This Article is presented by: Dr Tony Ortega
Tony is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker based in Brooklyn, NY
Anyone who wants a long-term, committed relationship goes through similar challenges. However, as an LGBTQ individual, you have unique worries. You may face discrimination at home, at school, or at work. The traumatic severity of these experiences varies, but can sometimes impact self-worth and self-esteem. In turn, these can affect your relationships and dating life.
What advice would you have for people who have just come out about how to navigate the dating world? What weight would you put on the importance of therapy?
I don’t know, but, my very first recommendation would be to seek therapy unless you seek a therapist that is a specialist in LGBTQ+ issues. If you are able to find one in your area, absolutely, I would recommend that. Quite frankly, I would go so far as to say find an LGBTQ+ specific therapist that identifies as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Finding someone you can relate to (and knows what they are talking about on all levels) eases the discomfort of being so vulnerable with someone you barely know. Having a sense that they have been there, definitely allows for a smoother therapeutic journey.
However, the first piece of advice I would give is to find some sort of positive support in your journey. This could be found at a local LGBTQ+ centre, a therapist, or even a coming out support group/peer counselling. Again, the relatability aspect is paramount not only in the coming out process but also with navigating the dating and sex world. Some sites/apps will say they are dating apps but really are more hook-up sites. Having someone in your life with more knowledge of these issues can prevent some discomfort when you show up for a date and your person is basically waiting for you half-naked.
Certainly, don’t believe everything you see in the media about gay dating and sexual behaviour. In my coming out time, a popular show in the United States was “Queer as Folk.” In my naivete, I really thought that the things portrayed in the show were real gay life. While some of that was true, it wasn’t the full spectrum of experiences I could have had if I had a friend/support group/mentor guiding me along the way.
Why do gay men confuse sex and love?
In my work (and personal experience), I find that gay men have a more difficult time with confusing sex with love because of how readily available sex is via apps and the like. The immediate gratification of sex via hook-up sites almost provides a taste of dating in the sense of someone wanting you, yet they don’t always want you for you. They want you for what you can provide them, which are the body parts necessary for them to get off. Yes, for a brief period of time you are desired but are you being desired for you? I am not knocking promiscuous sex, however, we need to be really clear as to our intentions in doing so and not fool ourselves into thinking that a one night stand will lead to a romance.
Any ideas you have based on your understanding and trends you may see in the community would be good?
One of the things I am seeing is accessibility to services for LGBTQ+ individuals is improving immensely. With our current COVID climate, so many things have become so much more easily available through virtual means. I would like to think that our time in lockdown has allowed us the opportunity to take a good look at ourselves and what we want from life. We have hopefully stopped settling for what’s available and identified what we actually want for ourselves.
In a recent study, it was found that to avoid the experience of discrimination, more than half of LGBTQ people report hiding a personal relationship? Can you please tell me what the knock-on effects of this are, and how it can lead to further issues?
Feeling the need to hide your LGBTQ+ relationship from the world at large can have a rather profound secondary effect on one’s self-esteem and self-image. In many ways, we already grew up with the feeling we are outsiders because we don’t “belong” in this heteronormative world and for many, had to become someone we are not to avoid discrimination. Now with some acceptance of our identity as LGBTQ+ individual, we have to again hide a major part of who we are to avoid discrimination. This is not an empowering way to live but unfortunately for some, the only way to survive. Essentially, hiding your personal relationships drives us further in the closet and fuels feelings of inferiority.
However, there is another cost that needs to be taken into consideration: the partner. If you are hiding your partner from others, what will your partner think of themselves? While they could be very understanding of your predicament, it can insidiously lead to feeling rejected by their partner. Questions such as “Am I not good enough for them to disclose?” or “Does this relationship even stand a chance if my partner can’t even admit we are together to others?” The issues of low self-esteem and poor self-image could very well be transferred onto the partner.