Given that I specialize in both faith-based counseling and I advertise as an LGBTQ+ safe space, I knew this blog post needed to come sooner rather than later. Putting the subjects of “faith” and “LGBTQ” side-by-side often invokes an invitation to explain oneself further.
I hope to have many more blog posts about this topic in the future, but for now I’ll kick off this series by attempting to explain myself in this area – if even to just scratch the surface. My hope is not to make it about me, but rather to respond to this frequently asked question so I have it as a reference point in future posts, and to hopefully open up a safe space before getting to the really good stuff.
The LGBT “Thing?”
I’ll start by explaining why I choose “thing” to reference such a hugely important subject? Most commonly I’ve heard other faith-based communities reference non-normative sexuality as “The LGBTQ issue.” I’ve come to take issue with overusing the word “issue” because over time it’s seemed to have taken on a subtext as if to say, “LGBTQ people are getting in the way of our comfortable lives by challenging our heterosexual and gender binary norms. They are making this an issue.” Don’t get me wrong, the topic of sexuality has no doubt become an incredible issue in our society. I fear though that some of us are losing a sense that this is an issue as a result of the persecution and unequal treatment of people that requires care and understanding, and instead members of society are looking to a people group that feels unfamiliar and saying to them, “you are an issue.” Therefore, I opted not to use that word for my blog title.
I also chose not to call it “the LGBTQ debate.” There may be plenty of things available to debate surrounding this topic, but my intent in this post is not to debate any issues. Rather, I wish to simply share where I come from and how I approach sexuality with my clients as a faith-based therapist.
Now that we got that cleared up, the next question is often – why me? How did this become an area that I specialize in as a cisgender, straight female? I fit into the majority culture in both my sexuality and my gender identity.
My journey into this area of specialty was not a direct path. My initial interests in the field primarily surrounded anxiety and racial/ethnic identity – two areas that still continue to be at the core of my work. However, growing up in a conservative evangelical Christian context did not leave much room for me to see or understand the LGBTQ community. Without going into all the details, as a teenager I didn’t know how to make sense of anything that happened outside of the norms of gender and sexual identity that were taught to me. In hindsight, I didn’t want to interact with the LGBTQ community or anything affiliated because I feared doing so would threaten my beliefs and values. So I kept mostly to myself, and it seemed my plan was mostly working – if only in the sense that I was able to successfully avoid facing reality.
I’m grateful that a wrench got thrown into my comfortable yet fearful worldview around sexuality. Beginning in college, I started experiencing a strange phenomenon. Trusted friends and loved ones began to come out to me. At the time, the idea that someone I knew and loved could be gay or otherwise fall outside of sexual or gender binaries was a complete shock to me. At the time I offered many unhelpful or even harmful responses, when my friends probably were in deep need of support and understanding.
These shocks to my system forced me to take the whole LGBTQ thing off the shelf and challenged me to reevaluate how I made sense of everything. I’ll spare you all the details of my journey since then, except to say that even from there my path to where I am now was not at all linear, and I believe my journey will still continue to unfold from here. However, once I was faced with the reality that non-normative sexualities existed, I couldn’t set the topic back down or brush it aside anymore.
For awhile, I didn’t directly advertise sexuality as an area of specialty for my practice, even though I had worked with many individuals identifying sexuality as a primary reason for seeing me. I also found myself constantly seeking more learning material on the subject and desiring more and more to become an advocate for a largely misunderstood people group – especially within church circles. I must confess that even though I was passionate about pursuing advocacy, I feared what advertising myself as an “LGBTQ+ safe space” could do to my reputation.
I’m not in any way proud for having kept things so quiet. I was finally inspired to “come out” as a Christian therapist specializing in sexuality after contemplating stories of those in the LGBTQ community who have been brave enough to come out to their loved ones, even when that’s meant that they’ve been cut off or persecuted as a result. All of a sudden protecting my private practice seemed very insignificant compared to the realities of some of my clients and friends.
Once I started publicly advertising myself as an LGBTQ+ safe space, I began to realize just how great a need there is, and how many people in so many churches have not told anyone their secret.
I don’t claim to understand all there is to know about sexuality. In fact, the more I learn the less I feel like I know. My goal is not to come from a place of power through knowledge, rather my hope is to assume a posture of humility, knowing I always have so much more to learn. By calling myself an “LGBTQ+ safe space” I don’t wish to convey that I know everything, rather I wish to level the playing field by asking permission to learn and explore each individual’s story together with them. I do believe this is the only path forward for us if we hope to make healthy progress on this front.
Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash