I shredded so many old files tonight that my shredder is squeaking and smoking (for reals). It’s a weird feeling feeding the last several years’ worth of documents into the grinding jaws of destruction . . . there’s the bill … 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.
One of the primary conversations I’ve had with people after publishing my last blog post on the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling has been about the loss of a gay/lesbian community, or at least the appropriation and dilution of community. An acquaintance told me about attending the Seattle Pride Parade with her gay brother just last week.
“It was so corporate,” she said. “Even though the dykes on bikes still lead it off, and even though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence still march, something gets lost when the last half of the parade is comprised of Starbucks, Microsoft, Alaska Air, Amazon and other giant corporations.”
I haven’t been to but one pride parade in Seattle since it moved from Capitol Hill for that very reason. Pride is no longer just the gay and lesbian community coming together in solidarity and defiance, marching to our own drummer, and flying our freak flags for all to see. Now Pride encompasses anyone who wants to join in the party—and the gays know how to throw a good party—and my sense of community has been shattered. We’ve been co-opted by big business, and it seems everyone wants to wear the rainbow. Apparently these are the costs of acceptance.
Again, I realize as I type these words that they may be misconstrued as hostile at worst and ungrateful at best, but hear me out. I used to attend Pride with a chip on my shoulder and a swagger in my step. The day was about being brave, stepping out, risking discovery. Back in the day, before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, few of us advertised we were going to Pride. We joked about avoiding the cameras or ending up on the 5 o’clock news. How terrible, we thought, to be outed by Jean Enersen or Aaron Brown.
Pride was about letting our collective guard down, putting on our ass-less chaps and our leather vests or even simply our pink triangle or Act UP! t-shirts, holding our girlfriend’s hand and maybe even kissing on the sidewalk where anyone could see. For a whole day or a weekend we could just be ourselves. And on Monday morning, most of us bundled away the rainbow flags and nipple clamps for private use the rest of the year. When colleagues asked about our weekend, we shrugged and mumbled a few words about going out of town and enjoying a little street fair.
I came out in the mid-80s, when AIDS and anger defined the community, when “We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it!” was the rallying cry, when wearing my Names Project t-shirt seemed a very out and brave act. I remember one Pride weekend when I stopped by my parents’ house with a carload of lesbians on our way to the parade—somehow I thought my parents wouldn’t think twice about six women in mullets and jean shorts and combat boots. But, as my parents* pointed out later that week, they recognized the devil when they saw him.
Comedian Kate Clinton did a routine back then about being a stealth lesbian—Reagan was president and as a country we were spending (surprise) bazillions on defense (remember the SDI?)—lesbians were as good as the stealth bombers, Kate said, because we were invisible and low flying, undetectable in a patriarchal world, hidden even when we were in plain sight and powerful.
Some days I miss being a stealth lesbian.
The world doesn’t see what it isn’t aware of. And as long as gays and lesbians weren’t on the covers of Time and Newsweek (and identified as such), as long as celebrities like Ellen and Rosie weren’t out, no one noticed that they were lesbians. Honestly, once Newsweek did its lipstick lesbian cover in 1993, life as a stealth lesbian began its decline. These days it seems that no matter what friend I am out and about with, everyone (and by everyone, I mean wait staff, clerks, acquaintances) assumes we are a couple. Instead of dead people, everyone is seeing gay people, even when they aren’t.
Before I came out, I didn’t really know who else might be a lesbian. Oh sure, I had these mad and inexplicable feelings for Kate Jackson, my PE teachers, Kristi McNichol, and Jodie Foster. I knew something was up with Meredith Baxter Birney and Tatum O’Neal, but I didn’t have words for my feelings. (Even Tatum is only just now figuring things out herself.)
When I was in graduate school, some friends took me to my first lesbian concert. Cris Williamson and Tret Fure played at our little state college, and when I entered that concert hall, the energy electrified me—no kidding. The air crackled and snapped as I recognized woman after woman. Suddenly, biblically, the scales fell from my eyes, and I never saw the world in the same way again.
That night at the concert, I felt for the first time the rising inside me, the surge of recognition, camaraderie, an “us against the world” sense of belonging as if I’d been initiated into a secret society that was pulling off the greatest prank ever. I don’t know how else to describe that feeling, that way of being, that sense that I was getting away with something amazing in plain sight. The uninitiated couldn’t see us because they simply couldn’t imagine us.
And now they can. There’s no going back. And that’s the price we pay for progress. A little bit of loss for some big gains. I screamed like a giddy schoolgirl to see Abby Wambach kiss her wife on national television when the USA women won the World Cup yesterday. How amazing that baby lesbians can grow up with these positive images. How great that the next generation will be less compelled to hide their true selves. It truly does get better.
So, does it matter that Starbucks and Alaska Airlines and Boeing employees, gay and straight, are “encouraged” to march in the Pride Parade? Would I rather buy my coffee or my airline tickets from indifferent companies? Or is it okay to know that the corporations that want my lesbian money can and do imagine me and my people?
*My parents are now 100% supportive. They came around to the light many years ago. It took time and pain, but ultimately, love won out.
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.
Check out the new blog post up on my other site pamelahelberg.com: https://pamelahelberg.com/2013/08/06/daniel-fking-boone-lesbian-pioneer/