This article is part of the month-long focus on LGBTQ mental health and issues. Each month, Life in Balance provides an in-depth look at aspects of mental health, identity, and wellness. It is part of our Virtual Roundtable discussion. Each month, participants will be asked a question related to the month’s topic. Stay tuned for future Virtual Roundtable questions.
By Dr. Kristen Dillon
Co-facilitating my first LGTBQ&Q group was beyond anxiety provoking. As someone who identifies as straight, I was flooded with questions prior to the group. Would they accept me? Would I represent the heterosexist society from which they needed support? Could they share as deeply with me in the room? Would they feel safe? Group was run once a week and for four weeks I did not share that I was straight. I felt like a phony. I tailored my answers to personal questions leaving them obscure and vague. I couldn’t reveal my sexual orientation. I was afraid of being looked at differently, afraid of being dismissed, afraid of being rejected.
When my co-leader asked why I had not shared my sexual orientation with the group, I brushed it off, saying it didn’t feel like the right time. I was embarrassed to say I was scared; after-all wasn’t I supposed to be the one helping run the group? After processing more with her, I finally revealed I was straight to the group during the fourth meeting. It was so scary. I had come to know these people on a very deep level and I wasn’t sure that they would look at me the same after this revelation. However, after telling the group I was straight they didn’t look at me any differently nor did they stop sharing deeply. In fact, I was instead met with “We are so glad to have such a strong ally.”
This was an incredibly profound and powerful moment for me. Being a young straight, white, female I have dealt with both privilege and oppression. However, I had never been put in a situation where I wasn’t sure I would be accepted due to my sexual orientation. My co-leader and I joked that I got a glimpse of what coming-out may be like for some: the secretiveness, the hesitation, and the fear, among an array of other emotions and experiences. In our society people who identify as LGBTQ&Q may have to deal with these emotions and experiences on a daily basis. I was lucky to have such an accepting group, but this is not the case for many; others have to deal with oppression and hate from our society and it’s not fair.
This group taught me so much. I feel like I gained an entirely new perspective on what identifying as LGBTQ&Q can be like, not only through my own experience in this group, but also hearing the experience of others. I feel that this group only empowered me as an ally. I am not afraid to tell someone to stop using the word “gay,” “dyke,” or “faggot” in a derogatory way, I am not afraid to educate or talk to others about heterosexism, and I am not afraid to be an advocate. I am an ally- join me.
Kristen Dillon, Psy.D. is a recent graduate of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and will be serving as a postdoctoral fellow in the VA System.