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Make coming out as gay about you, not them in 3 simple steps

It’s 2017, and you’ve decided it is time to tell some folks the truth about you: you’re gay, you’ve BEEN gay, and you’re tired of hiding it in both big and small ways.  If you’ve been agonizing about exactly how to tell people you’re gay let me say this first: the most important part of this exchange is YOU.  Your needs, your feelings, your future, and your lifestyle.  This conversation can be short and sweet.

  1. Convey your message in simple language so no one gets it twisted:
  • “Hello? It’s me. I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay.  Yes? You suspected already?  Ok great just checking, I thought I’d officially confirm it. M’kay bye!”  (Hang up phone and start belting out lyrics to your favorite power workout song.)

  • “Hello?  It’s me.  I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay. No?  Ok well glad I checked because I am. Hella gay.  Happy to share with you some ways you could support me, if you’re interested.  If not, we can talk about something else now.”

This is an exercise in getting something off your chest for you, about you.  Maybe the person you’ve told has questions about ‘how sure you are’, ‘if this could be a phase’, or feels compelled to wonder out loud if ‘maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet.’  If the person you’ve just told you’re gay responds with doubtful comments and questions you can respond like this:

2.  Convey you do not have doubts about your sexuality. If they have difficulty believing you are in fact, gay, they should work through those feelings on their own. Maybe they need some professional support and/or expertise to become better informed about how sexuality works.

  • “It seems like you’re having a hard time believing that I understand my own feelings and my own sexuality.  What if I were asking you these same questions about your sexuality?  I don’t want to debate my sexuality, just like I’m sure you don’t want to debate yours.”

  • “It sounds like you could use some time to think about what I’ve just told you, based on your comments and questions.  I’ve already thought A LOT about it, and I’m done now.  I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m gay.  There’s nothing else to think about- I’m gay, the end.  When you’ve reached that place too, you’ll feel at peace with it, just like I do.”

3.  Convey you have choices about how you live your life, and the people in it.  Make it clear that while you’d like your personal and professional relationships to remain unaffected by your sexuality, the fact is some people will have a hard time accepting this.  The best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who respect and support your goals and are willing to treat you fairly regardless of your sexuality.  This will be a lifelong endeavor, but worth the effort so that you can live your best, happiest, most fulfilled life.

  • “I understand there will be people who won’t like me because I’m gay.  That’s not really any different than people who might not like you (or anyone for that matter) because of things they can’t change about themselves.  If someone doesn’t like me because I’m gay that’s their problem not mine.”

  • “Maybe it’s not obvious, but I’d rather not have to deal with people treating me unfairly or excluding me from opportunities or even basic rights because I’m gay.  The best thing I can do is pursue personal relationships and professional opportunities that allow me to be myself, grow, and pursue fulfilling goals.  It would be great if you could support me. If not, I understand that’s your choice.  You should understand it’s my choice to build a support group of people who accept me.”

The emotional toll of having these conversations should not be underestimated.  It’s normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and exhausted by the prospects of sharing news about yourself that may not be well-received.  This is a good time to invest in regular self care activities and connect with people who accept and support you as you are.

Telling people you’re gay need not be a long, complicated, agonizing conversation.  You do not have to allow anyone to make you feel like you’re wrong, unhealthy, or unlovable.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is your life, and no matter what your sexuality is you can find a way to pursue happiness, love, fulfillment and success.  We can’t control how people feel about sexual diversity, but we can take strides to protect ourselves from feeling negatively judged by limiting the air time we give them, and focus our attention on building a life of positive self acceptance.

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Trump style slurs: you don’t have to get your feelings hurt.

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With the Trump administration ahead of us, many Americans will witness or receive hate-filled comments meant to devalue, belittle and shame anyone who is demographically different.  The major uptick in hate crimes dates back toward the end of 2015, which corresponds with Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.  Since the presidential election results came in, national news and social media sites have already begun documenting a new surge of confrontational hate-mongering behaviors aimed at racial/ethnic/sexual/religious minorities.  Generally speaking, the most important response to hate mongering is to ensure one’s physical safety first and foremost.  This article is not meant to provide guidance on physical or legal protection tactics, but rather outlines the most accurate and effective way to emotionally immunize yourself to this type of ignorance.  You don’t have to get your feelings hurt.  You don’t have to feel the blow of belittlement when ignorant remarks are flung at you.  You don’t have to feel insulted or devalued.  In fact, when someone says or does something racist/misogynistic/etc, it’s an instant opportunity to recognize the disposition and circumstances surrounding the offender.  You will know immediately that this person is experiencing one or more of the following:

  1. People who feel compelled to point out their categorical superiority to others based on race/gender/religion/sexual orientation differences often do so because they feel a deep sense of resentment about not feeling good enough about themselves.  (They will vehemently argue that nothing could be further from the truth, but there is something called the subconscious (part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings) and it is working furiously in overtime to correct low self-worth.)  By actively engaging in a game of “I’m better than these people” (through various verbal or behavioral acts) they can give themselves a short-lived burst of much-needed self confidence.  It quickly dissipates, so they often choose to surround themselves with like-minded people so they can commiserate and boost each other up through mutually insulting group outsiders.
  2. People need to blame and find fault in whole categories of people out of fear: when older regions of the brain dominate a person’s cognitive style, more complex intellectual processing is superseded, limiting more complex comprehension of circumstances surrounding their perceived ‘problems’.  Attempting to solve one’s problems by persecuting a whole group of people in a scapegoat fashion is usually a tell-tale sign of shortsightedness that does not result in lasting solutions.  Failed solutions often leads to increased blaming and anger.  It’s a vicious cycle which some people remain stuck in, and then pass on to others as a narrow worldview.
  3. The bottom line is, people who are effective and successful in pursuing their life goals, feel a sense of personal resourcefulness, and are benefiting from genuinely loving relationships do not need to actively engage in hate-mongering and devaluing/disrespecting whole groups of people.  There is no need to assert oneself as superior at the expense of other’s basic rights, to the contrary, they enjoy embracing a spirit of generosity because they can afford to give and share without feeling threatened.  Being chronically unhappy does not give way to hate-mongering behaviors, but there’s a good chance they are prone to certain habits that perpetuate their own unhappiness.

That said, people who feel compelled to a seek momentary boost of self-importance through hate-mongering in the name of Trump support or otherwise, are likely doing so because they don’t feel adequately important enough in the world, prefer to indulge in overly simplified, fear-based solutions to their problems (or are less intellectually equipped or compelled to grasp more a complex understanding), and see anyone different than themselves as a threat to their well-being and/or way of life.  The last thing you should feel is slighted by someone else’s irrational fears and ignorant solutions to protecting and improving their station in life.  Recognize the pattern as something that has ensnared them, not you.  

Move forward by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your own life rather than toil in the negativity that someone else is stewing in.  Stay true to your core beliefs and values.  You may feel discouraged and understandably frustrated with the influence of Trump’s hateful rhetoric that has emboldened some people to lash out against America’s longstanding value of inclusion.  The point is, you need not allow those people’s efforts to bring you down and keep you there.

 

Donald Trump: the psychological impact of toxic masculinity and how healthy, happy men diversify

I want to begin this piece by sharing how challenging it can be for me to understand the underpinnings of American masculinity as an American woman of color.  Even after 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist, coach and professor I still feel stumped sometimes in helping men navigate their career development and improve their interpersonal relationships, particularly as it relates to their masculine identity.  I have a deep sense of curiosity and motivation to understand the perspectives of all my clientele. Public figures can also also stir my intellectual curiosity, especially when similar issues are cropping up among those I’m helping in my practice.  I write as a way to synthesize the research and consultation I do with professional colleagues and members of various social groups to increase my understanding of particular clinical issues.  By improving my understanding of how men operate within their gender framework, I can more effectively support their goals for happiness and achievement while respecting their values and world view.

Donald Trump’s entire public life provides a rich opportunity to examine how male gender expression, at it’s extreme, can lead to a toxic psychological crisis in masculine identity.  In this article I’d like to set aside drawing conclusions about his potential to effectively lead as President of The United States of America.  Why?  Just imagine for a moment, what it would be like to be Donald Trump’s therapist.  You see, as difficult as it may be, therapists must aim to reserve judgment in order to understand and assess how to be helpful in creating healthy change and growth.  If we can we understand Donald Trump’s psychological make-up as it relates to masculinity, surely we can learn something about the gender confines that men face in getting their psychological needs met as they strive for fulfillment and achievement.  Why is this important?  Trump reflects the toxic side of American masculinity, and if we don’t take a close look at how and why toxicity develops and festers within male culture, we can’t begin to stop it from infecting others in small or large ways in men everywhere.

Imagine for a moment, a four way street intersection, where gas fueling stations are housed on each of the four corners.  At each fueling station, you can ‘fill up your tank’ on:

  1. Physical Aggression/Strength/Athleticism
  2. Money/Influence of Financial Wealth
  3. Control/Influence Upon Others (at work or in personal relationships)
  4. Sexual Prowess and Virility/Sexual Satisfaction

These four fueling stations can be seen as representing the most traditional, socially acceptable, even socially celebrated opportunities for men to fuel their sense of masculinity.  Whether or not you personally agree with this, the vast majority of American men are measured by others against these four standards of traditional masculinity at various points in their life.  While men also aim for other forms of achievement (e.g. intellectual development, family life development, practice of religious faith) those strivings aren’t typically seen as embodying strength of masculinity in and of themselves.  Traditional masculine-affirming pursuits do not have to be at the expense of other’s rights, take on a quality of malicious manipulation and oppression, or require a man to rely on them as his sole means for fulfillment.  Masculine identity serves men best when it allows space for them to thrive in these traditional areas should they choose, but also allows them ample space to enrich their lives through other areas of fulfillment and connectivity.

Some men whom I’ve worked with appear to be ‘stuck‘ in the relentless pursuit of boosting one or more of these traditional areas of masculinity in the hopes of achieving lasting happiness.  The theory of masculine overcompensation dates back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of ‘reaction formation‘ and ‘defense mechanisms‘. Some men respond to having their masculinity questioned by emphasizing their expression of traditional masculine traits.  In 2013, a group of sociologists put this theory to the test.  In Overdoing Gender,” a study for the American Journal of Sociology, men were given feedback suggesting they were ‘feminine’, which led to an increased support for war, homophobic attitudes, interest in purchasing an SUV, support for, and desire to advance in dominance hierarchies, and belief in male superiority.  Research from The American Journal of Men’s Health and a host of other studies conclude that the expression of traditional masculine traits can be hazardous for men’s health functioning.  William Ming Liu, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity  describes toxic masculinity as providing a very limited way for men to relate to each other- when boys are socialized to avoid feelings and weakness it increases their overall psychological stress.

As a woman and mental health professional, it can be tempting to say “hmmm…have you considered seeking fulfillment from OTHER areas?  You’ve already experienced objectively high levels of achievement through these traditional areas, and you’re telling me you’re still unhappy/unsatisfied.  Why not pivot and diversify?  See if some other areas of personal development could help you feel better/more fulfilled for the long term?”  In my professional experience, toxicity can take root in a man’s masculine identity when he gets stuck searching for fulfillment from these 4 traditional areas of masculinity only.  Without diversification, it can lead to toxic overdose!  In Donald Trump’s case, he keeps going back for more and more like an addict- all of his accomplishments are no longer getting him that desired high, so he keeps upping the ante.  Overdosed on orange self-tanner and sporting a shellacked comb over, surrounding himself with garish gold interiors, aggressively forcing himself sexually upon countless women, accruing more debt in the relentless pursuit of financial return, publicly decrying ideas of racial superiority that benefit himself at the expense of others, and finally, seeking political office as the world’s most powerfully influential men.  He is feeding his own internal beast and he does not appear to be slowing down.  I suspect there is a deep, empty abyss inside his sense of identity that is always starving for increasingly grandiose, self-serving displays of ‘success’.  This particular phenomenon of toxic masculinity is not only psychologically unhealthy, but socially destructive when public figures like  Donald Trump effectively normalize misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia.

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While many American men aspire to experience some degree of his accomplishments in the areas of wealth, power, influence, access and opportunity with beautiful women, it’s important to underscore that these gains alone may very well NOT lead to the level of fulfillment and happiness one might imagine.  Encouraging a more well-rounded sense of masculine identity, one that allows room for pursuits that go beyond the traditional male gender constructs will increase men’s opportunity for lasting and balanced happiness.  Research by Levant and other psychologists reveal healthy aspects of masculinity might actually protect  and improve men’s health. These healthy aspects of masculinity include:

Aiming to grow and diversify oneself in these key areas can help men achieve lasting personal fulfillment beyond traditional masculine pursuits for success.  Each are common treatment goals I work on with the high-achieving men in my executive coaching practice.  Many have shared with me how rewarding it feels to build upon what they’ve already mastered and thrive in these important life aspirations.

Coming out as gay: 6 stages for understanding the emotional process

After years of fighting off rumors about his sexuality, Latin singer Ricky Martin has finally just posted the following message on his official Web site, coming out and telling the world he is gay.

“Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment. These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed … I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am,” he wrote.

Coming out as gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered is a process that for many, is experienced in stages of change. While there are different models and theories about coming out, the six-step process (The Model of Homosexuality Identity Formation) was created by psychological theorist Vivienne Cass in 1979 and is still an accepted model for understanding the experience. While many will not experience these steps in a linear course, the following steps capture essential components of the coming out process. These steps are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and can be experienced simultaneously. For example other theorists have said that it is not uncommon for people go back and forth in their sexual identity development.

Step One: Identity Confusion

“Who am I?” is the major question in this step. People in this stage of the coming out process start to notice their attraction to same-sex people and really question what it means. Am I gay? Am I a lesbian? Am I transgendered? Am I bisexual? Within this stage there may be a denial of inner feelings as a person continues to see themselves as a member of the mainstream, heterosexual population. Some may consider their behaviors as ‘just experimenting’. Some people in this stage might keep emotional involvement separate from their sexual activity; others may choose to have deeply emotional relationships that are non-sexual.

Step Two: Identity Comparison

At this stage, a person may try to find an explanation for why they are having the feelings they are experiencing. “Maybe I am gay. Or maybe I’m bisexual.” Feelings of isolation & alienation are common in this stage. A person might wonder “Is this a phase?” “Am I only attracted to this one same sex person, or is this going to be a permanent trend?”

Step Three: Identity Tolerance

In this stage, a person might begin to accept identifying as gay, lesbian or transgendered or bisexual. Some might come to terms with some parts of being a gay, but not fully embrace it. One might accept participating in sexual activity with woman and consider it okay, but may not be ready to identity as lesbian or bisexual for example, in public- thus, leading a ‘double life.’ Or a man may come to accept that he has fallen in love with another man, but considers this an isolated situation. At this stage, it is common for people to seek out a gay/lesbian/bi-sexual community or social group as a way to explore or experience identifying with other people of the same sexual orientation as a means for support.

Step Four: Identity Acceptance
In this stage a person has begun to accept, rather than just tolerate their sexual identity. People often begin forming friendships with other gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual people. Many begin to realize that being lesbian or bisexual is acceptable, and that their life can and will be happy and fulfilling. At this stage, it is common to begin coming out to a few trusted individuals.

Step Five: Identity Pride
People who are in this stage feel a sense of pride of their sexual orientation, and feel comfortable interacting in gay communities. They start coming out to others in their lives, by making their sexual orientation publicly known. It’s also common for people to feel angry and resentful because of the lack of legal and social rights that gay and lesbian people are not afforded by the majority culture. Some people may get involved in gay and lesbian activism. Others may feel the need to isolate

Step Six: Identity Synthesis

In this stage, a person’s sexual orientation is integrated into their whole identity. For many, this includes a holistic view of the self and people often feel equally comfortable in straight and gay, lesbian, transgendered or bi-sexual environments.