Turns out that April is Counseling Awareness Month. Isn’t this just a serendipitous turn of events? I’m writing a blog a day, A to Z about my adventures as a graduate student in Mental Health Counseling and the American … Continue reading
I’m currently working on a group project for my Counseling Sexual Minorities class. We are looking at Attachment Theory as it applies to LGBTQ people and the clinical implications for counseling this population. For my part, and to help the cause along, I decided to take a look at the relationship between attachment styles (secure, fearful/avoidant, dismissive, and preoccupied), identity integration and lesbian shame.
Attachment theory suggests that how well our primary caregivers met our needs as infants and children determines how we relate in relationships later in life. (For a more complete discussion, check out this site).
The Cass Identity Model is one of the primary ways of evaluating how well gays and lesbians have integrated their sexual orientation into their lives. It has six stages, beginning with Identity Confusion (am I a lesbian?) and ending with Identity Synthesis (I am a lesbian and I am out in all areas of my life). (For a more complete discussion on the Cass Model, click here).
The Internalized Shame Scale is an assessment tool used to rate individual’s levels of internalized shame.
Turns out there is a correlation between a lesbian’s attachment style and the amount of shame she experiences. The two studies I looked at gathered data on about 500 lesbians and discovered that those lesbians with a secure attachment style had lower levels of shame (as measured on the Internalized Shame Scale) than those lesbians with other attachment styles (fearful, dismissive, and preoccupied).
The first study (published in 2003) looked at 380 women who self-identified as lesbians and as a level 4, 5, or 6 on the Cass Identity Integration Model. The results aren’t really that surprising. What’s surprising is that overall, lesbians scored 49.8 on the shame scale where 50 is a clinically significant result (i.e. pathological). As a comparison, heterosexual women average a score of 33.
It’s important to note that most infants and children who escape childhood with a secure attachment style tend to remain securely attached in other relationships as their lives go on. Not so with LGBTQ children. Even those who begin life securely attached run a high risk of shifting attachment styles later in life due to particularly severe breaks in important relationships: rejection by their family when they come out, for example. Rejection by peers, teachers, clergy, friends.
One paper I read for my presentation reported that 43% of LGBTQ youth experience some form of physical violence. In addition, a significant number get kicked out of their homes when they come out to their families. LGBTQ people are barraged daily with messages that it’s not okay to be LGBTQ. I just have to open my laptop and scan the headlines on any given morning to read that politicians want to strip me of my rights, that “christians” want to round us up and put us in camps, that self-appointed guardians of morality want to outlaw me, and that people like me are threatened with death just for being who we are.
Sure, we’re gaining rights, but we also face a backlash from those who believe we are less than human, less than deserving of equal rights. The Kim Davis’s, Antonin Scailias, Michelle Bachmans, Ann Coulters, Ted Cruzs, Marco Rubios of this world. We have the right to marry, for now. But how long will that last? Will a change in our country’s administration threaten my rights again? Will I ever be able to relax or must I remain vigilant?
The second study, published a year later looked at 100 lesbians who scored a 6 on the Cass scale and who had also spent at least three years in therapy. What this study showed was that these lesbians scored 43 on the shame scale and 58% were securely attached, compared to 49% in the previous study.
What are the clinical implications of reduced lesbian shame, more secure attachment styles, and higher rates of identity integration? Therapy may work to repair attachment by providing a new secure base, resulting in reduced internalized shame. This is good news.
Why am I interested? Funny you should ask. One of the amazing (and awful) aspects of this graduate program I am in, is that I am constantly analyzing myself, challenging my assumptions about myself and monitoring the way I am in the world. I can’t think of a single class I’ve taken that didn’t shove me right up into the shit, from the initial Family of Origin Issues class, where we looked at intergenerational patterns and all the ways we have unfinished business with the people in our lives to Human Development: Gender in which my mind was blown regarding the social constructs of gender roles and the false dichotomy of binary genders (i.e. boy/girl, male/female).
Every class has taught me something about myself: Ethics, Psychopathology, Psychodiagnostics, Group Therapy, and so it has been with this class, Counseling Sexual Minorities. I signed up for the class with a level of excitement and anticipation I’d not had for other classes because we were finally in my wheelhouse. I thought I knew a thing or two about this topic, at least from the client side of the couch. I wasn’t prepared.
In general, the class has been less than stellar, but even still, I wasn’t prepared for how digging into all the ways in which LGBTQ folks are discriminated against would impact me. I figured that I’ve been out of the closet for the past 40 years and had dealt with my internalized homophobia and had come to terms with my sexual orientation, but what I have realized so far this quarter is just how exhausted I am, how much I shut out on a daily basis in order to protect myself, and that there’s a simmering rage just below the surface that is eating away at me.
The other day I ran across a story on some county clerk in Texas who likened her fight against same sex marriage to the fight against Nazi Germany. Really? And the rhetoric amongst the GOP candidates who want to roll back what few legal protections LGBTQ folks have terrifies me. One candidate whose name shall not grace this blog has stated he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would repeal same sex marriage.
And that’s the thing that just kills me a little inside all the time—other people think they have a right to determine what is best for me simply based on whom I love. Everyone has an opinion and sometimes even a vote about what rights I should have. Just this morning there’s a story on the front page of my local paper about a debate in Charlotte, NC on LGBT protections. A debate. About my rights as a human.
As I grew up, instinctively knowing that there was something different about me, I tried hard to keep that difference under wraps, to not let my true self out for fear of rejection. But eventually the need to be true to myself overruled cultural mandates to fit in. Being authentic, regardless of sexual orientation, can be challenging for many of us, but I would posit that most people don’t spend most of their time with this level of anxiety.
As I came out over the years (coming out happens over and over and over again, by the way, not just once), relationships fell away. Some repaired, others did not. I remember writing to a friend from my high school days when I adopted my oldest daughter. My friend wrote back that I was an abomination, that my daughter deserved better, that I was going to hell.
Eventually, I learned to be more discriminating, oftentimes pushing people away and shutting others out who may not have rejected me. Better to protect my heart than to have it shattered over and over again. Even now when I know better, when I am pretty certain that the folks around me are open and accepting, I still armor myself against betrayal, though occasionally I let down my guard and show up as completely out, completely me, defenseless, and vulnerable because I feel safe, because the environment seems to exude acceptance and warrant trust. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I am very wrong.
I am tired. I want to lay down my shame. I want to live in a world where I am not afraid, where no one cares who I sleep with, where no one is threatened by my relationships, where no one wants to strip me of my dignity, humanity, my rights. I want to live in a world where no one gets to vote on my right to marry, work, buy a house, use a restroom, adopt children. I want to live in a world where who I am is not up for debate.
Originally posted on Pamela Helberg:
Many years ago, flummoxed by the joys and perils of raising two non-white children in our predominantly white culture, I wrote an essay expressing my doubts and fears, and (surprising to me now) my certainties…
I originally published this piece on my blog in December 2012. I thought it was worth re-posting, given that it’s that time of year again and my holiday anxiety is ramping up.
Christmas Eve always provokes anxiety in me. For all of the 1960s and well into the 70s, I was the sole granddaughter amongst many grandsons and as such the only target for girly gifts from my well-meaning Mema: dolls, dresses, and purses. While my cousins and younger brother gleefully tore through the wrapping paper to discover footballs, cowboy hats, cap pistols, and baseball gloves, I opened my gifts cautiously, always hopeful that my true wishes would be granted, that my grandmother would see me for the tomboy I was, not as the girly girl she wanted me to be. As the Barbies, ballet slippers, tea sets, and girly frou-frou piled up over the years, I knew better than to be expressively disappointed. Growing up in a conservative Christian household, I learned early that it is better to give than to receive, to be thankful for what I had, and to put others ahead of myself, so I pasted on a smile and gave my thanks with as much authenticity as I could muster.
As the years wore on and the family expanded, my girl cousins finally came along, gleeful recipients of all things sugar and spice and everything nice, and I could ignore my gifts and slip away to play with my boy cousins and their superior toys. They would share their bounty with me, and for many happy hours I wore the cowboy hat and shot the cap guns, threw the footballs around the basement. Still, an uneasiness always settled over me as the holidays drew near, and as much as I looked forward to Christmas Eve at Mema’s, a genuinely fun and spirited occasion where the alcohol flowed freely and everyone sang and acted out a verse in The Twelve Days of Christmas, where we all wore colored paper hats from the Christmas crackers, I dreaded going because I didn’t feel like I belonged.
A sense of Other became my Christmas cloak: fundamentalist Christian amongst fun loving Catholics; country bumpkin cousin among my sophisticated Seattle cousins; and something deeper that I sensed about myself, something I knew set me apart in ways I wouldn’t understand for many years.
So, no surprise then that those familiar pangs rushed back as I navigated our red late-model Volvo into Mema’s driveway for Christmas Eve in 1994. Even though I was 31 and had a family, the anxiety dogged me. I let out the breath I’d been holding during our hour and a half drive south from where I lived with my partner and our two daughters. I pulled on my wide-brimmed purple felt hat that matched my paisley purple dress and smiled through the rear view mirror at the girls, Anna four and a half, and Taylor six months old. They were ready to be sprung from their car seats, their holiday dresses hidden beneath their matching Christmas coats from Nordstrom. I squeezed Sweetie’s hand, both for comfort and for strength, and admired her stylish red wool coat and her fine black leather gloves. I allowed a small satisfaction and confidence to creep upon me. We looked so normal that no one could possibly know from first glance that we were lesbians with two children. I drew comfort from our appearance as we wrested the girls out of the car and arranged ourselves into presentability—straightening rumpled tights, buckling Mary Janes, wiping the spit up from Taylor’s chin and removing her bib, making sure Anna had a firm grasp on Blankie. We each carried a child and marched to the front door to ring the bell.
We knew better than to wait for someone to answer before letting ourselves in. The bell served only to announce our presence before we walked into the sounds and smells of Christmas tradition: cracked crab, singed spaghetti sauce, bourbon, scotch, laughter and conversation, the burble of children’s voices and laughter. Aunts and uncles yelled out greetings or raised their glasses to us as we entered. My mother came to coo over her granddaughters. We collected hugs and kisses as we waded deeper into the gathering, and because we were women, we all finally came to a stop in the kitchen.
“Merry Christmas!” My aunt Betsy said, “You guys look great. I love your dress Pam.”
“Where did you get that hat?” Mema sipped her vodka, the ice tinkling. “I love it!”
“Sweetie!” Uncle David stepped towards us, a glass of red wine in his hand. “Merry Christmas!” He gave her a sideways hug and a peck on the cheek. “How are the girls?”
“Hey David,” Sweetie matched his enthusiasm. “They are great. Thanks for asking! Your girls must be getting big, too!”
I began unbundling the girls, removing their coats, checking Taylor’s diapers for any obvious odors. They both looked amazing, their brown skin glowing against the red velvet dresses, their white tights gleaming, their Mary Janes shiny. Anna’s eyes took on the pensiveness of being in a strange situation, and Taylor’s eyes grew wide, her Surprise Baby look we called it. Since we’d only just adopted her in May, many of my relatives had yet to meet her.
“She’s so tiny! How old is she, again?”
“She’s so dark!”
“Well, yes, she’s African American,” I explained. “She’s just a bit over seven months old.”
“Anna, you’ve gotten so big!”
“Anna! How do you like being a big sister?”
Anna buries her face in the pleats of Sweetie’s red skirt.
“She’s still adjusting,” I say.
“Hey, Pamalamala!” My uncle Mike approaches, the funny guy in the family. “What can I get you to drink? You’re still drinking, right?” He nods at Taylor in my arms. “You’re not nursing are you?”
“Scotch on the rocks sounds fabulous,” I say, happy at that moment to be an adoptive parent, no breastfeeding required.
Anna peaks inquisitively from Sweetie’s skirt. “Pamalamala?” She laughs. “That’s funny Mommy!”
“That’s what I called myself when I was your age,” I explain. “I couldn’t say Pamela, so I said Pamalamala whenever someone wanted to know my name.”
Anna’s brown eyes light up, and some of the anxiety disappears. I want nothing more than for her to be free of the anxiety. Mike hands me my scotch and I relax, happy to be among family on this holiday, grateful for the acceptance from nearly everyone, and even thankful for the forbearance of those who might still disapprove. I am aware they might be masking their disdain with holiday cheer and copious amounts of alcohol. I don’t mind.
Before long, the girls and their cousins hear the prancing of reindeer feet on the roof and the ringing of sleigh bells. The little ones who are old enough to walk, rush to the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa. I hold Taylor as she wiggles and babbles excitedly and points to her big sister, eyes wide with anticipation.
“HO! HO! HO!” Santa opens the front door, a pillowcase bursting with presents slung over his shoulder. “I hear there are children here who have been very good this year!
“Sit over here, Santa,” one of my younger cousins points to a wing-backed chair between the fireplace and the lavishly decorated tree. Over the course of the next hour, each child under 18 sits on Santa’s lap and assures him they’ve been nice and not at all naughty during the year. Santa digs in his bag and presents each child with a present, and as they unwrap their gifts, they hold them up as cameras snap and flash. The adults grin conspiratorially at one another, remembering Christmases not that long ago when they did the same. I’ve chosen Anna and Taylor’s gifts carefully, the sting of disappointment still fresh on me.
Once the spaghetti and crab have been devoured, once the platters of cookies have been depleted, once the children have succumbed to the rush of sugar and the excitement of Santa and fallen asleep about the living room, once the adults have exchanged gifts, and had a final glass of holiday cheer, we begin to gather our newly acquired belongings, our coats, the diaper bag, Anna’s Blankie. We whisper our good-byes and carry our sleeping babies to the car and tuck them in to their car seats. After several more forays between house and car, more hugs and kisses, I put the Volvo in reverse and head north, letting out the breath I’d been holding the past several hours.
We had navigated through a family Christmas Eve, our little family of four breaking new ground, the four of us presenting as just another family in spite of our differences. No one else in my extended family had ventured quite this far outside of the norm: being a “married” lesbian mother of adopted multi-ethnic children broke some new family ground and gained not just tolerance, but acceptance. Still, my anxiety and self doubt colored my experience and I believed that the love and welcomes came because we worked so hard to be a normal family, we wore dresses and feminine shoes; we bought thoughtful and not inexpensive gifts; we were fortunate to have beautiful children and dressed them in dresses and lace. We drove a Volvo. I believed that acceptance required stringent adherence to heterosexual norms. I thought that if we were going to be a successful lesbian family, we were going to have to be as non-threatening and as normal as possible.
I was so busy hiding who I was, I didn’t even try to be myself. It didn’t occur to me that my family would love me anyway.
I have some things to say that are not going to be very popular, Dear Reader. Seems to be a trend lately, but I’ve got to be true to myself. Here’s the deal. Yesterday morning when my running buddy texted me asking if I’d seen the SCOTUS ruling yet, my heart sank a little. Not because I don’t believe we need equality. I totally believe we do. I’m just not sure marriage is the best means to that end.
So, while I’m happy that so many people I know are happy, I’ve not rainbowed my Facebook picture. I probably won’t. And here’s why: I’m a failure at gay marriage. As I type this blog, my same-sex marriage is dissolving its way through the Whatcom County Court system. My wife and I (for technically we still are married) were together 15 years. We got legally married in December 2013, and our marriage lasted about a year. We should be legally same-sex divorced sometime in August.
Obviously getting married didn’t doom us. Clearly things were not all rainbows and unicorns prior to our wedding. A relationship doesn’t fall apart suddenly. These things take time, but I believe that marriage contributed to our demise because we felt like we had to get married for a few reasons, not the least of which was so I could keep my health care benefits. And, because we were registered domestic partners here in Washington State before Washington granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, we would have been married by the state anyway by June 2014. That’s right. Either we had to dissolve our domestic partnership or the state would marry us. We chose to be active, to get married.
And then I had this feeling that since we finally could get married, we should, something akin to obligation. Since the straight folks had been so kind as to extend us this benefit, we would be rude to refuse such a gift. Right? After all, wasn’t this what we’d been asking for? What sort of ingrate wouldn’t jump at this offer?
Admittedly, I got excited picking out a ring, and when I proposed on Christmas Eve, 2012 in front of my mother and my daughters, I felt genuine happiness and love. I knew that my partner wanted to get married, and I did want to make her happy. Still, I had a nagging doubt that I couldn’t quiet or quell. And as that doubt grew, I pushed off my partner’s entreaties to set a date. I tried to express my feelings, tried to walk that line of “yes, I love you, but I’m not sure I want to get married.” My doubt became an issue between us.
Friday afternoon, my mood grew increasingly foul as I watched the internets morph into a giant rainbow. A huge black cloud descended over me and I tried to puzzle out why, exactly, I was so damn sad, mad, irritated, and grumpy. I knew my sadness went deeper than the fact that I’m getting divorced AT THE EXACT MOMENT that same sex marriage became the law of the land, though that does feel like a sufficient reason to not want to celebrate.
I tried to explain it to a friend. We had an errand to run together, and I warned her as she climbed into the Jeep that I was extremely grumpy. She asked if it was because I didn’t have someone with whom to celebrate this momentous occasion. No, I said. It’s deeper than that, though that is part of it.
I knew that in order to fully explain my feelings, I would probably end up crying. And I hate crying in front of people, but I needed to articulate what was roiling inside of me.
Here’s the deal, I said through my tears: When you grow up knowing you’re different, but not really understanding why, when you spend almost your entire life being told you’re wrong and bad and going to hell for the way you love, you develop a way of being in the world (or at least I did), protecting your heart, living a double life, watching what you say and to whom you say it. Just because the Supreme Court decides one day to validate same-sex marriage, I’m supposed to forget and forgive and move on? Suddenly it’s okay to be fully myself?
I didn’t grow up expecting to get married. My worldview, my view of myself, never included marriage. I had no fantasies about wedding dresses, being walked down the aisle and being (god forbid) given away. I always viewed marriage as a patriarchal institution, a way to own and control women, children, and property. Why, I always wondered, were the gays and lesbians fighting to become a part of such an institution?
I am not trying to be Debbie Downer or rain on anyone’s pride parade. Honest. I just think, like I always have, that marriage is an imperfect institution fraught with all sorts of pitfalls. Why we as a culture view it as the pinnacle of loving expression baffles me. Yes, legally it represents the only way many people can pass on property upon death, the only way some folks can get adequate health care, but it is laden with outsize expectations and a 50% failure rate. Is this something to which we should aspire?
So, there’s that.
But there’s also this.
Friday’s SCOTUS ruling means something critical to all of the gay and lesbian children who can now grow up knowing that their love is not aberrant, at least not in the eyes of the law. Do not underestimate the power this ruling will have on making this world a safer, friendlier place for future generations.
However, for those of us who grew up having to fight every step of the way to love openly, the ruling means something different. It means we have left a legacy, the benefits of which we may not get to fully enjoy. I, for one, cannot simply breathe a sigh of relief and lay down my guard because the Supreme Court finally handed down a 5-4 decision in my favor. I still have 52 years of prejudice, hatred, doubt, and fear to overcome. I’ve grown up in a world where, yes, Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, but the right to abortion continues to be attacked and threatened. I’ve grown up in a world where, yes, segregation was ruled illegal, where yes, interracial marriage has been made legal, where yes, voting rights have been granted to people of color and to women, but where, my friends, we still have to fight every fucking day to maintain these rights.
As another friend pointed out, Brown vs. the Board of Education declared segregation illegal in 1954, but schools were still not fully integrated until the 1970s (and really, are they integrated now?). The pictures of the National Guard escorting Ruby Bridges to school haunt me, and we can still see the ugly faces of discrimination protesting today.
We still live in a world where people WANT to fly the confederate flag, where governors allow it to fly over the state capitol, where lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the hatred and racism behind the assassination of nine Black churchgoers, where police routinely kill unarmed Black men. Gay teens are still bullied and hauled off to reparative therapy, trans* kids are killing themselves in droves and are being harassed in school.
We still have so much work to do. So, while yes, maybe same sex marriage being recognized as legal in all 50 states is a step in the right direction, the ruling doesn’t guarantee that anything will actually change.
So, yes, in many ways last week was a very good week. I can get health care insurance even as I lose my benefits in the course of my same-sex divorce. A new generation of young people can grow up knowing that their love is recognized as valid by the United States of America—unless they live in Texas.
Today I spent a lot of time in the car–two and a half hours to Seattle this morning. Only and hour and half (maybe less), to get home this afternoon. Lots of time to think. So, I did.
Tomorrow, The Little Woman and I are leaving for Phoenix (along, apparently, with all of the college kids in the whole universe–I did not realize it was going to be spring break when I booked these tickets back in the fall). We are going to see Cher at her first stop on the Dressed to Kill tour. I have loved Cher as long as I can remember–back to when I got my first record player in 6th grade and somehow go my hands on a “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” 45. Bliss.
I have wanted to see Cher forever. And now, thanks to my mindlessly flipping channels on the night when Dancing with the Stars had her on, we are going. I was minding my own business, just flip- flip- flippin, half an ear on the tv and half an eye on my Facebook feed when I heard Cher. I stopped flipping and watched–there she was, talking about her music, and then I watched the rest of the show and ALL the couples had to dance to a Cher tune. Further bliss. i watched until the very end. And then I looked up her tour dates and bought tickets to her concert because, jesus, she’s my mother’s age and how much longer could she possibly have?
As I drove this morning, I turned off the Cher CD that has been blasting in my Jeep since before Christmas. When I bought Cher tickets, we got two (not just one, but TWO) CDs of her latest album, Dressed to Kill. I started playing one right away but since this was a surprise for TLW, I couldn’t let her know or give her her copy. (Because she’d be asking me why in god’s name I’d buy it on CD and not iTunes and why TWO copies?).
This morning though, I muted Cher and I turned on the Sirius Radio Spa Jazz channel–lovely new age-ish, flowly, soothing, happy instrumentals mostly that really do a nice job of keeping my road rage in check. Thus soothed, I pondered love. I pondered erotic love. Familial love. Kid love–I don’t think there is a more enevloping love than the love we have for our kids. Agape love–which makes room for those we don’t want to sleep with and to whom we are not related. (Agape has been co-opted by the christians, but really, it means love for our fellow man–like I said, everyone who falls outside of the realm of family and lovers). It’s a pure love (if you can believe Wikipedia).
I love my kids. I love TLW. I love my parents. I love Cher. I love that Pat Benatar is opening for her! Life is full of love. I love school, I love the personal work I’m doing. I love the path my life is on. I love doing Haikus every morning. I love the writing I’m doing (even though most of it is for school), and the challenge of a blog every day (mostly). I love the written word and books and reading books. I love sharing what I read. Sharing my writing process.
I love that I have a writing community and people who support my work. People whose work I adore and applaud. I love the team of folks who care for my mind and my body (it takes a village these days, truly), and my spirit (yeah, this last one, it’s new and still a little awkward for me–it will be a blog of it’s own at some point). I love that I have this adventure in grad school ahead of me and and then some.
I feel very fortunate–for all of this because, really, it’s so much. So much. A whole lot of love. Thank you. Sincerely.
Check out the new blog post up on my other site pamelahelberg.com: https://pamelahelberg.com/2013/08/06/daniel-fking-boone-lesbian-pioneer/
Check it out over here, at my website,
Just a few thoughts on gender and clothing–the politics of what we wear (only not very political, mostly ruminating and wandering).
See you over there . . . and while you’re there, would you mind liking and following me on that site?
Thanks ever so much!