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Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues

The Counseling Center of Ball State University supports the beliefs and policy statements of the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association regarding homosexuality. In 1991, the American Psychological Association (APA) published the following policy statements regarding lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons:

"At its January 1975 meeting, the Council of Representative (the governing body of the American Psychological Association) adopted a statement of policy regarding homosexuals. . . ., adapted from a statement adopted by the Association of Gay Psychologists Caucus Meeting in. . . September, 1974. Further, Council voted that the Association's Statement of Policy regarding Equal Employment Opportunity be amended to include sexual orientation among the prohibited discriminations listed in the statement. Following is the Policy Statement regarding Discrimination against Homosexuals:

"1. The American Psychological Association supports the action taken on December 15, 1973, by the American Psychiatric Association, removing homosexuality from that Association's official list of mental disorders. The American Psychological Association therefore adopts the following resolution:

Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgement, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities: Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations."

An additional statement was published on January 26, 1990, by Bryant Welch, JD, Ph.D., Executive Director for Professional Practice with the APA.

"The research on homosexuality is very clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Study after study documents the mental health of gay men and lesbians. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, and social and vocational adaptiveness all show that gay men and lesbians function every bit as well as heterosexuals."

"Nor is homosexuality a matter of individual choice. Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. It is found in ten percent of the population, a figure which is surprisingly constant across cultures, irrespective of the different moral values and standards of a particular culture. Contrary to what some imply, the incidence of homosexuality in a population does not appear to change with new moral codes or social mores."

"Indeed these research findings suggest that efforts to 'repair' homosexual are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accoutrements."

"All targets of discrimination, be they blacks, women, handicapped, or religious sects, have a uniquely horrible dimension to their suffering. This is true for gay men and lesbians as well. Psychologically, sexuality and sexual orientation represent life forces which form the most sensitive bedrock of our being. They not only shape our attitudes and our passions, but they are so fundamental to our personality structure that they, in large part, determine our sense of personal cohesiveness and our level of comfort in the world. They are the driving force with which we love, work, and create."

"For patients (in psychotherapy), the societal assumption that homosexuality (is) sick and/or immoral create(s) an emotional, sensual, and spiritual prison where self-expression, love, and the deepest forms of human connectedness (are) stultified through anguishing guilt and self-loathing. For those of us in psychology who have had this kind of experience working with gay men and lesbians, the impact has been quite profound. For over two decades now, the American Psychological Association has advocated the elimination of discrimination against gay men and lesbians."

"Finally, if one thinks about the vast real problems confronting our society and attacking our family structure -- problems such as family violence, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, homelessness, and isolation, it becomes clear that individuals who are obsessed with how a minority of our citizens express love and sexuality have, indeed, established a most peculiar set of priorities, both for themselves and for others."

"Healthy and secure heterosexuals do not feel threatened by homosexuality. Healthy heterosexuals don't need to oppress homosexuals. Healthy heterosexuals don't need to 'repair' homosexuals."

"The real issue confronting our society today is not why people seek love and understanding as they do, but why some seem so unable to love and understand at all."

These statements mean that psychologists are instructed to view homosexuality as a natural variation in human sexuality, and to not view homosexuality, in and of itself, as a mental illness or mental disorder.

The Counseling Center of Ball State University agrees with, and supports, this philosophy, and would add bisexuality and transgender issues to the above statements.


Counseling and Mental Health Issues
As stated previously, both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have adopted policies stating that homosexuality per se is not a mental illness. Further, there is no prescribed or suggested "treatment" for changing or "curing" homosexuality. In fact the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have raised serious questions about the efficacy and ethics of so-called "conversion therapies" and have issued strong statements opposing such "reparative therapies. "Homosexuality and Bisexuality are not viewed by the psychological community  to be "pathological," "sick," or "immoral."

It is not unusual, however, for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to seek counseling or psychotherapy services. We are all members of a society that views homosexuality and bisexuality with disdain or, at the very least, pity. Discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people occurs daily in our society. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people need to talk about how discrimination and societal attitudes affect them. In addition, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people experience concerns such as depression, anxiety, and relationship problems exactly like heterosexual people do. You may want to seek counseling for any of these reasons.

Regardless of the concern, however, it is very important that, that you work with a counselor or psychotherapist who agrees with, supports, and will work with you from this an affirming perspective. It is certainly acceptable to ask your counselor questions regarding her or his views on homosexuality, whether or not she or he has worked with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people in the past, and/or what type of training she or he has regarding counseling gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. After all, you are the one seeking the counselor, and you may want to know some things about the person with whom you are working.

You may also wish to ask a gay, lesbian, or bisexual friend, or someone you trust, for a referral to an affirming and supportive counselor. This may give you a start in selecting an appropriate counselor.

The counselors and psychologists at the Ball State Counseling Center work from an affirming and supportive perspective. Each has received, or is receiving, specialized training on working appropriately with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. If you wish to make an appointment with a counselor, call 285-1736.

Being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (G/L/B)
According to studies conducted by the Alfred Kinsey Institute in the 1950's, approximately one in ten people is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Being gay means that you are emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. The term "gay" usually refers to gay men. "Lesbian" is the term typically used to describe woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. Being a bisexual man or woman means that you are attracted to both men and women, although perhaps to various degrees (you may have a stronger attraction to men or women).

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are capable of initiating and sustaining sexual and loving relationships with members of their own sex. Bisexual persons are also able to have loving relationships with opposite sex partners. These relationships are much like heterosexual relationships (relationships between men and women). Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people love each other, sometimes build homes and families together, sometimes break up, argue with each other, and develop loving sexual relationships. Except for the fact that the relationship consists of two men or two women, it is often difficult to tell the difference between heterosexual couples and gay and lesbian couples.

Because gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are not easily identified, and can easily hide their sexual orientation (unlike their race or gender), we often don't realize we know people who are homosexual or bisexual. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may be our friends, roommates or hall-mates, students or work colleagues, instructors, or siblings.

Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not mean that someone is emotionally or psychologically "sick" or "unhealthy." Often, due to society's negative view of homosexuality and bisexuality, people may have strong feelings or concerns about being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They may believe themselves to be "sick", or in need of psychological treatment in order to change who they are. They may feel that God, their family, or friends will reject them or not love them if they admit they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. These feelings and concerns are normal given the perspective that many people have toward homosexuality and bisexuality. Negative societal views, such as those we see on television or the movies, can greatly impact an individual's self-image. Many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, however, lead happy, fulfilling, and productive lives. They are content, satisfied, and proud of who they are as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. They find other people with whom to form loving, sometimes lasting, long- term relationships. They come to better understand this part of themselves.

There is a lot of information available regarding the meaning of homosexuality. See "For More Information" in this section for books or articles that may be of interest to you.

Why are people homosexual or bisexual?
No one knows exactly why people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, any more than we know why people are heterosexual. Many theories have been suggested as to why people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, including hormonal differences, genetic predispositions, family interactions, social and emotional factors, or early sexual experiences. None of these theories is, as yet, widely accepted. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that homosexuality and bisexuality are, at least in part, determined by genetic factors prior to birth. Research continues to be conducted in these areas.

Regardless of why people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, it is now clear that people do not "choose" to be homosexual or bisexual. Even if people do not have sexual experiences until they are adults, their sexual orientation is determined early in life. This means that whether a person is sexually abused as a child has no bearing on whether he or she will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. While some people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual have been sexually abused as children, there are also many heterosexual adults who were abused as children.

Similarly, it does not appear that sexual orientation can be changed or altered. Whether through psychotherapy, religious experiences, or other means, there is virtually no likelihood that one's sexual orientation can be permanently changed. While our sexual behavior may be quite variable, orientation is more stable. A heterosexual person can no more be "changed" to be homosexual than a gay or lesbian person can be "made" heterosexual. Psychotherapies or religious organizations that claim to change sexual orientation focus on changing sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can best be helped by accepting who they are, rather than trying to change who they are.

See "For More Information" in this section if you wish to know more about this topic. There are many books available covering what we know and don't know about the development of our sexuality, many of which are available in the library or local bookstores.

The "Coming Out" Process
"Coming Out" is the term used to describe the process experienced by gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons who come to accept and disclose to others their sexual orientation. It can take months, even years, for a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person to be comfortable telling others about herself or himself. We may know people for a long period of time before they are ready to disclose their sexual orientation to us. Similarly, it is often difficult for gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons to "come out" to their family members. They fear rejection, the loss of an important relationship, or being cut off from further contact with their family if they should disclose their orientation. Sometimes, sadly, this does occur when parents and family members are unable to accept a loved one's homosexuality or bisexuality. This reality makes it difficult for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to feel safe telling others about themselves.

Often, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people need support from friends and loved ones in order to feel comfortable "coming out". They need to know that they will not be rejected, judged, or put- down because of their sexual orientation. Only as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people become more comfortable with themselves, and realize that important people in their lives will be affirming and accepting of them, will they be able to come out. How slowly or quickly this happens is different for every individual.

Sometimes people undergo numerous changes in the process of "coming out." They develop new activities and interests, and make new friends. They may become more involved in gay, lesbian, and bisexual community activities or political events. They may express anger toward heterosexuals, societal oppression and discrimination. All these events and changes are typical of an individual involved in "coming out."

If you would like more information on the coming out process, see "For More Information" in this section. Listed there will be books and resources you may find helpful that will provide you with more detailed information.


Stages of Coming Out

Pre-Coming Out
During this first phase of the coming out process, students may be shocked by their feelings for someone of the same sex. They may have never entertained the idea of having romantic feelings for someone of the same sex, or those feelings were so threatening that they were immediately dismissed. In any case, a common reaction in this stage is to deny those feelings. It is also typical for students to become aware of negative images and stereotypes that they have of the gay/lesbian lifestyle. The challenge for persons in this stage is to acknowledge to themselves those feelings for persons of the same sex. This person needs patience and support, acceptance of those feelings, and understanding from others.

Coming Out
The student is beginning to accept her/his sexual identity. However, the person may still experience periods of depression, confusion, and a desire to change the feelings. Often times, the student struggles to reconcile feelings for others with feelings of fear and disgust. These latter feelings are a result of myths and negative stereotypes and concern over whether he/she will be rejected by others. The challenges for the person at this stage are: 1) to accept his/her feelings and begin dispelling the myths and stereotypes by obtaining information about being glbt and 2) to begin talking about those feelings with people that are safe and he/she trusts. Again, receiving support and acceptance from others will help.

Exploration
The students begin to seek out information about being glbt by reading books and magazines and talking with members of that community. Persons begin to feel comfortable making contact with members of the gay/lesbian community and informing some people that they are in the process of exploring their sexual identity. While in these social situations, however, they may feel awkward and confused. Thus, one challenge is for them to develop an understanding of the social rules and expectations of the gay/lesbian culture. They may also feel frustrated and depressed because of a tendency to see themselves only as a sexual object. So, another challenge is to begin expanding their notions of themselves to include, but not be limited to, their sexual identity, needs, and desires. Helping them to see that their desire to explore and experiment is a healthy and normal one can be a task of a friend/relative.

First Relationships
Students in this stage begin looking for more consistent and intimate relationships. These relationships may be very intense. Issues of trust and monogamy vs. non-monogamy are commonly experienced. The issue of being openly "out" vs. being "in the closet" may also be a point of conflict in these relationships. Students may look to their partner to alleviate the pain and confusion they experience around managing their identity. This may result in the belief that a relationship will solve all of their problems - inevitably, this belief leads to disappointment. The challenges students face in this stage are to define intimacy for themselves, develop realistic expectations of which needs their relationships can meet, and resolve difficulties trusting others. Friends and family can assist by helping the student to explore the above mentioned issues in a safe and supportive way.

Integration
Students in this stage appear comfortable with their sexual identity and experience less anxiety in various social situations. Their relationships tend to become more mature and other aspects (i.e., career) of their life become increasingly important. Some issues likely to be experienced by students in this phase involve family planning and managing the careers of both persons in the relationship. There may also be some subtle manifestations of internalized homophobia that needs to be confronted. The challenges of this stage involve continuing to confront stereotypes and inaccuracies and to deal with the various life issues as they present themselves.

The model presented above is meant to serve as a guide and should not be rigidly followed. Since we each develop at our own pace and in our own way, many students will find themselves working on issues that seem to comprise the Coming Out stage, but may still be working on issues common to the Pre-Coming Out stage. Also, this process can begin again if significant changes occur such as moving to a new town, transferring to a new college, and graduating and starting a new career..

*Adapted from Coleman, E. (1982). Developmental Stages of the Coming Out Process. Homosexuality and Psychotherapy, p. 31-43.


Having Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Friends and Family Members
It can be a disturbing or surprising experience when a friend or family member "comes out" to you and discloses his or her sexual orientation. You may feel sad for the person who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and the struggles they may have experienced in "coming out." You may be scared of what this person's sexual identity means to her or him, or to your relationship. You may be upset that the person didn't tell you sooner of their sexual orientation. You may be mad at them for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. You will likely have many questions you want to ask them. Most importantly, perhaps, you can feel thankful that this person has felt comfortable and courageous enough to disclose this important fact about herself or himself.

You may need some time to think about what this disclosure means for your relationship with this person. You may need to talk this over with them, or take time to be by yourself, away from this person, to think about the disclosure. Either of these choices is understandable and appropriate. Whatever you choose, it may be best to explain to your friend of family member what you need, so that she or he knows where you stand, and can help you deal with this new information.

Regardless of how you feel or what you think about homosexuality, find a way to be supportive of your friend or family member. She or he has taken a risk with you, and needs to hear from you. Even if all you can say is "I'm glad you could trust me with telling me you are gay", you have communicated and shown support and care for the other person.

If you find you want to ask questions of your friend or family member, this is certainly understandable. Ask your loved one whether she or he is willing to talk with you more about being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Let them know that it is important for you to better understand them, and that you have questions for yourself regarding her or his homosexuality or bisexuality.

You may feel that being homosexual or bisexual is wrong. If you have questions or concerns about this, please read "What does it mean to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual?" and "What causes homosexuality? Can homosexuality be changed?" in this section of our site. Even if you can't agree with or accept their sexuality, it may be important for you to find a way to continue your relationship with them. Perhaps you can accept that they are comfortable with who they are, deserve support for this aspect of their identity, and deserve to be happy and fulfilled in their relationships.

If you can accept your friend or family member's homosexuality or bisexuality, you may want to become an ally for them and the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. You will want to educate yourself on issues important to them, by reading gay related material such as books or magazines written by and for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Some of these resources are listed under "For More Information" in this section. You may want to attend some meetings of the Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Student Association at Ball State. See "Information for gay, lesbian, and bisexual student, staff, and faculty" in this section of our site, or call the SAFELine at 285-SAFE (285-7233). If you want to speak to a counselor about your concerns or questions, the Counseling Center may be able to help.

Meeting Other Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual People
If you think you may be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, it may be helpful to you to read the other sections in this menu item in order to give you some background regarding homosexuality and bisexuality.

Meeting other gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is an important part of accepting your sexual orientation. The Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Student Association (LBGSA) of Ball State meets weekly to provide you with an opportunity to meet other students, and discuss issues that are important to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. LBGSA meets every Sunday at 3 pm in Student Center Room 301. All students, regardless of sexual orientation, are invited.

If you would like to speak with another gay, lesbian, or bisexual student on a confidential basis, call the SAFELine at 285-SAFE (285-7233) Monday through Thursday, between 5 pm and 10 pm. The student associate who answers the phone will be able to talk with you about your concerns, feelings, and help answer questions. The SAFELine will also be able to provide you with other resources in the area.

Meeting other gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is sometimes difficult in a community such as Muncie. Indianapolis, being a larger metropolitan area, provides more opportunities, but may not be readily accessible. To find out what opportunities and events are available in the Indianapolis area, you may call The Hotline (in Indianapolis) at               (317) 639-5937        between 7 pm and 10 pm nightly. The Indianapolis Youth Group (IYG) and "Out and About Indiana" provide social events and activities for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

Coming Out to Family and Friends
An important part of self-acceptance is the experience of knowing that people close to you are supportive of who you are as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person. Still, it is frightening to think of disclosing your sexual orientation to family members or friends who may be rejecting, confused, or not understanding about your struggle to accept your homosexuality or bisexuality.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to come out. Each person's situation is different and unique. Some people's families are more accepting than expected, some much less accepting than expected.

There are several good books available for you and your family and friends. "Now That You Know" by Betty Fairchild & Nancy Hayward (1977, published by Harvest/HBJ) is written by two mothers of gay and lesbian children, and chronicals their struggles of acceptance and personal changes they encountered following their children's disclosure. Betty Fairchild writes about her reaction to her son Glenn disclosing his homosexuality.

    Everything inside me shrieked NO! and my mind raced idiotically. You can't be! . . . no grandchildren. . . awful!. . . can't be . . . what did I do wrong . . . NO! 
    "Well," I said, at last, "It's not the end of the world, honey." 
    But inside me, it was. 
    Glenn told me he was gay when he was a senior in high school. He was a wonderful young man, interested especially in music and drama. He was not dating - although Laura was a close friend - and like most mothers, I'd been hoping he would soon. But I never had an inkling that he might be gay; in those days I didn't even think in those terms. I'd never even know anyone who was gay. 
    Glenn and I talked for hours that Sunday as morning passed into afternoon. He said he'd known since junior high, and even before, but had never had a gay friend until recently when he and Ted, a friend at school, had discovered each other. 
    As we talked then and in later weeks, I felt like a sponge, soaking up everything Glenn had to say, anxious to know, and squeezing a few drops of comfort out of the vain hope that I might hear him say at last that it was "only a phase," that he was "OK now." 
    For weeks, perhaps months, I carried this Terrible Secret with the weight of sickness within me. All the dreadful things I'd heard, vague as they were, churned in my mind; my son was one of "those people." On the surface, life went on as usual, but I believed and felt that nothing would be the same. 
    Like most nongay people, I equated homosexuality with SEX, and I tortured myself with unpleasant thoughts when Glenn was out in the evenings. (I hadn't had the same worries when my daughters dated - although I might well have!) 
    So six months later, when Glenn left for college in the Southwest, I was relieved not to have to know where he was when, as it were, and could deal a little more rationally with the subject of homosexuality. But still, I had a lot of concerns and fears, and a lot of learning to do.

Each parent, family member, or friend will deal differently with your coming out, but the above story highlights many common concerns, especially for parents. Often, loved ones do not understand the full meaning of your coming out, and may need time and/or information from you. They may have misconceptions about what it means to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They may have fears or concerns about themselves, and their relationship with you. They may have difficulty incorporating this new information in their ideas or perceptions about you, particularly in light of religious beliefs.

Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward discuss the importance of communication between children and families following coming out:

    Whenever a parent or child will not listen or talk to the other, the flow of comfort and learning that would help them both is closed off. Coming to an understanding of our gay children is not something we parents can do by ourselves - nor is it something our children can do for us. What a family member must do is work it through together, with as much open communication as possible (listening as well as speaking) and with an honest expression of feelings, questions, and personal experience by both parent and child. 
    The people who respond well, who come through it all successfully (and from whom we continue to learn much ourselves), are those who, no matter how distressed initially, are willing to make an effort. Sometimes simply hearing that an open, positive viewpoint is possible can unfold the way to that view. 
    Finally, we have found that it is not only parents who need help. Gay people themselves want to understand more about how their parents feel and what they can do to help. So, although here as elsewhere we direct ourselves primarily to parents, we are really speaking to both parents and gay children - indeed, to the entire family as other members become involved in the learning process.

Open communication is also important with close friends to whom you come out. Family members and friends, if they are honest with themselves, will have questions about what it means for you to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and will want to know about your life. Sometimes, you will be the first person to have ever come out to your parents or family members (and some friends, too). Just as you had questions about being gay, lesbian, or bisexual when you were coming out to yourself, they will also have questions and concerns. You will likely need to have a lot of patience with your family or friends, and give them an opportunity to understand this new information about you.

Family members and friends are people we care about. Otherwise, you would never tell them this information about yourself. But, because you care about them, care about what they think and feel, they can also hurt your feelings by not being accepting or responding the way in which you wish they would. This can be very painful. Some family members or friends may never understand what it means for you to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, may not want to understand, and may in fact reject you because of your homosexuality or bisexuality. Unfortunately, this is a reality. If this does occur, it may be very important for you to have people close to you who are accepting of your sexuality, and who can support you. Get in touch with people who can be caring and supportive of your feelings of disappointment, rejection, and hurt.

Printed below are more selections from Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward's book "Now That you Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality." If you enjoy reading these selections, this book may be a helpful resource for you to provide to your parents or loved ones when you come out to them.

    "At the outset, perhaps our most important word of advice [to parents] is relax. It is not the end of the world; you gay child is not doomed to a life of pain and unhappiness, nor are you. Of course, this aspect of your child's life is something that needs to be talked through, learned about, and dealt with - as openly and comfortably as possible. Nothing is to be gained by hysterical reactions, anger, tension, or a wall of silence - and a great deal can be lost. The fact is that our gay children need our support, not our condemnation or avoidance of the issue." 
    "Since your gay child's primary anxiety is that she or he will be rejected, clearly you first response should be one of reassurance. It's vital to let Terri know that of course you still love her, to assure Ben that you care for him as much as ever - and that you will support them in whatever ways you can. And it's never too late to tell your child that he or she is loved. If you neglected to say this when you were first confronted with the news, you can do so now. And remember - a big hug is powerful two-way medicine!" 
    "Actually, there is no valid reason to stop enjoying your gay child as you do all your children; no need to suddenly see your son or daughter as someone "totally different" from the child you knew. We know (and often advise) that young people say to their parents: 'I'm the same person I was before I told you this; you just know one more thing about me." Think about it: your child has not "changed" in some terrible way, but has shared with you an essential part of himself or herself. If your love and attention are focused on your child, you can discover and enjoy what being gay means to that child." 
    "It is only fair to acknowledge that for a good many of us a relaxed feeling about our gay child is not easy to achieve immediately. Frequently subconscious barriers prevent us from viewing this aspect of our child's life rationally, as we would an unexpected choice of career or heterosexual mate." 
    "For most of our lives, the word homosexual has meant for us feelings of terror, revulsion, and fear of the unknown. And when our child suddenly applies that word to herself or himself, we are confronted with other deep-seated feelings, some of them about ourselves." 
    "Very likely we have an overwhelming sense of guilt or failure as parents. The question "Where did we go wrong?" is so common as to have become almost a cliché; even so, it is no less anguishing for each parent who is struck with the question. For many years psychologists (and society in general) have laid the burden of "blame" for all sorts of behavior, individual differences, and developments in children's lives on the shoulders of the parents. But here is what Dr. George Weinberg has written: 'Having a homosexual son or daughter in no way implies having failed as a parent. There are between twenty and thirty million parents of homosexuals in this country, many of whom have been unnecessarily demoralized by the propaganda that they are failures.'" 
    "Still, even though this environmental theory of personality development is beginning to lose favor, most of us grew up with it so deeply etched on our consciousness that we still assume it to be true. In fact, however, gayness is an early, apparently natural, and perhaps inevitable development in some children, and there is no demonstrable proof that we parents are responsible for it." 
    "So for now we encourage you to recall the ways you know yourself to have been - and to be - a good parent, some of which may be evidenced, as one mother says, by 'the good things you know about your gay child, the good things he's done, the respect and love for you he's had.' We might keep in mind that our children have paid us the triple compliment of love, trust, and faith by sharing this news with us; we can accept this compliment with justified confidence in ourselves as parents." 
    "We can also take comfort from the message that is frequently directed to our own children. As one young man reminds his fellow gays: 'Be patient! It will take your parents as long to adjust to your being gay as it took you, so don't expect miracles.' We have found that too grim a determination, perhaps laced with resentment at having to deal with this, will keep you from achieving an easy, relaxed attitude and enjoyment of your gay child." 
    "A further barrier to a receptive frame of mind arises when we concentrate on what seems lost forever - our hopes and dreams for that child. Most of us have built-in expectations for our children: a successful career, a loving mate, children (our grandchildren!), a beautiful home, an active social life, and a respected place in the community. But when our child says, 'I'm gay,' we may suddenly assume that none of these can ever be realized. The fact is that many of these things are still possible for the gay person who wants them. But we should also understand that our dreams are not necessarily our children's (gay or not) dreams; and we might hope our children will achieve what they most want in their lives, rather than fulfilling our expectations."

PFLAG
There are organizations which provide support to parents who have sons or daughters who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Parents, friends of lesbian and gay people, or PFLAG, is one of the more notable organizations. PFLAG has several chapters here in Indiana and nationally that meet on a regular basis to provide support and educational information to family and friends.

The national address is:
PFLAG
1012 14th Street, N.W., Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
              (202) 638-4200       

There are local chapters of PFLAG through the state of Indiana. To find the nearest chapter to you call PFLAG at the telephone number above.

What is homophobia?
In American culture's recent past, the issue of homosexuality is an area which has typically engendered strong attitudes. Attitudes toward homosexuality differ widely between cultures and among individuals within these different cultures. The intolerance of homosexuality has received considerable emphasis in the media recently. Prejudice against homosexuality has been referred to using numerous different labels: homoerotophobia, homosexphobia, homosexism, heterosexism, homonegativism, and homophobia. The latter label "homophobia", although not altogether correct in describing negative reactions to homosexuality, refers to any negative attitude toward homosexual behavior or toward individuals who subscribe to a same-sex sexual orientation. Technically, a phobia toward a particular object or situation is characterized by an excessive or unreasonable anxiety response when in the presence of the antagonistic object or situation. While this excessive fear may describe the reactions of certain individuals toward homosexuality, the more common "homophobic" reaction is characterized by hatred and negativity more than by fear.

There do seem to be some consistent personality characteristics of people who hold negative attitudes toward homosexuality. For example, Herek (1984) found that heterosexual individuals with negative attitudes toward homosexuals are less likely to have had personal contact with gay men or lesbians and are more likely to believe that their peers also have negative attitudes. It has also been determined that heterosexual males, in general, tend to express more hostile attitudes than heterosexual females, especially toward gay men.

What are the effects of homophobia?
The impact of homophobia on those individuals who subscribe to a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation are profound and widespread. The effect on the gay community can be seen both on the societal and the individual levels. Generally, lesbians and gay men have been perceived as a "nonethnic" minority. People who are recognized as lesbian or gay by the heterosexual majority are treated as a minority whether they wish to be or not. This occurs because they are distinct in some ways from the majority community in which they were raised and suffer the oppression inflicted on many minority groups. However, there is one way in which the comparison of lesbian and gay people to other oppressed minority groups fails: no one ever suggests that other minority groups have a choice to be other than who they are.

Because of the lack of anti-discrimination laws for homosexuals in most areas of the United States, these individuals have no protection against losing either their housing or employment due to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. At this time, twenty-six states have sodomy laws in effect with seven of these having homosexual-only sodomy laws. Maximum penalties in certain states can be as severe as life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Because of the recent resurgence of conservative ideals and the subsequent anti-gay backlash, physical violence against homosexuals ("gay-bashing") is on the rise. Other effects of homophobia are less insidious and pose less of an immediate threat to homosexuals but nonetheless have an impact on the lives of gay and lesbian individuals. Most of these effects result from the denial of privileges to homosexuals by a generally homophobic society. However, because these privileges are bestowed on the larger heterosexual population, the effects are not immediately thought of as problems by society at large. Because of societal homophobia, many gay and lesbian couples are denied the following rights: marriage, public recognition and support for an intimate relationship, sharing insurance policies at reduced rates, adopting children, and being affectionate in public without threat or punishment.

Gay and lesbian individuals also face the general stress of coming to terms with their own sexual identity in a society which frowns upon same-sex intimacy. Being told by others that they are not normal can have a profound impact on the self-concept of the gay or lesbian individual. Revealing a gay sexual orientation to one's parents, family, and friends is a stress- inducing situation due to societal sanctions based on homophobia. The threat of losing family and friends due to one's sexual orientation might be less of a problem if both individuals and society fostered a more accepting attitude toward gays and lesbians. The impact of homophobia on the gay or lesbian individual can be extremely debilitating. Decreased levels of self-esteem appear to be an overriding concern and can lead to further complications for the homosexual person. Self-destructive behaviors may result, with gay and lesbian individual resorting to suicidal behavior, alcoholism, or substance abuse. The gay or lesbian adolescent may be at particular risk for self- destructive behaviors as he/she struggles with sexual orientation issues. One of the more common reactions to homophobia is for the gay/lesbian individual to conform to society's views on acceptable sexual conduct and to present oneself to others as heterosexual. This "passing" is the major strategy used by any member of an oppressed group to cope with stigma, which can further damage the individual's self-esteem. Passing can be a constant source of stress since the individual often ends up leading a double life and can invest a large amount of energy in maintaining his/her facade.

Homophobic attitudes not only have an effect on gays/lesbians, but also may inhibit the individual who subscribes to such homophobic beliefs. For instance, individuals who have high levels of homophobia also tend to have traditional sex role beliefs. The homophobic person may be more restricted in her/his own sex role behaviors and be less likely to explore behaviors that fall outside of these traditional sex roles for fear of engaging in behaviors that are associated with a "deviant" group. Since homophobic individuals tend to be less accepting of others and are less likely to have had interactions with gay men or lesbians, they may deny themselves any chance of encountering a rich diversity of people.


Homophobic Attitudes: Where Are You?
In the clinical sense, homophobia is defined as an intense, irrational and sometimes overwhelming fear of same-sex relationships. In common usage, homophobia is the fear of intimate relationships with persons of the same sex or the fear of same-sex attraction feelings within oneself. Below are listed 4 negative/homophobic levels of attitude and 4 positve levels of attitude toward gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships/people. They were developed by Dr. Dorothy Riddle, a psychologist from Tucson, Arizona.

Homophobic Levels of Attitude

Repulsion
Homosexuality/bisexuality is seen as a "crime against nature." Non-heterosexuals are sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wocked, etc., and anything is justified to change them (e.g., prison, hospitalization, aversion behavior therapy including the use of electric shock).

Pity
Another term for this might be heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of becoming straight should be reinforced and those who seem to be born "that way" should be pitied, "the poor dears."

Tolerance
Homosexuality is just a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people "grow out of." Thus, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are less mature than straights and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses wtih a child. However, they should not be given positions of authority (because they are still working through adolescent behaviors).

Acceptance
Still implies there is something to accept, characterized by such statements as: "You are not gay to me; you're a person." "What you do in bed is your own business." "That's fine as long as you don't flaunt it." This perspective denies social and legal realities. Fifty-three percent of Americans believe homosexuality is not an "acceptable lifestyle," 51% believe it is a threat to family values, and anti-gay crimes increased by 31% between 1990-1991 in 5 major U.S. cities (Newsweek, 9/14/92). This perspective also ignores the pain of invisibility and stress of closet behavior. "Flaunt" usually means saying or doing something that makes people aware.

Positive Levels of Attitude

Support
An example of this attitude is the basic American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) approach. Work to safeguard the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Such people may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the climate and the irrational unfairness.

Admiration
Acknowledges that being gay/lesbian/bisexual in our society takes strength. Such people are genuinely willing to look at themselves and work on their own homophobic attitudes.

Appreciation
Values the diversity of people and sees gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as a valid part of that diversity. These people are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and in others.

Nurturance
Assume that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are indispensible in our society. They view such persons with genuine affection and delight and are willing to be advocates.

*Edited/updated by J. Hodnett, 1993


Developing an Anti-Heterosexist Perspective

  1. Assume that in any group gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are present. 
  2. Assume that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are whole, complex people. 
  3. Be supportive when your gay, lesbian, or bisexual friend, family member, or coworker is upset or angry about discriminatory treatment or sad about the break-up of a relationship with a partner or lover. 
  4. Use the terms "gay" or "lesbian" when you are referrig to persons who have same-gender sexual-affectional orientation. 
  5. Learn not to become upset or defensive or distracted from your anti-heterosexist work when people accuse you of being gay or lesbian because you have taken a stand against anti-gay and anti-lesbian prejudices. 
  6. Learn to take a stand in your department, with your family, friends, and colleagues when anti-gay or anti-lesbian comments or jokes are made. 
  7. Involve yourself in activities and programs that will allow you to learn more about lesbian and gay culture. 
  8. Rid yourself of the stereotypes of "male-female" roles in gay and lesbian relationships. 
  9. Do not assume that what is true for gay men is also true for lesbians. 
  10. Do not assume that gay men and lesbians prey on heterosexuals. 
  11. If a gay or lesbian person makes sexual overtures to you, say "no" directly if such overtures are inappropriate or unwanted. (Ask yourself the question: How would I respond in the same situation if he/she were of the opposite sex?) 
  12. Accept bisexuality as a viable life choice and not the posture of a confused person. 
  13. Understand that your privelege as a "straight" (i.e. heterosexual) person and the ways in which heterosexuality is rewarded in this culture at the expense of persons with different sexual orientations. 
  14. Respect a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person's right to come out or to remain in the closet. Do not identify people as lesbian, gay, or bisexual to others in any situation, even to other lesbian and gay people, unless you are certain the person wishes his/her identity known. Also do not speculate about people's sexual orientation in the work setting--such speculation is inappropriate and dangerous.

How do I find others with supportive attitudes?
Although our society currently holds somewhat ambivalent attitudes regarding homosexuality, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can and do find support. This support is available in a variety of contexts. Gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals often form their own supportive social networks, which may or may not include the individual's family of origin. This network may be made up of heterosexual, bisexual, or gay friends. Occasionally, gay people will refer to the other gay members of this supportive network as "family".

For those individuals living in or near large metropolitan areas, it is relatively easy to find gay-friendly organizations and services. One can find restaurants, bars, bookstores, and other services which openly serve a diverse clientele. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual organizations exist to fit every interest from the nature lover to the cycling enthusiast. Religious organizations and churches which serve a primarily gay and lesbian population can be found in numerous cities across the country. One of the largest of these is the Metropolitan Community Church.

Many cities now have gay/lesbian/bisexual hotlines which can be helpful in locating gay-friendly organizations and activities. Many bookstores carry gay publications and local gay newsletters or newspapers which may have calendars of events and locations of gay-friendly establishments.

At Ball State University, LBGSA runs three very important programs. First, Safe-On-Campus is a group of faculty and staff who has identified as an "ally" to the gay/lesbian/bisexual (GLB) community. these allys have attended a training sponsored by LBGSA on issues important to GLB people. They have to offer support and assistance to students, staff and faculty working through these issues. You will be able to identify a Safe-On-Campus member by the bright yellow "Safe-On-Campus" label on their office door.

Second, LBGSA conducts a panel program here at Ball State University. Panel are a group of GLB people who offer to share their comming out stories to students, faculty and staff, and answer questions about this process. These programs are often offered in classrooms and residence halls.

Legal Issues
The state of Indiana does not guarantee the rights of gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons. This means that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can lose their jobs or residences if they are discovered to be homosexual or bisexual. While this does not happen very often, cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation have been documented. Because of this, it is often difficult for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to know how safe it is to be honest with employers and land-owners.

Likewise, there is no legal way in the state of Indiana for a same-sex couple to register their relationship or get married. (Some churches or religious organizations may perform same-sex commitment ceremonies, but this ceremony does not legalize the relationship.) As a result, same-sex couples are not entitled to the rights of opposite-sex couples such as employment benefits for spouses, sick leave in order to take care of a spouse or spouse's child, or hospital visitation. They cannot file tax returns together, and often are denied adoption or parenting opportunities.

Because of this legal climate, same-sex couples are often denied things opposite-sex couples take for granted. Obtaining a mortgage or car loan is sometimes difficult, since two people of the same sex living together are not considered a couple and therefore both incomes may not be considered in determining the appropriateness of a loan. If one member of the couple is injured or requires medical treatment, his or her partner may not be allowed to make medical decisions because the relationship is not legalized. Same-sex couples must take additional and necessary steps to ensure that their relationship will be treated with dignity and validity.

Same-sex couples can obtain legal durable powers of attorney to protect their relationships. A durable power of attorney allows individuals to specify who will make medical, legal, and/or financial decisions for them if they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves. If a home or car is legally owned by one person, a will can specify who is to gain ownership if the individual dies. Couples can also choose to have joint ownership of bank accounts, homes, cars, or other items. This allows either member of the couple to make important decisions about legal or financial issues. So, even though same- sex relationships are not automatically protected under the law, gay men, lesbians, and bisexual persons in same-sex relationships can take steps to ensure that their relationship is recognized.

Same-sex consensual sexual activity between adults is not illegal in the state of Indiana. Homosexual sexual activity is still outlawed in 24 states.

Relationship Issues
Same-sex primary relationships take a variety of forms, and people in them have different relationship styles. All same-sex relationships do have two things in common, however, that differentiate them from opposite-sex relationships and that affect same-sex couples similarly. First, same-sex dyads are partnerships between two people of the same gender, and because of this, they differ from relationships between a man and a woman in consistent ways. Second, same-sex relationships are enmeshed within a nongay culture. No matter how separated from this culture two people may try to be, or how involved they are in the gay culture, there are some inevitable points of overlap. Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do not attempt to separate from the nongay culture completely, so their relationships are often affected by pressures from that culture.

The consequences of these two factors - same gender of dyad partners and the necessity for existing in a homophobic, heterosexist culture - affect many facets of gay primary relationships.

(Adapted from Counseling Lesbian Women and Gay Men: A life-issues approach by A. Elfin Moses and Robert O. Hawkins, Jr.)

Characteristics of Relationships
In our society, the traditional heterosexual marriage model is the only socially supported model for establishing and maintaining long-term sexual and affectional relationships. This model has never been really appropriate or functional for same- sex relationships. Although many same-sex couples still try to adapt the marriage model in one form or another, most now eschew relationships that completely conform to it in favor of relationships in which roles are not so rigidly formulated on the basis of gender role stereotypes.

Naturally, this movement away from the marriage pattern, along with the realities of same-gender relationships, makes for differences between gay and nongay partnerships. There are also differences between kinds of relationship characteristics typical of gay male and lesbian couples because of differences between genders and the ways men and women are socialized. These differences create different problems and raise different issues. In spite of these differences, however, there are some general relationship issues that are common to both gay and nongay couples.

(End adapted text)
(Adapted from Counseling Lesbian Women and Gay Men: A life-issues approach by A. Elfin Moses and Robert O. Hawkins, Jr.)

Same-sex relationships are similar to opposite-sex relationships in that they are both built on love, mutual caring, and trust, communication is an essential element to the continuing success of the relationship, and both must negotiate roles, rules, and expectations. One of the biggest differences between gay and nongay relationships, however, is that same-sex relationships lack roles models. Betty Berzon explains how and why this is an important factor in same-sex relationships in her book Positively Gay.

    Very few among us have been fortunate enough to have had homosexual parents who could model for us the ideal gay or lesbian relationship - caring, growing, fun, mutually supportive - in the context of a burgeoning gay culture. Most of us were stuck with mamas and papas of the heterosexual variety - good, bad, or indifferent as mates to each other and parents to us, but no help at all in fashioning our gay love life. 
    Lacking marriage manuals, parental guidance and models of conjugal bliss on film and television, we've had to wing it when it came to putting together workable love and life partnerships. Intimate relationships are a tricky business at best. Without the sanctions and supports of society's institutions (no positive messages at all), same-sex coupling presents a special challenge to the courage and ingenuity of lovers trying to build a life together. 
    At times, that challenge involves the same hassles that bewilder every couple trying to make a go of it. At other times, it involves bedevilments seemingly reserved only for gay lovers in an uptight and intransigent straight world. 
    Same-sex couples? Unnatural, unsanctionable, unconscionable, immoral, sick, and immature. Can't work. Won't last. Doesn't count. 
    Negative messages undermine, subvert and scare us into pale versions of our dream of love. sometimes we internalize the messages and they work against us from inside; "I'm immoral, I'm sick. I'm immature. My relationship can't work, won't last, doesn't count." We undermine our own efforts by echoing society's baseless pronouncements about us. Too often we allow these cliches to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The prophecy of doom comes true, in turn, reinforcing the cliches and making them appear as truth. We swallow these nontruths and the cycle is complete. 
    If we are ever going to bring order, reason and sense to our lives as gay people, we must learn to interrupt that cycle. We must learn to identify our own homophobic messages. We must become alert to their presence in our thinking, to the ways in which we incorporate them into our view of ourselves and other gay people. "It was so gay of him," I heard someone say recently when describing a piece of inconsiderate behavior. We must catch each other at this, work together to break the vicious cycle. Only then will we be able to really honor our deeply felt need to love and affiliate with persons of the same sex. Only then can we learn to believe in the rightness of gay love relationships because they are, for us, the morally correct, emotionally healthy and socially responsible ways to live our lives. 
    Many nongay people would argue with that statement. Some gay people would argue with it. Going against prevailing beliefs is always threatening, even when doing so is ultimately to our advantage.

Why Couple?
Let's start with the motivation to be in a coupled relationship in the first place. Why do it? After all, variety is the spice of life. Courtship is exciting. Freedom and independence feel good. So why couple up? The reasons are very much the same in the gay and nongay communities and they produce the same problems. Being alone has never been a valued condition in American society, being paired is, and the pressure to do so is almost as great in the gay world as in the nongay.

So, people seek coupling because:

  1. It's important to find a partner so others (and you) will know that you can do it.
  2. Searching is boring - all that small talk, game playing, insincerity, superficiality.
  3. Searching is risky. You can get set up, ripped off, done in by strangers who don't know or care about you.
  4. Searching is time consuming. I could be building, earning, learning, planting, painting, ...doing.
  5. Searching is nerve-wracking. You can be put down, found out, written off.
  6. Singles are socially out of it - unsafe to have around a carefully homogenized couples scene.
  7. Loneliness feels bad.

When the partner search is motivated by such pressures, chances are the selection process will be short and probably short-sighted. That's not a disaster, since the willingness to work on a relationship can overcome such a beginning. The real problem is that short-circuited partner selection too often results in the fallacy of "if only I had a partner, then . . ." turning into the follow of, "now that I have a partner, I will . . . ": be loved, involved, safe, using my time constructively, emotionally supported, socially sought after and lonely no more. And then you aren't. At least not enough, not often enough.

You have invested your partner with enormous, usually unwanted power over your life. Few of us hold up under such a burden. If it has to be because of me that you feel adequately loved, meaningfully engaged, safe from the cruelties and crudities of boors and evil-doers; if it because of me that you will be enabled to meet the intellectual and creative challenges of your own potential, feel comfortable in your dealings with the world, invited to the most desirable parties and freed of the pain of aloneness, well, I don't think I can handle all that responsibility. If all of this is happening in the underground of our relationship, we don't have a chance to deal with it, to become aware of it, to understand it, to express how we feel about it, to divest ourselves of the awful responsibilities of it. So, we have to find a way to make these implicit expectation you have of me explicit.

What we have to do is open up awareness of our own and our partner's expectations and learn to communicate about them. This is particularly important for gay and lesbian couples whose relationships have to be made strong from within, since the culture without contributes so little to their stability. So how do we get to our fantasies and illusions about each other? Here's one approach.

Personal Mythology
Each of us has a personal mythology. This is, we have certain uncritically held beliefs about life, the basis for which may or may not be ill-founded. (It doesn't matter.) These beliefs make up our view of the world. They shape our expectations. They guide us in our decisions. They influence the way we behave with other people. The myths themselves come from a multitude of sources: the folklore of our culture, ethnic group, family, or adopted subcultures. Our personal myths may come from books we've read, movies we've seen, stories we've heard, people we've known. They may be (and often are) amalgams of all these.

The myths we have about romantic love and conjugal relationships are very important influences on how we go about making these things happen in our lives. They often determine when we are successful and when we fail in our endeavors as lovers and partners. For that reason they are worth looking at. Here's a way to do that.

  1. On a piece of paper, write three uncritically held beliefs you've had about how it would be for you in a love relationship. The beliefs may be mainly about the relationship itself, about your partner or about the effect on your life the relationship would have.
  2. Rank order these three beliefs for their importance to you.
  3. Assess your present, or most recent, relationship (or partner) for the degree to which these beliefs are holding up. In those instances where the beliefs have not held up, think about the reasons. It may be useful to think about where these particular beliefs originated and how this influences their importance to you.

You may want to use this exercise to begin to sort out the contemporary person you are dealing with from the illusions and fantasies you've had about any partner you would have in a love relationship. Or, you may want to update your expectation, integrate them with what you know about life, your partner, or yourself.

One way to approach this is to think about the ways in which the myths you have about yourself and a partner have translated into unspoken agreements or "contracts" with regard to how the relationship is conducted. If I have always believed that I would be the strong, worldly-wise caretaker in a relationship, I will probably choose someone who needs the strong, worldly-wise caretaker for a partner. Or, at least, I will convince myself that this is what my partner needs. It may be only partially so. Or, the person with such needs may outgrow them. If I continue to operate in terms of my myth, without making room for my partner's growth, I am in trouble. This kind of trouble happens most often when two people in a relationship don't talk about what is happening between them, when their relationship is conducted mostly in terms of their "contracts."

We develop these contracts in order to short-cut discussion around issues of potential conflict. We all have a tendency to try to keep our relationships as safe and comfortable as possible. Sometimes we overdo it. For gay people there are particular dangers in heavily "contracted" arrangements. There are important areas of our relationships uncharted by traditional gender-role expectations. In the absence of such guidelines there is often a tendency to respond even more to our fantasies about how our partners should be. We need to keep communication open so that we are relating, as much as possible, to a real person in the partnership rather than an idealized image of a person.

Let's look at some of the issues that most often cause problems for gay and lesbian couples. Some of the following will have more relevance for couples who live together. Many of the issues overlap, but each is important enough to be looked at separately. If you are part of a gay or lesbian couple, I suggest you and your partner use the device below to get at your unspoken "contracts." Remember, a "contract" in this use is an arrangement that has been arrived at either by mutual consent or by default, and which determines how things are done in the partnership. Consider the questions posed for each item before you describe the contract as you see it, and as you would like to see it.

On a piece of paper, write out your responses to the items in the contract. Each partner should do this independently.

THE CONTRACT

ITEM I. PLANNING JOINT ACTIVITIES

Question: How are decisions made about social plans, trips, home improvement projects, mutual community activities? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM II. TIME SPENT WITH OTHER PEOPLE

Question: How are decisions made about how much time is spent with other people, and which people the time is spent with (each partner's family, gay or straight friends, business associates)? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM III. SEPARATENESS AND TOGETHERNESS

Question: How much are activities done independently versus activities done together? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM IV. DIVISION OF LABOR AT HOME

Question: How are decision made about who does what? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM V. FINANCES

Question: How are decisions made about how money is managed and how money is spent? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM VI. SEXUAL EXCLUSIVITY

Question: Is the partnership sexually exclusive? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM VII. DEALING WITH CONFLICT

Question: How is conflict usually dealt with (avoidance, fighting, discussion with negotiation)? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

ITEM VIII. PHYSICAL INTIMACY

Question: What is the usual pattern for physical intimacy in private, in public? 

    A. Right now I think the contract is: 
    B. I would like it to be:

When you have finished, compare your answers with your partner's. Where there are differences, discuss them. Say how it seems to you. Say what you object to. Say what you want to happen. Say what you'll settle for. Negotiate for yourself a "contract" that meets your needs, that feels fair to you, that makes you feel as if you've been heard and understood.

Don't be afraid to do this. All too often same- sex couples will close off discussion about what is happening between them because they fear the bond that holds them together is too fragile to withstand the confrontation. Usually just the opposite is true. In confronting your partner with your true needs and wishes, you are performing an act of trust in this person, an act that is binding in itself, because it acknowledges the importance of the alliance to you.

Every human relationship is flawed. A male friend who has been married and now lives with his male partner told me when he was married to his wife he could see the flaws in their relationship but then he'd think, "Oh, well, that's how it is with married couples. It's amusing. Look at all the situation comedies written around marital discord. It's okay. It happens to everyone." Now with his partner he reports, "It's frightening to fight. Discord might be signalling the end of the relationship." (Can't work. Won't last. Doesn't count. And we're dancing to their tune again!) But turning away from conflict is turning away from reality.

Denying anger, until it explodes unexpectedly at a later date, is bewildering and potentially very damaging to a relationship. Dealing with it as directly as possible, when it is happening, is strengthening though it may be painful and frightening to do so. Fighting is a necessity in a thriving relationship. Fighting fairly and to the finish is essential to the continuing growth of any partnership.

Unfinished fights are usually aborted because of fear of losing or fear of exposing hurt feelings or concern over letting go of one's emotions totally. Most of us have experienced all of these fears at one time or another. But unfinished fights leave the participants tense and anxious. If you feel that way when you stop fighting, your fight is probably unfinished. You should continue trying to work through to the finish - that is, until the real, underlying issues are confronted.

In a good fight, the partners are aware that they are risking themselves and they are willing to experience the discomfort that brings to resolve the conflict. In a good fight, the participants trust each other enough to be honest about their feelings, about their grievances and what they want to be different in the future. The good fight ends in negotiation, with both parties being clear about what is being asked for in terms of change. There is accommodation on both sides. Nobody loses. Everybody wins.

We must be willing to fight with each other to discharge the tensions that relationship building inevitably brings. We must be willing to fight in order to work through the control issues that are part of every partnership. The more openly these issues are dealt with, the better chance the partners have for a lively, satisfying, and enduring life together.

Much of what I have written about so far is applicable to both male and female couples, for that matter, to nongay as well as gay couples. There are some ways, however, in which liaisons between two women and between two men are unique. I believe these differences are, primarily, outcomes of the ways women and men are differently socialized in this society.

Effects of Socialization
Men are conditioned by the society to be strong, competitive, independent and sexually aggressive. Relationship skills are secondary to the ability to earn, win, achieve, make sexual conquests and show strength by not showing emotion. With regard to sex, men are taught to get all they can, that they should want it, that it is their right to have it.

The inclination to do what we are taught. We tend to pay particular attention to the socializing lessons we learned early in life because with those lessons we usually learned that doing what we've been taught makes us okay. Good marks, good student, good person. At some level, we all need to experience ourselves as included, competent and loved (though some people have learned to deny these needs as a means of surviving especially harsh psychological conditions in their early life). At any rate, the early lessons stick, the early conditioning persists.

Two men in a couple tend to put a lot of energy into showing who is superior. The competition may be over physical strength, sexual prowess, intelligence, accountability, worldliness, earning power, social popularity, or it may be to see who is the most daring, most dispassionate, most evil-doing, or who is craziest. The revealing theme is competition, a competition that serves the dual purpose of providing a source of personal validation and of avoiding the intensification of intimacy in the relationship.

Lesbians, on the other hand, socialized as women, are rewarded early for the development of relationship skills. Typically, little girls take care of their dolls and play at being mothers. As adolescents, they dream about home, family and spouse. They are trained and psychologically prepared to be nurturers. Little girls who grow up to be lesbians often do not deviate from their programming, aside from the gender of their partners. Much emphasis is put on nurturing in the couple relationship. Having and hanging onto a partner is usually critical to their sense of well-being.

While success at this makes for stability and continuity in one's everyday life, it does sometimes create an overdependency on the relationship for validation. Options for individual growth outside home and the partnership go unrecognized.

We're on Our Own
To end where I began, we gay people must accept the fact that we're on our own when it comes to developing relationship arrangements that work the best for us. We have to help ourselves. . . . I encourage the sharing of social and educational activities, the building of support networks to mutually enhance opportunities for growth in relationships.

I am pleased to see that a grass-roots couples movement has indeed taken hold. In cities, large and small, couples meet on a regular basis to share their lives. These groups are most often co-sexual, so gay men and lesbians are learning about, and learning from, each other's relationships. These affirming encounters go a long way toward building the tradition of success in gay and lesbian coupling that will eventually obviate the need to hide our relationships, disguise them, or ever again, doubt our right and our ability to love one another. 

    -- Written by Betty Berzon, Ph.D.

More on Lesbian and Gay Relationships
The models of intimate relationships in our society are heterosexual couples. Those are the couples we see on TV, read about in books, and discuss in advice columns. The members of these couples assume roles in relation to each other that are frequently based on sex roles. The gay or lesbian couple, composed of two members of the same gender, cannot resort to sex roles as a way of deciding how to handle issues in their couple. Gay men and lesbian women must be normatively creative; that is, they must create new norms that are not based on sex roles. Although this may be a liberating experience, it can also be difficult and lead to confusion and conflict between the members of the couple as they struggle to define a relationship pattern for themselves without readily available models.

How do lesbian couples differ from other types of couples?
Lesbian couples are different from heterosexual couples. Although lesbian couples have many of the same issues as their heterosexual counterparts, the issues and relationships with which they are struggling are often complicated by being lesbian in the dominant heterosexual culture. All lesbian couples are subject to heterosexism - homophobia, and sexism (the socialization of women into specific sex roles that are then devalued).

Lesbian couples are different from gay male couples. Although both the partners are of the same gender, homophobia, heterosexism, and sexism affect male and female couples differently. The partners in a lesbian couple are doubly devalued and oppressed: as women in a male-dominated, sexist society and as homosexuals in a heterosexually dominated, homophobic society. Furthermore, men and women are socialized differently, and therefore, gay male and lesbian couples often handle the stresses of living in a heterosexual culture in different gender-related ways.

Lesbian couples are different from each other. Although heterosexism, homophobia, and sexism affect the dynamics of all lesbian relationships, it is important to recognize that the impact is mediated by age, class, and race or ethnicity as well as by the unique dynamics of each individual couple.

What challenges will I face in a lesbian relationship?
Many lesbians may be afraid to commit themselves to a relationship, not only because of a general fear of making commitments, but also because of a more specific fear: that they are indeed gay. For those who have not fully accepted a lesbian identity, making a firm commitment to another woman cements the notion that they are actually adopting a lesbian lifestyle and must formulate a lesbian identity. This is no small step, particularly in a first same-sex love affair. In response to fear, implications of the relationship may be denied ("I'm not a lesbian, I just happen to be in love with this person and this person just happens to be a woman"), the viability of the relationship may not be believed, or survival of the relationship will not be sought against the obstacles that two women will encounter.

The decision not to disclose their lesbianism and the nature of their relationship can lead to awkward and inauthentic communication with family members. Many closeted lesbian women report that they feel a need to keep a distance from family members and feel isolated from meaningful contacts. What closeness exists is usually perceived as a pseudo-closeness because the lesbian is hiding a large part of her emotional life. Family members may pick up this distance and respond in kind, resulting in a sense of mutual isolation and withdrawal.

As can happen with any stress, anger and frustration tend to spill over into love relationships, and lovers become the easiest target for rage. In addition, misogyny and homophobia may be internalized by lesbians, and can have a devastating effect on self-esteem and identity as lesbians, thus creating problems in couple relationships.

In addition to dealing with both internal and external homophobia, lesbians must also cope with discrimination against women and with sexist attitudes. These pressures range from the more subtle and covert forms of antiwoman stereotypes to the more blatant acts of rape, economic discrimination and sexual objectification of women on the job, in the streets and in advertising. All these pressures tend to keep women in a second- class position in the society.

Most women have been taught from an early age that a woman needs a man - to be a real woman, to achieve safety in the world and to complete her identity. These messages sometimes linger long after lesbians have begun relating to women and they make the formation of a positive lesbian identity very difficult. In a society that labels a "real woman" by her attachment to a man, lesbians are by definition not "real women".

A woman's decision to buy a house or any major piece of property can be perceived as breaking the norms of female socialization. Even today, despite the advances of the Women's Movement, many women are expected to be economically dependent on men: They are expected to live in their father's home until they move into their husband's home. Although it is more common today than it was 20 years ago, many people perceive an unmarried woman's decision to own her own home as gender inappropriate.

What are the benefits of a lesbian relationship?
Breaking away from traditional notions of what women are or should be is simultaneously frightening and liberating - frightening because lesbians are moving into uncharted territory, liberating because they are breaking free of stereotypes and are now engaged in the most challenging and exciting process they can experience as women: generating new definitions of themselves and creating a woman-identified culture to support their new consciousness.

In a lesbian couple, both women can freely develop strength and competence. In addition, having been socialized as women, they have been trained to be interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, gentle and compassionate. These attributes can create a miraculously high-quality relationship when shared by two women who are matched in their capacities to share and to love.

Gay Male Relationships
When talking about gay male lifestyles, one must not ignore what is for many gay men a very crucial part of their social life, the search for a lover. The gay male culture sends some mixed messages regarding the desirability of being coupled, and these messages reflect the mix of signals sent out by the mainstream culture. On the one hand, the message is that everyone should be in a couple relationship. This is the only way to be mature and have a satisfying life. (Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best are the models here.) On the other hand, there is the message that being single equals freedom, fun, and a frolicking good time. (Club Med commercials are the model here.) How does one reconcile these seeming contradictions? An addition to this confusion is the stereotype that gay men are not capable of making relationships work. This can be quite confusing, especially for gay men who have internalized this prescription for failure. The clue to what most gay men do want in their lives is embedded in the lament that is heard from barstools to therapists' offices to the quiet corners of gay male conversation everywhere, "Why can't I find a lover?"

(text adapted from Positively Gay: New Approaches to Gay and Lesbian Life, edited by Betty Berzon)

How do I go about finding a potential partner?
For those who want to live in a coupled relationship there are many ways to get help with that mission. There are now a number of books written to assist in clarifying just what one might really want in a lover, what to look for, how to form and build successful relationships. A useful resource to finding compatible people in your city is John Preston's The Big Gay Book (1991) which lists everything from clubs for gay stamp collectors to gay bowling leagues to gay veterans groups. Local gay and lesbian publications, list times and places of meetings. Also, many cities have gay helplines that offer information about what is going on locally.

One of the main troubles men face in meeting other men today is not so much a lack of opportunity as a confusion as to why they are doing what they're doing. Is it the social pressure to be part of a couple that drives one's "husband hunting?" Or, is there really a need and a readiness for permanent partnership? It is important to recognize that one may not be emotionally ready yet for a close relationship, and that is all right. There is nothing wrong with being single and having fun until you feel quite clearly that you are ready to settle down.

For someone new to the gay male social world it is probably more important to make friends before beginning the search for a lover. There is a new ethic regarding this approach. As AIDS decimates friendship circles, forming and strengthening friendships becomes as crucial to emotional survival as finding a lover. Also, it is important to maintain ties with the larger gay and lesbian community because, with or without a lover, the community is for many gay men the wellspring of their self- esteem.

Is dating a "new thing" in the gay male culture?
While there has been much made of the "new dating" rules - that is, gay men spending time with one another before they begin a sexual relationship - it is important to point out that this is not a new phenomenon. For decades now gay men have been forming relationships before having sex. It's just that this is not the part of gay life that gets attention. What has changed however, is that now there are more social structures for doing this and, in a sense, more social permission. It's "in" to date, to talk, to go to the movies, to community events, to any of the multitude of gay venues that are designed to bring gay men together in a nonsexual way. Actually, when you come right down to it, the new rules are not too different from the old rules that have always applied to any two human beings forming a relationship: Honesty, politeness, consideration and a feeling of concern for your partner's well-being, happiness and pleasure. These rules apply whether you meet at a church social or at a bar.

How does the male sex role influence gay relationships?
There are certain needs that must be tended to in any relationship: basic physical requirements, such as food, clothing, and a place to live; and emotional needs, such as warmth, sex, and affection. In traditional heterosexual couples, these tasks have often been divided between the sexes: the wife was expected to nurture her husband and children, and put the needs of her family before her own; the husband solved problems involving manual dexterity and technical skill, earned a living, and initiated sex. Both roles include positive qualities, but we've been limited by the assignment of various human capacities to one sex or the other.

Although many gay men (and some heterosexual couples) reject these stereotypes of what it means to be "masculine" or "feminine", conditioning as males can still influence how gay men relate to one another. For example, some research indicates that men tend to disclose less about themselves than women do, and both sexes reveal more personal information to women than they do to men. Socialized to be analytical and critical, each man in a male couple may be so focused on his own independence that neither partner is oriented toward the emotional needs of their relationship. Unaccustomed to disclosing their feelings or listening to others, they may withdraw emotionally, or end up in competitive arguments over who's "right", rather than saying how they feel.

By understanding how they have been conditioned by these roles, gay males (and heterosexual males) can begin to balance traditional male abilities with skills associated with female sex roles: disclosing feelings, listening to one's partner, and developing an intuitive sense for the emotional needs of relationships.

Counseling and Mental Health Issues
As stated previously, both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have adopted policies stating that homosexuality per se is not a mental illness. Further, there is no prescribed or suggested "treatment" for changing or "curing" homosexuality. Homosexuality and Bisexuality are not viewed by the psychological community as a whole to be "pathological," "sick," or "immoral."

It is not unusual, however, for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to seek counseling or psychotherapy services. We are all members of a society that views homosexuality and bisexuality with disdain or, at the very least, pity. Discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people occurs daily in our society. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people need to talk about how discrimination and societal attitudes affect them. In addition, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people experience concerns such as depression, anxiety, and relationship problems exactly like heterosexual people do. You may want to seek counseling for any of these reasons.

Regardless of the concern, however, it is very important that, that you work with a counselor or psychotherapist who agrees with, supports, and will work with you from this an affirming perspective. It is certainly acceptable to ask your counselor questions regarding her or his views on homosexuality, whether or not she or he has worked with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people in the past, and/or what type of training she or he has regarding counseling gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. After all, you are the one seeking the counselor, and you may want to know some things about the person with whom you are working.

You may also wish to ask a gay, lesbian, or bisexual friend, or someone you trust, for a referral to an affirming and supportive counselor. This may give you a start in selecting an appropriate counselor.

The counselors and psychologists at the Ball State Counseling and Psychological Services Center work from an affirming and supportive perspective. Each has received, or is receiving, specialized training on working appropriately with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.


Myths and Facts about Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals

Myth
Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are abnormal, unnatural, and sick. They should be encouraged to seek a cure.

Fact
GLBs constitute a minority, but so do left-handed and blue-eyed persons. Yet those groups are considered quite normal, even though different from the majority. GLB behavior has been observed in every culture of the world and many species. Neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Psychological Association have classified same-sex orientation as an illness since the 1970s. No efforts by psychiatrists, psychologists, or religious professionals have achieved lasting success converting GLBs to heterosexuality. It appears no more possible for GLBs to change or be "cured" of their orientation than for heterosexuals. So called "Conversion Therapies" are not efficacious and have been condemned by the American Psychological Association.

Myth
GLBs are a menace to children and recruit them into their lifestyle.

Fact
GLBs do not abuse or molest children any more than do heterosexuals (although when they do, it generally receives more media attention). It is not possible to "recruit" a hetersoexual into a same-sex orientation. Sexual orientation appears to be determined at a very early age, probably before 3, and appears to be at least in part a result of genetic, neurological, and hormonal factors.

Myth
Gays and lesbians hate and/or are afraid of the other sex.

Fact
Most gays and lesbians get along as well with both sexes as do heterosexuals. Often, they report the absence of sexual tension is an advantage in forming cross-sex friendships.

Myth
GLBs are easy to spot because they are confused about their gender and try to become the other sex.

Fact
GLBs have no desire to change their gender. Persons who feel they were born in bodies of the wrong sex are transgendered persons. Persons who have surgically altered their sex are transsexuals. Persons who enjoy wearing clothing of the other sex are called transvestites. Transvestites appear to be heterosexual at least as often as they are gay or lesbian.

GLBs range widely in their physical appearance, style of dress, and choice of professions, just as do heterosexuals. Consider the diversity of dress, and choice of professions, just as do heterosexuals. Consider the diversity in this brief list of famous gays, lesbians, and bisexuals: actors Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, entertainer Liberace, actress Marlena Dietrich, author Willa Cather, scientist George Washington Carver, tennis pro Martina Navratilova, professional football players Jerry Smith and David Kopay, conqueror ALexander the Great, writer Yukio Mishima, billionaire CEO Barry Diller, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, and poet Walt Whitman. We are less aware of GLBs who do not conform to "sissy" and "dyke" stereotypes, because we have no way of identifying them. Yet we interact with them daily.

Myth
Removing laws against same-sex orientation would increase its frequency.

Fact
Laws and social pressure do not determine sexual orientation. If they did, there would be no GLBs. A more favorable social and legal climate would undoubtedly encourage more GLBs to "come out of the closet," but there would be no more of them than there ever were.

Myth
Gay men are promiscuous and deserve God's punishment of AIDS.

Fact
Men in general have more sexual partners than do women. Worldwide, 80% of persons who are HIV+ are heterosexual or children. In Europe and North America, HIV infection is increasing faster among non-gays. In Africa HIV and AIDS are at epidemic proportions. Lesbians continue to be one of the lowest risk groups for HIV infection.


For More Information
There are many resources available which can assist you in finding more information regarding the topics discussed in the section. Below are listed several references you can obtain. Materials held by the Ball State University Libraries are marked with and asterisk (*), and the call letters are listed following the reference. The book materials listed below can also be ordered by the Ball State University Bookstore.

American Psychological Association.(1991). American Psychological Association Policy Statements on Lesbian and Gay Issues. Washington, DC: Author.

*Berzon, B. (1992). Positively gay: New approaches to gay and lesbian life. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts. (HQ76.3/.U45/P68)

*Clark, D.H. (1979). Loving someone gay. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts. (HQ76.2/.U5/C57)

*Crew, L. (Ed.), (1978). The gay academic. Palm Springs, CA: ETC Publishers. (HQ76.5/G78)

*Duberman, M. (1991). Cures: A gay man's odyssey. New York: Plume. (HQ75.8/.D82/A3/1991)

*Fairchild, B., & Hayward, N. (1989). Now that you know: What every parent should know about homosexuality. New York: Harvest/HBJ. (HQ76.3/.U5/C57)

Fortunato, J.E. (1982). Embracing the exile: Healing journeys for gay christians. San Francisco: Harper.

Gibson, P. (1989). Gay male and lesbian youth suicide. In M. Feinleib, (Ed.), Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, Washington, DC, Department of Health and Human Services. (Vol. 3, pp. 110-142).

*Gonsiorek, J.C., & Weinrich, J.D. (1991). Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. (HQ76.3/.U5/H677/1991)

Hutchins, L., & Kaahumanu, L. (Eds.), (1991). Bi any other name: Bisexual people speak out. Boston, MA: Alyson.

*Isay, R. (1989). Being homosexual: Gay men and their development. New York: Strauss & Giroux. (RC558.3/.I72/1989)

*McWhirter, D.P. & Mattison, A.M. (1984), The male couple: How relationships develop. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. (HQ76.2/.U5/M38/1984)

*McNaught, B.K. (1988). On being gay: Thoughts on family, faith, and love. New York: St. Martin's Press. (HQ76.25/.M375/1988)

Moses, A.E., & Hawkins, R.O. Jr. (1982). Counseling lesbian women and gay men: A life-issues approach. St. Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby.

*Weinberg, G. (1972). Society and the healthy homosexual. New York: St. Martin's Press. (HQ76/.W38)

*Woods, R. (1988). Another kind of love: Homosexuality & spirituality. (3rd Ed.). Ft. Wayne, IN: Knoll Publishing. (HQ76.25/W66/1988)


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