A quick scan of the cable news channels or the Twittersphere shows clearly that the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage has drawn sharp feelings from both sides of the issue. Most of these reactions were easily predictable. People across all media are exhibiting their feelings loudly, as the issue touches on so many potent areas of life: the political, the ethical, the moral, the religious.
But as I sift through my own feelings, I find I have a different reaction than those that seem to be most loudly expressed. I am a therapist, and I see this issue through the lens of emotion. And homosexuality and gay marriage are highly emotional issues. And we therapists possess the privilege of a unique perspective on the emotional elements of most any issue. And the emotional elements are crucial in understanding the issue overall.
For I have sat across from the young man fighting against his truth, his gay-ness, with every fiber of his being. Because it will disappoint his parents. Because he won’t be accepted or loved, but rejected. Because he has been taught that who he knows himself to be is wrong. So he fights. He fights against his very nature. The resulting anxiety and depression run so very deep.
I have sat across from the teenage girl who recognizes who she is, but loathes the fact of it, and loathes herself as a result. Because it makes her life so hard, so odd, so weird. It estranges from people she once considered safe. Thoughts of suicide hover in the shadows all around her. And yet in every conceivable way, she is better-than-fine: bright, driven, beautiful, athletic, funny. And gay.
And I have sat across from the man who has lived a lie his entire life, hiding beneath the trappings of ‘normalcy’: wife, children, house, couple of dogs. Family man. But he is tortured nonetheless. For he is gay as well, and he and those around him, he projects, would find this to be unacceptable. And now an entire family is drawn into the dark.
Unfortunately, I could share countless other stories, all sharing this theme: to be gay, to be attracted to someone, to love them organically, is not just unacceptable, but shameful.
With just a moment’s reflection, we all know that the forced constriction of anything authentic and genuine in ourselves will prove to be incalculably damaging. We should live in a place where one’s truth carries not a hint of shame, but joy. Only joy.
And everyone, every single one of us, deserves that feeling.
So this ruling suggests another wave in a sea change. For many people, many of my own clients in fact, can now comfort themselves with the fact that what they sense and know about themselves, this undeniable core essence of their being, is now lawful and allowable and acceptable by society’s standards. And sure, that’s good.
But it goes beyond just that, right? Because for the majority of us, our loves and attractions are actually celebrated, from crushes to dates to proms to weddings. And we don’t really need to give it a thought. There is a wild emotional divide between private shame and public celebration, and it is critical.
I like to think that a generation from now, if our sons or daughters are drawn to someone, male or female, and fall in love with that someone, that we will want to share in the joy that love will bring to their lives, and to our own.
Making ourselves unavailable to that joy ensures, and has ensured, the opposite: fear and judgment and ego, enough to keep therapists like me flush with clients for generations, treating toxic, wholly unnecessary feelings of shame and depression and relentless anxiety about something that is organic and authentic and actually quite simple.
This Supreme Court ruling is another step toward the openness we need as a society, openness that will undoubtedly have strong legs. Fewer pills will be popped to numb unnecessary pain. Fewer people will be compelled to live a lie their entire lives. Fewer people will feel a need to shield their deep reality in shame. Fewer lives will end tragically. This is no small deal.
So I celebrate today, for the emotional well-being of every gay person, man or woman,
who has suffered their love in lieu of celebration. I celebrate the deep breath they can finally draw, and the joyful, well-appointed weddings on the horizon.
Of course, upon sober reflection, we all know that legislation does not flip a switch on feelings, attitudes and emotions. These biases lag well behind.
So if you are the parent, brother, sister, teacher or friend of a gay man or woman and you find yourself bitter today, let me encourage you to turn a page. Allow yourself to open your heart and mind to them, for them and for yourself. Because the train has left the station, and you can continue to be a part of the pain and anxiety and costly emotional heartache, or serve as part of the joy.
Because love truly IS love. Simple as that.
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