|From Myth to Empowerment
How GLBT persons can Shift
You have heard people laugh and say, “Wouldn’t it be great if every GLBT person turned purple?” as if that would allow us to exclaim “Free at last!” Yes, “easy” is how we like it in our society. If you turned purple (GLBT), however, you would still have to deal with your own internal homophobia/homonegativity and transphobia/transnegativity that continues to lurk just beneath the surface. How do you know? Test yourself against the myths that keep you silent. Many of you have not only heard them, but you believe them.
How does your remaining silent and hiding who you are reflect the last vestiges of shame that stalks you individually and our community as a whole? How does your lack of honesty and openness possibly create distrust with people?
Many of the myths feed the erroneous information, and enable you and others to stay in stuck places. Debunking myths encourages you to transform yourself, allowing others the space to shift as well.
Naming these myths is like confronting one’s abuser. It causes us to ponder our fear and ask, "Did this really happen?" Naming them and claiming them as you document their existence makes you realize the absurdity of giving them power.
Myth #1: Your “lifestyle” is nobody’s business.
False…We often have this statement said to us, as a way of negating our authentic lives. First and foremost, people’s sexual orientation/gender variance (as a part of the fabric of who we are), has been erroneously “co-opted” as a “lifestyle,” becoming something that people can push away. People use this word to denigrate the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community). Unfortunately, this phrase continues to be used in our society as one often hears reference to "deviant lifestyles" from those who seek to deny us equality, as well as to create an atmosphere of shame about who we are. Real people with real lives are more difficult to dismiss than "lifestyles;" however, it is only through living our authentic lives that people can truly know us and witness the loving relationships that we have. As we begin every newsletter, "You can't hate someone whose story you know." Others can't know our story (nor us their story) if we hide our authentic lives. When we don't get to know one another's story and reach beyond walls and barriers, we paint caricatures of one another.
When we buy into the myth perpetuated about us, the term sometimes becomes one used even within our own community, connecting to the last vestiges of internal shame and guilt we have been culturally taught in our society about who we are. It is time for all of us to drop this association, and allow our authentic lives to speak for themselves.
The dictionary definition of the word “lifestyle,” helps us to understand why the term is a misnomer.
life·style also life-style or life style
n. A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group: “It was a millionaire's lifestyle on the pocketbook of a hairdresser” (People).
Usage Note: When lifestyle became popular a generation ago, a number of critics objected to it as voguish and superficial, perhaps because it appeared to elevate habits of consumption, dress, and recreation to categories in a system of social classification. Nonetheless, the word has proved durable and useful, if only because such categories do in fact figure importantly in the schemes that Americans commonly invoke when explaining social values and behavior, as in Rachel Brownstein's remark that “an anticonventional lifestyle is no sure sign of feminist politics, or indeed, of any politics at all.” Fifty-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts the word in Bohemian attitudes toward conventional society have been outstripped and outdated by the lifestyles of millions of young people. An even greater number fully 70 percent accepts the word in Salaries in the Bay Area may be higher, but it may cost employees as much as 30 percent more to maintain their lifestyles, where the context requires a term that implies categorization based on habits of consumption.
[Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
The above definition illuminates the incongruence of the word “lifestyle” as applied to the lives of GLBT persons. The definition helps us clarify and understand the distinction between the word “lifestyle” and its misappropriated connection and reference to sexual orientation and/or gender variance (gender identity/gender expression). Lifestyle is defined as (n) : a manner of living that reflects the person's values and attitudes. Human sexual orientation and/or gender identity/gender expression is neither a "value" nor an "attitude." Neither a “homosexual lifestyle” nor a “heterosexual lifestyle” exists. In our society, however, while one hears reference to a “homosexual lifestyle,” one does not hear reference to a “heterosexual lifestyle.” It is the “homosexual lifestyle” that is used as a derogatory term, allowing people to denigrate persons who are gay and lesbian, calling their “deviant lifestyle” a threat to family values. The reality is that how one chooses to live out their human sexual orientation, (whether that is homosexual or heterosexual), or their gender variance, in terms of being “open, in the closet, monogamous, promiscuous, etc.” would be the "lifestyle." Those choices represent a “value” or “attitude” consistent with the term “lifestyle.”
Referring to GLBT persons as a “lifestyle” allows people to push away and discount the individuals within our community. It leads to misunderstanding the lives and relationships of homosexual, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning persons and who they are, as well as who they love. Referral by the GLBT community to ourselves as a “lifestyle” disconnects us from who we are and communicates shame, as if being GLBT is something to “overcome” rather than a gift to be celebrated. We must all heal ourselves and our society by discontinuing use of this terminology. None of us win by separating from one another, and creating a "less than" or "not enough" status created by acting like one person's sexual orientation/gender variance is better than/less than another's. The LIVES of all of us are important, inclusive of our sexual orientation and gender identity/gender expression, no matter what that is. When people say our love is wrong, I ask, "What part of love do you find problematic?" We need more, not less, authentic love, in our world today. Below are Gary and Frank, together for 42 years.
Myth #2: Let people get to know you first before you "come out" to them as GLBT. Otherwise, it might create a barrier and they may never choose to get to know you.
False … Allow people to get to know the "real you" from the beginning. Otherwise, people (consciously or unconsciously) feel they have been deceived, and there is a breach of trust which has to be repaired. Those who will create a barrier because of knowing the “authentic you”, will probably find a way to create a barrier anyway due to their own fears. Quit being someone you are not so others will like and accept you. Claim the value of who you are, and allow others to appreciate you. There is more empowerment for being rejected for who you are, than being valued and respected for who you are not.
Myth #3: Respect other people's wishes and don't "push it in their faces."
False …Don't "push it in their faces" is a statement of power, used to manipulate and control others. The “it” they are referring to is you being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning. You, however, are not an “it.” Heterosexual people or mixed gender couples, however, don’t follow their own advice. The things they are referring to (such as holding hands with your same gender partner, or talking about your partner or person you are dating, etc.) are the same things they allow themselves to do without claiming they are “pushing it in our faces.” Being real and who you are isn't pushing "it" in their faces. Why? First of all, because none of us are an "it." You are a human being with human feelings, wanting to create authentic connections with other people, just like them. Connecting with others, and loving someone, is a basic human desire. Refuse to allow them to demonize and invalidate your valid and healthy feelings, emotions, and behaviors.
The single most important thing any person can do to make a positive difference in the world on behalf our community is…LIVE AN AUTHENTIC LIFE...in every way and in every circumstance. If you are in the not doing so, you may be making a choice that protects you from painful recriminations in your personal life, but you are participating in oppressive social-cultural institutions in a manner that creates greater cruelty and harm in the world. The personal and the socio/cultural dimensions of life are connected, and cannot be denied.
Bottom line? Refuse to participate in “don’t ask/don’t tell policies.” If you do, you are an accomplice in the dysfunction within our society about GLBT persons. Your silence is part of the problem, and enables the toxicity that poisons you. Become part of the solution by standing up and speaking out, and claiming and living your authentic life!
Myth #4: No one in their right mind would choose to be gay or transgender.
False …Why not? Some of the most creative people in the world are gay or transgender. Being either is a gift. Ask yourself, “If I were not gay or transgender, who would I be? What would my life be like?” When I ask myself the question about whether or not I would choose to be gay, my answer is a resounding “YES!” Being gay is a gift that enables me to be more fully alive and connected to others, as well as more compassionate regarding the differences between people.
People (no matter their sexual orientation or gender variance) who make a denigrating statement such as "Who in their right mind would choose to be gay or transgender" have not come to the point of acceptance of the gifts of sexual orientation variance and gender variance. They are looking at the bottle half empty rather than half full. They are focusing on the negative aspects they "perceive" rather than the positive aspects available from living authentically for ALL people. People often argue over whether who we are is nature/nurture and/or "what percentage" of the population we constitute without understanding the bigger picture. Regardless of "how" sexual orientation/gender variance happens, or "what" percentage of the population, discrimination against transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay persons (or anyone else) is wrong...period. There is no need to defend/justify anyone's sexual orientation or gender variance.
Myth #5: Not sharing your authentic life (with the people your parents don’t want you to tell) is a way of respecting your parents and family.
False …Consider that NOT sharing your authentic life with the people you love is disrespectful. YOU are a gift…Act like it! To keep a gift from others is selfish. Remaining silent about whom you are holds you in fear. It also keeps both you and the other person in a negative holding pattern and from the opportunity to grow. More importantly, it keeps others ignorant about how the issues (such as legal ones) negatively impact your life.
Many GLBT falsely assume that their family and friends understand "who they are." Unfortunately, this is not true. When GLBT people are also conscious and active relative to social justice issues, it is important to educate your family and friends on "why" you are doing what you do. I have heard more than one person say that their friends and families thought that their being GLBT was "what they do," rather than "who they are." Don't assume that others understand who you are and the things (laws and other) that impact your life. Why would they know when you have often never spoken about your life in the ways that everyday folks do because people have silenced you by accusing you of "pushing it in their faces?" Society has silenced you into submission, and you have agreed and acquiesced without even batting an eye. Their fear has enabled and activated your own fear, becoming a vicious cycle for all of us. Consider that this behavior has not empowered you, or your family and friends.
Myth #6: Holding hands or showing affection with my partner in front of my family/friends/others is taboo because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
False … You are not responsible for how others feel simply because of being who you are. Sharing appropriate affection with the person you love…yes, even in front of others…is not only ok, but it is encouraging and inspiring for anyone to witness. Love offers ways of expanding; fear contracts. Which one sounds more empowering to you?
Myth # 7: The problem is others' acceptance of us. If they would understand us and accept us, laws would change and our lives would be different.
False..."Others" are not the problem. We are. Our own community continues to enable us to our own dysfunction. When people "know" a GLBT person (this means that there is conscious awareness through being in authentic relationship with one another), people are more likely to vote in favor or laws and benefits that offer equality and justice for our community. The research of Harris Interactive indicates, however, that only 4% of us are "out," in every situation, meaning that only 4% of us are living authentic lives. It is not rocket science. Ask yourself, "Who has the power to create change? "You" or "Them." Obviously it you YOU and US. Together, we can create change in our world through living as the gift of who we are.
Myth #8: Homosexuality is a sin, and the Bible condemns homosexuality.
False … There are many theologians who do not support the theory that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The belief of some people that this is true does not make it true. It makes it their belief. Do your homework if this topic is of interest to you. Go to this link to read Rev. Dr. Lisa Davison’s What the Bible Says/Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality. Also, go to this link to read about recommended books that address this topic. Dare to delve deeply into creating a new understanding so that you can discern for yourself what is true/not true, rather than what others tell you is true/not true.
Myth #9: You will lose everything (involvement with church, friends, relations with family) if you come out of the closet as GLBT, so it would be best to remain silent and hidden, living a life that is deceptive and not authentic.
False …Far from losing everything, the untold truth is that the gains, in terms of personal integrity and freedom, are far greater than the risks and consequences that we most fear. You begin to recognize the value for being who you truly are, rather than who people think you are. Although some friendships MAY be changed or lost, the ones that remain become deeper friendships because the walls that have created an invisible barrier dissolve. What do you gain if the love you receive from others is based on who you are not?
Myth #10: There’s something wrong with you if you’re gay or transgender. You’re not normal. You are disordered.
False … There’s nothing wrong with you. Act like you believe it. Name the emotions you feel, claim the emotions that you feel, and let the ones go that no longer empower you in your life. Commit to living your life with the utmost authenticity at all times. When you find yourself doing otherwise, check in with yourself and be willing to discover what is stopping you. Be completely honest and look at your part in any charade you are playing, and why you are playing it. Seek to understand why you are willing to enable those who would imprison you with their thinking. What emotions are beneath your actions?
Myth #11: Being GLBT and a person of faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever faith) is an oxymoron. If you are gay or transgender, you aren’t right with “God.”
False …If you are a person of faith, being anyone other than who you truly are will keep you separated from the divine energy, whether that is God, Allah, or whoever to you. There is nothing that empowers a person’s spiritual faith more than experiencing total integration between one’s spirituality, sexuality and gender. This applies whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, regardless of your gender.
Myth #12: You will only be happy if you are in a heterosexual relationship.
False...A 12 year study at The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA, made some interesting discoveries. Their website says, "Using state-of-the-art methods while studying 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Dr. John Gottman (University of Washington) and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley) have learned what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail."
(By the way, after hearing therapists Les & Leslie Parrot speak on relationship and "How to Fight Fair," on a Focus on the Family radio show, I contacted Focus on the Family since these two therapists are trained in the Gottman method. Click here to read our various communication with Focus on the Family regarding that show, as well as our open letter to James Dobson, our synopsis of going inside Focus On The Family in May, 2005, and our synopsis of attending the Love Won Out Conference in Seattle in June, 2000. We go inside and visit with folks at Focus on the Family to allow them to "put faces" to who we are. We want to lovingly confront their misinformation through engaging their hearts and minds, since they, too, are victims of the information told to them by Dr. James Dobson. This allows us to create authentic connections and dissolve differences that separate us.)
One key result from Gottman's research: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across all couple types (heterosexual, gay, lesbian) that Dr. John Gottman has studied. Click here to read the synopsis of research from the Gottman Institute. John and his wife, clinical psychologist Julie Schwartz Gottman, started the Gottman Institute in 1996. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz: They find that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways.
John Gottman thinks "straight couples have a thing or two to learn from gay men and lesbians when it comes to building healthy, happy relationships." If you have been telling yourself that our relationships can't work or last, ask yourself, "Does that sound like we don't have what it takes?"
Gottman continues, "Gay and lesbian relationships are the vanguard of how heterosexual relationships may be in 200 years once we get past the (crap) about male power and entitlement."
Click here for newspaper coverage with above quotes from Dr. John Gottman, in addition to feedback on a workshop through the Gottman Institute for 50 lesbian couples in 2001.
If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, know that you are capable of having as good, or bad, a relationship as any “traditional relationship.” It is up to you, not family and/or society. You must take the initiative to develop specific relationship skills that will help you have a dynamic, authentic and empowering relationship.
If you are interested in the workshops we are doing specifically for gay individuals and couples, contact us. We offer several for GLBT persons: 1)The Millionaire Self (on the essence of living an authentic life) 2) Shift2Relate™ to Empower Your Authentic Connections 2) Creating Authentic Love & Empowering Relationship...for gay couples 3) Empowerment Beyond Affairs...How to reclaim love with your partner or move forward if not possible. Visit GLBT Coach.
Myth #13: Children do better when they are raised in a “traditional” home with “married” parents.
False...The truth is, the “traditional” definition of family (married heterosexual couple with 1.5 children) is only one of the many family structures that our country’s children are born into or currently being raised in. Studies have shown that the presence of a married father and mother is not a prerequisite to positive outcomes for children. Click here for entire article by Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of Family Pride, the only national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to securing equality for LGBT parents and their families.
Dr. James Dobson attempts to negate the ability of same gender couples to be parents. It makes sense that two loving people in a family can possibly offer more benefits than one loving person to a child. To claim that these two loving people must be one male and one female does not make sense, especially when Dr. Dobson is citing research in which no gay or lesbian couples were part of the study group. Several of those researchers who work Dobson has cited have now stepped up to ask him to stop, refuting the claims he makes about their research. Click below to listen to those interviews.
Click here for video of interview with Professor Carol Gilligan at New York University
Click here to hear an interview with Dr. Pruitt of Yale University.
Click here for video of interview with Dr. Judith Stacey at New York University.
If you want children, trust that you can be a great parent and do whatever it takes to create your own family!
Ask yourself this question: Is the way I am living my life empowering me? If the answer is "no," then it is time to begin living life in a way that does empower you.
Note: This article originally began with 10 myths. Dotti will continue to add to this "list of myths" that disempower gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons until they Shift2Relate™ in new ways...to themselves, friends, family, and partners...and choose to live authentic lives in all life circumstances.
© Dotti Berry, 2005
"Out before Ellen was in," Dotti Berry has over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, trainer, and coach. She has facilitated leadership programs and dynamic workshops in transformation, relationship, self-awareness, authentic connections and undefended love, diversity, non-violent process, spirituality and sexuality. She has a master's degree in education, and is finishing her doctorate in human sexuality. She is a certified Self Talk™ Trainer with the Life Coach Institute. You can reach her at dotti@GLBTcoach.com. Visit her website, GLBT Coach.
Dotti and her spouse, Robynne Sapp, recently completed their year-long journey, Gay Into Straight America, committed to engaging hearts and minds, creating authentic connections, and dissolving differences that separate us. Gay Into Straight America, was the initial project of their non-profit, Stand UP Speak Out.Their book about their journey, Two Women & a Poodle…Creating Authentic Connections, is in process, as well as Dotti’s book, Stand UP Speak OUT.
Discover how to become a Stand UP Speak OUT Wind Changer. Take the Stand UP Speak OUT Challenge
Dotti and Roby were legally married March 7, 2004, in Portland, Oregon. Their spiritual ceremony was July 31, 2004. Click here for their story. They married legally in Canada on November 23, 2006.
You can contact them at:
dotti@GayIntoStraightAmerica.com or roby@GayIntoStraightAmerica.com
Please contact Dotti below about using the above material. This material may be shared with others through email and posting on other newsletters and/or on websites, as well as printed in publications or newspapers; however, it must be shared in its entirety without any changes made. Appropriate credit listing the copyright and contact information must also accompany the article.
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