[Originally presented as part of a panel discussion, "Out of the Closet and Onto the Couch: Clinical Practice with Sexual Minorities," at Unstudied, Understudied, and Underserved Sexual Communities, the Western Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality 8 May 2005, San Francisco, CA]
ABSTRACT: I Conduct my clinical practice based on two implications:
(1) That I cannot assume a client is who or what she seems at first to be, even in the most basic ways.
(2) Everyone brings concerns to the therapeutic dialogue that are simply human.
Ahem.... a Prefatory
To speak honestly of sex and to depict sex frankly is revolutionary because the world likes to not speak of it--even though it is central to everyone's lifestyle. Even the most prudish postal inspector has his sex-style and sex-attitude at the center of his existence.
The same can be said of anyone who qualifies to be thought human....
--Joseph Bean, from an interview in Leather Times, the Leather Archives & Museum newsletter, Fall, 2004
Thirteen years ago, on the first of May, 1992, in Palo Alto, CA, I participated in a panel discussion at Sexual Diversity, the Western Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (not yet Sexuality). Our panel was called "Voices from the Edge: Sexual Minorities Speak Out." My co-panelists were Kat Sunlove, then publisher of Spectator and now Legislative Affairs Director of the Free Speech Coalition; James Green, transgender activist, spokesman, and author, who was then also president of FTM International; and Carol Queen, sex activist, author, and now Co-Founder and Director of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. In my prepared notes, which I later published under the title "Am I a Sexual Minority?" I asserted that I was "straight" as a way to reclaim for general usage a word as sadly lost as "queer" once was. I argued that if I defined myself as straight, then whatever I did was straight de facto, no matter what configuration of accoutrements or other persons were involved.
Building on some aspects of that long-ago evening, but without restating them, today I will discuss, in terms of two implications, my work as a psychotherapist whose clientele derives largely from the alternate sexuality, or sex and gender minority, communities. I will also speak generally in these remarks, anticipating more specificity in our Q & A period to follow this panel.
The First Implication
Because "Politically correct sexuality is a paradoxical concept," as Joan Salon noted in her essay, "The Femme Question," (1) it is quite possible for virtually anyone to feel that she is a sexual minority, and it is quite possible to agree that she is--the famous minority of one. As a psychotherapist and sex therapist I have found human sexuality to be positively rife with rampant individuality, even among conventionally paired heterosexual adults. While many people I have spoken with have claimed that their sex lives were nothing out of the ordinary, I have learned, when I've subjected these conversations to deeper exploration, that little is more extraordinary than what people call ordinary--and vice-versa.
Beyond the mainstream, people may be more direct. Especially within major urban centers, but often outside them as well, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people frequently identify themselves as members of one or more sexual minorities. The same holds true as well, of course, for many people who are involved with polyamory, consensual sadomasochism (BDSM), cross-dressing, infantilism, or other fetishes, as well as for those engaged in professional sex work.
The first implication inherent in the work I do, then, is that I cannot assume a client is who or what she seems at first to be, even in the most basic ways. In the past couple of months I met a classically married female-bodied person who had come to discuss a lifelong history of male identity; a devoutly gay man disquieted by unexpected heterosexual feelings; and a moderately famous individual with an extremely ordinary public life and a closet...