CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gay pride (and prejudice)

At 11:55 last night -- only days before New York's Gay Pride Parade commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the birth of the gay rights movement -- the state became the largest in the nation to approve same-sex marriage.

Gay men and lesbians throughout the country rejoiced at a further recognition that they are equal to any other person regardless of whom they love. What a victory for all those individuals who grew up being told that there was something wrong with them.

Well, yes and no.

Here are some of the comments gay men and lesbians read or saw continually during June, the month of pride:

Same-sex marriage is "unjust and immoral" and poses "an ominous threat" to society (New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan). It will lead to "anarchy" (former New York Giants receiver David Tyree). We should not encourage "sodomites" who are "spreading sin, disease, deviancy, and a higher suicide rate" (Torah Jews for Decency, oblivious to the fact that comments like theirs are what lead to a higher suicide rate). And let's not forget comedian Tracy Morgan's infamous rant that he would stab his son to death if he were to come out as gay.

Imagine being a gay man or lesbian and hearing these comments from religious leaders, celebrities and sports heroes. Or walking in the Gay Pride Parade past "godly" people carrying signs proclaiming that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. It's easy to dismiss these outrageous rants, but what about the subtle messages LGBT individuals get every day.

Imagine the guilt and hurt of knowing your parents, though accepting, blame themselves for your sexual orientation -- since, clearly, someone must be to blame. Or steering conversations at work away from what you did over the weekend for fear that coming out might hurt your career. Or to be a gay man who is afraid to hold his son's hand in public for fear of being reported for child abuse.

Remarkable progress has been made in the 42 years since the Stonewall riots. Yet nine out of ten LGBT students report experiencing harassment and nearly two-thirds of them feel unsafe in school. The incongruities are astounding -- young people are coming out far earlier then ever, yet suicide related to homosexuality remains the second leading cause of death among youth. For the first time, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage and New York joins five states and the District of Colombia in allowing it. Yet 39 states and the federal government (through The Defense of Marriage Act) specifically ban same-sex marriage. Several more outlaw gay people from adopting or becoming foster parents because of the "risk" they pose to children born to crack addicts and dangerously abusive parents. And the Tennessee State Senate recently passed a bill that made it illegal to even discuss homosexuality in any school prior to ninth grade.

The more things change, the more homophobia remains ingrained.

Three decades after the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual belatedly removed homosexuality as an illness, I still sometimes treat men and women tormented by their same-sex attraction; adults and adolescents disowned by family or forced to go to counselors not to treat their shame and depression but to change their sexual orientation. I also see many lesbians, gay men and bisexual patients who are out, open and proud, and supported by friends and family.

Homophobia will never be eradicated. We all grow up in a heterosexual society usually in straight families. Sometimes we forget to examine our own subtle fears and assumptions. A couple of years ago, I taught a course in Gender and Sexuality to a group of open-minded psychotherapists. Several people wanted to know what caused homosexuality. Could it be the result of childhood sexual abuse? I noted that no one wanted to know what caused heterosexuality. Could sexual abuse make someone straight? As psychotherapists, when we are sitting with heterosexual patients, do we ever think to wonder about how their sexual orientation affects them?

We should. The difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is not that one is normal and the other not, it is that one is the unquestioned norm and the other can be a frightening threat.

So let's celebrate the actions of the New York Legislature and Gov. Mario Cuomo. But let's also remember the words of a man celebrating outside the Stonewall Inn where the gay rights movement began: "We are there, finally, but we are not all the way there; this is only one step."
-- Eric Sherman, LCSW

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ain't It Peculiar...Ain't It a Shame?

by Sally Rudoy

As I was on the treadmill at the gym the other day I was listening to my iPod. Set on random shuffle mode, the iPod tossed up a sequence of songs remarkable for their coherence of theme. To my aerobic mind, the internal DJ of my iPod that day was moved to comment on the perplexing irony of couple-hood. Why do we hurt the ones we love? Why do we stay too long in relationships that are no good for us? In short, why does love stink?

Working with couples psychoanalytically I look for themes, patterns of interactions, attachment styles, and the ways in which a couple interpersonally regulate affect. I try to communicate these observations to the couple with a jargon free, lively language that, I hope, will reverberate with the deepest levels of their experience of how they give and receive love.

iPod-tethered as I was there on that belt to nowhere, I realized I could never articulate the conundrum of love more viscerally than those that were serenading my aimless journey. Two "ainty" songs coincidently played in a row. They captured the pattern familiar to songwriters and couple’s therapists alike of loving someone who is depriving or downright cruel.

For your consideration, I submit Marvin Gaye’s version of "Ain’t that Peculiar" and the B52’s, "Ain't it a Shame.” Click on the links below to hear the songs. Read along with the printed lyrics. Ain’t they got it right?

AIN’T THAT PECULIAR sung by Marvin Gaye

(William "Smokey" Robinson/Marvin Tarplin/Robert Rogers/Warren Moore)


Honey you do me wrong but still I’m crazy about you

Stay away too long and I can't do without you

Every chance you get you seem to hurt me more and more

But each hurt makes my love stronger than before

I know flowers go through rain

But how can love go through pain?

Ain't that peculiar

A peculiar ality

Ain't that peculiar baby

Peculiar as can be

You tell me lies that should be obvious to me

I've been so much in love with you baby till I don't wanna see

That the things you do and say are designed to make me blue

It's a dog gone shame my love for you makes all

Your lies seem true

But if the truth makes love last longer

Why do lies make my love stronger?

Ain't that peculiar

Peculiar as can be

Ain't that peculiar baby

Peculiar ality

I cried so much just like a child that’s lost its toy

Maybe baby you think these tears I cry are tears of joy

A child can cry so much until you do everything they say

But unlike a child my tears don't help me to get my way

I know love can last through years

But how can love last through tears?

Ain't that peculiar

A peculiar ality

Ain't that peculiar baby

Peculiar as can be

Ain’t It a Shame B-52s


(Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson, Keith Strickland)

Flying saucers could land

And it wouldn't make much difference to my man

I could walk aboard and thank the lord

And leave this damn town in seconds flat

Check my bags and never come back

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

Oh, I've been unkind

Not like you

Ain't I ashamed

Being misused

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

I liked your Chevy Duster

I liked your brand new trailer

I liked your color TV

But you looked at that color TV

More than me

More than me

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

Oh, our love is

Like a fuse that's burned out

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weinergate -- and America's problem with sex

What is it with politicians and their... you thought I was going to say "wieners" didn't you?

When Anthony Weiner joined a growing list of sextroverts that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford -- help me out, I feel like I'm forgetting 20 or 30 -- it said a mouthful about men, power and our society's complicated relationship with sexuality.

What fascinates me is not the fact that each man strayed; I care a lot more about public policy than private peccadilloes. Rather, what stood out was the stunning poor judgment, the hypocrisy, the insensitivity to loved ones, the belief that each man was somehow too powerful to be caught, and especially the ridiculous denials.

And it's not just politicians with roaming eyes and stunning lies. Sports stars (hold that Tiger!), celebrities, musicians and other outsized rich and famous folk are forever being caught with their pants down in the most stunning fashion. And America can't get enough of it. What does this say about men, power, powerful men, and our country's contradictory Puritanical/pubescent attitudes toward sex?

The fact that the laundry list Lotharios is made up exclusively of men says as much about both women's continued exclusion from power, as it does about the attitudes of the genders toward sexuality. At the risk of getting all "Men Are from Mars" on you, for many males, sex is a way to exhibit potency, prowess and control. The phallus is the ultimate symbol of masculine power. Rape, as we know, is not so much a sexual act as one of domination, aggression and humiliation.

While for many women sex is a vehicle to express vulnerability and foster intimacy, for men, it can be a means of denying those same potentially shameful feelings. (Women, for their part, may shy away from the more healthfully aggressive sides of sex, although I hesitate to make pathologizing generalizations.)

Just like anger can be vitalizing for someone riddled with depression or insecurity, I have worked with many sex addicts (the vast majority of whom are men) who report that sexual conquests, particularly with someone with whom they do not feel warmly attached, can temporarily abate feelings of emptiness.

Professions like politics and sports that thrust men into the spotlight attract those starving for power and adulation. In a word: narcissists. Their hunger for power and acknowledgment must be fed with the regularity of penguins at the zoo. Admiring young interns, groupies and hangers-on not only fit the bill, but are eager to have their own needs for recognition met by attaching to powerful others, which may be why so many political wives stand by their husbands.

Additionally, America has a hard time talking about sex. More than ever, titillating messages bombard us through an ever-expanding world of media -- from Twitter to tabloids to sexting. Sex sells and makes us squirm at the same time. And so we talk about sex (when we talk about it all) out of both sides of our mouths. It makes us giggle because we equate it with being dirty. And it's pretty hard for many couples to bring what's dirty into the bedroom -- instead it gets acted out outside. The message: sex in relationships is loving but boring. Outside, it's girls gone wild!

Any pre-adolescent can log on to a porn site, yet try to introduce sex education into the schools and parents become livid. Despite its being all around us, sex remains taboo. How else to explain why so many men have affairs and sexual dysfunction at the same time.

As a psychoanalyst with an interest in sexuality, I understand the importance of psychodynamic psychotherapy in this area. Sex -- dirty, clean, and in between -- should be a healthy part of life. When complicated, shameful feelings can get put into words rather than actions, they can be better incorporated into our everyday existence.

And that can be pretty sexy.

-- Eric Sherman, LCSW