Coming Out and other GLBT Issues Online Conference Transcript
Joe Kort, MSW will talk to us about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) individuals, and their family members. He will also talk about coming out, sexual orientation, GLBT relationships, sexuality and sexual behavior, and more.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good evening everyone. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Coming Out and other GLBT Issues". Our guest tonight, Joe Kort, works primarily with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals (GLBTQ) and their family members.
In addition, Mr. Kort is a certified Imago Relationships Therapist and is certified in the area of sexual addiction and compulsivity. Besides doing therapy, he leads retreats for single or partnered gay and lesbian individuals to help them explore their own sexual identity and develop positive relationships.
Good Evening Joe, and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Thank you for being here tonight. I think, for most people, the hardest thing in life is to confide in others what we consider to be a "deep dark secret" about ourselves.
Though being gay, lesbian, bi, or transexual (GLBT) is not as "surprising" as it was 10-15 years ago, is it still a "deep dark secret" for many?
Joe Kort: I think it depends on the area in which you live and I can tell you that here in Michigan, it sure is for MANY Gays and Lesbians.
David: I read the story on your website, but for the audience, can you recount your feelings about coming out to your family? This was in the 1970's.
Joe Kort: Sure. My mother sent me to a therapist because I was becoming a loner. I was an outcast in my school being called faggot and sissy and spotted for being Gay, before I even knew what it was. In therapy, the therapist asked me what kind of girls I liked, and I lied at first, but then told him I really liked boys. He was of the psychoanalytic approach, and pathologized my homosexuality, but asked lots of questions and totally desensitized me about talking about being gay. He and I would argue about the fact that I could change. He saw my adolescence as a "second chance" to become "normal". He taught me that I was gay because I had a smothering domineering mother (which I did), and a distant, absent, uninvolved father ( which I did also).
So when I came out to them at age 18 in 1982, I blamed them for making me this way. I don't recommend doing this at home, LOL!, Anyway, we all went screaming into family therapy, and the therapist looked at me and said, "why would you do a thing like that, how angry you are to blame them?" after he had taught me that they were to blame for years.
David:Here's a description of Joe's first coming out attempt. I got this from his website:
"I tried to tell my mother originally at the age of 15, in 1978, during the Chanukah season. I was driving with my driver's permit and we were on the expressway. My timing was not great. I started crying, telling her I had something awful to tell her. I started by telling her I was different. I could not go on. She lovingly touched my shoulder and told me that everything would be fine, and she gave me some Chanukah money. She then got me in therapy."
Of course, being a teen, many times things seem a lot worse than they actually are. Now, as an adult looking back, was it "that difficult"?
Joe Kort: No it was not. But I think it would have been a LOT easier if the therapists had been more supportive.
David: I 'm wondering, do you recommend, as a general rule, that individuals come out and tell significant others, parents, and family members, that they are Gay or Lesbian?
Joe Kort: Yes I do. But I caution them to understand that when they come out of the closet, the family goes in the closet. They should give their family and significant others time. I do coach for Gays and Lesbians to be out and authentic with their loved ones.
David: It may be easier for adults to come out, but what about teenagers. That is a huge risk for them. In their minds, everything is at risk, including being rejected by their family.
Joe Kort: Yes that is a LOT harder for them given their position in the family.....I would encourage that they be aware of PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) and possibly, if they can, go to a GLBT community center to talk to other teens about how it went for them.
I still would encourage them to be out and open about who they are, and educate their parents about the importance of honesty and authenticity. I know it is not this easy but I think the alternative of keeping it in, is much more damaging.
David: The questions are coming in. Let's get to those:
redtop: Joe, welcome and thanks. I came out to my wife after 22 years and to my parents one year after that. Now I regret telling my parents. What is the best way to deal with their denial of my orientation?
Joe Kort: My belief is for you to keep talking about it, letting them know how your life is going, if you are dating, what being Gay means to you, etc. I believe it is our (GLBT) responsibility to keep the discussion going about our lives, just as the rest of the family talks about their lives. The more you talk, the more desensitized they will become. I would also let them know that they don't have to agree with you about your orientation, but just listen and understand.
David:Here's an audience comment:
chuckles: I can sure relate to that. I am 54 and I knew that I was different, but I did not know what I was. I never did feel like my mother or father had anything to do with the way that I felt. I knew that I had different feelings, but never thought of telling anyone In high school. I was very careful, dated very little, but I knew that I did not want to be called a faggot. Back in the late 50's, I did not even know about GLBT communities, maybe there were not any.
butterfly1: How common is coming out at 45, having been married for 26 years, with 3 children, having a past history of incest/sexual abuse? I have been separated for two years. I lived with a woman for one year. the children (2) are ok and support me. The youngest is 15 and holds anger. She says she wants me happy, but yet is afraid of her peers reaction.
Joe Kort: It is very common. Sexual abuse really complicates the coming out process. The individual was traumatized by the abuse, and had to keep a secret and pretend nothing happened, or is wrong and fear that telling will get them in trouble. Then coming out parallels that experience, so people stay closeted a LOT longer because of this. I find this to be true of many of my GLBT clients who were sexually abused.
David: I want to break "coming out" into two different lifespans here -- one, the teenage years, the other as an adult. As a teen, how, specifically, would you suggest coming out to your parents?
Joe Kort: I would encourage them first to really make sure they feel okay and comfortable themselves as teenagers with their gayness because if they are not they will only further upset the parent and reinforce that they may be able to "change". I would also coach them to tell their parents that there is nothing wrong with their orientation and that they feel okay about it and want to keep a dialogue going about it. It is when the talking stops that trouble arises. I would also coach them to let their parents know it is not the parents fault.
David: Now, what about as an adult, coming out to your parents and possibly your husband or wife, and children.
Joe Kort: I would coach much the same to adults about how to come out to parents. Not much differently, to be honest. Other than with teens, I might coach them to talk about their fear of being asked to leave the home. And to both, to talk about how they fear total rejection. Clarify that they are telling the family to maintain a closeness with them, not to be distant.
As for telling a spouse, one has to be very careful in our culture when there are children involved and they are minors. The court systems here still discriminate heavily against the GLBT parent and although most GLBT want to stay in integrity and tell during the marriage it could be very very harmful to them legally, in keeping their visitation and custody of their children. It has to be handled very very sensitively.
I also see a lot of GLBT clients who are heterosexually married, taking most or all of the blame for marrying. They have to understand that there is another side to this from the spouse, and although they may not know about the homosexuality, there is a tendency for the spouse to be just as invested in the emotional distance, a mixed orientation marriage creates.
David: On that point, here's an audience question:
mkwrnck: I've been out for about a year, I am 46 and I am going through a nasty divorce (wife is angry, wants to "get even," feels like she has nothing to show for 17 years of marriage). I have an 11 year old daughter to whom I'm out (she seems pretty accepting), and even though I want my wife to be OK with all of this, I know I can't affect her thinking or healing. But I'm struggling about how to let go, get on with my life, have a relationship with my daughter, and not be swayed by her stuff while she's going through with this divorce.
Joe Kort: First, Good for you for being out to your daughter. That takes a lot of courage. Second, you cannot do anything about your wife's reaction. You have to let her go through it and reassure your daughter that this has NOTHING to do with her. It will take time for you wife to be ok with this.
mkwrnck: For years, I was petrified about my parent's possible reaction, but they have been GREAT! I think it may have helped that my wife, in her anger, outed me to them. I just have to accept that she may never be OK with it.
Joe Kort: I would encourage you to just let your wife know it makes sense that she is angry and reactive, and keep letting her know that you are in fact going on with your life.
David: In a marriage situation, you warned everyone about the legal consequences of coming out. Are you suggesting that they not come out under those circumstances unless they are willing to possibly pay the price?
Joe Kort: Yes. That is what I have heard attorneys advise. It is very, very unfortunate, but for the sake of the children, to ensure they still can maintain contact with the GLBT parent.
HPCharles: In client situations where there was sexual abuse as a child, did the abuse result in/contribute to/cause the orientation?
Joe Kort: NEVER....EVER......EVER!!! It can cause people to "act out" homosexually and this is not about orientation this is about behavior, but NEVER create or contribute to orientation.
jaikort: How did your family react to you coming out of the closet?
Joe Kort: At first not well, but over time they came to accept it. I think my sister helped a lot as she was totally accepting of it from the beginning.
David: Was it a relief to you?
Joe Kort: YES, .totally. It was a HORRIBLE secret to keep all by myself.
David: At the time, did you feel a compulsion to tell someone?
Joe Kort: Yes I did. I kept worrying it would slip or someone would be able to really tell and out me. I actually had a friend ultimately do that to me. It was horrifying but freeing at the same time.
David: It's one thing to tell your parents, or a significant other, that you are gay or lesbian. It's another thing to "show them" by bringing your friends or partners around. What is your suggestion in dealing with that aspect of it?
Joe Kort: It is another level and layer of coming out. It is almost like starting over to introduce a partner. They will feel that now it is "in their face", and prefer that you not bring them around or talk about them. I recommend that you absolutely bring them around and talk about them, not in an "in your face" way but just no different than your siblings might talk about or bring around their partners. And to make sure the family knows that if the partner is not accepted at functions, then they may not come themselves. I would not force the issue for acceptance, but I do coach you to bring your partner around and let them know this is a permanent part of your life.
redtop: Joe, can I even expect to be "free" at 52 years of age?
Joe Kort: I am not sure what you mean by "free"? Can you explain?
redtop: I am an only child with aging parents; I do have a partner, but my parents don't recognize my relationship.
David:What redtop may be saying is, do you think that at 52, it's worth coming out to your older parents, and do you feel at the age of 52, coming out can be psychologically freeing?
Joe Kort: YES and YES absolutely!!! I would encourage you to make your own decision on telling your parents, but I see no reason not to, unless you personally do not wish to. And I think at ANY age it is psychological freedom to be out and open.
David: Do you think a marriage can survive (male-female) if one partner is gay or lesbian?
Joe Kort: Yes I do, and I think it takes a LOT of communication to keep it going. The hardest part, I think, is negotiating whether or not it will be monogamous. I truly believe it is up to the couple. My personal and professional opinion though, is that it is hard enough relating to one person in a relationship, let alone any more!!
David: You are also a relationships therapist. You hold retreats for gay and lesbian individuals and couples. Could you please describe what you deal with at these retreats?
Joe Kort: Sure. The weekends are based on the book, "Getting The Love You Want" for Couples and "Keeping the Love You Find" for singles by Dr. Harville Hendrix. Although these books are written to a heterosexual audience, it is a people based relationship therapy. The whole premise is to figure out how you came together and why, how you got stuck and how to get unstuck. Gays and Lesbians have very few supports, and this model supports staying together, and how to manage conflict. Its basic premise is that conflict is good and natural for the relationship, you just need to know how to deal with it. So couples come to save relationships, help keep a new one going, or to even end one. The weekends for couples and singles also looks at internalized homophobia, and I don't care how long, or how out you are, we have it our whole lives in one form or another.
David:Here's the link to Joe's website, which is very informative: http://www.joekort.com.
Joe, are the relationship issues between gay and lesbian couples any different than hetero couples?
Joe Kort: YES, there are many differences. One is the internalized homophobia piece not being out as a couple, even when it is safe to be out, calling each other too butch or fem, the belief that our relationships do not last or cannot be monogamous. Also, two woman bring something very different and special than two men, or a man and a woman couple. I find that with woman, there is at times a fusion/unhealthy merging because both have been conditioned as woman to be relational in a heterosexual couple. The male slow this down from his being socialized to be distant emotional. At the same time, two men are raised to be distant emotionally, and as a result, there is often a "parallel relationship", or good friends type relationship, because there is not a woman pushing for relational experience. These are sweeping generalizations, but I often see this and have read about it in my practice. I also think that GLBT have tremendous difficulty accepting differences in their relationships, more so than our straight counterparts do, because we have been unaccepted our whole lives.
David: So are you saying that even though a person may have sexual feelings for another man or woman, that they are still conditioned psychologically to behave as a man or woman would in a hetero relationship and this makes a same-sex relationship difficult?
Joe Kort: YES, that's what I am saying. As a therapist, I find myself helping female couples differentiate and tolerate the differences, and reducing the merging that can occur, because both are groomed to be relational. As for the men, I find myself coaching them to come into the relationship more, and stop all the over-working and volunteer activities and remember that they have a partner. This is very common in the couples that I treat.
David: I also want to address the issue of homophobia amongst gays and lesbians. Are you saying that even though a person is gay or lesbian, that there is still a part of themselves that either feels there's something wrong with that, or that dislikes others who are?
Joe Kort: Yes. Consider that we were raised from birth to be homophobic and heterosexist. That is imprinted upon us, and it is my belief that it takes a lifetime to undo this. We are the worst to each other regarding being homophobic because we find out that we are the very thing we were taught to hate and despise. It is a terrible bind.
Marci: My partner and I have been together for 13 years. Her children call me 'Aunt Marci". How common is this and do you feel it is ok?
Joe Kort: I think that is up to the couple. I would challenge you however, as to why they need to call you aunt? Would this be the case if you were male? Would you be called Uncle? You are their stepmother so why not just your first name? That would be my question to you. I do not find this to be common at all to call the partner aunt or uncle.
David: Here are a few audience comments on what's been said tonight:
samb: Wonder if Joe Kort remembers Pogo's wisdom: We have found the enemy and he is us!
cb888: I was never taught to despise but that I would be judged by God as a sinner.
chuckles: I felt that I was using a lot of energy not accepting my feelings. I feel much better just accepting who I am. Now I can channel my energy to positive ways, even though I keep the secret.
David: Joe, the next person (a male) is in a relationship with a bisexual man, who he says is more gay than hetero. Here's his question:
cb888: In any sexual relationship is the self responsible for orgasms or is this effort to achieve sexual pleasure in the relationship supposed to be shared. He says it's my responsibility, I say, our shared responsibility.
Joe Kort: I say both. For you to tell him what you like so he knows how to pleasure you, and for him to ask and be empathic to what your needs are.
chuckles: It has to be shared or it is not a relationship.
Joe Kort: I agree, chuckles.
cb888: One side of the family knows and the other does not. My children were raised with no bias toward gays, and now later in life I've married a bisexual and they love him, but his family is not the same accepting nature. They tease him about painted toenails and the color pink. It ticks me off!
Joe Kort: I am sorry to hear that. I really am. You and he might want to reconsider how much time you spend with his family, or limit the amount of time.
butterfly1: Since coming out, I have much more problems than when I was stuffing and ignoring. My usband was the only man I was ever with, other then abusers. I was only ever with one woman, and that was in the last year. I am finding it hard to find my place to save those I love happiness.
Joe Kort: I would recommend to you, butterfly, that you get therapy to examine why you are having difficulties. It makes sense that when you were married to a man your problems were minimal because the natural power struggle and conflicts cannot surface in a mixed orientation marriage. You are out of denial now, and conscious living IS more difficult, but MUCH more freer.
David: And now, It's getting late. I want to thank Joe for being our guest tonight. Sharing part of his life story with us and his knowledge and expertise.
His website address is: www.joekort.com.
Joe Kort: Good night everyone. I appreciate being here tonight, and having the audience participate.
David: Thank you everyone for coming tonight, and good night.