From Myth to Empowerment: How GLBT persons can Shift

Roby Sapp and Dotti BerryYou have heard people laugh and say, “Wouldn’t it be great if every GLBT person turned purple?” as if that would allow us to exclaim “Free at last!” Yes, “easy” is how we like it in our society. If you turned purple (GLBT), however, you would still have to deal with your own internal homophobia/transphobia that continues to lurk just beneath the surface. How do you know? Test yourself against the myths that keep you silent. Many of you have not only heard them, but you believe them.

How does your remaining silent and hiding who you are reflect the last vestiges of shame that stalks you individually and our community as a whole? How does your lack of honesty and openness possibly create distrust with people?

Many of the myths feed the erroneous information, and enable you and others to stay in stuck places. Debunking myths encourages you to transform yourself, allowing others the space to shift as well.

Naming these myths is like confronting one’s abuser. Did this really happen? Documenting them makes you realize the absurdity of giving them power.

Myth #1: Your “lifestyle” is nobody’s business.

False. First and foremost, people’s sexual orientation/gender identity been erroneously “co-opted” as a “lifestyle.” The phrase continues to be used in our society, and sometimes within our own community. The dictionary definition of the word “lifestyle,” however, helps us to understand why the term is a misnomer. As well, it serves as a way to denigrate the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community).

life style

n. A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group: "It was a millionaire’s lifestyle on the pocketbook of a hairdresser" (People).

Usage Note: When lifestyle became popular a generation ago, a number of critics objected to it as voguish and superficial, perhaps because it appeared to elevate habits of consumption, dress, and recreation to categories in a system of social classification. Nonetheless, the word has proved durable and useful, if only because such categories do in fact figure importantly in the schemes that Americans commonly invoke when explaining social values and behavior, as in Rachel Brownstein’s remark that "an anticonventional lifestyle is no sure sign of feminist politics, or indeed, of any politics at all." Fifty-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts the word in Bohemian attitudes toward conventional society have been outstripped and outdated by the lifestyles of millions of young people. An even greater number fully 70 percent accepts the word in Salaries in the Bay Area may be higher, but it may cost employees as much as 30 percent more to maintain their lifestyles, where the context requires a term that implies categorization based on habits of consumption.

Source: The American Heritage軒 Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright 見 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

The above definition illuminates the incongruence of the word "lifestyle" as applied to GLBT persons. The definition helps us clarify and understand the distinction between the word "lifestyle" and its misappropriated connection and reference to sexual orientation and/or gender identity/gender expression. Lifestyle is defined as (n) : a manner of living that reflects the person’s values and attitudes. Human sexual orientation and/or gender identity/gender expression is neither a "value" nor an "attitude." Neither a "homosexual lifestyle" nor a "heterosexual lifestyle" exists. In our society, however, while one hears reference to a "homosexual lifestyle," one does not hear reference to a "heterosexual lifestyle." It is the "homosexual lifestyle" that is used as a derogatory term, allowing people to denigrate persons who are gay and lesbian, calling their "lifestyle" a threat to family values. The reality is that how one chooses to live out their human sexual orientation, (whether that is homosexual or heterosexual), or their gender identity/expression, in terms of being "open, in the closet, monogamous, promiscuous, etc." would be the "lifestyle." Those choices represent a "value" or "attitude" consistent with the term "lifestyle."

Referring to GLBT persons as a "lifestyle" allows people to push away and discount the individuals within our community. It leads to misunderstanding the lives and relationships of homosexual, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning persons and who they are, as well as who they love. Referral by the GLBT community to ourselves as a "lifestyle" disconnects us from who we are and communicates shame, as if being GLBT is something to "overcome" rather than a gift to be celebrated.

Myth #2: Let people get to know you first before you "come out" to them. Otherwise, it might create a barrier and they may never choose to get to know you.

False. Allow people to get to know the "real you" from the beginning. Otherwise, people (consciously or unconsciously) feel they have been deceived, and there is a breach of trust which has to be repaired. Those who will create a barrier because of knowing the "authentic you", will probably find a way to create a barrier anyway due to their own fears. Quit being someone you are not so others will like and accept you. Claim the value of who you are, and allow others to appreciate you. There is more empowerment for being rejected for who you are, than being valued and respected for who you are not.

Myth #3: Respect other people’s wishes and don’t "push it in their faces."

False. The "it" they are referring to is you being GLBT, queer or questioning. You, however, are not an "it." Heterosexual people or mixed gender couples, however, don’t follow their own advice. The things they are referring to (such as holding hands with your same gender partner, or talking about your partner or person you are dating, etc.) are the same things they allow themselves to do without claiming they are "pushing it in their faces." Being real and who you are isn’t pushing "it" in their faces. Why? First of all, because none of us are an "it." You are a human being with human feelings, wanting to create authentic connections with other people, just like them. Refuse to allow them to demonize and invalidate your valid and healthy feelings, emotions, and behaviors.

Refuse to participate in "don’t ask/don’t tell policies." If you do, you are an accomplice in the dysfunction within our society about GLBT persons. Your silence is part of the problem, and enables the toxicity that poisons you. Become part of the solution by standing up and speaking out, and claiming and living your authentic life!

Myth #4: No one in their right mind would choose to be gay.

False. Why not? Some of the most creative people in the world are gay. Ask yourself, "If I were not gay, who would I be? What would my life be like?" When I ask myself the question about whether or not I would choose to be gay, my answer is a resounding "YES!" Being gay is a gift that enables me to be more fully alive and connected to others, as well as more compassionate regarding our differences.

Myth #5: Not sharing your authentic life (with the people your parents don’t want you to tell) is a way of respecting your parents and family.

False. Consider that NOT sharing your authentic life with the people you love is disrespectful. YOU are a gift…Act like it! To keep a gift from others is selfish. Remaining silent about whom you are holds you in fear. It also keeps both you and the other person from the opportunity to grow.

Myth #6: Holding hands or showing affection with my partner in front of my family/friends/others is taboo because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

False. You are not responsible for how others feel simply because of being who you are. Sharing appropriate affection with the person you love…yes, even in front of others…is not only ok, but it is encouraging and inspiring for anyone to witness. Love offers ways of expanding; fear contracts. Which one sounds more empowering to you?

Myth #7: Homosexuality is a sin, and the Bible condemns homosexuality.

False. There are many theologians who do not support the theory that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The belief of some people that this is true does not make it true. It makes it their belief. Do your homework if this topic is of interest to you. Go to this link to read Rev. Dr. Lisa Davison’s What the Bible Says/Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality. Also, go to this link to read about recommended books that address this topic. Dare to delve deeply into creating a new understanding so that you can discern for yourself what is true/not true, rather than what others tell you is true/not true.

Myth #8: You will lose everything (involvement with church, friends, relations with family) if you come out of the closet, so it would be best to remain silent and hidden.

False. Far from losing everything, the untold truth is that the gains, in terms of personal integrity and freedom, are far greater than the risks and consequences that we most fear. You begin to recognize the value for being who you truly are, rather than who people think you are. Although some friendships MAY be changed or lost, the ones that remain become deeper friendships because the walls that have created an invisible barrier dissolve. What do you gain if the love you receive from others is based on who you are not?

Myth #9: There’s something wrong with you if you’re gay. You’re not normal. You are disordered.

False. There’s nothing wrong with you. Act like you believe it. Name the emotions you feel, claim the emotions that you feel, and let the ones go that no longer empower you in your life. Commit to living your life with the utmost authenticity at all times. When you find yourself doing otherwise, check in with yourself and be willing to discover what is stopping you. Be completely honest and look at your part in any charade you are playing, and why you are playing it. Seek to understand why you are willing to enable those who would imprison you with their thinking. What emotions are beneath your actions?

Myth #10: Being gay and a person of faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever faith) is an oxymoron. If you are gay, you aren’t right with "God."

False. If you are a person of faith, being anyone other than who you truly are will keep you separated from the divine energy, whether that is God, Allah, or whoever to you. There is nothing that empowers a person’s spiritual faith more than experiencing total integration between one’s spirituality and sexuality. This applies whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.

Myth #11: You will only be happy if you are in a heterosexual relationship.

False. A 12 year study at The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA, made some interesting discoveries. Their website says, "Using state-of-the-art methods while studying 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Dr. John Gottman (University of Washington) and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley) have learned what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail.

One key result: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across all couple types (straight, gay, lesbian) that Dr. Gottman has studied. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz: They find that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways." Click here to read the synopsis of that research.

If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, know that you are capable of having as good, or bad, relationship as any "traditional relationship." It is up to you, not family and/or society, to determine whether or not you can have a dynamic and empowering relationship.

Myth #12: Children do better when they are raised in a "traditional" home with "married" parents.

False. The truth is, the "traditional" definition of family (married heterosexual couple with 1.5 children) is only one of the many family structures that our country’s children are born into or currently being raised in. Studies have shown that the presence of a married father and mother is not a prerequisite to positive outcomes for children. Click here for entire article by Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of Family Pride, the only national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to securing equality for LGBT parents and their families.

If you want children, do whatever it takes to create your own family!

Ask yourself this question: Is the way I am living my life empowering me? If the answer is "no," then it is time to begin living life in a way that does empower you.

見Copyright 2006 Dotti Berry

Dotti Berry is a Life & Relationship Coach who is finishing her doctorate work in Human Sexuality at Widener University. Visit her website, GLBT Coach. Dotti & her spouse, Robynne Sapp, were legally married March 7, 2004, in Portland, Oregon. Their civil wedding license was voided a year later by the State. Their spiritual ceremony was July 31, 2004. They are currently on a yearlong journey, Gay Into Straight America, the initial project of their non-profit, Stand UP Speak OUT, Inc. Their intention is to engage hearts and minds, create authentic connections, and dissolve differences that separate us.

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