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This week on a special Halloween edition of “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about kinky sex, and how your therapist has to be able to accept your tastes in bed, if you’re going to work successfully together.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about eleven minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you enjoy his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand we discussed a particularly troubling topic – suicide among LGBT teenagers.  You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about nine minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you enjoy his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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I was back on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand this week, after a short summer break.  This time we talked about the unique – and not so unique – challenges facing mixed HIV-status couples.  Here’s a link to hear the show.  I come on about 7 minutes in – check out the new taped intro Terry and his engineers put together for The People’s Therapist!

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you love his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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This week’s question come from Dwyn and Marissa:

And here’s my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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Sometimes I feel like I might be the greatest therapist in the world.

Like when I help a gay person out of the closet.

The results are amazing.  If I could put what happens to a gay person when he comes out of the closet into a bottle and sell it, I’d be a multimillionaire.

Depression lifts.  Anxiety disappears.  Authenticity is restored.  Self-esteem soars.  It’s like a super mental health tonic – it never fails.

How to account for this miracle?

A person in the closet is a liar.  He’s being forced to lie to everyone around him, and he is being forced to lie about who he is, which implies there is something wrong with him.

That’s incorrect because there is nothing – NOTHING – wrong with being gay.  In fact, it has many advantages – including admission into the gay community, a diverse collection of people with a proud history.

The lie of the closet isolates the closeted person.  No one knows him, so he doesn’t know himself – or them.  He’s living outside of the world, alone.

That isolation is devastating.  It is a terrible waste of a human life.

Coming out fixes everything in one easy step.  The results are astounding.

It isn’t easy to overcome the fear and take that leap.  Certain elements in our society are committed to keeping gay people from telling their truth, and to achieve that end they do their best to scold, frighten and intimidate LGBT people into hiding the beauty of their authentic souls.

Over the years I’ve heard every reason in the book for why it isn’t quite time yet – or why this particular patient is the exception and can’t come out like everyone else.

It’s all nonsense.  Everyone must come out.

Here’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the topic:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I’ve helped people of all ages, all religions, all ethnicities and from all over the world to come out.

To my knowledge not one single mother has clutched her chest and dropped dead of a heart attack (although a patient recently – and seriously – predicted to me that this would occur.)  Not one father has committed suicide upon hearing the news either (another patient’s grim prediction.)

At very worse, they might freak out, and it might take them a while to overcome their ignorance and become educated about the nature of sexual orientation.

But that’s their job.  They have a gay person in their lives, and they need to learn more about gay people.

One of the best things about coming out is that you stop apologizing.  You learn to look people in the eyes without shame. Suddenly you are truly present, authentically present.  It’s the real you.

For a gay person, when you come out is when your life truly begins.

A few weeks ago, President Obama promised he would dismantle Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the military’s current policy towards its gay soldiers, pilots, marines and sailors.

The military has been functioning for nearly two decades under this rule, under which gay people are permitted to serve, so long as they live in the closet.

As a psychotherapist, I know that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell does more than endanger the careers of brave, hard-working American service members – it endangers their psyches as well.  Overturning this policy is not merely a matter of social justice – it is a matter of psychological well-being.

Many of these service members are young and impressionable, and grew up in a climate that was especially repressive around issues of sexual orientation.  In psychological terms, the military is in the position of a parent to these young soldiers.  By telling these young people to hide who they truly are, the commanding officers are telling them there is something wrong with their authentic selves.  If they believe this nonsense, they will become prime candidates to develop depression by bottling up their anger at the military – anger which they feel is forbidden – and turning that anger in on themselves, assaulting their self-esteem.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is an insult to soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our country.  It is also a real and present danger to their psyches.

It is an obscenity.  It must end now.

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Christine Daniels was a transsexual sportswriter.  For many years, she was known to thousands of sports fans as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, writing under the byline “Mike Penner.”

Christine transitioned into a woman in April 2007 and began using her female name on her column.  In late October 2008, she returned to appearing, and writing, as Mike.  On November 27, 2009, she chose to take her own life.

This is a tragic story.  It’s also an opportunity to talk about gender – an important and often misunderstood topic.

We’ll begin by differentiating, and then examining, three gender-related variables that define all of humanity.  They are:

(1) gender assignment at birth;

(2) sexual orientation; and

(3) personal gender identity.

You can think of these variables as three separate sliding scales – everyone falls somewhere on a continuity within each one. You – like everyone else – had a gender assigned to you at birth, awakened in childhood or adolescence to some sort of sexual orientation and discovered within yourself some type of personal gender identity.

1. Gender assignment at birth: I’ll take this one first because it seems simple.  What could be more obvious that the gender you’re born with?  We’re all born either a boy or a girl, right?

Actually, that’s not the case.  Perhaps as much as 1.7% of the human race is born with a degree of sexual ambiguity, and between 0.1% and 0.2% of people are ambiguous enough to attract specialist medical attention, including, in some cases, surgery to disguise or correct sexual ambiguity.  These people used to be called “hermaphrodites” but the modern term for them is “intersex.”

Intersex people exist and always have.  They are a normal part of the range of human difference.  Unfortunately, they live in a world that mostly ignores their existence or treats them like freaks.  And they can have a tough time of it, dealing not only with the medical issues involved in their difference, but also the accompanying stigma of not looking, or feeling, like everyone else.

2. Sexual orientation: This variable should be familiar enough to most people.  Orientation refers to which gender you choose for a sexual partner – essentially, with which gender you choose to fall in love.

You’re probably used to hearing about lesbian and gay people and their lives, but even sexual orientation can get a bit tricky to parse.  Bisexual people exist, and sexual attraction can be fluid and change over time.  Sometimes people are surprised by an attraction they weren’t expecting to feel.

It should be common knowledge that gay, lesbian and bi people face discrimination and even violence in their lives, as they fight a campaign for greater understanding and acceptance of their difference.

3. Personal gender identity: This is where things get really interesting.  There are countless ways to experience one’s own gender, and perhaps even more ways to express it outwardly.

The transvestite – or “cross-dresser” is a person who enjoys dressing like someone of the opposite sex.  There are male cross-dressers and female cross-dressers.  A “drag queen” or “drag king” is a man or woman who is a performer, and cross-dresses as part of his or her work as an entertainer.

A transsexual is a person who feels that his or her gender assignment at birth incorrectly represents who he or she really is.  For example, a person with the outward appearance of a male at birth, but who is transsexual, will come to understand (usually during his early childhood) that he is actually female.  It is as though a female brain were placed in a male body.  Transsexuals often take hormones supplements or seek gender confirmation surgery to confirm their personal gender identity by matching it with the outward appearance of their bodies.

If this is beginning to sound complicated, that’s because it is.  There are countless terms used to describe people who express their gender in ways that don’t conform to societal norms.  My favorite, for its sheer simplicity, is “trans” – a sort of catch-all word for people who experiment with gender appearance and identity.  But there are many people who would argue with that definition and that usage.  That’s the nature of gender – it’s complicated, everyone is different, and the topic triggers fervent debate.  Mix in the additional complications of gender assignment at birth and sexual orientation and – well, you’ve got nearly endless diversity and plenty of room for misunderstanding.

Christine Daniels was a transsexual woman.  She decided to return to her male identity and live as Mike for the final year of her life, but I have chosen to honor the women whom I suspect she really was by referring to her as a female.

I have had the privilege and honor over the years to know and work with many trans people, including transsexuals and cross-dressers, as patients and as friends, neighbors and co-workers.  I have also known and worked with a number of transsexual psychotherapists, who remain valued and respected colleagues.

If it’s tough negotiating society as an intersex person or a gay man or lesbian, it is even tougher to live each day as a trans person.  I don’t know what it is about gender in particular, among the vast array of human differences, that ignites such misunderstanding and hatred.  Perhaps it is simply sexism.  The widespread oppression of women across the globe is an example of humanity at its very worst.  However you account for it, trans people face horrendous discrimination and persecution.

I have no doubt that Christine Daniel’s life was made more difficult by the misunderstanding of her trans identity.  Her death was a terrible waste.  We lost a talented, valuable, unique person.

You might think you don’t know any trans people.  Perhaps you do not.  It is far more likely that you do, but don’t realize it. Many transsexuals are “stealth” – they do their best to disappear into the background.  Their only desire is to live in a way true to themselves, and they are well aware of the persecution and violence that could greet them if they were found out by the wrong elements.

If you do have the good fortune to welcome a trans person into your life, I implore you to be gentle, and supportive, and sensitive. These are some of the best people you could ever meet and know – and, if you win their trust, they might introduce you to a world of  folks who do things their own way, in their own inimitable style.  They are a group of human beings whose path in life has taught them profound lessons in compassion, understanding and personal strength.

I’ll close with a link to a site that I wish didn’t have to exist.

Remembering our Dead, and the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, were created to honor trans people who have been victimized by violence.  It is a sad statement on the condition of humanity that these innocent people were murdered simply for being true to who they were.

In honor of Christine Daniels, please vow that you will become one more voice on the side of acceptance, and celebration, of trans people and transgender identity.

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The People’s Therapist is of course strictly non-partisan.  It is hardly my place to take sides in political matters, and I am loathe to betray a hint of bias in these pages.

However.

How could anyone NOT admire our magnificent President, Barack Obama, as he faced down those ignorant Republican hacks in Baltimore last week?

The most striking feature of the President’s performance, beyond his clarity of purpose, intellectual stamina and firm grasp of the issues, was his perfect calm under pressure.  There’s a reason they call him “O-calma.”

The Republicans hurled their snide partisan attacks, distorting the facts in their own inimitable way.

Obama stood at the podium, holding his ground, even smiling, and reached out in friendship and cooperation.  His face expressed perfect equanimity.  When a brief lull came in the Republican attack machine, he explained why it wasn’t about politics – it was about action.

He was masterful.  It reminded me of the Buddha.

I’m serious.  Here’s why.

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, renounced wealth and privilege and left his father’s palace to wander as a monk, one of the first disciplines he sought in his path to enlightenment was meditation.

Following the meditation practices of his time, the Buddha embraced three refusals.

First, the refusal to move.  He learned to sit perfectly still.

Second, the refusal to breathe.  He mastered slowing his breaths until they were barely detectable.

Third, the refusal to think.  He cleared his mind of all extraneous distraction so he could sit in perfect peace.

These refusals were designed to promote calm – to permit an inner space to exist, where he could be strong within himself.

Like a mighty tree – the wind blows, the storms howl, the seasons change.  But you are stillness, firmly rooted in the earth.

A self-barrier, an invisible boundary, protects you from attack, granting you the space to contemplate all paths and decide on your direction ahead.

Young children have no self barrier – they spill their emotion in all directions and confuse other’s emotions with their own. But an adult can learn to contain his feelings, and to insulate himself from the attacks of others.  He can find a place of serenity within.

I have no doubt that Obama felt anger at the Republicans’ hypocrisy.  Perhaps he also felt fearful of the immense challenges ahead in his administration.

But, like the Buddha, his self-barrier remained intact.  Within, he located a place of calm. The clamor and tumult outside only strengthened his resolve to walk the Middle Path – the path of moderation.

There is a useful lesson in the President’s grace and his dignity.

Let’s save the planet from environmental dangers.

Let’s treat immigrants with the respect and gratitude they deserve.

Let’s provide every American with decent healthcare.

Let’s give LGBT people equality, which is all they ask.

Let’s work to establish understanding, and peace among nations.

This isn’t politics – it is an expression of our best selves as humankind.

We can follow the path of the Buddha, and remain strong within ourselves.  We can refuse to be drawn into fear or anger.

In so doing, we can make the world a better place.

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