By Dr. Kate Truitt
In our practice we embody something we call Allyship, which is the foundation of our Affirming Therapy, but can also be part of a support structure of friends and family, not all of whom are necessarily within the LGBTQIA+ community. Allyship is based on a simple statement: “I don’t understand, but I stand.” The millions of people of all races, cultures, backgrounds and identities who marched together during the Black Lives Matters protests showed allyship—the concept that you don’t have to understand everything about another person’s culture to be able to stand alongside them and support them by amplifying their voices.
Allyship embraces a positive view of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, and actively addresses the negative influences that homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism have on the lives of our LGBTQIA+ clients. Supportive family relationships and friendships can help do that too.
These difficult times we are navigating can be additionally complicated for LGBTQIA+ people, who, by the nature of the world we live in, are likely feeling more isolated and unconnected during the holidays than most people may feel. Many of them are subjected to degrading comments about their community, and many have been abandoned by their families due to their identities.
In these challenging times, and especially during the holidays, many LGBTQIA+ people need an ally, and anyone can fill that role. It begins from a place of awareness and understanding, and I would like to impart some information about what this looks and feels like in this blog article, in the compassionate spirit of the holidays.
STARTING WITH SOME BASICS
Allyship starts with basic understanding, so let’s begin with defining identity. Most people are familiar with, and have long used the term, “LGBT.” As our awareness has expanded, so has the range of identities, and so has the acronym:
Queer or Questioning
Asexual or Ally
The plus is added to acknowledge that there is a wide range of identities within the community.
Beyond these, there are gender-related definitions, including:
- Biological sex—what the doctor assigns a person at birth.
- Gender identity—how you feel on the inside
- Gender expression—how you present yourself to others
- Gender presentation—how the world sees you
- Sexual orientation—who you are attracted to and who you fall in love with
THE LGBTQIA+ EXPERIENCE
It is also important to understand the LGBTQIA+ experience in our world. In addition to regular, day-to-day struggles that we all face, LGBTQIA+ individuals often face discrimination, stigmatization, and even violence based on a facet of their identity. For them, discrimination not only shows up in school and in the workplace, but also at home.
Here’s the grim reality: about 30% of LGBTQIA+ youth reported physical violence at the hands of a family member after coming out. Two-thirds of LGBTQIA+ youth hear family members make negative comments about queer people and only 25% of them feel like they can be themselves at home. Of those LGBTQIA+ youth who are homeless, 43% were forced out of their homes by their parents and 32% faced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home.
SO WHAT IS HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS?
These statistics show how complicated the holidays can be for LGBTQIA+ people. Where do most of us go for that connection, warmth and love we seek during the holidays? Home, right? Around the holidays, advertisements, songs, conversation, and all types of media strongly emphasize home and family, making us long for that connection.
Those in the LGBTQIA+ community who still choose to connect with their family of origin during the holidays and other times may face microaggression, verbal abuse and traumatic memories. Those who are not allowed that choice or who choose to make a new family other than their family of origin may feel heightened shame, a lack of belonging, and traumatic memories.
Beyond the family, LGBTQIA+ people have less social support, especially in areas with small LGBTQIA+ populations or if they have been rejected by their family of origin. Bisexual people may feel more isolated because they face stigma in both the heterosexual and LGBTQIA+ communities.
This all can lead to the “holiday blues,” which is a real condition that can descend into depression and suicidality. Given the fact that LGBTQIA+ individuals are nearly three times more likely than heterosexuals to experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, they are at heightened risk.
So where do LGBTQIA+ people go for that comfort when home, to say the least, may be a highly uncomfortable place?
They find allies or allies find them.
BEING AN LGBTQIA+ ALLY TAKES A LITTLE WORK ON OURSELVES
Chances are, someone or multiple people in your family and social circle identify as LGBTQIA+. As I explained in my definition of allyship, you don’t have to be in the community or necessarily have a deep grasp of the identities and culture. You just need to have the empathic ability to support their needs and struggles. In the context of the holidays, awareness of the unique struggles they face is the best place to start.
WATCHING OUT FOR OUR IMPLICIT BIAS
No matter how well-intentioned we might be in our allyship on behalf of others of different backgrounds and identities, we all have implicit biases that will find their way into the way we talk and behave. We need to be mindful that these biases exist. More than that, we need to actively confront them, so we avoid unconsciously stereotyping people. To do that we have to learn to intentionally take the other person’s perspective.
Take a moment to try to imagine what it would feel like to be an LGBTQIA+ person. What would your concerns and worries be? What are some of the things you might be looking forward to during the holidays?
I like to present a short implicit bias awareness exercise for non-LGBTQIA+ people, taken from the “Heterosexual Questionnaire” created back in 1972 by Martin Rochlin, PhD, a pioneer in the field of gay-affirmative psychotherapy. Please take a moment to consider and answer the five questions below:
- What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
- Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
- Why do you insist on being so obvious, and making a public spectacle of your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be who you are and keep it quiet?
- Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
- Do heterosexuals hate or distrust others of the same sex? Is that what makes them heterosexual?
Do you notice anything different? Did considering these questions cause a physical reaction in your mind and body? For most people it does, because it gives a slight glimmer of what it is like to be on the other end of questions like these and helps us gain awareness of our implicit biases. That awareness is a first step in getting a handle on them.
MOVING FORWARD WITH ALLYSHIP
Attachment and connection are key to our vitality and resilience as humans. During the holidays I always urge people to be mindful that there are people out there who need extra help getting through the holidays. That usually shows up with people isolating themselves. If you notice that LGBTQIA+ family members or friends have suddenly dropped out of the picture during this time, make an intentional effort to reach out and connect.
Even intentional allies face unique challenges in the current COVID world, because we are limited in the amount of contact we can have because of masking and social distancing. In our previous reality, a simple hug went a long way in allyship. We can’t do that presently, but we work with what we have and do what we can do. Reach out and make a phone or Zoom/WhatsApp/FaceTime date and put it on the schedule.
If you are an LGBTQIA+ person struggling through the holidays, our team of therapists and counselors at Trauma counseling Center of Los Angeles and Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates are dedicated to fostering personal growth free of cultural, sexual orientation, and gender biases. We strive to provide a safe, affirming, and compassionate environment to everyone who walks through our doors. Each of our therapists has extensive experience and training on working with LGBTQIA+ individuals and families, and we are also familiar with non-monogamous relationship structures. We are here to help.
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Dr. Kate will discuss such tips as:
- Communicating boundaries from a place of love
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- New opportunities for family reminiscing
- Showing up in the small ways to show your love
- and more…
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