Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letter to a 17 year old

A Mormon-themed blog received this question from a reader:
I'm a 17 years old and I think I might be gay. I don't know who to tell because there really is no one. I have a very good relationship with my parents/family and I don't want to ruin it, but I can't seem to stop the way I feel. I don't want to be gay but I have never felt sexually attracted to a single girl. The only way I know how to describe what I feel is that when a cute guy walks past I stare at him, I feel interested. I don't even notice girls or if they are cute. Is there anything I can do to stop these feelings? I don't want to be gay.

The blogger, a "Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist," gave an answer which you can read for yourself. Her answer included a statement to the effect that contrary to the claims of organizations like Evergreen change therapy doesn't work. I'm glad that some therapists who are active in the LDS Church are willing to take stands such as this, but I thought the overal tenor of the advice was too tentative.

I left a reply addressed to the original questioner that said:
The first step is to break the isolation by finding a trusted person in your life with whom you can discuss your feelings. This person might be a teacher, a school guidance counselor, a family member or a friend. This is NOT a problem you can or should carry around alone. You need support, and you need it now. It's that simple.

I agree with the other advice given above, but I have to add one thing. There's an elephant in the living room, something that everyone knows is there but won't talk about. It is this: the official opinion of the LDS Church toward homosexuality is not held by many informed LDS people. As a result you will find that informed LDS people (such as [the blogger who answered your question]) will not steer you in the same direction as your bishop might. The answers you hear in Sunday School won't be enough, and you shouldn't assume that every active LDS person around you accepts them. As you start the journey of coming out, you will need to seek answers for yourself and evaluate what many people have to say. You're going to have to think for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

In all of this, be aware that you are not alone. Many of your peers share this issue (for example, on this blog). Others of us, myself included, have had to come to terms with our orientations during our lives. We can promise you: it gets better. It really, really does.

Stay safe and be gentle with yourself along the way.

Readers, what would you say to this 17 year old?


J G-W said...

I actually thought the therapist's response was perfect. She didn't hedge on the depression/suicide issue -- that was right at the top of her answer. She was very sensitive to the fact that the young man asking this question is probably still trying to figure out a lot of stuff for himself, and emphasized his right to choose his own labels, make his own decisions, and find a therapist whose only agenda is to facilitate his efforts to come to terms with this himself and figure out what it all means. She acknowledged the diversity of views on this within the Church, and she ended with an affirmation that regardless of what he eventually decides to do, God loves him... A respectful, faith-affirming response... She gets 10 out of 10 from me!

I'm curious what about her response you felt was too tentative?

J G-W said...

Also, she pointed him to some great resources for dealing with this -- including Affirmation's web site and Bill Bradshaw's essay...

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey J G-W,

I was pretty impressed, too, that an LDS therapist would be willing to give such constructive advice. And like you I was impressed with the set of resources she provided.

What I'm struggling with is the asymmetry when it comes to labeling. People spend a lot of time telling gay youth not to label themselves. Of course, saying "I'm straight" isn't considered to be labeling. :- )

I don't like the implict prejudice against self-identifying as gay. Maybe I read in something that wasn't there.

To me, it's pretty simple. If a young person says they are consistently attracted to members of the same sex and are not attracted to members of the opposite sex, they are probably gay.

Heather said...

I didn't struggle with my sexual orientation. However, I did struggle with religion. So much so that I look back and consider my 20s wasted and lost to crippling depression. I regret that SO much. As a result, my advice to this young man would be to spend as little time possible making himself miserable over his sexual orientation. If I could stop him from wasting his 20s to despair and self-loathing, I would. If I could wave a magic wand and cause him to simply accept himself RIGHT NOW & move on, I would. I pray this young man grabs hold of this life he's been given, and lives the shit out of it. I pray he finds what truly makes him happy... I hope he follows his passions and develops his talents and finds things in life worth diving into wholeheartedly. I also hope that he is careful with his heart and steers clear of fast/meaningless living. Life is short. It's worth living well. And that means accepting himself, navigating a path (both temporal and spiritual) that works for him, being good to those around him, and being good to himself.

I wish all the best to that young man.

J G-W said...

MHH: Fair enough. If our culture weren't so homophobic, declaring oneself to be gay or hetero would be about as straight-forward as declaring oneself to be left-handed or right-handed.

Still, it's precisely because the young questioner is likely himself dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia, I'm not sure the best response from the therapist would have been "Oh, you're gay!"

Maybe that could be a good response from a friend, family member or loved one whom the questioner trusts. But when he's putting out feelers to a stranger, I think a stranger wisely responds by sharing frank information and then saying, "You need to figure this out for yourself."

The Love Doctor said...

I thought her advice was generally sound. I thought, however, that she didn't really take a position either way. This is probably therapeutic for the teenager just to hear somebody empathize with him and express caring without judgment leaning one way or another.

I disagree that she said he shouldn't be focusing on sexuality right now. As child development goes, the teenage years are the imperative years for kids to be forming their sexual identity. I do think, though, that the teenager shouldn't rush a sexual relationship right now especially since he is still questioning and this usually just creates more confusion. I think it'd be appropriate for the teenager to be forming his sexual identity the same way any teenager does: flirting, holding hands, kissing, etc.

MoHoHawaii said...

Heather, I agree that the main issue here is dealing with the social context in which this young person finds himself.

J G-W, love your analogy!!! Where are the cautions against self-identifying as left-handed or right-handed? There's no more need for drama around sexual orientation than for handedness.

Love Dr., I agree with you. If I were talking to this young man, I would go right ahead and address the issue of sexual orientation. I also encourage sexual activity only when developmentally appropriate. It's not something that a teenager just starting to come out should be jumping into, and judging from the original question I don't think that is what's on this young person's radar right now.

Rob said...

I'd say this:

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Rob,

Great link! I hope you'll comment on the original Mormon Therapist blog post and put the link to your thoughts there as well.

playasinmar said...

I would add that sex is as good as everyone says it is and if you come to terms with yourself you won't have to cry into a pillow afterwords. Bonus!