I was recently introduced to an article by Dr.’s Christi McGeorge and Tom Stone Carlson from North Dakota State University. In their article entitled Deconstructing Heterosexism, they identify an essential component of the work required to become a proficient ally and helper for sexual minority clients in therapy.
As a straight clinician myself, I can identify in me the blind spots, heterosexual assumptions, and cultural narratives that mischaracterize, stereotype, and even have potential to harm sexual minority populations. Often these are built on homophobia, heteronormativity, and misunderstanding towards the queer community. As helping professional allies work through their own socialization of heteronormativity, we all become more effective, intentional, and competent in serving sexual minority populations in therapy. McGeorge and Carlson provide a wonderful map to begin this important work which they call self-of-the-heterosexual-therapist.
Exploring heteronormative assumptions
a. “These questions were designed to help identify unconscious beliefs about the normality of heterosexual relationships and how therapists have been socialized into these heteronormative assumptions” (p. 17).
i. “What are my initial thoughts or feelings about children who are raised by LGB parent(s)?”
ii. What are my beliefs about how a person ‘becomes’ gay, lesbian, or bisexual?”
iii. “Are there any members of my family who are LGB? If so, how were and are they talked about and treated in my family?”
iv. “What did my family of origin teach me about sexual orientation, bisexuality, and same-sex relationships?”
Exploring heterosexual privilege
a. “In addition to reflecting on the questions [below], heterosexual therapists could create a list of privilege statements that represent the privileges they experience on a regular basis due to their sexual orientation…[Example] “I can walk into any therapy or medical office and expect to have my sexual orientation affirmed in the intake paperwork.”
i. “Have you ever worried that you might lose your job because of your heterosexuality?”
ii. “Have you ever had to question your heterosexuality?”
iii. “How has your involvement in heterosexual relationships been encouraged, rewarded, acknowledged, and supported by your family, friends, and the larger society?”
Exploring the development of a heterosexual identity
a. “It is important to acknowledge that becoming an LGB affirmative therapist involves admitting having a sexual orientation. Through responding to these questions [below], heterosexual therapists can come to acknowledge their own sexual orientation and how their sexual orientation may be directly impacting the therapy services they provide to all clients.”
i. What societal beliefs or norms influenced your development of a heterosexual identity?
ii. What factors were most important or influential to your development of a heterosexual identity?
iii. What role does your sexual identity play in who you are as a person?
iv. “How do you describe your sexual identity? How do you explain how you came to identify as heterosexual? Why do you think you identify as a heterosexual?”
McGeorge and Carlson go into more detail in their article, which is cited below. The self-work of deconstructing heterosexism is so important. It is an ongoing process today because being heterosexual is still a louder message we receive in society of what it means to be “normal.” It is imperative that we, as LGB affirmative clinicians, uncover blind spots, break down faulty assumptions, and reauthor harmful narratives about LGB individuals and their families.
Reference: McGeorge, C., & Carlson, T. S. (2011). Deconstructing heterosexism: Becoming an LGB affirmative heterosexual couple and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 37, 14-26. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2009.00149.x.
Jimmy Bridges, LMFT
Jimmy is a couple and family therapist, and provides therapy related to anxiety, mood disorders, LGBTQ+ affirming services, gender issues, faith transitions, and couple’s counseling. He offers online services for teens, adults, couples and families.