BC Gay Men's Health Summit 2013: Why out healthcare professionals matter to closeted clients

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      Sure, it's 2012 we live in Canada, one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world where same-sex marriage is legal and gay rights are recognized. So is coming out becoming a thing of the past?

      Far from it.

      Vancouver Coastal Health's David Devine, who was part of a panel at the B.C. Gay Men's Health Summit on November 7, still sees the need to help people struggling to come out of the closet.

      "A week doesn't go by that I don't have a client come in my door saying, 'David, I need to talk to you'," he said. "And I know that look in their eye. It's 'I'm gay. I haven't told anyone. Can we have a session?' "

      In spite of great strides in gay equality in Canada, Devine observed that we somehow still haven't progressed beyond the "heteronormative pressure put on men…to act and be straight and sublimate your true feelings".

      What's more, he has also seen that the connection between mental health problems and identity issues tends to get overlooked.

      "How much are we seeing in the mental health world and the addiction world because people are not being true to themselves and truly who they are? I've seen that people who are later in recovery, I say 'Go be yourself' and they say 'I have no idea who that is', and that's straight, gay, bi, whatever."

      He gave the example of one client in his 30s who had both a mood disorder and drug addiction. Although married to a woman, he had been experiencing same-sex attractions he had difficulty talking about.

      Although this client grew up with liberal, progressive, queer-positive family and friends, he was still contending with deeply rooted internalized homophobia.

      "He always felt that if he came out today, he would be accepted," Devine said. "But…he got a lot of…[his internalized homophobia] from the external world, not necessarily the family."

      Even after being diagnosed with mental illness and receiving treatment, and even after being caught viewing gay porn by his wife, he still did not disclose his same-sex attractions until he met Devine, who was openly gay.

      The client said he wouldn't have told Devine about his same-sex attractions if he didn't know Devine was gay. 

      "When the healthcare provider is out and there's a queer-positive vibe…in the healthcare setting," Devine said, "that makes it a lot easier and a lot safer for the clients or patients who are struggling to feel safe to say 'I'm in the closet. I'm gay.' "

      Devine pointed out the importance of looking at both mental health and sexual orientation issues as potentially related rather than independent of each other.

      "We tend to separate mental health and addiction, and sexual orientation from addiction and mental health. When we address something as powerful as your identity as a sexual being—in this case a sexual man—and who and what you really are…he was able to handle his urges and cravings and they were not as big because he was no longer hiding this secret. He was no longer having this shame and guilt. And he was able to learn how to act on his attraction to other men in a healthier way."

      After therapy with Devine and pursuing some recommendations, such as taking 12-step programs and making friends with gay men, the client became able to tell his friends about his same-sex attractions, to enjoy gay porn without the use of drugs, and to even go on to have his first relationship with another man.

      Devine underscored the benefits of helping clients out of the closet by citing results from the Sex Now study that indicate that people who remain closeted may face health consequences.

      "We find that people who are not out of the closet fare worse in their health outcomes than those of us who are out of the closet, in work and personal lives and families."

      Comments

      4 Comments

      Janna

      Nov 16, 2013 at 6:12pm

      What this therapist has advised and helped his married client do is beyond troublesome. Not once did I hear any regard to the wife involved in this story. She was dismissed as worthless and baggage. The marriage commitment so easily tossed aside. Vows of commitment, a person's integrity, devotion and loyalty all trivial as long as the person claims to be gay! This therapist applauds and celebrates that his married client can look at gay porn without using drugs, as though the drugs are the inherent evil, but pornography is healthy and good. Then the worse is that he celebrates the fact that he helped this man have sex with another man. I believe that is still classified as adultery in our world! Oh so now adultery and cheating on your wife with gay porn and a man is celebrated and justified because it is with a man and not a woman? Really we have stooped to that level of stupidity?Sorry this isn't helpful therapy at all. It is self serving and only promoting his own gay agenda. He is not there to help these men struggling with same gender attraction. He is there to champion gay "out" pride at the devastating expense of innocent spouses and children. This is abuse not mental health!

      @Janna

      Nov 17, 2013 at 8:04pm

      Oh my, where to begin....What kind of marriage did that woman have if her husband wasn't attracted to her? And no, she wasn't "easily tossed aside" - this was a huge and painful journey for this man who had deeply suppressed who he was.

      I suppose you think that he should continue a sham marriage, a total façade, to make his wife happy? When surely people around him might pick up on it, his children might sense it, and he'd probably not treat her well? He should sacrifice who he is?

      I'm a straight woman - but I can imagine how painful it is for someone who is gay to fear, deeply fear, acknowledging that they are not straight after all. I'm sure for this man, it was extremely painful and he was fully aware that this would pain his wife and children - and I imagine that's why he repressed it all.

      This was not a step taken lightly. And no, the therapist didn't have a 'gay agenda' - gay people are not trying to convert people to their team. That's homophobic talk. People are what they are.

      YOUR attitude is exactly why this man was afraid to come out of the closet. Sheesh.

      PS - you're not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, by any chance???

      @Janna

      Nov 18, 2013 at 7:21pm

      I was at the panel discussion and heard Mr. Devine's presentation. He made it very clear that the man was no longer married to the wife before he went into treatment. No children involved either.

      Mr. Devine is clearly a very capable, well informed and imaginative therapist, who cares deeply about what he does and is passionate about it as well.

      how to eliminate this problem

      Nov 18, 2013 at 8:36pm

      Gay men should NOT propose to or marry a woman.

      if you are unsure about whether you are gay or straight, figure that out first. before you as I DO and make a commitment to honour, another person.

      If more people actually believed and follow the vows they say and promise to adhere to marriages would mean something. He didn't need to marry her, he was struggling with himself and unfortunately it hurt both of them.

      its sad both parties were hurt because they were not clear or honest with themselves on who they are from the beginning.