(888) 277-4253

Shrink Wrap: Conflicted in Chula Vista is split over concept of gay marriage

Got an issue that you just can’t make sense of? Shrink Wrap is a new column on SDGLN.com and is the go-to advice and support corner for the LGBT community. It’s similar to a Dear Abby but with a gay twist. Shrink Wrap allows you to ask questions about your personal life, relationships, sex, struggles, and anything else while remaining anonymous. Every week, we will answer up to three questions. Get real answers about real life issues. Anonymous and free! Give it a try, we dare you!

Conflicted in Chula Vista writes:

Gays and lesbians have faced discrimination and public ridicule for centuries, and thus had to establish a subculture to meet others and to survive emotionally and spiritually. That subculture was totally different from the straight world, and since gays and lesbians weren't shackled by societal expectations, they did what they wanted and when they wanted. Their sexual needs were often satisfied in unconventional ways. But these days, it seems that gays and lesbians are split over the concept of gay marriage. It seems so, well, hetero. And this cultural divide seems to be widening by the day. I want to support gay marriage even though I don't care one iota about it myself. I feel quite conflicted that many are giving up a way of life to embrace something that denies our very roots.

Dear Conflicted:

Change inevitably happens within any culture, and your concern and anticipation about departing from the established norm in our community is completely understandable. We simply do not know how our community will evolve as we add the marriage variable into our culture.

On a community level, the movement toward marriage carries costs and benefits. The unfavorable and even hostile treatment that American culture has directed toward the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community has had adverse effects on our mental health and has been recognized by psychologists as “minority stress.”

The mental health consequences of minority stress have been documented extensively by researchers such as Ilan Meyer at Colombia University and include symptoms such as anxiety and depressed mood.

As we move toward marriage equality, an argument could be made that the LGB community is becoming more “acculturated” to American culture or, as you said, more “hetero.” This process is conceptualized by cultural psychologists as abandoning aspects of one culture in favor of another.

It could be said that one step toward the LGB community becoming more acculturated to American culture is the adoption of marriage, a “heterosexual institution.” While the idea of acculturation could easily bring up positive feelings in many people seeking acceptance by the majority and conformity to a dominant image of what is “normal,” recent psychological research suggests that full acculturation carries with it the potential for negative psychological consequences.

In ethnic minority communities across the country, a phenomenon known as the “immigrant paradox” has been documented among ethnic minority individuals who were born and raised in the US. As reported in the May-June 2010 issue of the American Psychologist, cultural psychology researchers have shown that full acculturation into American culture by ethnic minority individuals has been associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders. Those who did not fully acculturate and maintained aspects of their native culture were less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and more likely to stay physically healthy.

While studies on this phenomenon need to be replicated and have not been conducted in the LGB community exclusively, we know that LGB individuals are challenged in some way to find a balance between the messages received from mainstream American culture and LGB culture. The problematic aspect of exploring acculturation in this community is that it is difficult to determine which culture is native to the LGB individual. Which direction would acculturation happen, if it did? Back to hetero, or away from LGB?

Assuming that LGB is the native culture and we would be moving away from being LGB (as you expressed concern about), could an LGB person who assimilates into American culture have the potential to develop the same symptoms listed above over time? It seems to me that given research performed in ethnic minority communities, full acculturation into American culture might not be the yellow brick road to happiness. As such, your concern is warranted.

But who in our community wants to ditch every aspect of the LGB community after we’ve spent the energy to find and incorporate ourselves into it? Are there benefits to finding balance between one’s culture and the dominant culture? This idea, known as biculturalism, involves maintaining one’s cultural identity while being open to aspects of another culture. Early research suggests that this might indeed lead to the least amount of acculturation-related or minority stress.

Instead of “giving up a way of life to embrace something that denies our very roots,” finding the gray area between LGB and American culture might end up being the best compromise as marriage is introduced into LGB culture.

That being said, getting caught up in how marriage might or might not affect the LGB community as a whole will likely turn out to be a tremendous waste of your energy.

You may want to focus on your own feelings about same-sex marriage and stick with how it will affect your personal life. It is perfectly OK to not want to get married! You will likely find other people (gay and straight) who don’t want to get married either. Also, your good friends shouldn’t judge you for choosing not to get married. If they do, it might be time to find new friends.

Heteros have had the option of marriage for a long time, and I happen to know many who choose not to get married even though they are in long-term loving relationships. The same may likely turn out to be true for some same-sex couples.

In all likelihood, the LGB community as we know it will not implode if more people marry. We will still have our gay ghettos, bars/clubs, sports teams, bathhouses and Pride festivals. Some gay men will still have random sexual encounters and some lesbians will continue to rent U-Hauls on their second dates. We certainly won’t all turn “hetero” overnight.

Fret not, dear Conflicted. Our community and unique culture as we know it in this country will survive through change just as others have.

Stephen Brewer, M.A., is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377-3120 or you can visit his website at www.therapybrew.com.