Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Straight People Need Therapy

I'm a 23 year old Sinhalese woman in Minnesota by way of Dubai by way of Sri Lanka. I am a Womanist, and part of my womanism is figuring out how to be in solidarity with my transnational sisters worldwide. I'm a daughter, a sister, a partner and a writer. I'm a brown girl who knows Shakespeare by heart and devours anything Toni Morrison. I believe in radical, revolutionary living and loving.  I blog at Irresistible Revolution.

You heard me: straight people NEED THERAPY.

Let me explain.

Recently, someone very close to me who is gay, confided in me about some aspects of their experience living amid homophobia and heterosexism. As someone who benefits from heterosexual/ cisgender privilege, I was overcome with the usual emotions that I suppose overcome allies: frustration, pain, sadness, helplessness. As much as I love and care for this person, as much as they are a part of me, I can't love or hug institutional heteronormativity away. My person lives in a country where there are NO publicly funded counseling options, much less the chance that therapists can be openly affirming of gay identity. As I was contemplating how I could help them access safe and affirming counseling, I was struck by the invisibilizing of privilege embedded in how so many of us think about social progress.


Here I am, benefiting from a system that inherently values my sexual and gender identity above others, that in fact actively encourages me to FEEL ENTITLED to this value, and yet gay people are the ones that are encouraged to seek 'help'. This attitude, even among lefties, ignores the fact that there is nothing NORMAL or HEALTHY about continual complicity in oppression. There is nothing normal or healthy about living in a state of implicit superiority over others. There is nothing normal about living side by side with family and friends whose life chances are actively impeded, without acknowledging our implication in that.

So what if, side by side with all the counseling available to LGBTQ folks, we actively pushed straight, cisgender folks into therapy programs aimed at unlearning homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism? What if we straight, cis folks committed to attending regular workshops/ therapy sessions that would teach us not to perpetuate oppression? I'm not trying to infer that LGBTQ folks are required to teach straight folks, rather I'm trying to draw attention to the normalization of this idea that LGBTQ folks need psychiatric intervention in their lives in order to remain healthy and happy. The experience/ mental health of the oppressed is pathologized, while the blissful ignorance and ill-gotten complacence of the oppressors is left unexamined.

This applies to whiteness and race too. People of colour often talk about our need for safe spaces, for counselors who understand anti-racism, but I have yet to see widespread demand from white allies for counselors who are anti white-supremacy; oftentimes, caucusing is offered as a way for white folks and POC folks to create the necessary safe spaces, but while we all agree that whiteness is privileged in general public space, there is little effort on the part of white allies to combat this. When it comes down to it, whiteness continues to dominate public space while POC are scrambling to create safe spaces for themselves.

What I'm trying to say, is that it's almost universally easier to glimpse oppression than it is to understand the ubiquity of privilege. It's far easier to designate an LGBTQ safe space or hire a couple of queer-affirming counselors, than it is to widely encourage non-queer folks to clean their shit up and educate themselves. It's far easier for us allies to pat ourselves on the back for helping our queer friends get to a counselor, than it is for us to ask: how much am I doing to unlearn homophobia, and how is my daily life, the way I express myself, complicit (willingly or involuntarily) in heterosexism?

This might seem like an overly simplistic take on a complex issue, and I'm in no way devaluing the need for queer affirming counselors and access to good psychiatric care. Rather, I want to push myself as an ally to constantly remind myself that the complacency born of privilege I feel about my sexual identity, especially when so many others are not granted this privilege, is not a normal or healthy state of being. While even one of us is scapegoated for how they choose to be in their body, there can be no letting ourselves off the hook.