Are you constantly biting off peoples’ heads? Is your loved one screaming and shouting all the time? Is aggressiveness becoming a problem for yourself or for other people in your life? Do you know yourself or remember yourself to be ‘an angry person’? Chances are you may not have even have noticed that you have problems controlling your anger and that other people have a problem with this. People may be avoiding you or walking on eggshells around you.
No matter what the reason for the anger, there are no short-term easy answers on how to manage anger and therapy is usually needed to find more enduring solutions for the underlying reasons for it. Although anger is a natural response, it becomes dangerous and hurtful often in the name of expressing a feeling or being honest; appropriate anger is expressed as assertiveness or as irritation or as anger, but not as rage, violence, physical harm or self-harm. Oddly, aggressive people are not assertive and often confuse the two things: assertiveness is setting an appropriate boundary, it is not the transgression of someone else boundary.
Some things to try, if you feel your anger responses are not too extreme:
- Relaxation and meditation can be useful in stilling your mind; breathing exercise and yoga can be a compliment to this.
- Stop and recount your actions and thoughts, aim to rethink the situation logically, as logic is anger’s worst enemy. Pinpoint extremes in your thinking such as ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘whenever’. Question the proof in front of you for why you are angry and think whether your anger is proportionate to the issue at hand.
- Solve problems, don’t make them worse. Although anger can be appropriate and even justified, it can be destructive and make things worse. Solving problems takes calmness and sensibility.
- Learn to express your feelings healthily through creativity, exercise and refine communication skills.
- Deflect your anger by finding the humor in situations, rather than taking the route of the victim or the aggressor (two states that often underscore aggressive responses).
- Balance your life with exercise, time management, stress-relief and self-care.
- Rid you world of unnecessary irritations such as dirty surroundings or messy desks or whatever else you feel bothers you and that you can control.
- Avoid things, people and places that fuel your anger, but remember that it is still YOUR anger and no-one causes it. Anger is an internal response that we can control if we try, no-one plants it in us.
Remember that anger is not aggression and if people are describing you as aggressive, they’re probably right.
If you’re struggling to sleep well, are constantly grinding your teeth, feeling physically tense and drinking more than usual, read on. These are only some of the signs of anxiety that might indicate something is not right. Not all anxiety is destructive or unhealthy; sometimes, we need anxiety to facilitate things like public speaking or bungee-jumping. However, anxiety can become pervasive and destructive; stopping us from doing the things we want to do. High levels of anxiety can be like a constant state of stress resulting in physical symptoms such as headaches and illness. People who are anxious are often described as ‘busy’, ‘never sitting still’, ‘always on the move’, but can also seem depressed, lacking energy and being immobilised by their fear and anxiety.
Although we live everyday with anxiety, it can reach intense proportions and can have various faces. It can be generalised, often affecting sleep patterns and energy levels – feeling tired from not being able to sleep because your mind is racing or will not quiet down. It can be specific and relate to a current event or to a fear of something like spiders and snakes. The degree of the anxiety can be described by the effect it has on your life: sleep patterns are disturbed, an increase or decrease in appetite coupled with disturbances in bodily function, a constant feeling of alertness and an inability to be still, tiredness, lack of energy, lack of motivation, snappiness and other similar things that hamper fuller and happier living.
It should be said that anxiety can be linked to depression and can ebb and flow as depression rises and falls. Not all anxiety needs medication, but psychotherapy and balanced living can go a far way to alleviating the impact of anxiety in your life. Some steps to follow if you think you’re more anxious than you should be:
- Ask yourself if it’s situational or on-going.
- The answer to this will tell you whether you need therapy or not. Some situations (break-ups, job loss or interviews) can benefit from therapy as much as on-going issues (long-standing anxiety, anxiety created by childhood issues such as abuse) can. Phobias definitely need psychotherapy.
- Before you consider medication, ask yourself whether you should first try working through it with a professional psychologist who can judge your suitability to trying medication. For the record, medication is easier than therapy, but does not provide a long-term solution.
- Consider whether increased exercise (cardiovascular exercise in the mornings) and balanced diet can contribute to shifting some of your anxiety. Consulting a psychologist and a dietician in this regard may prove worth the visit.
- Ask yourself whether your life is imbalanced or disharmonious.
- Consider meditation as an accompaniment to other measures you try (although, it can be very hard to meditate if your anxiety is very high – practice makes perfect).
Untreated anxiety can become worse over time and, if left too long, can become disastrous, especially as you approach midlife. Treat it sooner rather than later.
A break up between two women is certainly one of the biggest sources of emotional pain for most lesbian women, certainly for the one that’s left behind as well as the one initiating the break up.
Whether you have left your partner, or she has left you, surviving a lesbian break-up is hard. Sometimes it may feel like you may never recover from the break-up. But you will. These tips might make recovering from a break-up easier.
Tips on how to survive when your partner has left you:
- Recognize what has happened.
The first thing you might be feeling is, "I can't believe this is happening!" Shock and denial are normal in the early stages of recovery from a break-up. You keep thinking you'll wake up from the bad dream or that your lover will return. This is the first step in the grieving process. Once you begin to believe that it's really over, you're ready to move on to the next step of healing from a break-up.
- Next you might feel anger toward your partner.
Good, this is the second step of grieving. At this time, it is a good idea to get away from your partner. If you live together, move out or go stay with some friends. Too many lesbian couples continue to live together after they break up. If you can't afford to move out, go stay with a friend for a while. You need to separate to get a clear head. Don't drive by her house or ask friends about her new girlfriend, you'll only torture yourself.
- Get support.
Call on your friends. Your friends, not your mutual friends. At this time you need someone who is going to take your side. You don't need a reasonable voice at this time. You need a friend who will nod in agreement at every horrible thing your ex has done. She'll tell you how wonderful you are and how much better off you are without her. There's plenty of time to be reasonable in the future. Right now you need to vent.
- Mourn, but don't wallow.
Feeling sad is normal. Yes, it's okay to cry, scream and feel pity for yourself. But don't allow the situation to turn you into a bitter human being. Give yourself up to a year to grieve. If after that time you're still welling up with tears at the thought of her, it's time to see a therapist. Something else is probably going on to cause your sadness.
- Get Closure.
Say the things to her that you need to and leave it at that. If she won't see you face to face, send her a letter. Beware of e-mail, where you can write something regrettable and impulsively hit send. If you choose to communicate by e-mail, be sure to wait 24 hours before sending off your letter.
- No Rebounds.
It sure can be tempting to enter into a new relationship to help you forget the old one. But if you don't give yourself time to heal and reflect on what happened with the last one, you're bound to repeat the same patterns.
- Let it all out.
Get your feelings out in healthy ways. Write them down, make a painting, write a fantastic break-up song, listen to great break-up songs, go for a run. Let it out in what ever way feels best to you. Avoid turning to drugs or alcohol. They will only make the situation worse.
- Look at yourself.
What went wrong with the relationship to cause it to end? Every relationship is a two-person dynamic. Try to identify what part she played and what part you played. If you take ownership of your role, you'll be less likely to repeat the same mistakes in your next relationship. Beware playing the blame game. Getting angry at yourself for your mistakes will not help. You just want to recognize what you did so the next time you're aware of your dynamic.
- "That which does not destroy us will make us stronger."
Remember this. This is a hard time and you WILL get through it. Look at this as an opportunity for growth and to test your strength as a human being. When it feels like too much, be sure to call on those support systems.
- "Let go and let God."
You can't control what another person does, but you can control how you react. Pray, meditate, read inspirational stories, whatever will get you through. Remember others have been through this and came out on the other side and you will too. Breathe in and out. It will get better.
How to break up nicely:
- First, make sure you're certain. There's nothing worse than a wishy-washy break up. You don't want to give her false hope. That will only hurt more in the long run.
- Know your intent. Do you want to stay friends? Never see her again? Be free so you can start dating someone else? You don't have to state your intent, but make sure you know what you want before you go into it. This will help especially if she gets emotional and tries to get you to change your mind.
- Be kind. Your goal in a break-up should be to keep your integrity and honor hers. Before you open your mouth, imagine how you want it to go. Picture the best case scenario and try to keep that in your mind when you approach her.
- Be clear. Have an idea of what you're going to say before you say it. Write some things down. Try to avoid the cliches like "It's not you, it's me," or tell her you just want to be free, if you intend on dating someone else right away.
- Practice. Call up your best friend and have a run through. When you feel confident you know what you're going to say, set a time for the "talk."
- Be direct. Start out by saying something like, "I want to talk to you about our relationship, because it's not really working out for me." Don't beat around the bush. Let her know that what you're doing is breaking up with her.
- Don't blame. Try to talk in "I" statements. No matter how much she frustrates you or drives you crazy, keep the emphasis on yourself. Say, "I'm not happy," or "I feel it's time for me to move on from this relationship."
- Be sincere. If you still love her, you can say that, but let her know that it's just your dynamic is not working or has become unhealthy.
- Be clear. She should know when you leave that what has just happened is a break-up. You may have to spell it out for her. "I feel it's best if we break-up now."
- No guilt. It's okay to be sad, upset, angry, relieved and uncomfortable, but please don't feel guilty. You have a right to set your own path in life and it doesn't have to include her.
- Do not break up over the phone, instant message, text message, I.M. or voice mail. Unless your entire relationship has been online, do it in person.
- Pick a private place to do it. Creating a scene in a restaurant or bar is just tacky.
- Remember, no matter how nice you are, if she has strong feelings for you, it's going to hurt. You can't protect her from her feelings. Let her have them and don't let them sway you back into something you don't want. http://lesbianlife.about.com/od/lesbiandating/ht/HowtoBreakUp.htm
Now you’re out and more or less ok with whom you are. This is most of the time a very challenging time for any woman of any age, but on the other hand, very exciting. Most of us grew up in a heteronormative environment and don’t know other homosexual people at the time of coming out, thus not having a well established gay or lesbian friendship circle. Therefore the use of the term “coming in”, you literally have to “come in” to a social environment foreign to you. Soon you’ll realize that meeting likeminded lesbian women are a bit different than the hetero way of doing things. Be patient, this is a new experience. Most of all - be brave and soon you’ll realize your efforts will be worthwhile.
Now, where are others like you? It’s likely that you would want to meet other lesbian women, if you don’t have any lesbian friends yet, or you would like to meet someone for sex, even later on for dating. Bars and clubs for SA lesbian woman specifically are limited, but other organizations, like OUT in Pretoria and triangle Project in Cape Town, do have various activities where you can meet likeminded women in a safe environment. They can refer you to other groups, e.g. religious, social and leisure groups. Internet sites could help you link up as well. There are many chat rooms available where you can meet and share your experiences with women all over the world. You can try a “woman seeking woman” column in your local newspaper or magazine. Make friends first, this will make it easier for you to go out and meet others, you won’t feel so alone. The lesbian scene, like many others, can be quite a hostile environment at first. Your friends might have other friends they can introduce you to. Gay and lesbian clubs are the best place to flirt, dance and enjoy yourself in the company of other women.
Although alcohol helps to lower the sense of anxiety and gets the conversation flowing, be careful not to put yourself in a situation where you are vulnerable and do things you would normally not do. You might drink more if you are nervous, just check yourself and keep to your own boundaries.
In the closet? Got one foot out the closet? Or are you completely out and proud? Whether in or out the proverbial closet, each of us are confronted by the issue of ‘coming out’ at some point, to our friends, family, co-workers, doctor, neighbor etc. ‘Coming out’ simply means being open about who we are with ourselves and with others – even when it isn’t easy. For many, the thought of ‘coming out’ can be a terrifying experience, especially if from a conservative and deeply religious background (see risks below). But the good news is that most gay men ‘come out’ quite successfully and receive more acceptance than they ever anticipated (see benefits below). Ultimately, the choice to ‘come out’ is an individual one that is based on a careful consideration of the risks and benefits to you personally. It is important to know that ‘coming out’ is a process and not a once-off event. Gay men are thus constantly confronted by the question of whether to ‘come out’ to a particular person. There are a few suggestions to help you in this process (see suggestions below).
The Risks of ‘Coming Out’
- Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
- Family, friends or co-workers may be shocked, confused or even hostile.
- Some relationship may permanently change or end.
- We may experience harassment or discrimination.
- Some young people, especially those under 18 or financially dependent on others, may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support from parents.
The Benefits of ‘Coming Out’
- Living an open and integrated (whole) life.
- Developing closer, more genuine relationships.
- Building self-esteem from being known and loved for who we really are.
- Reducing the stress of hiding our identity or living a double life.
- Connecting with others who are gay.
- Being part of a strong and vibrant community.
- Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes about who LGBT people are and what our lives are like.
- Becoming a role model for others.
- Making it easier for younger LGBT people who will follow in our footsteps.
Suggestions for ‘Coming Out’
- Safety first. It is extremely critical for you to consider your own safety first before ‘coming out’.
- Timing is important. It is very important to consider when and where you plan to come out.
- Take your time. When deciding to ‘come out’ it is advisable to take some time to become secure with your identity, to identify suitable people to ‘come out’ to, and to carefully consider the possible consequences of ‘coming out’ to these people. Being true to yourself is a great thing, but you need to be realistic about your environment.
- Choose the right person. When choosing whom to ‘come out’ to first, it is important that you select someone whom you can trust, and is supportive. This person must be able to respect your privacy and show an appreciation for your safety. He or she should be the least likely to be shocked, threatened or put off by your ‘revelation’. You need someone who is a good listener, and is non-judgmental.
- Test the waters. It is often better that you test the waters first by ‘coming out’ to a supportive teacher, colleague or close friend before talking to your parents. This will provide you with good practice for what you will want to say and how you will handle negative feedback. It is also preferable to test the waters by seeing what people’s general opinions of gay and lesbian people are before you disclose to them. See how they feel about gay and lesbian developments that have been given media coverage. This is often helpful in terms of giving you an idea of their feelings and opinions before actually telling them about yourself.
- Be prepared for questions. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. It is therefore advisable for you to consider how much information you already have, how much you still need, and how much you are willing to share. Try to think of all the possible questions you might be asked, and then try to think of all the possible answers to these questions.
- Be prepared for emotional responses. It is important for you to keep in mind that there is no way you can guess the exact responses your family, friends or colleagues will give you. There are a variety of responses, which may range from shock, anger, sadness, guilt and denial to acceptance, curiosity, support, understanding and love. It is often the case that the family may also experience a process of coming out themselves, in the sense that they have to let their friends and other family members know. This is a very difficult process for the family. Keeping this in mind, you should try to be realistic about the reactions you may encounter. You need to decide for yourself whether you will be able to handle the different responses you may encounter. It might be advisable to consult with a counselor who might be able to assist them in the process of acceptance.
- Be aware of subversive tactics. You should be aware that some negative reactions are often attempts to make you get back into the closet. Examples include: “Look how you are hurting me”, “You are only doing this to hurt me”, and “Do you know what this is doing to us?”. You should make it clear that you are not doing this to hurt anyone. You are simply doing this because of the hurt you feel by having to hide and be what you are not. The intention is not to cause pain but rather to bring about healing.
- Practice and rehearse. It is advisable that you prepare yourself adequately before you come out to someone. You need to prepare yourself for what you want to say, how you will respond to questions or negative reactions, and how you will conduct yourself if your safety becomes an issue. Psychologists often recommend rehearsing in front of the mirror or with a counselor. This activity provides you with an excellent opportunity to physically prepare yourself on how you want to conduct your disclosure. This also brings about preparation through repetition. You should also realise that the questioning you encounter can be extremely stressful, especially when you feel the need to defend or justify yourself to those people closest to you.
- Be clear. It might also be advisable for you to make it clear to your friends and family that you are gay that this is not going to change. You need to make it clear that this is not just a phase. The reason for this is that if the person you are disclosing to gets the feeling that there might be a possibility of change, they will not accept your sexual orientation and will keep hoping for change. Make it clear that you have been through a process of self-questioning and you are now at a place where you are able to share your self-knowledge with others.
- OK if things don’t go according to plan. If your disclosure does not go according to plan, you should not take it personally and see it as a failure. Do not be too harsh or too critical on yourself. Sometimes we have to admit to ourselves that we don’t always have control over everything.
- Chat to a professional. If you do not know someone you can safely come out to, you should then consider talking to a school counselor, a gay-friendly therapist, or a trained counselor at a gay and lesbian organisation.
- Get support if necessary. Do not be afraid to access and make use of support and legal services should the need ever arise. Support groups can serve to reduce anxiety and reduce feelings of isolation. On the other hand, legal advice could be sought to understand and enforce one’s rights.
Are you struggling to get your point across? Are you not always successful in talking to your partner, friends or work colleagues? Do you sometimes feel no-one is listening? Well, communication skills might seem simple for some people, but they’re not always so easy for everyone. What makes a good communicator? Many things do, but the prime factor is the ability to listen actively and effectively, while being able to communicate clearly, consistently and calmly. Let’s break that down differently then. Good communication skills in relationships have the following characteristics:
- Compromise – the aim should be to find a way to agree so that both parties are able to live with the situation. Communicating well simply to get your own way is abusive; it’s not effective as a form of communication.
- Respect – having some respect for the other person’s point of view and being able to hear that point of view as being equal to your own facilitates smoother compromise and a dual interaction in which both people will feel heard and valued.
- Individualism – everyone thinks differently and has a different point of view. It is essential to understand the other person’s opinion, principle, belief or value from their point of view. For example, it is more respectful to understand a religious Catholic’s view on abortion from a Catholic point of view as that person holds it. The art of listening is an active act of participation in which you have to make an effort to ‘get it’ and have no assumptions at all about another person’s position or world view.
- Equality and autonomy – always err on the side that your partner has the right to decide for himself and that his right is equal to yours. This is a fundamental part of effective communication as it relates to understanding the other person’s needs and to recognising that their needs are no less or more important than your own.
- Attentiveness – listen to what your partner is saying, not to what you want to hear. Be open to his point of view and to the content of what he is saying. Open body language and a willingness to listen are themselves communication that the other person will pick up. Turning your back while someone talks says more than you might think. Face someone and make eye contact and make it clear that you are willing to listen and to understand.
- Active listening – find the thread of what your partner is saying and ask questions about it in order to understand it, not to judge it. Listen with the view of exploring your partner’s position. Be curious.
- No judgment - there is rarely a right or wrong when it comes to an opinion. If you’re curious and concerned about your partner, then judging his argument becomes harder.
- Clarity and consistency – say what you mean and mean what you say. Be gentle in what and how you say it. Just because you might think that blatant truth works for you, does not translate into it working for him. If you hear someone say “I’m just telling the truth” or “It’s just how I am” in response to insensitive and cruel behaviour and conversation, reconsider how well you know him. Often these kinds of phrases are ways of covering over what is blatantly cruel and insensitive.
- Empathy – understanding is not agreeing or approving. Empathy is a way of understanding your partner’s point of view even if you disagree or disapprove.
Communication is a delicate dance in which both partners lead at different times.
Depression has become a more known and better understood psychiatric disorder in the past few decades. Unfortunately, we use the word all too easily when we casually say ‘I’m feeling depressed’. It can vary in severity from mild to very severe, with people unable to function at work or in their private lives when it is at its worst. But in its milder forms it can involve a low and flat mood for several days or weeks, where negative thoughts (about self, the world and others) are common, combined with a lack of energy, excessive or inadequate sleep, increased or decreased appetite, thoughts of suicide (not all the time), a lack of motivation, decreased pleasure in activities you normally enjoy (sports, sex or a hobby) and, occasionally, a lack of libido (but, often people can still get it up and have sex).
Depression in its various forms should not be ignored. Medication is usually helpful for more severe forms of depression, but ongoing psychotherapy is useful and necessary for all forms of depression EVEN when medication is being taken. Often, depression and anxiety can be linked to other problems like substance abuse and addiction, eating disorders (such as compulsive eating) and relationship problems.
Do not leave depression untreated. The more severe depression becomes, the higher the risk of suicide. Suicide is also possible in cases when the depression begins to lift (as energy levels begin to increase). If you or your loved one is living with depression, turn to the resources around you: family, friends, therapists, religious support etc.
FAMILIES AND PARENTING
As LGBT people we all create our own families, we form social bonds with persons not related (necessarily) to blood or kin, and these social bonds can even be stronger than any blood tie could ever be.
Through a shared intimacy between two loving adults, the need to create a family sometimes arose. The longing for a baby fills the house. Sometimes it is a mutual feeling, but more often than not it is one partner who upsets the equilibrium of daily life. Lesbian/same-gender families have been around, especially where one woman was involved in a previous heterosexual relationship and later on formed a relationship/ partnership with another woman. A recent development is the planned family-concept, where two lesbians decide to either adopt or conceive a child with the assistance of human reproduction technologies. Adoption through private organisations is the preferred route, although probably more expensive than the state-supported way. Creating a family through either a known or anonymous donor enters you enter the world of ‘infertility’, but most couples find the medical system quite supportive and encouraging. Linking with couples who have underwent the process and/or a local support group in your area might assist in facilitating the process.
Life in western society is still dominated by a social discourse of ‘straightness’, so be mindful that family life is entrenched with heteronormativity. As children participate in the activities of their schools and churches, and as they watch television or surf the internet, they become aware of — and form their own perceptions of — what a family is or should be. Because of the heteronormativity of Western society, one of the major challenges for every child is the integration of her or his family experience with that of the wider society outside the home. Raising a child in a lesbian family is ordinary and extraordinary. Research is conclusive that the emotional, behavioral, and psychological development of children of lesbian parents is very similar to that of children raised in heterosexual families. Lesbian parents also create their own methods of parenting, which is not necessarily based on stereotyped heterosexual marital roles, but on the time and talents of the parents involved. What can be learnt from this is that parental roles, duties, and functions can be performed in a wide variety of ways that are not linked to gender stereotypes. It also makes it clear that the quality of relationships and the quality of care given to the children is what is most important.
Research suggests the following benefits of being raising in a lesbian/gay family, namely that the children
- develop an appreciation of differences and different ways of living;
- respect, empathise with and tolerate environments full of diversity,
- celebrate how others live;
- treat homosexuality as a normal variation in sexuality and lifestyle and are more likely to consider the possibility of having gay relationships.
- learn not to worry so much about what other people think, and have the potential for being more self-reliant and self-confident.
- learn take responsibility for themselves and their choices,
- accept their own sexuality,
- adopt an empathetic and tolerant attitude and consider other points of view.
Forgiveness is so much more than saying sorry or ‘getting over it’. True forgiveness is difficult and hard to achieve. We simplify forgiveness with such phrases as ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘get over yourself’ or ‘it’s all in the past’, but truth is it’s not so easy to forgive. We bear grudges against people, feel hate for people, are angry with our parents for childhood wrongs, feel bitter towards friends who have hurt us. None of these are wrong or bad, but they can become unhealthy if we hold onto our hate, anger and bitterness. It can become like a festering sore.
Forgiveness is not possible without understanding. Recognising the elements and aspects of the situation about which you feel anger, hate and resentment is more important than the forgiveness itself. By working through some of these bits and pieces, it becomes easier to forgive, easier to forget even; however, forgiveness without learning and growing is not worth much. ‘Forgiving’ your boyfriend for beating you may be okay the first time, but doing so time and time again implies that it’s not true forgiveness as you have not learned that he will do it again. It is truly through our own deep-seated growth that we can forgive and learn the fruits of our compassion.
Should all wrongs be forgiven? Should they be forgiven face-to-face? That’s hard to judge. But lack of forgiveness does hold us back. It retards our own growth. It does not always have to be face-to-face, it can be in your own mind. It can be about things of which the other person knows nothing. Sometimes, we bear grievances which are in our minds because of our own issues and are not derived from intentional harm on the part of someone else. In part, forgiveness is about self-understanding and separating out ‘what is my stuff?’ from ‘what is your stuff?’ In arguments with our partners and friends, we should ask ‘what is mine to bear in this?’, ‘do I have blame in this?’, ‘am I being a victim?’.
That said, long-standing issues arising out of such things as childhood abuse, neglect in childhood, and divorce and separation are better served through therapeutic intervention, whether individual therapy, group therapy or support groups. The issue of forgiveness in these situations is more complex and difficult and marks the achievement of a goal in a process. It would be true to say that forgiveness, generally, is not an act, it’s a process and one that can only be achieved by dealing with the issues at hand, not pretending all is okay.
Yes, that’s right, sometimes we share the prejudice we think the world throws at us. Internalized homophobia is the discomfort and prejudice we feel toward other lesbian women and towards ourselves. Sometimes, it is expressed through self-loathing and an internal discomfort and shame about one’s our sexual orientation. Often, the negative views we hold about homosexuality are carbon copies of the prejudice we perceive in the outside world, but its most harmful effect is on our own self-respect and self-esteem.
Put differently, it is when we think we’re terrible because we’re lesbian and then act accordingly by limiting our life experiences, making less of our same-sex relationships and undervaluing our uniqueness. Internalized homophobia is an emotional cancer that erodes our identities and the self-worth we could feel as gay people. It’s not easy to overcome, but it is definitely worth beating if you wish to live a fuller life as a gay person.
Here are some questions to help you assess the extent of your own internalized homophobia:
- Do you feel the need to hide your sexual orientation from your friends and family?
- Do you feel the need to hide your sexual orientation at work?
- Do you feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection (e.g., holding hands, hugging or kissing)?
- Do you cringe when you see two other women kissing or holding hands in public?
- Do you feel the need to be “straight acting”?
- Do you sometimes feel ashamed of who you are?
- Do you compare yourself to other women and sometimes feel that you are not feminine enough?
- Would you feel embarrassed about taking a same-sex partner with you to a heterosexual wedding or event?
- Do you sometimes feel that you are a sinner because of your sexual orientation?
- Do you constantly feel the need to prove yourself?
A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be a sign of internalised homophobia.
Here are some thoughts on how to manage your internalised homophobia:
- Reflect on your own value system, your beliefs and your world view. Ask questions about why you believe what you believe, not just about being lesbian, but about religion, about relationships, about happiness and about many other aspects of your own life. Explore where they come from and what role they play in living your best life possible.
- Give some thought to whether you believe people have a fundamental right to life and equality.
- Understand your own sense of shame and guilt about being lesbian, about perhaps being something your parents don’t want you to be, about having a sexual orientation that goes against what you thought you wanted to be. Once you understand this, begin a process of challenging these negative feelings.
- Accept and celebrate your life and your uniqueness. Be yourself.
- Get involved. Attend pride marches, volunteer at an LGBTI organisation or become an activist and stand up for our rights.
- Challenge friends, family and colleagues who make jokes or prejudiced remarks against LGBTI people.
INTIMATE PARTNER ABUSE/DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian Relationships
Domestic violence in the lesbian community is a serious issue. Ironically, the rates of domestic violence in lesbian relationships do not differ from that of domestic violence directed at heterosexual women. This is only anecdotal evidence, since empirical research in this area in the South African context is very limited. South Africa has one of the highest levels of domestic violence, but sadly, very underreported. What we know, is that lesbian woman often have difficulty acknowledging the abuse taking place in their relationships, both to themselves and others, especially when the abused is still closeted and not out and open about her relationship.
The Domestic Violence Act (Act 116) was introduced in 1998 with the aim of affording women protection from domestic violence by creating obligations on law enforcement bodies to protect women (victims) as far as is possible. The Act sets out a broad range of behaviours that constitute domestic violence; including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, stalking, intimidation, harassment, malicious damage to property, unauthorized access to the complainant's property, as well as other forms of controlling behaviour which may cause harm to the safety, health or well being of the complainant. The Act also extends the notion of 'domestic relationship', affording to protection to married couples; same-sex relationships; couples who are (or were) in a dating, engagement or customary relationship, including an actual or perceived relationship; any person in an intimate relationship; parents of a child; and people who do or have recently shared a residence.(Dissel & Ngubeni, CSVR, Giving Women their Voice: Domestic Violence and Restorative Justice in South Africa, 2003).
So although same sex relationships are included in the Domestic Violence Act and afford these couples protection, the justice system and individuals within, often ignore it. Facing a system which is often oppressive, judgmental and hostile towards those who identify as anything other than heterosexual, those involved in same-gender battering frequently report being afraid of revealing their sexual orientation or the nature of their relationship.
Additionally, even those who attempt to report violence in their alterative relationship run into obstacles. Police officers, prosecutors, judges and others to whom a lesbian victim may turn to for help may have difficulty in providing the same level of service as to a heterosexual victim. Not only might personal attitudes towards the lesbian (and rest of GBT) community hinder the process, but these providers may have inadequate levels of experience and training to work with LGBT victims.
An example of how the same sex intimate partner abuse is mostly ignored in mainstream projects is the “16 Days of Activism Campaign”. This is a national awareness-raising campaign in South Africa that begins on 25 November (International Day for No Violence against Women) each year and runs through to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). This campaign hardly ever mentions issues of domestic violence within same sex couples.
It is important for you to be aware of your rights and options as they relate to your attempt to escape an abusive relationship.
- No one deserves to be abused.
- Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and involve verbal behavior used to coerce, threaten or humiliate. Subtle verbal abuse, e.g. constant critique and lack of encouragement, are often overlooked and not given the necessary attention.
- Abuse is often a cycle, not necessarily a once off event.
- Abuse often occurs and is most dangerous when one partner in a relationship tries or threatens to leave.
- The abuser has a deep need to maintain control and power over their partner.
- The abused partner feels alone, isolated and afraid, and is usually convinced that the abuse is somehow her fault, or could have been avoided if she knew what to do.
- A pattern of violence or behaviors exists where one seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs, or behavior of their intimate partner, or to punish their partner for resisting their control. This may be seen as physical or sexual violence, or emotional and verbal abuse.
Specific issues in abusive lesbian relationships
As mentioned before, emotional abuse towards a lesbian woman may be to out them to family, friends or their work.
Mainstream domestic violence services lack the training, sensitivity, and expertise to adequately recognize and address abusive lesbian relationships. A lesbian who is being battered must overcome homophobia, internalized homophobia and denial of the issue of battering.
Utilizing existing mainstream services (such as a shelter, attending support groups or calling a crisis line) either means lying or hiding the gender of the batterer to be perceived (and thus accepted) as a heterosexual. It can mean "coming out", which is a major life decision and could be traumatizing when not planned. If a lesbian woman comes out to service providers who are not discreet with this information, it could lead to losing her home, job, custody of children, etc.
If the couple relies on each other financially, such as “building a home and life together”, without having a legal contract, they have no legal process to assist in making sure assets are evenly divided, especially when the abused partner contributed less financially, because of a smaller or no income.
To talk about battering in a lesbian relationship can reinforce the myth many, even unconsciously for some lesbian women, believe that these relationships are "abnormal." This can further cause the victim to feel isolated and unsupported. The LGBT community itself is often not supportive of victims of battering because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc.) in LGBT relationships.
Receiving support services to help one escape a battering relationship is more difficult when there are also oppressions faced. Battered lesbians and female bisexuals automatically encounter sexism and homophobia. Lesbian women of color who are battered also face racism. These forms of social oppressions make it more difficult to get the support needed (legal, financial, social, housing, medical, etc.) to escape and live freely from an abusive relationship.
Lesbian survivors of battering may not know others who are lesbian, bi or gay, thus leaving the abuser in total isolation.
The lesbian community within their area may be small, and in all likelihood everyone the survivor knows will soon know of their abuse. Sides could be drawn and support may be difficult to find.
MYTHS OF LESBIAN DOMESTIC AND INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE
MYTH: Only heterosexual women get battered. Women never batter.
REALITY: Such myths ignore and deny the realities of same-sex relationships. Women can be and are batterers. Domestic violence is fundamentally a power issue. Even when two people are of the same sex, power differences exist and can be abused.
MYTH: It really isn't violence when a lesbian couple fights. It's just a lover's quarrel, a fair fight between equals.
REALITY: This is based on the false assumption that two people of the same sex have no power differences. It also ignores that fact that in domestic violence relationships, it is the choice of one partner to take advantage of her power in abusive ways. There is nothing 'fair' about being knocked against a wall, being threatened, or enduring endless criticism from an angry lover. Dismissing domestic violence as 'just a lover's quarrel' trivializes and excuses violence that is just as real, and dangerous, as any in a heterosexual relationship.
MYTH: The batterer is always bigger, stronger, and more 'butch'. Victims will always be smaller, weaker, and more feminine.
REALITY: Experience with heterosexual battering and attitudes about traditional sex roles lead many to fall into stereotypes of how batterers and victims, respectively, should look and act. Unfortunately, such stereotypes are of little actual use in helping us to identify who the batterer is in a lesbian relationship. A person who is small, but prone to violence and rage can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger, and non-violent. Size, weight, 'masculinity', 'femininity' or any other physical attribute or role is not a good indicator of whether a person will be a victim or a batterer. A batterer does not need to be tall and broad shouldered to use a weapon against you, to smash your belongings, to cut up your clothing, or tell everyone at work that you really are a lesbian.
MYTH: The law does not and will not protect victims of same sex domestic violence.
REALITY: The Domestic Violence Act (Act 116) was introduced in 1998 with the aim of affording women protection from domestic violence by creating obligations on law enforcement bodies to protect women (victims) as far as is possible. The Act sets out a broad range of behaviours that constitute domestic violence; including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, stalking, intimidation, harassment, malicious damage to property, unauthorized access to the complainant's property, as well as other forms of controlling behaviour which may cause harm to the safety, health or well being of the complainant. The Act also extends the notion of 'domestic relationship', affording to protection to married couples; same-sex relationships; couples who are (or were) in a dating, engagement or customary relationship, including an actual or perceived relationship; any person in an intimate relationship; parents of a child; and people who do or have recently shared a residence.(Dissel & Ngubeni, CSVR, Giving Women their Voice: Domestic Violence and Restorative Justice in South Africa, 2003).
MYTH: It is easier for lesbian victims of domestic violence to leave the abusive relationship than it is for heterosexual battered women who are married.
REALITY: Same-sex couples are as intertwined and involved in each other's lives as are heterosexual couples. There is no evidence that the absence of children makes leaving a violent partner easier, and most same-sex couples have children. The invisibility and relatively limited supports available to victims of same-sex domestic violence may compound barriers to leaving. Many lesbian women lack support from their families and communities, and may not be able to rely on them for help. Victims may also be convinced by the batterer that potential helpers will be homophobic and unhelpful. (Adapted from http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/p-samesex.htm)
MYTH: Alcohol and drug abuse causes domestic violence.
REALITY:Drugs and alcohol can aggravate (make worse) abusive behaviour, but in and of themselves do not cause domestic violence. Abuse can happen with or without the use of alcohol and drugs.
ARE YOU BEING ABUSED?
Any relationship features tensions from time to time but if the following controlling behaviours happen repeatedly you should consider speaking to a counsellor to explore ways to turn your life around.
Is your partner, ex-partner, a family member or someone in your home:
- Hitting you?
- Swearing at you?
- Forcing you to have sex or perform sexual acts against your will?
- Threatening to harm or kill you, your children, family members or friends?
- Putting you down by insulting and embarrassing you?
- Judging, criticizing or bullying you?
- Making you feel confused, angry and teary?
- Causing you to feel sad, worthless, and dissatisfied?
- Harassing, following and/or repeatedly intruding on your privacy?
- Withholding finances and manipulating you with money?
- Threatening to “out” you to others?
- Do you wish that you could become more assertive?
If you have said yes to one or more of the above, you are being abused.
FOR ASSISTANCE, CALL THE OUT HELPLINE AT 0860 OUT OUT (0860 688 688), OR THE OFFICE AT 012 430 3272 or E-MAIL THE SOCIAL WORKER AT firstname.lastname@example.org
Marriage, an institution previously reserved for only heterosexual couples, has recently been opened for gay couples. The Civil Union Act came into being December 2006 and now provides people of the same “sex” or gender to enter into a marriage or opt for the term “civil union”. As a strong symbol of the traditions of heteronormativity, it remains a contested subject in many gay/ lesbian circles. For some it is a wonderful aspect that is embraced and celebrated in taking a partnership to a new level, whilst for others it remains a very much contested and even symbol of resistance. Whichever position you identify with, and it certainly might happen that your perception and opinion is fluid and flexible, bear in mind that not everyone in the gay community feels the same or have the same opinion.
For a marriage to work and last, it is necessary to look at a few qualities in relationships that will ensure the proverbial happy ending. Commitment as a major quality in the relationship revolves around a promise to promote each other’s happiness and welfare. This quality can be essential for getting through hard times and for returning for better ones. Mutual affection and respect are important qualities one should not overlook when you want to commit to your partner. This leads to appreciation of each other, an interactional pattern in which both partners make each other feel good about themselves.
Good communication is another factor in marriage that promotes success in the relationship. This means that partners spend time talking to each other. In a strong marriage, partners are also good listeners. This does not mean that there will not be any fights! But, when there is good communication, partners tend to deal with conflict in a fair manner by discussing the problem rationally. Couples who have good communication patterns tend to share their feelings about alternative solutions to problems, and thereby are able to choose the solution that is best for both parties.
A strong desire to spend time together flows from good communication patterns. This does not mean smothering your partner. Active togetherness extends to all areas of your lives together: meals, recreation, chores and so forth. Intimacy flows from the desire to spend time together, which is another important component in a marriage. Intimacy means that you have a desire to experience happiness with your loved one, being able to count on your partner in times of need, mutual understanding, sharing of one’s self and one’s possessions, receiving emotional support and giving it in return, as well as valuing the partner with whom you are married to.
Success in the marriage is also dependent on a strong value system – spiritual well-being in a marriage can be a unifying force that promotes sharing, love and compassion for each other. The underlying factor that adds strength to a marriage is a strongly held and mutually shared value system.
The ability to remain cool and level headed in crises and stress in a positive manner, fosters resilience in the marriage which means couples can bounce back from adversity. To find a spark of light even in the darkest situation, no matter how small, may help a couple to unite against the adversity instead of allowing it to be fragmented by it.
Finally, don’t forget about passion! Passion is a state of intense longing for union with your partner. In a loving relationship, sexual needs may dominate this experience of passion. One should not forget, however, that other needs such as those for self-esteem, nurturance, affiliation and self-actualisation may contribute to the experiencing of passion, and you should be very aware of your partner’s needs (as well as your own!) when it comes to the passion factor in your marriage.
To summarise, never forget that your partner is an individual in her own right – let there be space in your togetherness. Love one another, but do not forget the freedom your partner deserves as a human being. To quote Kahlil Gibran on marriage: “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
MEDITATION, CREATIVITY AND SPIRITUALITY (MINDFULNESS)
Meditation is not for everyone, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Meditation and relaxation techniques are valuable and can be exercised almost anywhere, anytime. If you can get into it, there is much to learn from having a quiet mind.
Yoga and transcendental meditation are only two of many places where meditation can be learned and practiced in a disciplined way. Truth is that devout prayer can be a form of meditation too. Ritualistically practiced activities like prayer, meditation, yoga, the lighting of candles, creative activities and many other activities form the basis and substance of what meditation can aim to achieve. People need rituals and we all have them, whether it’s about what we eat, how we eat, our hygiene routines prayer, our route to work or the way we greet people. There are countless rituals and these are always present.
Routine and structure help us to create predictability and consistency in our life, something providing us with space for spontaneity, humor and other important parts of living. Meditation-type activities allow us to structure a spiritual and emotional world around quiet space and a space that is truly all your own. Creative endeavors can do the same thing: ask a painter or musician how painting or playing the piano can feel like an altered state of consciousness. Dancing and other forms of bodily expression can take you away from the current world into a space that feels healing and regenerating.
It is the idea of regenerating and healing that is the link between meditation, spirituality and creativity. We all need to regenerate in a busy world and find a place to recharge batteries. We all need to find ways to express our feelings and to silence our minds. It’s part of taking care of ourselves and of our relationships too.
Monogamy in a modern world may seem outdated for many. Some writers even believes that the commitment we expect from a partner within a monogamous relationship, is similar to a commitment to jail, preventing our being free individuals. Also, the expectations that in a monogamous relationship one is expected to devote their life to another individual, may even be stifling to such a person! Due to life expectancy that has greatly increased in the last century, instead of spending perhaps twenty to thirty years in a monogamous relationship, couples are expected to spend fifty tot sixty years together.
But it also has to be taken into consideration that having one committed partner in a settled, long-term relationship has worked for millennia. The significance of monogamy in our world today is that it creates safety and certainty within a relationship, allowing both partners to jointly work toward a lasting, loving, fulfilling union. The benefits of monogamy are emotional safety, created by trust and respect for a partner; health, brought about by the reduced exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexual transmitted infections; and economic stability as a necessary part of a mutual relationship. Research has also shown that there are mental health benefits of staying in a monogamous relationship, as the two people who are intimately acquainted with one another can serve as a check and balance to the other’s behaviour.
But, what does all that mean? Monogamy is a way of contributing to the creation and maintenance of a healthy relationship that stands a chance of surviving for a long time; it’s not the only ingredient though. Monogamy is a promise that implies commitment, trust and perseverance, all of which are basic cornerstones of a strong relationship.
Perhaps some quick thoughts on five aspects of monogamy might be useful:
- Mutuality – this allows partners to know the boundaries and limits of themselves in relationship and the limits of their relationship. It is common these days to hear of ‘open relationships’ in gay circles; it has even become everyday to hear of these being successful. Perhaps, the success of such relationships should not be judged by whether the relationship survives, but by the extent of emotional and loving commitment that partners hold toward each other. The idea of an ‘open relationship’ can at times cover up pure promiscuity and risky behaviour, both of which can be detrimental to the soul of a long-term relationship.
- Commitment – an on-going renewal of the idea of ‘being there, no matter what’. Commitment is the faith that you can expect someone to stand by you through whatever life brings, while it creates the expectation on the part of your partner that the same applies. Another way of looking at it is that we can assume that when the going gets tough, we will know who loves us.
- Trust – the million dollar ingredient! Knowing who and how far we can trust someone gives us a sense of inner safety and security within our relationship. Not knowing what your partner does behind your back can be unnerving and devastating. Moreover, this is about fundamental trust, truly trusting someone with your life; is it really possible to do that with someone who is having sex with others in a world of HIV/AIDS?
- Perseverance – always building and working on the relationship, even when times get tough. It is not about tolerating nonsense, but it is about sitting through the hard times and understanding that your significant other may need support and constant love.
- Equality – you both have the right to a predictable, loving relationship, one which exists through time, unthreatened by the presence of other sexual partners and the risk of disease.
It’s easy to be ‘moralistic’ about monogamy, but maybe the bottom-line issue is one of true self-respect and respect for the person you love. If a relationship is not fulfilling, the question is not necessarily ‘who can give me fulfillment?’, but rather ‘why is this relationship not working for me and what am I contributing to that situation?’ In the end, staying true to your soul mate in this lifetime, sharing your life exclusively is surely a way to guarantee a lasting and intimate relationship.
Being attracted to more than one person at the same time might present some difficulties when you try and fit in with society’s norms and acceptable categories. Various terms exist to try and express various forms of multiple relationships, such as polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy in the strictest sense refers to multiple partners in a marriage, whilst polyamory can be defined as having more than one intimate relationship at a time, with the consent of all partners involved.
Loving more than one person at a time certain calls for a unique set of values and way of looking at life and love. Polyamourists transcend the “normal” accepted boundaries and are forever challenging society to rethink categories and fixed positions. Conducting and maintaining multiple relationships certainly calls for intense negotiations, open communication and brutal self honesty.
Pregnancy – a miracle time… a time of intense physical, emotional and spiritual changes. Whether you have the time of your life with a body that becomes feminine and soft, or a body filled with nausea and growing huge and unrecognisable, you can’t but stare in awe for that heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor, or the first sign of a perfectly formed little foot of half a centimeter. Life is love, created, manifested and growing, alive inside you. And for 40 odd weeks you are transformed and honored and celebrated by all mothers who came before you, and who will come after you.
If you are in a committed relationship, then celebrating a pregnancy and preparing for a little one as two women is one of the most sacred relationships and bonds on this planet. Even if you’re single, surround yourself with women and celebrate yourself as a carrier of life.
Physically and emotionally though it can be a roller coaster ride for the 40 weeks, with hormonal ups and downs… so partners be prepared, your wife/ partner will change into an unknown species, and everyone around her will notice except she. The most peaceful, kind and gentle spirit will be unrecognisable with frustration, “bitchiness” and vented anger, whilst crying and sobbing the next moment for no apparent reason. The first and last trimester is usually the most challenging, so enjoy the blissful middle or second trimester – more energy and stability are certainly a welcomed break for both involved.
There is a magnitude of information available on the internet, books, pregnancy magazines and from your supporting health care professionals. Explore and read as widely as possible, but honor your own voice and listen, follow the natural innate wisdom that flows through you. Rarely in your life will you focus so intensely on yourself, your partner, your body and the amazing gift of life.
We are all confronted by difficult problems in life that require a solution or at least a way of coping. For example: losing your job, getting into debt or being discriminated against. Most people react to these types of problems in an unhelpful and unhealthy manner:
- become overwhelmed and stressed;
- engage in denial and avoidance tactics;
- become angry or depressed;
- project their responsibility onto others;
- engage in maladaptive behaviours, such as drug-taking or promiscuity;
- resort to self-blame and criticism; and
- react impulsively.
There are, however, other healthier ways of approaching a particular problem. Here are a few points to help you along the way:
- Challenge your assumptions – don’t let your assumptions limit your possible solutions;
- Break big problems down into smaller ones – identify the different aspects to a particular problem and then address each aspect individually. This will ensure that the problem is no longer overwhelming and will help to motivate you;
- Ask 3 people for their opinions and advice – this will help you to reflect on your available options and will ensure that you have not overlooked anything obvious;
- Write down the problem – sometimes things make more sense when we write them down. This will help you get an overview of a particular problem, the causes or triggers of that problem, as well as some brainstorming of all the possible solutions and likely consequences.
- Consider the pros and cons – when brainstorming all your available options, consider the pros and cons to help you make the best possible choice;
- Look at it from someone else’s perspective – pretend you are a stranger and take another look at the problem and available options. In this way you can take an objective view of the problem and possibly develop a fresh perspective.
Despite our progressive constitution which guarantees LGBTi people are equal, homophobia is very prevalent in South Africa. There have been studies done by HSRC, ActionAID that highlight this homophobia and its manifestations. So much so, South Africa is now witnessing a backlash of crimes targeted specifically at lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct threat to a male-dominated society, Rape is fast becoming the most widespread hate crime targeted against WSW in townships across South Africa.
Homophobia often goes further than personally held beliefs or attitudes. For many members of the lesbian community, the threat of so-called “hate crimes” has unfortunately become a part of everyday life. A LGBT hate crime (or bias - motivated attack) is any crime that occurs as a direct result, either in part or wholly, of an individual’s sexual/gender identity. It can take many forms, including murder, violent physical assault, sexual assault/rape, robbery and vandalism.
Any survivor of rape is likely to find the experience, and the aftermath of the experience, incredibly traumatic. Although every survivors experience is unique, there are certain potential psychological and physical effects and issues that are common among all rape survivors, irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, race sexuality or sexual orientation. However, as a lesbian survivor of rape, particularly when this was a hate crime, there are some special issues that you may find yourself dealing with.
An attack on your sexuality:
As a lesbian, our sexual identity is often a core element of our being. For many of us, the battle to understand and accept our sexual identity as a lesbian is a process that has been developing over a significant proportion of our lives. Therefore, when we are raped because we identify as a lesbian, it can feel like a particularly personal attack on a fundamental facet of our being. It can feel particularly personal and dehumanizing because we have been violated because of who and what we are as a person, rather than being targeted randomly or opportunistically by our attacker.
It can be very difficult to come to terms with the fact that someone has been driven to hurt you because they purport to "hate" you. Try to understand that although this may feel very personal, the majority of hate-crimes are carried out by strangers (or very loose acquaintances) who do not know you personally and so cannot hate the person that you are. The perpetrators of hate-crimes are usually ignorant and ill-informed individuals who are afraid of anything they perceive as different - and the failing is within them, not you.
Changing attitude regarding your sexuality as a result of rape:
Guilt and self-blame is experienced by the majority of rape survivors. Finding a reason to explain "why me?" is something many of us feel driven to do, and it can lead us to find reasons to blame ourselves for the sexual assault.
In this tradition, many lesbian survivors of LGBT bias rape may conclude that it is their sexuality which is responsible for the rape and for the pain they are now enduring. This could lead you to feel resentment towards yourself for being a lesbian, rationalizing that if you were different from what you are, then you would not have been raped.
This can undoubtedly be exacerbated in women who are not completely at ease and comfortable with their sexual orientation, and there may be increased confusion and a need to revisit previous issues as a result of the attack (Garnets et al, 1990). If, for example, you harbor any residual negative feelings about being a lesbian, you may start to question whether in fact you deserved to be raped as punishment for being gay (Herek, 1992).
If the sexual assault occurs at a time that coincides with “coming out” or thinking about coming out, you may feel even increased confusion and hesitation about doing this. Please remember that "coming out" should be at a time which feels right for you - and it may be a good idea to put off coming out until you feel more able to deal with the complexities that this can involve.
Remember that NO ONE deserves to be raped. You are not to blame, and your sexuality is not to blame. The person responsible is the rapist and any person who encouraged him to hate.
A revision in public expression of sexuality:
You may find yourself questioning the way you present yourself and whether you should revise your person appearance and sexual expression. For example, you may start asking yourself "Do I look gay?", "Should I hold hands with my girlfriend in public" or "Should I really carry that banner at the Pride rally?".
Although being a member of a lesbian community can largely be a great source of support, in the aftermath of a hate - crime, being a visible member of this community can also severely affect our perceived sense of safety. We can reason that as long as we are seen as a lesbian, then we have an increased vulnerability to be targeted for another assault, and hence withdraw from the lesbian community serves to protect us. Of course, not all lesbians feel the need to be publicly expressive of their sexuality or lesbian identification, but for those who have held this to be important, this questioning can result in a very real change in their public persona.
However, in the aftermath of a hate - crime, you need to do whatever it is that makes you feel safest. If you would feel safest to not be so visible as a lesbian for a while - then that’s okay. It may be worth trying to explain to your partner and / or friends that toning down your visibility as a lesbian does not mean denying who you are.
Questioning your "lesbianism":
Some lesbians who have been raped by a man may feel a sense of shame because having sex with a man has somehow tainted their pureness as a lesbian. In particular, this confusion may be exacerbated if you experienced sexual arousal during the rape.
Firstly, it's important to try to realize that your sexual orientation is not in question. You were raped. You did not choose it or want it. In fact, rape saying nothing about you as a person at all.
Secondly, many women, irrespective of sexual orientation, become aroused during rape. This does not mean that you liked it or wanted it. Sexual arousal during rape is simply a response to sexual stimulation, and is a consequence of the way our bodies are wired. The intensity of the arousal, (i.e., whether there is orgasm or not) is only an indication of the physical reaction of our nerve endings to being stimulated, and all is says is that your body responded in the way is designed to respond when touched in such a way.
You may also fear that your sexuality has been altered as a result of the rape because, like all survivors, you may experience some sexual dysfunction following the rape. The reasons for this can be very apparent when you are considering intimacy in a heterosexual relationship following a male-female rape. However, it can be very confusing for you and your partner to understand how a violent sexual experience with a male, can be transferred to a gentle and loving relationship with a female partner. However, in the words of one lesbian survivor, "it's difficult to reclaim the path of pleasure from the source of pain", and to some extent, the gender of the perpetrator is immaterial to the violation.
The trauma of penetration
If you have never previously experienced penetrative sexual intercourse before, you may experience additional trauma relating to physical pain/damage during the rape, as well as the psychological trauma of first-time penile penetration as the result of rape.
Penile penetration is obviously going to mean the possibility of STIs - something which many lesbian women may not have felt they needed to seriously address previously. Male-female rape is also going to introduce the possibility of pregnancy - particularly, as a lesbian, you are unlikely to be using any form of birth control. Firstly, it is important to appreciate that pregnancy is not inevitable, and in fact statistics reveal that only between 1-4% of rapes result in pregnancy. However, it may be that you have to consider the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy for the first time, and therefore you may feel very confused and unsure about the implications of this, and what your options are
All survivors of rape and survivors of hate crimes are deserving of support and understanding following the assault. Many women find asking for help very difficult, and you may even feel that you should be able to deal with all of the issues independently and self-sufficiently. owever, asking for help is not a sigh of weakness but a sign of strength and shows a commitment to recover from the ordeal.
Lesbians may feel comforted by the LGBT community, particularly as they are unlikely to be the only victim of a hate-crime known to them, and as such, peer support can be invaluable. If you live in a community with a larger LGBT population, you may have the luxury of access to LGBT support groups for victims of crime.
However, if you live within an area with a much smaller LGBT population, you may feel increasingly isolated, and be reluctant to seek support for fear that you may become very visible or that your experience may become sensationalized in a way which does not give you the support and understanding you need. OUT’s Helpline 0860 OUT OUT (coming soon) or OUT (012) 430 3272
As a lesbian survivor, you may also not have the support of family or friends because of issues surrounding your sexuality.
It’s also worth noting that partners are not always able to be the source of support you believed they would be. As many of a third of lesbian women are survivors of rape or sexual abuse, obviously your assault can trigger may trigger all sorts of traumatic memories of their own if they are also a survivor. Obviously, you may or may not have been aware of this in your partners past, and this can be very traumatic for you to deal with as a couple. It is advisable for you to both get support for your own individual issues, and to appreciate that your own healing has to take priority. Unless you get support for yourself, it is unlikely that you will be able to support your partner - and vice versa.
There is certainly an issue with reporting hate crimes per-se to the police since both lesbians are about half as likely to report a crime perceived as a hate crime than a non-hate crime. You may find there are even more barriers to reporting rape for lesbian women than for heterosexual women, and you may fear facing additional victimization during the reporting process. Certainly, there is a general assumption among LGBT people that the police and criminal justice system are explicitly and implicitly homophobic. This general belief of inherent homophobia in society means that perpetrators may actually use this to keep their victim silent.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh!" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?” "Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you." ~A.A. Milne
At the core of being human is the need to belong, to associate, to be with someone, to find companionship and togetherness. Relationships are a personal need of every individual, and within a healthy relationship we can find a safe space to be ourselves and to be accepted by the other. Relationships play out in a variety of contexts and in different forms, ranging from work relations, friendships to intimate relationships.
With any luck (and lots of hard work), we find healthy relationships in which we grow, mutually experience new things about ourselves and build something that we call love and happiness. But, because they are so central in our lives, they can also become difficult and conflicted and be the source of our heartache and distress.
Healthy relationships are created through constant, consistent and honest communication in which the needs of both partners are equally and unequivocally valued and negotiated. Relationships are not a state of being; they are an ongoing process that needs work and effort. Healthy relationships, whether with friends, partners, family or work colleagues, are respectful and mutual, have firm foundations of honesty and commitment, and involve interactions that rarely leave one person feeling robbed or cheated. Healthy relationships also make you feel secure and inspired to live your best life possible.
So, how can you try to create healthy relationships? What are the keys to such relationships?
- Respect the privacy and autonomy of others;
- Understand that their opinion is just that, an opinion. It’s not a condemnation or curtailment of yours. Similarly, your opinion is just that too, an opinion. You don’t necessarily have to agree but should try to accept where each other is coming from;
- Be aware of the other person’s feelings, they really do matter and violating them (or being violated yourself) does not help to build relationships easily. Be sensitive, noting that appropriate reparation (saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it) goes a far way to building and fixing your relationships;
- Communicate clearly with the other person. Say what you need (not what you want) and wait for a response. No-one is obliged to give you what you need, so feeling entitled to it will only lead to trouble. However, the closer the relationship, the more important having your needs met becomes. Meeting someone else’s needs is usually a compromise (not a sacrifice).
- Everyone works on a different time line and makes sense of things differently. As humans, we tend to think that the way we do things is the best way to do them. But this is not necessarily the case.
- There is no such thing as “only this person can meet my needs”. Not even in the healthiest relationship can the other person give you everything you need. It is better to meet our emotional needs with different people; placing that load on one person is hardly fair on or do-able for them.
Furthermore, never expect the relationships in your life to make you happy – happiness is not an emotional state that is a consequence of other fulfilling your needs, but an attitude for which you have to take personal responsibility. Choose therefore your relationships carefully – not on the basis of hoping that others will fulfill your dreams of happiness, but on the basis of believing that your togetherness with these people will enhance your happiness by improving your positive attitude. Also, fill your life with relationships that is worth fighting for. Relationships that drain your energetic feel for life should be re-evaluated.
Finally, perhaps the most important relationship of all is your relationship with yourself. The ability to self regulate your feelings, thoughts and behaviour is an important life skill and coping mechanism. Valuing your individuality, having compassion and being gentle with yourself foster self-acceptance and lay the foundation for leading a life filled with contentment, meaning and joy.
REPEATED RELATIONAL PATTERNS
Ever wondered why you find yourself doing the same thing with different people, over and over again? Sometimes wonder why you attract the same men or keep finding the same sorts of friends? Are you playing out the same script in which you’re an actor with a new cast each time? Repeating patterns that hold similar disappointments? The same heartaches?
Human beings repeat patterns, it’s what we do. We find the same sorts of boyfriends; men who initially seem so different to the last one, but, over time, similarities come to the fore that leave us bewildered and confused. Sometimes, the patterns are positive, but we rarely notice them unless we’re unhappy, jarred or disappointed. Long-standing patterns from our childhood leave us creating repetitions that subtly or overtly seem unavoidable. If you’re asking “how did I get here again?”, you’re dealing with a script. It’s like the same play keeps playing out, you keep taking the same lead role, but the other actors change faces, but not parts.
We all have scripts and they are REALLY hard to break. Sometimes, they’re even hard to see or recognise. Sometimes, they’re so subtle we don’t even know we’re doing them until they blow up, melt down or spill over. Therapy can be an effective method of re-working these negative scripts.
In our stressful world, self care is sometimes hard to maintain, but it is essential. But what does self care mean? Basically it means taking care of yourself across many dimensions, including the physical, the emotional and the spiritual.
On a physical level, you could consider the following:
- Healthy and sufficient food intake – make sure you eat enough healthy food, with high levels of nutrition. Avoid excessive alcohol and stay away from substances that leave your body tired and worn (drugs, cigarettes and caffeine might be some of these).
- Exercise – frequent exercise has the ability to calm you and to produce endorphins which are connected to well-being.
- Hygiene – make sure you take care of your body, thereby reducing the risk of infections and disease.
- Grooming – facials, manicures and pedicures can go a far way to feeling relaxed and to create a sense of being taken care of.
- Massage – many forms of massage are available today that can treat your body and contribute to a sense of well-being.
What could you do on an emotional level?
- Hobbies – practice and maintain things you enjoy doing. Try out creative options, as exercising creativity is an important way to express feelings, thoughts and ideas that you’re not always sure you might have.
- Friends – spend enjoyable time with friends. Cook a meal, go out for dinner, and relax by the pool. The idea is to feel nurtured and replenished by the interaction.
- Therapy and counseling – enter therapy as a way of dealing with stuff that you’ve wanted to sort out a long time ago. We all have issues and baggage and therapy can be a great way to deal with crises or long-standing issues. It’s also a great way to explore yourself and to take care of yourself.
- Environmental changes – create a space in which you like to be. Paint your walls colours that soothe you, listen to music that relaxes you. Fill your space with things you feel contribute to your well-being.
- Pets – dogs and cats can bring immense joy and comfort.
- Balance – achieving balance in your life (including work, leisure, health and relationships) is a sign of good self-care
On a spiritual level – similar to emotional level – you could try out some of these:
- Meditation – for some people, this is a connection to God or to the universe; for some, it’s also a way of connecting inwardly and finding some peace and quiet.
- Religion – practice your religion, if you feel it can add something to your life. It is important to have a spiritual dimension to life, which amounts to some understanding that we are not alone in the universe and that there is something beyond us.
- Nature – be in the world of animals and plants, it helps to understand that we are part of a circle of life.
Self-care is an essential part of life and can take many, many forms. We all have to find what works for us and there is no recipe. Start small and be practical. Every bit counts.
Stress is the ‘wear and tear’ your mind and body experiences as you attempt to cope with a continually demanding and changing environment. Excessive, prolonged and unrelieved stress can have a harmful effect on your mental and physical wellbeing. It can manifest as recurrent infections, strained muscles, headaches, increased symptoms of anxiety (sweaty palms, palpitations etc) and irregularities in bowel movements, sleep, energy and appetite. If left unmanaged, it could trigger a variety of harmful lifestyle choices which may lead to chronic ill-health. But not all stress is negative. Some stress can have a positive effect by ensuring motivation and awareness, and providing stimulation needed to cope with challenging situations. Irrespective of the nature of the stress, it is vital to your complete wellbeing that you manage your stress. The benefits of managing stress include:
- Improved sleep patterns and quality of sleep;
- Increased physical and mental energy;
- Improved sexual drive;
- Improved concentration and memory;
- Improved sense of control over your life;
- Improved appetite and quality of nutrition;
- Decrease stress related health problems e.g. heart attacks;
- Improved appreciation for life and others around you;
Strategies and tips
You can start by following these easy tips and strategies:
- Slow down your breathing – Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply (e.g., inhale for a count of 5, hold, and then exhale for a count of five). This works in two ways – it settles your energy and takes your focus away from the stress and anxiety provoking trigger. This is a very effective method to start with.
- Distance yourself - Imagine that you are watching yourself as someone else would, with friendly curiosity. Observe, uncritically, your emotions and sensations and reactions. This creates distance between you and your stress and helps you to take control and manage your stress – instead of the other way around!
- Press your feet into the floor - By doing this you shift your focus away from your mind (and the stress) and into your body. Imagine that you are a tree and your feet are the roots. “Plant” yourself firmly and blow tension out of your roots into the ground. Breathe in calm energy from the ground back up through your roots.
- Laugh - Be humorous! Laugh at yourself and the stress! Laugh at the stress! Everyone can benefit from a bit more laughter.
Other strategies for managing your stress:
- Surround yourself with fun, positive and uplifting people;
- Hit the gym;
- Watch your diet (reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, salt, and fat);
- Pamper yourself by going for a massage now and again;
- Take up meditation, Tai-chi or Yoga;
- Regular holidays and time away – active holidays or lazing on the beach not only reduce stress, but also give something to look forward to, itself important in reducing stress.
- Balance – this is the big key word. If work, leisure, health and relationships are in balance, the risk of stress becoming disastrous is minimized.
SUBSTANCE USE, ABUSE AND DEPENDENCE
Any substance that is taken in and affects the way you feel, think, see, taste, smell, hear and behave. A substance can take many different forms and can be ingested, inhaled, snorted, inserted, drank, and injected.
This is defined as the act of using a substance either recreationally (irregularly) or habitually (regularly). This is usually without any significant harmful effects.
This term is used when substance use becomes a maladaptive pattern of repeated overindulgence, which has ongoing and harmful consequences for the health and wellbeing of the individual and those around them. Examples of such consequences include:
- an inability to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home;
- use in situations where it is deemed physically hazardous, like driving;
- increase in legal problems, possibly for disorderly conduct; and
- increase in social or interpersonal problems, like physical fights when under the influence.
This term is used there is clearly a lack of independence and self-sufficiency from a particular substance. Through repeated use there is an increase in tolerance or need for increased amounts of a substance to attain the desired effect, withdrawal symptoms when substance is not used, increased time spent in activities to obtain substances, withdrawal from most social and recreational activities, and continued use despite the presence of continued physical and psychological problems.
The effects experienced when taking a drug depends on the particular drug, the size of the dose, variations in pharmacological agents in the drug, chemicals used to manufacture the drug, possible contaminants present in the drug, the setting in which the drug is taken, the user’s expectations, past experiences with the drug, and the user’s personality.
This term describes when a person’s reaction to a particular substance decreases so that larger doses are required to achieve the same effect.
Withdrawal: This term describes the symptoms experienced after the cessation of, or reduction in, heavy and prolonged drug use.
Polypharmacy: This term is used in cases where three or more groups of substances are used repeatedly, and simultaneously, during the same 12 month period (for example simultaneous use of alcohol, cocaine and over-the-counter sleeping tablets).
We have put together some PDF documents, which list the most commonly used substances, with their effects (these documents can be downloaded from our W2W Library HERE).
The Link between Substance Use/Abuse and STI/HIV Transmission
There is increasing evidence that drug use/abuse plays a direct and indirect role in the transmission of HIV (and other sexually transmitted infections).
Research has shown the following:
- Impairment of judgment and decision-making;
- A decrease in inhibitions and increase in impulsivity;
- An increase in sexual desire and arousal;
- An increase in sexual risk-taking;
- An increase in number of sexual partners;
- Impairment of ability to enter into safer sex negotiation; and
- An increase in odds of engaging in unprotected sex.