June 6, 2015

Hetero, homo, bi. Does it Really Matter?

The culture wars have truly shifted and homosexuality has found increasing acceptance in our country. A study long ago showed that attitudes toward homosexuality improved for individuals who knew someone personally who was homosexual. When gay men and women came out of the closet in greater numbers in the 1970’s many of us discovered that we did in fact know, admire and respect homosexual friends, relatives, and co-workers and that they weren’t really different than the rest of us.

The media played a big role as well. Will and Grace was a very successful and popular TV show and helped increase the comfort of middle America with the idea of homosexuality.How rapidly things have changed. When John Kerry lost the election for President in 2004, stopping gay marriage was a major factor for the electorate. Liberal president Bill Clinton could support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act was passed not too long ago. In a mere 11 years opinion has drastically changed such that 62% of the American public support marriage equality as a fundamental issue of civil rights. Movies and television shows such as Glee and Orange is the New Black have helped increase the comfort of Americans with homosexuality. Openly gay professionals in sports, politics and the media have shown us that homosexuals are no different from other people.

The homosexual bogeymen of the past helped to stir up fear and prejudice. Homosexuals were described as dangerous, deviant, child molesters, rapists, seducers. As a more open media system has shown us, no one group has a lock or an increased probability on bad or evil behavior.

Heterosexuals rape, abuse, engage in bizarre consensual sexual behavior, seduce and philander. Notorious public scandals in the Catholic church and among prominent political figures helped us to see that a range of behavior from truly evil and criminal to merely immoral or unscrupulous can occur anywhere. We learned that the highest risk of child sexual abuse is in the home from trusted family members and friends or in esteemed public setting such as churc.h, youth organizations and schools. As we realized that homosexuals are not “the danger” or certainly no more so than heterosexuals, society has become more tolerant and accepting Research has also shown that children raised by openly gay parents are not dis-advantaged other than by societal prejudice. The public is increasingly unwilling to deny basic legal and civil rights and social acceptance to couples and individuals who are not heterosexual.

Why does this matter to me, a psychologist?  It matters because I have seen up close the damage done to non-heterosexual people who have been raised to think they are sick, unnatural, inferior or deviant. Studies have shown that large numbers of men and women with homosexual or bisexual feelings remained in the closet, fearing social condemnation or family rejection. They married heterosexual partners and developed marriages that had great strains from the difficulty of living a lie. Internally, they could never reach their full human potential because of the anxiety and depression generated by a lack of self-acceptance. I have worked with middle aged people who never had experienced a sexual relationship because they felt their feelings were unacceptable. Self-hatred causes great psychological damage. Other people lived long term lies; marrying opposite sex partners, raising families while denying their true selves to all their loved ones and perhaps conducting homosexual relationships in secret, constantly fearing exposure.  The It Get’s Better Project http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/ helped teach us the pain experienced by non-heterosexual youth who can be the victims of bullying, suicidal feelings or acts and family rejection. LGBT prejudice causes great psychological harm.

Heterosexuals have no lock on mental health or respectability. Heterosexuals rape, sexually abuse and victimize and cause damage to others with their sexual acts and desires. Sexual health, mature consent and mutuality is the important thing. Acceptance of variations in sexual desire is part of good mental well being.  Homosexuality has always occurred in human behavior. It is one of many naturally occurring variations in sexual orientation and interest among people.  What occurs between consenting adults in their own lives is absolutely nobody else’s concern It is certainly no reason to deny respectability, legal rights and privileges, family love and support, career opportunity and advancement to fully equal and participating members of human society.

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