In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official listing of psychiatric disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological Association followed suit. This turn in events was based on previous studies that demonstrated that one's sexual orientation had bearing on their mental and emotional stability. In a landmark research project, mental health professionals were unable to discern between homosexuals and heterosexuals in terms of functionality, stability and creativity.
I shudder when I read this. It makes me uncomfortable knowing that I am affiliated with these organizations that view one's sexual orientation in these ways. Luckily, times have changed.
To be loved, have love and share love is one of life's greatest gifts — regardless of sexual orientation. People want and need to feel love, be important, matter, have an intimate connection and to maintain a sense of stability and predictability in a healthy relationship. Most people want to find someone to build a life with, while feeling safe and secure with mutual respect and understanding.
I think it would be fair to say that straight couples have always had greater freedom in being who they are. They live without the questioning, justifying, hiding and living in a world of secrecy under a veiled authenticity. I often wonder if straight people really understand the freedom they have or do we take that for granted?
I believe that many straight people are not fully aware of the inferred freedom we have with being straight on several dimensions, especially when it comes to relationships. Many LGBT couples date and live invisibly or in the shadows. Their concern over discovery or being obvious limits spontaneous affectionate/dating behavior. That is stressful to a relationship.
What about relationship struggles? Does sexual orientation warrant differences? In my experience, the answer is no. Lesbian, gay and bisexual couples seek therapy for reasons similar to those of heterosexual couples. We all have communication difficulties, sexual problems, dual career issues and commitment decisions. They also have problems for dissimilar reasons like disclosure of sexual orientation, differences between partners in the disclosure process and issues derived from the effects of gender socialization. However, differences have been indicated in how these issues are managed and resolved.
Writing this blog has led me to seek a greater understanding of what life is like for a gay person. Fortunately, my friend Paul stepped up to the plate in a candid interview about his own personal experiences
Are there any internal or external factors that affect your relationship?
Yes. I'll start with the most obvious to me. Since I am a father, a good gauge for me when considering a relationship is asking myself this: "Would I introduce this guy to my daughter?" At this stage, I've learned that he must share the same values of loyalty, respect and honesty to both himself and others. These three internal factors are very important.
Three external factors that have affected my relationship are religious struggles. People who say I'm going to hell if I’m gay. They're not sure what they want in life. They have not had a loving, reciprocal experience when it comes to relationships. If they have, they can't recognize or appreciate it.
Are there any specific challenges for you?
The biggest challenge for me is finding a guy that is close to the point of self-actualization. It is a phase of life many never reach. It's the time where you realize you're meeting realistic goals. You're "out," and you know who you are as an individual. Basically, you know your meaning in life. I feel at this point, everything else falls into place for them. This includes coming out of the closet, his career and even future planning.
What are some of the problems you have in relationships? From your perspective, how would you say they are different from straight relationships?
I've spent a lot of time articulating this same question. I've had two relationships — one that lasted four years and another that lasted six. Recently, there were two others that lasted about six months. My four-year partner abruptly left me for the church because he felt that he was sinning. A year later, he came back to me hoping to reconcile our relationship. I couldn't do it. My six-year partner cheated on me (as did my recent six-month relationship). In the other six-month relationship, I found that we were simply at different places in life.
In retrospect, each of these partners had very little relationship experience. I have discovered the utility in finding yourself during your "meantime". Perhaps have your heart broken a few times before you can appreciate and value "Mr. Right". By "meantime," I am saying the right amount of time you need to explore, discover and learn a few things about yourself and others.
As far as my opinion on straight relationships, I have mixed feelings on this topic. In my current home state of Pennsylvania, we are not accepted into society as an equal marriage. I feel the relationships would be stronger and more valued (internally and externally) if we could marry. Though, it still doesn't change the individual experiences we have that help us recognize and appreciate true love when it's right in front of us.
Regardless if you are straight or gay, the struggles lie within your own perception of what you consider to be your valued life and how you go about getting there.
In the end, we all want and need the same thing. We need healthy relationships, someone who has our back, commitment, love, shared values and interests. A partner that is at the same place that we are in our life, regardless of sexual orientation.
LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bi-sexual, Transgendered) is an adaptation of the initial term LGB, which replaced the phrase "gay community" in the late 1980's. In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, founded LGBT History Month. Fast forward to the year 2000, when President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month". President Barack Obama declared June 2009 "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month".