Love and Sex in the Digital Age

Technology and the intimate relationship

Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, Gender Dysphoric

A lot of folks out there find the terms heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual somewhat limiting, and sometimes even degrading. This, of course, doesn’t stop the universal attempt to label. Here are my, very basic (and eminently debatable), definitions of each. Read More

Sounds like an argument for reparative therapy!

When you say, as you do, "Nevertheless, it is clear that at least some sexual behaviors (and perhaps some sexual orientations) are driven by other factors, such as early trauma, sexual abuse, situational sexuality, cultural pressure, sexual addiction, sex for pay, and just plain experimentation, to name just a few[,]" it sounds like you are making an argument that if the person in that situation just got some good theraoy, their behavior and perhaps orientation would change.

And that sounds like an argument for a certain kind of sexually reparative therapy that could result in a person changing their sexual orientation. Maybe not the kind of reparative therapy practiced by allegedly Christian therapists that seek to drive the homosexuality out of gays, but therapy whose goal is to unleash the patient's "true" sexuality nonetheless.

A difference in emphasis

Reparative therapy aims at modifying the sexual behaviour/orientation. The focus is on the sexuality, and on how it is somehow wrong.

On the other hand, if someone gets into psychotherapy to deal with trauma or abuse or whatever else, and as a result ends up modifying their sexual behaviour or even their sexual orientation, the focus always remains on their global well-being. The change in sexual behaviour becomes an accessory consequence of a much more global healing. Moreover, in such a scenario, there's never any need for the original sexuality to be "wrong": it just is what it is at any given moment, without being neither right nor wrong whether before or after the therapy.

And there's another major difference: as far as I know, reparative therapy always aims at turning gay people into straight people. On the other hand, a change of sexuality coming as a consequence of a global psychotherapy could just as well turn a straight person into a gay or bi one ;)

A rose by any other name...

Del, thanks for responding. But I would say a rose by another other name shall smell as sweet. If a client comes into a therapy saying that he or she is unhappy or uncertain about a sexual identity and suspects that s/he will be better in another one, and the therapist helps the client to get there by any means or inquiry at all, including into trauma, depression, kink, or whatever, it's reparative. No? Maybe a better term for it would be transformative. Del, would you be so opposed were it called "transformative" therapy?

I don't care what it's called.

All I care about is that it aims at alleviating the patient's actual distress. Technically speaking, ALL therapy should be both reparative and transformative anyway, or what would be the point of going through it in the first place?

"If a client comes into a therapy saying that he or she is unhappy or uncertain about a sexual identity and suspects that s/he will be better in another one"

(We're not talking about "sexual identity", whatever that would be. We're talking about sexual orientation, ie. who someone is attracted to.) My problem with this line of thinking is: WHY would anyone be unhappy about their sexual orientation in the first place? I mean, let's be honest: it's only gay or bi people who seem to suffer from this problem, never straight people. This makes it clear that the problem is not with the orientation itself; if it were, then straight people would be just as likely to be uncomfortable in their heterosexuality. So really, where is the problem, if not in the fear of social/family/religious rejection? And in that case, I think it is VERY wrong for a therapist to encourage someone to deny a benign aspect of their person in order to comply with other people's prejudice. Nobody should have to transform a non-dangerous aspect of themselves out of fear of the people around them. That's just not right.


Your column was very timely and interesting!

A great summary

I find the subject fascinating- good job.

good comprehensive analysis

Everyone should read this. They might learn something.

I admire your comprehensiveness

A very good inrouction to a fascinating topic.

Too superficial

You don't PENETRATE, or go DEEP enough.

born this way

If only more people would get to read this... Thanks for your column.

Criticisms regarding your writing about "gender dysphoria"

Robert, I recommend that you engage in a LOT more self-education/research regarding trans* communities before you attempt to educate others about us. Namely I think it is imperative that you do so from resources written by actual members of the community, from a variety of sources, as opposed to cis professionals. As it stands, from basically your first sentences you have written things that are incorrect/borderline offensive.

To get into what you wrote in the Gender Identity section:

The film The Crying Game is *not* a "terrific" film, and is generally decried by members of trans* communities. The Crying Game is one of the more egregious examples of the "deceptive t***ny" stereotype that continues to plague trans* women, leading to the high rates of assault and murder in our community. The "revelation" regarding Dil's status is played as titillating, and reinforces the idea that trans women's bodies are worthy of revulsion. Stating that it is a "terrific" film that might help educate is truly problematic.
Furthermore, Transamerica is certainly not unproblematic. (With a quick google here is a criticism of Transamerica from an actual member of the community which hit on many of the concerns I would express as well: This film is marginally better than The Crying Game.
Boys Don't Cry is by far the least problematic film of the three you say are "terrific," which of course is depressing because it's also about the real murder of someone from our community.

Films that are shot by/about actual lived experiences generally work much better. These include Southern Comfort, (which followed an actual trans man who died due to institutional transphobia), and Still Black, (which interviewed a number of black trans men about their experiences with racism, it is also directed by Dr. Kortney Ziegler who himself is a black trans man). For yet another (sad) film regarding murders of community members, I also recommend Two Spirit, which is a nuanced look at how some Native communities handle gender/sexuality, and documents what information there is regarding the murder of Fred Martinez (a young Navajo child who was killed due to transphobia). It also interviews many living Two Spirit individuals, and as such is again a film that works much better than any of the three you mentioned in portraying trans* communities/individuals as they/we *actually* are.

Next, you write "Other men are not emotionally comfortable unless they are dressed like a woman and wearing makeup, though they are perfectly OK with their male genitalia. Still others believe they are a woman trapped in a man’s body, and that they can’t become psychologically centered until their physical gender is altered to match their internal identity. These individuals are referred to as transgender or transsexual." While SOME members of trans communities feel "trapped" in the wrong bodies, writing about trans women as "men" is an entirely cissexist framing of bodies and gender that ignores what members of our communities have been saying for years. I recommend Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity for more on why this is problematic (among other resources).

Furthermore, referring to us as MTFs and FTMs is dehumanizing. As a trans man I am a *man* with the word "trans" describing me as well. I am also a "white" man or a "queer" man or any number of other descriptors. FTM as a noun 1) places me in a separate category from other men, making me no longer a man (who is also trans) but a separate entity entirely, and 2) reduces me to my transgender status.

I'll also note that earlier in the piece you referred to us as "people with gender identity issues." Trans* folks come to counseling/therapy for any number of reasons, while SOME come to counseling in order to explore their gender identities, others come because they are depressed, or have relationship ills, or are dealing with OTHER peoples' "issues" with their gender identity. The fact is, that many (if not most) of us, when supported correctly do not have "issues" relating to our gender identity, any more than cis* individuals have "issues" regarding THEIR identities.

So, what did you get right?

"And a transgender man or woman is exactly that—no more, no less—and no amount of therapy change the situation (though such a person may find emotional relief through gender reassignment surgery)." This is true. Thank you.

I would also recommend the book Social Justice in Clinical Practice (published by Routledge) which includes a chapter written by myself on working with trans* clients, with a case study and further information concerning our communities.

There is also (due out in June from Transgress Press) "Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves which has narratives from MANY trans* men on their own lives. Transgress Press also has the "Letters to" series, which focuses on more writings by community members.

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Robert Weiss is the author of Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships.


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