choosing my battles

every once in a while at my internship there’s a comment in client groups about homosexuality that errupts into this acceptable-within-the-group type homophobia.  it has bothered me and i didn’t speak up the first few times because i really didn’t understand what it was about and i didn’t wanna run my mouth too quickly.  on the professional side of things, i have to weigh whether my personal views are applicable or helpful to the clients within this setting.  but it has bothered me too much and yesterday i had to speak up.

we were on the topic of honesty and whether to be honest with your children about your addictions.  somehow the subject turned to one man having to address homosexuality with his 10 year old child who had seen a tranny and was curious and asked his dad what that was about.  the client telling the story got really passionate about it (he’s a very passionate and zealful guy anyway), but began to go into this business about telling his child, no!  this is not something that you need to be asking about, this is wrong, an abomination, and at your age you do not need to know about this, period.  it’s not right and it’s not for you.  my cofacilitator has always taken opportunities like this to tie homophobia to racism and to challenge the clients to examine that and justify why they think some discrimination is ok.

things got hot.  he was soapbox preaching, i challenged him and was getting upset.  we took a break, and i ended up alone with this guy and tried to discuss why he got so worked up about it.  what it came down to was that this man was not going to let go of the teachings of the God of his understanding.   it was also about whether you believed homosexuality is a choice or something you are born with.  this man said he truly believes that in some cases, you are born with homosexual orientation…  but that if you want it bad enough and ask God to change you, He will.  vomit.

when we returned to group, i decided to share with them some of my personal stuff, how my life circumstances led me to feel discrimination on many different fronts and how i felt like an outsider for most of my life.  i talked about one of my best friends, a gay man and a member of my family, who would do anything for me.  i wanted them to know why this was sensitive for me.  it really turned into a processing of our argument, and evolved into a group therapy session, which was really cool.  but there was also some off the wall shit said.  most of the people who were very verbal about their homophobia were of the idea that it was a choice, or even worse, that it was misguided children playing with opposite gender toys and clothes and were not properly corrected by their parents.  they also seemed to use he-she interchangably with gay.  it was a mess.  i tried my best to offer the counterargument and make some corrections.

it bothers me a lot that people who experience crushing racism can turn around and discriminate against someone else.  many of the people think being gay is a choice and compare it more to being an addict than being black.  that troubles me a lot.  there’s also this acknowledgement in the room that lesbians are a lot more acceptable than gay men.  it’s a complex set of beliefs and justifications.

but when it comes down to it, you can’t challenge a person’s whole mindset about discrimination in an hour.  and it’s very difficult to change someone’s mind about what they believe about God and how they express their religious beliefs.  it’s personal, sacred, and heated.  plus, with my role as therapy intern, this is not the let me save you from your uninformed homophobia show.  i’m happy that i didn’t shut down or run away when my beliefs were challenged.  i stood my position during a time when it was appropriate.  i think that’s what’s important to me.  i don’t need to produce a presentation on healing homophobia to people who are there for treatment, but i can speak up when the topic comes up and ask people to think a little more about it.

2 thoughts on “choosing my battles

  1. I think it’s generally appropriate to stand up against homophobia in a group situation even if it doesn’t relate to the explicit therapeutic goal because one of the clients may be gay or have family/loved ones who are gay. Letting hateful speech go without saying something could alienate one of the clients and that interferes with the therapeutic goal. If the clinicians don’t do this, then the agency will not be a safe place for gay people. Very complicated issue and depending on the group goal/purpose I would’ve cut that short as a topic for debate to limit the offensiveness that could come up and just say something about the expectation in the group of respect and welcoming for all people. I would talk with anyone who said hateful things about gays
    separately and give the expectation that they not do so in group or the can’t be in the group. Do you know what your agency’s policy is? Btw this is Natasha:) and I’m fired up!

  2. i agree with you. thanks for the reinforcement. i don’t know the agency’s policy on this, but i will find out. i’ve just found myself kind of shocked being in an environment where blatant homophobia is spoken (by clients) as if it’s the norm. i’m never in those kind of groups in my daily life. i’ve found that as far as staff culture, it does seem to be normal to stand up against homophobia and encourage reflection on why clients react when the subject is brought up. work in progress.

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