who, by inference, are always inferior. Society's judging gay men for our sex acts alone and even passing laws against same-sex attraction is covert abuse. A dominant perpetrator—uncle, stepfather, or half-bother who's familiar, trusted, and seemingly all-powerful—can easily lure a boy into a sexual relationship and force him to comply. Indeed, many studies confirm that in cases of rape, the basic motive is not sex, but power. The abuser's ideal target is a child who's still naive, lacking the “immune system” of emotional and intellectual experience that tells him when he's being violated—and when he should resist and say no!

Consider the gay boys and adolescents lured by heterosexist society into a sexual compliance—forced to role-play at being heterosexual. This parallels the sexual abuse of children. In Now That I Am Out, What Do I Do? Brian McNaught writes that “most gay people have been enormously, if not consciously, traumatized by the social pressure they felt to identify and behave as [. . .] heterosexual, even though such pressure is not classified as sexual abuse by experts in the field. Imagine how today’s society would respond if heterosexual 13- to 19-year-olds were forced to date someone of the same sex. What would the reaction be if they were expected to hold hands, slow dance, hug, kiss and say, ‘I love you’ to someone to whom they were not—and could not—be sexually attracted? The public would be outraged! Adult supervisors would be sent to prison. Youthful “perpetrators” would be expelled from school. Years of therapy would be prescribed for the innocent victims of such abuse. Volumes would be written about the long-term effect of such abhorrent socialization (as today we lament the ill-conceived efforts to turn left-handed people into right-handed ones). Yet, that’s part of the everyday life of gay teenagers. And there’s no comparable public concern, much less outcry, about the traumatizing effects on their sexuality.”

Many of my gay male clients express severe grief for what they were told, as children, about homosexuality at church or synagogue, in school, and in their families. Many report listening to ministers preach against homosexuality as an “abomination” and “evil.” Every day, gays and lesbians are daily bombarded by newspapers, TV, and religious zealots who believe homosexuality is an abomination. Imagine the trauma felt by gay boys or lesbian girls—lacking emotional and intellectual maturity, as all children do—when they see those they admire, in charge of their welfare, protesting against homosexuality; and realize that they're one of those very people these homophobic authority figures are talking about! This is covert sexual abuse, an assault aimed directly at one’s sexual orientation and sexuality.

Heterosexuals diagnosed as sexually addicted often have histories of overt and/or covert sexual abuse. They’ve been taught to believe that they are hopelessly flawed, that their affection is inappropriately sexualized. Confused about their sexuality, they come to believe that the world is unsafe and dangerous, and learn to keep sexual secrets. This is the same experience of those who grow up gay in our society, paralleling overt forms of sexual abuse and leading to the core beliefs which, Carne says, contribute to the development of sexual addiction: 1) I am basically bad and unworthy; 2) No one would love me if they really knew me 3) My needs are never going to be met if I have to rely on others; and 4) Sex is my most important need.

Unfortunately, as a result of their covert cultural sexual abuse, gay men are especially vulnerable to sexual addiction. Given this information, a therapist is better equipped to help more effectively with their recovery. It also helps gay men learn that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being gay; the problem is what heterosexist society has inflicted on them. By recognizing this, they—like the survivors of sexual abuse— can shed the victimization and empower themselves

Would the small child you once were look up to the adult you have become?

Don't make sweeping judgments based on ignorance


Heterosexual privilege. It is a true privilege to be heterosexual. As I read about the arguments against gay marriage I am reminded of the privileges I have lost as a Gay man. Heterosexuals do not have to worry about opening their papers to read about how they do not deserve rights for their "sexual behavior". Before I came out I was not reduced to simply what I did in the bedroom the night before. It is a heterosexual privilege to be able to get legally married. I lost that choice by claiming and speaking my true identity. Heterosexuals do not have to worry about getting fired or evicted simply for being Heterosexual. The only agenda people accused me of having before I came out was of being a hard working good person, getting an education and treating people right. Now I am told I have an agenda; that I want "special rights" for wanting equal protection from the law as everyone else enjoys. I am not entitled to equality any longer. That is a privilege only heterosexuals may enjoy. I am told I am risking an increase in taxpayer's money and that I threaten the sanctity of marriage. This all happened to me overnight.

It makes sense that if people think the only factor contributing to being Gay is sexual behavior, then wanting a right for that alone is controversial. We are much more than our sexual behavior as are our Heterosexual counterparts. If I never engaged in sexuality again for the rest of my life I would still be Gay. I am spiritually, romantically, psychologically, and emotionally attached and attracted to other men. For me, there is one man in particular. Does this mean I am not entitled to equal rights?

The agenda to me seems backward. There is an agenda to keep me from being my authentic self. If I dare speak the truth that I am Gay then my rights and privileges will be removed immediately. How can rational fair-minded people think this is fair? I believe it is due to ignorance from most heterosexuals who are not exposed or educated to our lives as Gays and Lesbians.

I invite non-Gay people to spend some time with Gays and Lesbians. Become acquainted with who we are and how we really live. Read the literature, which reflects the inner workings of our communities and our relationships. Learn the facts. Stop validating sound bites from the media and those individuals who are in judgment of us regarding their opinions and feelings. The way in which people treat us as Gays and Lesbians is most often based on feelings, opinions and judgment. Let's stick with the facts. The truth will set us all free.

Whatever Form It Takes, Intolerance Hurts


Anti-Semitism. Being Jewish, I knew of the concept growing up but never actually suffered from direct acts of it. I knew epithets like "Jew boy, "kike," and "Jew them down" existed but never had any of these words or phrases directed to me personally.

I was raised in a Detroit Suburb of Michigan in the 1970s when it was predominately Jewish. My mother wanted us to be raised in a nice Jewish neighborhood and to be surrounded by "sameness."

I worked at a grocery store, and every holiday season both Christmas and Chanukah decorations were displayed. It seemed equitable. I believed at the time that the whole world was like that.

Equal opportunity. We had a token "non-Jewish friend in my social circle, a guy who found it endearing to be part of the group. I had plenty of opportunities to see other Jewish role models. Even as Oak Park began to become integrated, I still had a lot of contact with many other Jewish people.

I was first faced with being a minority in college, where I was the only Jew in a new social group. There were no menorahs displayed during the Christmas/Chanukah season, only Christmas trees. Even so, people were sensitive to the fact that I was a minority and endearingly referred to me as the "token Jew."

My friends and acquaintances were careful about what they said about Jews and asked me a lot of questions.

For the first time, I felt different. I knew the difference between being in the minority and being in the majority. But I also knew it on a deeper, more secretive level.

When growing up, I heard names like "faggot," "sissy," "pansy," "queer," "momma's boy," and "homo." Not only did I hear these terms in reference to others, I was called these things throughout my life. I have not received the same respect for my minority status as a gay male as I have for being a Jewish male.

Although I knew the term for fear and hatred of Jews anti-Semitism, I did not know there was a parallel term for gays and lesbians: homophobia.

Homophobia is the fear, disgust and hatred of sexual love for members of one's own sex. It is a prejudice based on a personal belief that lesbians and gays are immoral, sick, sinful or inferior to heterosexuals.

Although I know some non Jewish people in society feel this way about Jews, I have never encountered this fear, disgust and hate as a Jew to the extent I have as a gay person.

I did not follow the typical male patterns of most boys growing up. I could not throw a ball, I liked to play house and I disliked all sports. I was told by the other boys my age (as well as adults) that I "acted like a girl" and must be gay. It just so happened that I was gay and was mortified that I had been exposed.

At least as a Jew I could have turned to my family, friends or school if I had experienced an anti-Semitic attack. But as a little gay boy, I had nowhere to turn. I was bullied, spit at, punched, called names, humiliated and threatened. The schools did nothing to protect me.

My sixth-grade gym teacher told my classmates that my best friend and I must be "fags" because we spent so much time together.

I have an uncle who teased and taunted me, calling me a "little sissy girl." He told me I would never grow up to be a man.

He was right in that I was a "Sissy" by definition. But why was that so unacceptable? My sister was a tomboy and no one made fun of her.

After hearing all these derogatory remarks about homosexuals, is it any wonder that no one wants to be associated with or be seen as a gay or lesbian? There is more support to hate gays and lesbians than there is to love, accept or tolerate us.

Unfortunately, an extreme form of hate also exists, and that is death. Acts of violence toward homosexuals are tolerated and overlooked in this society. Heterosexuals are affected by this too, sometimes just as severely.

Little boys like me who do not follow the typical male patterns are labeled gay, when in fact, they might not be. They get harassed often just as I was. Men are touch deprived by other men for fear of being seen as gay.

The murder of Scott Amedure by Jonathon Schmitz after the two appeared on a taping of the "Jenny Jones" show is a perfect example of how homophobia hurts and sometimes kills us all. Mr. Schmitz admitted to killing Mr. Amedure because he was concerned what family members and others would think as a result of his television appearance, that he was gay.

Mr. Schmitz reported feeling humiliated by having a member of his own gender reveal romantic interest in him. Why is that humiliating? Because we live in a society that perpetuates that idea.

And now the lives of those two men are ruined because of it. One is dead; the other, jailed for life. Both suffered.

As an adult male, I still do not enjoy sports of any kind. I affectionately touch other men and I still lovingly kiss my father on the lips when we greet each other. And I am gay.

I am every bit a man. I think however, that what people did to me was tragic. As a gay little boy and young man, I was not protected and felt very much alone.

While there are anti-Semitic and homophobic people in this world who might see me as twice cursed, I see myself as twice blessed.

I am proud to be a gay Jewish man.

Out of the closet and into the streets!


A while ago, a gay couple—I’ll call them Tony and Don—came to see me, because they were about to break up. Tony, an outgoing guy, was active in the gay community, and on various groups and political committees. He had many friends, most of them gay and lesbian and mostly (if not only) his—because Don wouldn’t attend gay events.

Don didn’t like “labels.” Adamant about not being an “in-your-face” gay man, he didn’t want to build a life around what he “did in the bedroom the night before.” He felt it was Tony, not him, who had a problem with their lack of mutual gay friends. To Don, being gay clearly meant sexual acts, nothing more. Declaring he was “more than that,” he felt no need to socialize in the gay community or even be around other GLBT people. Don wasn’t involved in the gay community at all, much less out at work, worrying that if “discovered and outed,” he’d lose his job as a teacher. So while Tony went to various events, Don wouldn’t join him. Predictably, Don resisted my suggestion that he try attending gay events, objecting that I was trying to convince him to “wave a Gay Pride flag.”

I do encourage clients to involve themselves in GLBT organizations, for the psychosocial benefit and for political ends. Often I see couples where one, like Tony—is out and involved, while the other, like Don, is either closeted or out to only a few, and not involved in the community. With this negative weight on their relationship, they go few places where others can see them as a couple. Consequently, their relationship is rarely validated. I see many partners nearly break up or grow apart, simply because either or both of them resist getting involved in the gay community in some way.

I liken being gay to being Jewish, African-American, or any other minority culture. Children of minorities usually grow up in neighborhoods with others of the same race or religion. Families can attend community centers and houses of worship to strengthen their ties and affirm their identity. From a very young age, individuals build a foundation to springboard they can use for later personal and social development. They share the secure feeling of being part of something larger than themselves, helping them feel proud of who they are. Ultimately, affirming one’s core identity increases self-esteem and leads to healthy relationships. Oprah cites the Supremes being televised in 1965 as contributing to her later success. She ran through the house screaming, “Colored people on TV!” Her family came to watch with her, proud to see three beautiful black women singing.

We gays and lesbians have to build similar foundations—starting in adulthood. GLBT children cannot watch “Will and Grace,” and shout, “Homosexuals on TV!” and receive their families’ support. Denying one’s core identity leads to poor relationships and ultimately, depression. In defending his “right” to keep himself isolated and suppressed, Don was on the verge of losing his partner. Tony, in turn, despaired increasingly about going to events alone—because Don worried about being discovered if he accompanied Tony to parties that weren’t even gay!

Ultimately, Don did decide to take the plunge and join Tony at a few gay events. Frightened and hypervigalent at first, he started to feel more comfortable in gay circles, feeling the power of groups and the reinforcement that gay is good. He found himself positively mirrored by other gay men. Partnered couples supported and honored his relationship with Tony, even giving him tips on what worked for them. His relationship with Tony improved and strengthened.

Discovering the power of being around others like him, Don obtained a sense of belonging. The goal of getting involved won’t necessarily make you into a political activist. Many people, including myself, do that, and for us, it works. For others, simply getting involved in the gay community is psychologically refreshing. Most other cultures and minorities nurture each other with that sense of belonging. Why not ours?

I plan to attend this year’s inauguration of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington D.C. Every other minority has had its own a building there, except us. Now we have one too, declaring right on the front that it’s a “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Building.”

I’m not going for political reasons alone, but to contribute to the empowering pride I take in my GLBT brother and sisters, which in turn deepens my relationships and raises my self-esteem.

I recommend that you get involved in some way with the gay community. If you are gay or lesbian then pick up a copy of your local gay newspaper or gay community center newsletter and see what is happening in your community and attend some event.

If you are someone who loves someone gay or a helping professional who is working with someone gay, I recommend that you subscribe to some newspaper and/or magazine or email newsletter and stay up to date on what is happening to gays and lesbians around the country. Know what is happening in the lives of your gay and lesbian loved ones.

©2005 by Joe Kort



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