Posts Tagged ‘homophobia’

I did a podcast a while back with the American Bar Association Journal. The topic was “work/life balance.” You can listen to it here.

It was a weird experience – like living on another planet.

I was the sole male. The other panelists and the moderator were women. That’s fine, but somehow, faced with the topic of “work/life balance” everyone turned into Gloria Steinem circa 1971.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a shrill, strident feminist committed to full equality for women, and I have no beef with Gloria Steinem.

But how is work/life balance in the legal world strictly a gender issue? Women are admitted to law schools, and graduate from them, like men. They go to the same law firms, make the same money and take the same abuse.

I have tangential experience with this stuff since I’m gay. When people talk about homophobia at Sullivan & Cromwell I roll my eyes. Homophobia wasn’t the issue. Humanophobia was the issue. Some of the partners and plenty of the associates were openly gay. Homo or hetero, male or female we were all in the same boat.

The unspoken “women’s lib” angle on the “work/life balance” at law firms is this: women give birth to children, and it’s impossible to raise a kid if you are a partner at a law firm, so women are less likely to become partners. If they did, they wouldn’t have time to raise a kid. It’s also impossible to meet anyone you want to have a kid with when you’re working 70-hour weeks.

These are incontrovertible facts of law firm life.

Plenty of male partners have kids. They become absentee fathers, and their kids never see them. Nothing new there. But a social stigma kicks in when your kid tells his friends he only sees mommy an hour a week.

You also have to find time to be pregnant. If you put it off until you make partner, you face fertility problems. That’s a fundamental bummer about being a woman who wants a kid – when you’re mentally prepared your body gives out. At sixteen, anyone can get pregnant. At 39, you can only get pregnant if you don’t want to. If you’re trying, it never happens.

The solution to all this is obvious – have a kid while you still can, and let your husband do the raising.

That’s more or less where the other panelists ended up, but only after spouting “women can have it all” slogans and fabricating visions of “part-time partners.” The law professors on the panel had no concept of law firm reality. The young lawyer running an internet-based T&E firm receded politely when I pointed out the obvious: plenty of women would rather stay at home with the kids than work at a firm. Hell, I’ve worked with couples where the husband and wife fight over who has to do law for a living. They’d both rather stay home and play with junior. Wouldn’t you?

A second yawning gulf between me and the other panelists came with their determination to defend law as a profession. They were “pro-law” and I was “anti-law.” That’s understandable, since the ABA Journal represents the official propaganda ministry for Law, Inc. Law professors need to herd eager young things into school – that’s how they earn big bucks. And the internet lady was trying to drum up business, too – she has loans to pay.

I’m not from that world. I’m a psychotherapist who cleans up the wreckage of young lives decimated by the law school/law firm machine.

Here’s a little scandal for you: at least 10 minutes of the podcast – the final 10 minutes, where I stopped sitting back feeling out of place and came out swinging – were deleted from the recording. You hear a fadeout as I’m about to come on.

What did you miss?



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This week on The Alternative, with Terry LeGrand, I chatted with Terry about whether a gay person necessarily needs to choose a gay therapist.  We got a good discussion going.  Terry, like many gay men, said off the top of his head that he’d prefer a gay man to be his therapist (if he ever sees a therapist) – but I made a pretty good case that times are changing, and if I, and other gay therapists, are going to continue to see straight patients, maybe gay people should give straight – gay-supportive – therapists a try.  It might make the world a better place – who knows?

Here’s the link to hear the show.  My segment starts about 2 minutes in.

Here’s the link to Terry’s website.

As usual, you’d be crazy not to stick around and hear the whole show.  Terry interviews author Christopher Rice, followed by the legendary and very wacky comedians, Bruce Vilanch and Rip Taylor.  The confetti flies! 

Here’s the link if you’d like to hear more shows from Terry’s archive.

I look forward to our Memorial Day show, when I’ll be discussing the Armed Services’ despicable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – not from a political or civil rights perspective, but as a cruel and potentially damaging attack on the psychological well-being of American servicemembers.

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Dr. King would have turned 81 this week – an excellent opportunity to discuss ageism, an insidious form of  discrimination.

The starting point in any discussion of discrimination is why difference is an issue at all.

Some of your discomfort with difference derives from sheer inexperience.  It has been proven that a witness in a courtroom will more  accurately identify a defendant of his own ethnic background.  Most of us are used to seeing faces that look like our own.  Faces that are different tend to blur into sameness.

Another basis for discrimination is what psychotherapists call “transference.”   That’s when you transfer an expectation based on an earlier encounter into a prediction about future encounters.  If you are used to seeing Asian men deliver restaurant food and spot an Asian man carrying a bag from a Chinese restaurant, you might assume he’s delivering it.  That happened to one of my patients last week when he showed up at a friend’s place with take-out.  The doorman called up a delivery.  My patient was a guest, not a delivery man – and he felt insulted.

Transferences can crop up anywhere.  If you grew up in a world where African-American people, or Jews, or Muslims, or any other group, were supposed to be dangerous, violent, money-grubbing, untrustworthy or whatever, you might carry an unconscious assumption from that early programming.

Some of the worst discrimination arises from what you fear in yourself.  Think of the “straight-appearing” gay man who disdains the effeminate gay man.  Or the “bourgeois” African-American who looks down on the “ghetto” African-American.

Seniors face all three sources of discrimination.  They are unfamiliar, since our society tends to shunt them aside, separating them from the mainstream of younger people.  There is also transference – the images of older people in the popular media are often misguided and condescending, leading you to make assumptions about older people you meet in the real world.  And finally, you fear old people because you fear growing old yourself.

A few years ago I introduced a new member to one of my psychotherapy groups.  She was 77 years old.  No one else was over 50. The new member’s arrival triggered discomfort, especially in the youngest members, who expressed it by becoming flustered and telling her over and over again how terrific it was to have her join us.  Their response felt out of place and condescending – like it was all about her age.  Instead of the bright, prickly, opinionated, vain, complicated person in front of them, they seemed to be seeing a small child.

Over time, the group confronted this issue and explored unconscious feelings.

But their initial – and bizarre – reaction was all too familiar to the 77 year-old.

She shared powerful examples with us of ageism in her daily life:

  • If she went to a restaurant with younger girlfriends, a waitress always seemed to ask “oh, is this your mother?”
  • If she went out to shop for clothes with younger friends, the clerk told the younger people they looked great in their outfits, then, if she even noticed her, added, “even you look great!”
  • When she went to President Obama’s inauguration, a man chased her down and insisted on asking her age, then exclaimed “You’re terrific!” for no apparent reason.  This was typical – people are always telling her they “love” her  for no apparent reason.

Enough.  Let’s listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man we’re honoring on his birthday.  I hope, if he were still with us, he would be treated at the age of 81 as the man he truly was – not some crazy stereotype about older people based on ignorance, misguided assumptions, and fears of death and dying.

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