Connect with us

Advice

Parents were devastated when older sis came out; what should he do?

Staying in the closet to keep parents happy is recipe for long-term frustration

Published

on

coming out, gay news, Washington Blade

If you are unwilling to come out, where would that lead you?

Dear Michael, 
 
My sister, eight years older than I am, came out at 17. My parents, very religious and conservative, were sad and horrified. They’ve kept Kate’s sexual orientation (together with her partner and two children) a secret from their close-knit community for many years.
 
I saw their deep disappointment and sadness and as I got older, I resolved to do my best, as their only other child, to make it up to them by being the best son they could ask for. Although as a teenager I was aware of some attraction to other guys, I resolved I would marry a woman and give my parents lots of grandchildren whom they could brag about to their friends.
 
A lot of time has gone by and I’m now in my mid-30s. After years of pushing myself to be involved with women, I’ve acknowledged I am really only attracted to men. But I can’t bring myself to come out to my parents. I think it would completely undo them to have both their children be gay and not be able to finally enjoy the same open pride in their progeny as their friends and neighbors do.
 
I know I shouldn’t be catering to their small-mindedness but they are loving people, albeit limited.  
They have spent their lives in a small community and depend enormously on the respect of their friends, earned by “fitting in” and living up to the community standards of faith and having a family.
 
Their hearts have already been broken by my sister and I do not want to take away all their hope.
 
But I cannot see myself marrying a woman and having children with her — denying myself real love, deceiving the woman I would marry and really giving my children a phony life.
 
What to do?

Michael replies:

I am sorry. You are in a tough bind.

This is really a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You will have to decide which version of “damned” you would rather tolerate: gravely disappointing your parents or denying yourself a life that may include a loving partner.

To your great credit, you don’t want to lie to a potential spouse about who you are or bring children into what would essentially be a sham marriage.

But if you are unwilling to come out, where would that lead you? A life spent alone, denying yourself the possibility of real love, all to give your parents the vague and illusory hope that one day you will give them everything they’ve dreamed of.  Don’t forget that their dream would eventually have an expiration date, as they came to realize that your marriage to a woman was never going to happen.

I can well understand your not wanting to bring further hurt to your parents. I get that they come from and live in a world where homosexuality is not accepted and that they may not be able to transcend their view of what is right and wrong in life.

What I don’t know is how much you (and possibly your sister) have tried over the years to help your parents get some outside support, for example through PFLAG, a fantastic long-time organization offering support and education for families of LGBT people. I am hopeful that your parents might be helped by finding people to talk with who are in a similar position. Having some sort of social network with other parents might allow them to move further along in accepting you and your sister (and her family) and feeling less alone and stigmatized by having gay children.

I would also like to suggest that you find a family therapist who is both gay-positive and understanding of your parents’ lives and their stance, for you and your parents to work with. Including your sister in these meetings, if she were willing to join, might help to heal some long-standing painful scars in your family.

Your love for your parents is palpable and I think it is admirable that you aren’t angry at them in a knee-jerk way but are doing your best to have empathy for them and the situation they are in.  We all have our limitations.

Still, you will likely have to make the difficult choice of letting them down hard if you really want to have a life for yourself.  And I hope you will not give up on that possibility. It would be tragic for you to sacrifice your own ability to have a deeply intimate relationship to protect your parents from grief.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Advice

Am I the only gay man who doesn’t sleep around?

Seeking friend group less interested in drugs, partying

Published

on

Feeling isolated because your friends don’t share your values? Time for new friends.

Dear Michael,

I am a 22-year-old man and I am starting to hate being gay.

It’s not that I feel bad about being attracted to men. I would love to date a guy, get married, and spend my life with him. My problem is that the values of the gay men I am meeting have nothing to do with what I want in life.

I’ve been living in D.C. for almost a year now and pretty much all I come across are guys who want to have sex with as many hot men as possible.  

Relationships, commitment, and honesty don’t seem to mean anything, as far as I can tell. I’ve had guys in long-term relationships hit on me or propose threesomes with their partners.  My ex-boyfriend was hooking up on Grindr multiple times per week after we had agreed to be exclusive. When I found out, he told me that it’s impossible for a gay guy not to sleep around.

What is it with gay men? Everyone seems to predominantly focus on sex. Whenever I go out to brunch with my gay friends, people are showing pictures and sometimes even X-rated videos of their latest hookups. Sex isn’t something special, just a recreational activity/competition.  
None of my straight friends act anything remotely like this.

Also, pretty much every gay man I spend time with seems to love getting trashed. I’m not anti-alcohol but I don’t see the fun in getting completely drunk regularly. I’m wary of recreational drugs but guys around me use them nonchalantly all the time. What kind of connection can you have with people around you when all of you are drunk or high on something?

I’ve tried to talk with my gay friends about how I feel but they respond like I’m from another planet, as if I’m questioning why they want to breathe oxygen.

I just think there’s a lot more to life than hooking up, that people should treat each other as more than just potential sex partners, and that sleeping around when I’m in a relationship doesn’t make for a great relationship. But I seem to be the only gay man I know who feels this way.

I don’t want to live the kind of life I see all around me. But I worry that unless I give up my values, I’m going to be lonely.  

Michael replies:

What kind of life will you have if you give up your values? Could you respect yourself or create a life that is meaningful and that you would enjoy?

We all face pressure to conform to those around us so that we will fit in. Doing so is understandable. As you describe, it can be lonely to be on the outside. But betraying who you actually are is a high price to pay for acceptance.  

This is why people come out. And this is why, despite the peer pressure, you are the only person who should decide the kind of life you want to lead as a gay man.

There is little point in discussing the many possible reasons why many gay men dedicate so much time and energy to sex. Everyone is free to choose how they want to live and what they want to focus on. And this includes you.

You can’t change other people or a community. But I’m hopeful you can find a community of friends with whom you are a better fit. I know you are far from alone in feeling as you do, because I regularly hear stories similar to yours in my practice. So rather than settling, keep looking, and look beyond the ways in which you’ve made your social life so far. The friend group you develop may not be as large as your current circle of acquaintances. (Or it may be larger!) In any case, you’d likely find it far more nurturing, and a lot more fun, to spend time with others who are more like-minded.  

It is not easy to feel like the odd man out. And when you want a different life from what most of your peers are seeking, it’s easy to doubt that you are OK. I’m sure you already know this from having grown up gay.  

When we come out, we have the hope that we will finally have a real peer group and won’t feel so different anymore. But that’s not always the case. Gay men are not one homogenous group and many of us have to do some searching to find some people with whom we really connect.  
You are doing important work in thinking about who you are and how you want to live. I hope you will make the choice to honor your time on earth by living it authentically.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality.

Continue Reading

Advice

Working from home is taking over our lives

We need to create boundaries and return to offices

Published

on

working from home, gay news, Washington Blade

Back in the late 1980s when I was a young financial analyst at a New York bank, I’d leave the office at five and go home to my little Upper West Side studio. With no cable, internet, or cellphone, a landline was my only connection to the outside word till I went back to work the next day.

What was it like? Tranquility is the word. Surrounded by Manhattan, I was as isolated as a monk in a cell, with uninterrupted hours to read a book, cook, or listen to an album. And of course I could go out on the town without a work crisis reaching out to ruin my plans.

I’ve been thinking back to those days a lot, lately. Working as a psychologist, I’m hearing more and more clients complain lately about how much time they’re putting into their jobs. Folks have been working from home for a year now, and as the months have gone by, many of us are spending more and more hours on the job.

What’s going on? I hear a few justifications.

First, many people tell me that they don’t feel they have an excuse not to reply when they get a text or email from a boss or colleague after normal work hours. After all, what else would they be doing? This is especially true of my single clients who don’t have children. Even dinnertime isn’t off limits.

Second, as the pandemic drags on and most of us have so few sources of fun and stimulation, people are turning more and more to their jobs for something — anything — to keep them occupied.

And, of course, there’s the reality that we’re working from our homes. There’s no physical boundary keeping work at work.

So while it’s great not to have to commute or wear pants, working from home is making it even easier for our jobs to take over our lives than they already were. Put bluntly, this sucks.

We all need a break from work. Every day. Your job likely isn’t paying you for 16-hour days. Even if it is, you need to have some fun, rest, and recharge your brain.

Of course we can’t shut ourselves off from the world as completely as I did in those pre-internet/cellphone days. But we need to draw a boundary, even if it means disappointing our employers and colleagues by doing so. I’m not talking about not doing your job. I’m just talking about setting a limit on how much of your life you are willing to give to your work.

Standing up for your own well-being can be scary. There may be real risks in terms of job security and compensation. Only you can decide for yourself when it is vital to say “no.” But advocating for yourself is necessary at times. To quote Hillel, an ancient Jewish sage: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”

Taking action on your own behalf is also a skill you want to develop, because it will help you in all areas of your life. If you can’t say “no” in order to eat dinner uninterrupted, watch a movie you’d like to see, spend time with someone you love or get a good night’s sleep, you’re going to get chewed up and spit out by others, quite a lot.

Recently, I’ve been reading that D.C.’s downtown is in danger of financial ruin. As many people may not be be returning to the office after the pandemic, some believe that the whole web of service businesses may collapse.

I’m hoping that the doomsdayers floating this theory are wrong, and that as the pandemic ends many of us will head back to the office, at least much of the time. We need to get back to setting a stronger boundary between work and the rest of our lives.

Yes, we’ll be helping our city rebound. And we’ll also be making a big step toward taking care of ourselves, by re-constructing a life that’s about way more than work.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com.

Continue Reading

Advice

ADVICE: Despair vs. resilience in trying times

Coronavirus lockdown has many down but you’re stronger than you think

Published

on

As the COVID-19 crisis goes on without our having any clarity about how or when this crazy situation will improve, most everyone I know is super-anxious about getting sick, fed up with being locked down or both. Is there a way for us to get through this any easier? 

Here’s a start: Acknowledge that there are no guarantees in life.

When we accept that life is going to throw all sorts of challenges at us and that there is sometimes nothing we can do to stop these challenges from coming, that leaves us with one great option: Work on becoming more resilient so we can better deal with the hard stuff, including the very hard stuff.

This is called resilience. Being able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going forward. Cliché, yes, but it’s what we need to do if we don’t want life to beat us down.

Good news: resilience is a trait we are born with. As I’m writing these words, I’m watching my 4-month-old, who recently learned to turn from his back onto his belly, trying to turn from his belly onto his back. He’s been at this for days, and has succeeded just once. He keeps crying and trying. He won’t give up. That’s resilience.

Further good news: If you’re LGBT, you likely have already done some work in this area. All the difficulties that we experience as we grow up — struggling to accept an identity that’s stigmatized, teasing, rejection and worse — and here we are. How? All of us found a way to keep moving forward in our lives rather than letting circumstances defeat us.

Of course, this is pretty much true of anyone who has been through tough times and survived. Many of our elders who experienced the Depression, wartime, or worse tell us that they aren’t fazed by the virus or having to stay at home. Having endured previous struggles, they know they can do their best to endure this one.

That’s what all of us must keep in mind now. Knowing that we have had the resilience to get through past difficulties can support us in getting through this new hard time.

Another important point to keep in mind: When we give our suffering meaning, it helps us endure the suffering. Reminding ourselves that striving to endure this tough period will make us even more resilient can actually help us to more easily endure it.

Other ways we can strengthen our own capacity for resilience: 

Do our best to take care of ourselves, of course. When we eat well, find a way to exercise, get adequate sleep and take breaks from virus-worrying through meditation or just focusing on something pleasant or uplifting, we’re less anxious and better able to keep calm. The ability to soothe ourselves is key to being resilient.

Stay connected to people around us so that we don’t wind up feeling isolated and alone, which can deepen feelings of hopelessness. We all need supportive friends and family whom we can ask for assistance when we really need it to survive. Knowing that they are there is part of feeling resilient. And if we’re able to help others in some way — dropping off groceries for an elderly relative or neighbor, or simply being willing to listen — we’re likely to feel stronger and more able to cope.

Appreciate what we have. This can include a roof over our head, food to eat, people and companion animals we love and simply being alive right now. Doing will serve us much better than lamenting.

While none of us will live forever, we all want to stay in the game as long as we can. Striving to be resilient can help us keep going forward through life with the belief that if it’s possible to survive, we have a good shot at doing so. And that belief can give us hope, determination and a positive outlook.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular