Brisbane Psychologist Dr Terry Olesen is experienced in offering a safe, non-judgmental place for you to share and explore your confusion, if you are questioning your sexuality …
About three years ago Monty (not his real name) came to my clinic in Perth.
Smartly dressed in summer apparel I sensed there was something Monty, a warm and open person, wanted to get off his chest. And as it turned out there was.
Monty, now in his mid-40’s, had been confused since his teens about his sexual identity.
As Monty put it:
I’m in turmoil. My world is falling apart. My wife told me to get out, after 16 years together. We’ve built a home together, had two children, both have good jobs. But I feel I am living a lie. Now that I’m separated I’m looking at and feeling attracted to men. This happened to me in my late teens and early 20s, when I sought out other men for sex. Then I trained in theatre (acting) and then hairdressing. Now everything has gone awry.
Now I feel like I don’t know who I am, something inside acts like a switch, that makes me question everything I’ve been and who I am now. Am I gay? One voice says no, another voice says “you’ve been married and had kids, so you are straight.” I am so confused, it’s making me crazy trying to understand whether I am gay or not. Can you help me figure it out?
Monty went on to say he liked women, but had sought out men prior to his marriage. Having had sex with multiple male partners, he got married and had two sons with his wife.
It seemed that now he desired to be with men, but was also attracted to women. Monty was displaying signs of being bisexual but it seemed he had not faced up to this in his own mind. His internal voices were in full battle.
In therapy, as every person is different, it is important for me to offer the client a therapy model that suits their personality and belief system.
Explore your Sexuality with Narrative Therapy
With a background in theatre and a love of literature, a Narrative Therapy Approach seemed most appropriate for Monty. This is a type of non-directive therapy that explores both past and present social constructs (stories and beliefs we accept from others and then tell ourselves). This is done in a Socratic (Q&A) type of manner, for the most part relaxed, with space inside and outside of sessions for reflection.
My own life was as a heterosexual male and had been uncomplicated as I had always liked and been drawn to women. But I had spent much of my adolescent youth in Northern California and my college years in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 70’s. Back then as well as now, both places are draw cards for gay and lesbian people, and known as places of sexual tolerance and experimentation.
So by circumstance I was situated in a ‘gay mecca’ part of the world with many gay and lesbian friends. To me, sexual preference is simply a private matter between two souls who find joy in each other.
Questioning Sexuality Later in Life
Monty’s quandary did surprise me however – by the time a person had reached his stage of life (mid 40s, married with kids, home ownership, stable job, upwardly mobile) I had expected such a person would have resolved issues as central as their sexuality and sexual identity; but Monty had not.
There were also other issues that any couple looking down the road of divorce had to deal with. Fear, shame and guilt were taking over Monty’s world.
Complicating all this was the ever present influence of major institutions such as family, school, churches, media and governments. Like fish that swim in the the oceans we swim in a socially constructed sea chock full of beliefs, norms, sanctions, ideologies, allegiance, myths and laws. Our institutions often act upon us without our knowing it, creating currents of do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs, that we too easily get carried along by. These currents of do’s and don’ts were now pushing Monty to and fro in confusion. He was like a swimmer who was just now discovering what a rip-tide is, and he was trying to swim against it. To him he felt like he was getting tired and was in danger of drowning.
An exploration of these social conditionings was just what Monty needed. It’s a bit like having a spring clean – taking an objective look into the world of our thoughts, discarding a few things, polishing up others and introducing alternative ideas, to reconstruct a world based upon our own values that give us joy and comfort.
Good Therapy illuminates Social Constructions
Regardless of the social norms and laws outlined above, giving a client a safe haven to explore their situation, delve into themselves, self-educate on the historical struggle for gay rights, can create for them a new expansive space, one where they can co-create options for themselves and define even a new form of sexuality.
The age old question is: What can/should we do to encourage our inner Self (soul, creativity, love) to reveal itself and develop – while at the same time lifting our fellow human beings (or at least doing no harm to them)?
In my work with Gay and Lesbian identity issues, I have found Narrative Therapy to be one of the best options as it is respectful and dialogue-oriented.
Narrative therapy is based on the constructivist assumption that we live in a social world of given norms, laws and world views. Being social animals, it assumes we take on these quite automatically by modelling others, by fitting in, if not through explicit instruction.
Thus we grow up in a “seed-bed” (milieu) of stories ready-made for us, stories that evolve into stories we tell about ourselves, how good/bad we are, where we came from and where we are going to end up (post-mortem).
It’s important in this type of therapy to bring to the patient’s awareness that stories, while powerful, are actually arbitrary; as we could have been born into a different culture, nation, community or religion and thus had different stories and thus different identities (and thus adopted different beliefs, performed different actions, and had different outcomes) (https://dulwichcentre.com.au/). Narrative therapists generally have a value system that emphasizes freedom of choice and social justice.
In Monty’s case, his enduring constructed beliefs (that which often automatically guides our actions and thoughts) seemed to revolve around deep-seated beliefs that were seeded in him as to what it is to fall and love and be married. Instilled in him from a young age were strong beliefs that to marry someone of the same sex was anti-normal and anti-Christian, perverted even.
These were constructions made by the dominant/historical culture. Monty could now see he was bound by rules and beliefs that no longer served him, but instead brought him “down.”
Will the Therapist Stand ‘With You’?
Although the more rigid societal norms and laws around homosexuality are loosening in more places each year, if you find yourself in Monty’s situation you will need to gather your energies. When supported, you will feel better able to ‘stand up proud and be counted.’ (That’s why each year around the western world there are Gay Pride Marches and Festivals.)
An honest and caring therapist will stand with you. They, like you, may have had to dive deep and overcome prejudices or fallings-out over who they really were or wanted to become.
A good therapist will “get” that each of us are immersed in a socially determined world that is biased toward preferencing heterosexuality lifestyle, values and ideals; and that it’s not easy if you are questioning your sexuality.
No, therapists will not guarantee you will have an easy ride coming to terms with your sexuality (core identity). In this regard, I have witnessed cases where families and some friends will challenge (are you sure you’re gay?), avoid, or disown you for ‘coming out.’
Post Therapy (Self Help Groups)
Initially this ride will be painful but I have also seen great growth and joy develop in those clients who educate themselves, ‘bite the bullet,’ and learn to accept themselves.
Acting in ways consistent with your heart, your dreams and your core values, is liberating. To say, “I’m not straight after all, I’m gay” can be liberating. Therapy is a good safe haven to do this in.
In addition to therapists there are also Self Help Groups (clubs, associations, support groups) that are set up for people with sexual identity issues. They will help you discover (or recover) your sexual identity. It may be wise to conduct your self-discovery while enrolled in both therapy and a group.
Your journey is not over, it will continue even while you are in a group, but the group members can support you as you take further steps to confront obstacles and overcome them. The research is quite clear that ‘there is strength in numbers’ and that Self-Help Groups help build insight, resilience and courage.
Know that as you confront your self-doubts and push through each obstacle, as your true identity starts to reveal itself through your words, actions and feelings, you will feel more confident about who you are, and what your purpose is. You no longer will have to ‘wear the same color shoes’ as the majority.
Author: Dr Terry Olesen, BA (Hons), M Psych, PhD Psych, MAPS.
For over 25 years, Brisbane Psychologist Dr Terry Olesen has been helping people via psychology-based counselling. He finds it particularly rewarding to work with people with a ‘life situation knot’: feeling stymied, distraught, sad or angry, while facing external challenges such as job loss, health issues or getting over an ex. The topic of his doctoral research was work-life adjustment and mental health, which, in addition to his years of clinical practice, gives him the expertise to help people with a range of career and relationship-related difficulties.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
NB Terry Olesen is not currently practising at M1 Psychology, however if you call us on (07) 3067 9129 we would be happy to suggest another psychologist at our practice with experience in this area.
- A brief word on terminology: During the last century, the terms homosexual, gay, same-sex, non-straight, or queer was applied to both situations.
- Closely related to Narrative Therapy is SFBT or Solution Focused Brief Therapy. See https://solutionfocused.net/
- See for example: https://www.pflagbrisbane.org.au/contact-us.