Rick Miller LICSW

Unwrapped

Resources Within Reach: The Merits of Speaking Up!

Sometimes, fear is a habit.

Posted Jan 04, 2018

Discrimination resides in every zip code, including mine. Although immense progress has been made in the realm of LGBTQ rights over the decades, there still is a lot to be done. I am a psychotherapist to the gay community, an author with two professional books on working with gay men (and a new book for the public on the way), and an educator to medical/mental health providers regarding the importance of building a sense of safety for gay men in order to ensure steady self-care. Successful in my work and grateful for my position, I hadn’t imagined that I would be the target of bias, especially in my own backyard — the “progressive” city of Boston.

It began about 10 years ago when my husband and I sought and received permission from our building’s board to use space in our art studio (my husband is an artist) as my part-time psychotherapy office. We were careful to be transparent, to do everything by the book, and were feeling confident since other spouses were using their spaces in similar ways over the years. 

However, we began to hear some negative rumors about how we were using the space.  Automatically, I began pulling away from these people. Now skulking away from neighbors and acquaintances was not my style. But here I was, running in and out of the building because I was “so busy.”

But there was something familiar in all of this, something I thought of as long gone, a behavior from the time before I was out. My obvious fear of disapproval, my withdrawn self-protective posture, my desire for invisibility … all of these knee-jerk reactions were rooted in an earlier time — which still carried residue! Worse, I was explaining away, or questioning my own perceptions, even as my clients were being harassed by certain building occupants and board members.

As the days went by, what started out as embers of suspicion became flames of certainty. I couldn’t deny the fact that we were being targeted. A new board came in and also bristled at our usage of the space. When those members tried to find the permission we spoke of having received, they found that nothing had been archived! Mysterious. And folks who were present at the original meeting seemed to have suddenly experienced a loss of memory. One woman bravely stated that she remembered that we’d been given permission, but she was accused of lying

Soon, nasty notes were being left at our door, and our cars were vandalized.  Shortly after, I was given a 60-day mandatory evacuation notice for operating my practice in the building. The other spouses who used space for non art-related endeavors were neither reprimanded nor asked to leave, including the heterosexual psychiatrist who was seeing private patients in the unit he shared with his artist-wife. Board members said, “Well, he is married.” Of course, my husband and I are married too!

Once I was officially asked to leave, many residents stopped speaking to me altogether, and some of the gossip got back to me: “It’s obvious who is visiting Rick Miller because they are all good looking and well-dressed.” “What is with the men hugging each other on Tuesday nights?” (I led a weekly therapy group for gay men.)  In speaking to my husband, a neighbor said, “I’m not homophobic or anything, but I don’t know what to think when I am walking by these gay men going to see Rick.” Choose your implication.

Everything finally came to a head this past spring. After again being harassed by a senior board member, it was finally time to do more, to speak up and speak out. I did this at a board meeting. Unfortunately, finding a solution was a difficult process that required legal intervention, but it was worth it.

It has been seven months since I moved my practice out of that building. I feel so much lighter. As I walk down the corridors in my new building, I keep my head up and enjoy the feeling of freedom.

Looking back at the experience, what I see most clearly is the importance of resilience  — something I teach and try to live. Resilience, the ability to recover in the face of difficulty, is initiated by taking simple clear action. Memories of being victimized are embedded in the body, and, at first, I see that my quiet confusion was housed there too. Fortunately, I have found ways over the years to access my own resilience, and as soon as I honestly acknowledged my own predicament, the resource was within reach. 

Yes, I am happy to report in these first days of 2018 that I am in new wonderful space — literally and metaphorically! I am no longer the target of others’ narrow-mindedness, no longer looking away from my own goals as I struggle to navigate theirs.

Is there something that you know requires your attention even as you let yourself be distracted by your busy schedule? Is there someone whom you have been avoiding or hiding from? Are you the target of bias that you would rather not name? I would like to suggest that looking discrimination directly in the eye is the first step to getting out of its way and that you have a deep reservoir of resilience waiting to be uncorked! 

And, on that note, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year!

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