In reviewing the feedback to my "Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised" post (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reel-therapy/200910/lesbian-fantasy-...), I concluded that the constructive criticism offered by some of the readers warranted a response.

So, here it is. I apologize for my misleading argument about "Whip It" and I greatly appreciate the feedback. It is my hope that this experience will make me a better writer whom exerts more effort in understanding his audience and crafting a well-founded argument. Having incorporated the majority of the feedback and reflected on what I've written, I believe my post was so unclear and so misdirected in its goal as to border on irresponsible. What follows is a clarification of my original intention.

I believe that I viewed "Whip It" with my usual curious and unbiased perspective. I liked it. I went home and wrote a blog in the hopes of showing how watching certain movies can actually be a therapeutic experience for certain people suffering from certain problems. My honest intention was to examine the unfair suffering experienced by the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual population and pinpoint how the movie served an important social function in this vein. But then something strange happened. A movie review that speculated about a "deeper meaning" and aimed to step into the shoes of the sexually discriminated was perceived as a highly offensive misfire that engendered anger and alienation from the very population I was hoping to inspire!

What happened?

For starters, I believe an explanation of my thought process is in order so that there is no confusion with regard to my acceptance and admiration for the LGB community. My initial thought about the film was that it told the kind of important story that does not get told often enough. Instead of bending to the rigid, conventional expectations of those around her, Bliss (the main character) exerted her strong, independent and capable personality in order to make something out of nothing. Specifically, she single-handedly removed herself from the empty, dissatisfying experience of life faced early in the film and achieved a rich identity through creative and brave means.

Having read a lot of psychological literature on concealable stigma in the recent past, I wished to highlight the process that Bliss endured in concealing the "roller derby" stigma from her family, particularly her mother. But instead of aiming my review at all those who are forced to hide a part of themselves from others because of what society arbitrarily labels as "bad or unacceptable," I chose to make it specifically about sexuality. I turned to lesbianism as the theme because sexual identity is one of the most important concealable stigmas out there, and in my eagerness to discuss it I failed to realize that my supporting evidence for this was spurious at best, and confusing to the point of offensive at worst. Further, entitling the blog "Lesbian Fantasy" became predictably problematic. In my eagerness to select an attention-grabbing title, I missed a far more important point. The words "lesbian" and "fantasy," particularly when written by a white, straight, male was likely to activate certain schemas in people's minds like: this guy can't watch a movie about women in charge of things without wanting to degrade it by turning it into a porno; this guy can't look at a blue-haired, assertive adolescent girl without thinking "butch dyke." Leaving the door open to this kind of interpretation by employing the same subtle priming that I referenced in my argument about sub-textual lesbianism was both ironic and inconsiderate. Had the title been changed to more accurately convey my intentions it would have read, "How ‘Whip It' might provide comfort to the suffering of concealable stigma populations."

Also, I have been criticized for "over-analyzing" and seeing what I want to see in the hopes of sounding smart versus seeing what is actually there. Although taking liberty with interpretations should be more tolerated in the world of art and cinema, it is never useful to offer a weakly supported argument. As a clinical psychologist in training it is a particularly grave error to commit because of the therapy "stigma" that already exists in the mainstream about ignorant clinicians making unfounded, elaborate interpretations. For a patient, this can lead to a deeper sense of pathology and of being misunderstood. Although this frightening and enraging notion does not happen in good therapy, it is perhaps far too common in bad therapy. And although I neither judged lesbianism nor purported to know anything about it, I did attempt to advocate for this population. If I am going to assert such an advocate role as an "outsider" then I have a responsibility to clearly state my intentions and, more importantly, to adequately consider how this particular in-group is likely to perceive those intentions.

Lastly, I'd like to address the meaning of roller derby as a character in this movie. In general, it strikes me as an amazing yet common phenomenon that something as seemingly simple and mundane as a sport can prove life-altering and life-affirming. In this case, roller derby offered Bliss the opportunities needed to self-actualize. To name just a few key components there was the social role of derby participant, the process of self-efficacy inherent in becoming a roller derby all-star and the social atmosphere of camaraderie that contributed to Bliss's significant growth.

I, however, am truly confused by those roller-derby loving readers that felt attacked by my "lack of respect or knowledge" for roller derby. It seemed clear to me that the specific sport was not the point of the movie or my blog post. Bliss's interest could have been piqued by anything - football, painting, punk music - who cares? The point is that if you can become as engaged in something as deeply as Bliss became with roller derby then you've found that psychological game-changer that can turn hopelessness into hopefulness, complacency into ambition. And, to even more clearly spell out my interpretation of roller derby, I find it to be a concealable stigm only because the film portrays it as such by having Bliss's parents' respond to the idea of her playing roller derby with such intolerance. Had they responded with acceptance then Bliss would not have been forced to hide that aspect of her identity from them and the stigma would have never surfaced.

Overall, I'd like to thanks those readers whom pointed out my errors in judgment with a thoughtful demeanor and I'd like to remind those more hostile commentators that yelling will only make being heard much less likely.

About the Author

Jeremy Clyman Psy.D.

Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D., is a forensic and clinical psychologist.

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