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Field, Peter

HOW TO BE GAY AND HAPPY

Query

Psychotherapist Peter Field’s “How to Be Gay and Happy” walks LGBTIQ persons through a dozen life situations they face. Think Keith Boyko’s For Colored Boys who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough meets Bob Bergeron’s Connecting to the Right Side of Forty—along with books on coming out later in life, forming relationships, addressing issues that intersex persons face, and helping those who are questioning achieve more clarity.

Peter, now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health and a consultant psychotherapist for the Terrence Higgins Trust—the largest HIV and sexual health organization in Europe—struggled with his sexual orientation. He was completely lost, homeless, and alcoholic and drug addicted.

Yet, this is not Peter’s coming out story, but the distillation of his career in helping LGBTIQ persons. He delivers LGBTI assertiveness training to organizations and companies throughout the UK, such as British Telecom. He has lectured on LGBTIQ issues in numerous universities, colleges and schools, and has trained police, social services, and youth organizations on countering homophobia.

The manuscript is 96,500 words and edited. The book’s focus on happiness across a dozen lift-situations—these elements make it stand out among other titles.

Peter has an author platform. He is a regular BBC contributor, a signature writer for Huffington Post, and writer on psychotherapy, hypnosis, and health. His expertise has been featured in journals such as The Times and The Daily Mail, and on broadcast media such as BBC, NBC and ABC. His knowledgeable articles are currently published internationally on more than 200 different websites. This is his third book.

Book Proposal

THE CONTENT

1. Overview

Doing a keyword search for gay brings up gay porn, gay dating, gay clubs, gay saunas, gay magazines, and gay news. Yet, you will find nothing that tells you about the original meaning of gay—joyful, carefree, and bright. Many gay persons live such lives. This book, explains those things that can act as blocks to happiness for gay people—such as homophobia, shame, and low self-esteem—and how they influence our thinking and affect the way we feel. The reader learns how to effectively deal with such negative forces. Useful telephone numbers and websites are listed throughout. The LGBTIQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, or questioning—reader learns that happiness is something they can actually choose to embrace, and is taught research-based strategies and techniques that enable them to do this.

2. Unique Selling Proposition

Peter Field’s How to Be Gay AND Happy uses the theme of happiness to guide the discussion of a dozen important topics for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans persons—or those who think they might be. Guidance for intersex persons—“a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male,” according to the Intersex Society of North America—is also included. Field’s book is the first to include this group of persons in a general reader book.

If consumers in the target market purchase and read How to Be Gay AND Happy, they will learn

  • How happiness is a choice that any LGBTIQ person can learn to make.
  • How four different types of homophobia can deeply influence the gay person’s experience of happiness. “You are not the problem, they are.”
  • How to recognize and debunk ten different gay myths that block LGBTIQ happiness—some embraced by LGBTIQ persons themselves.
  • How some Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus affirm that being gay is not a sin. Useful information and positions to take in order to counteract religious bigotry.
  • How ‘coming out’ can range from disguising true feelings, to being openly comfortable with sexual identity, and the steps to take to accomplish this.
  • The ways in which self-acceptance is the key to inner balance and emotional harmony.
  • How assertive living allows the LGBTIQ person to maintain control of interactions in a non-aggressive way, while allowing them to exercise the best behavioral choices.
  • Because the brain dwells on negative experiences, but quickly releases positive ones, the reader learns how to connect with and savor joy-filled moments, replacing negative with positive ones.
  • The reasons why LGBTIQ people need to find and develop friendships—and two exercises focusing on how to do this.
  • The range of LGBTIQ options regarding friendships—from group activities to gay-friendly pubs to keeping friends while being in a relationship; bar etiquette to cruising techniques to dating sites (and ways to be discrete and safe) are discussed.
  • The diverse practices of LGBTIQ sex (separate sections for male and female), safer sex practices (including kinky sex, sex toys, and fetishes as well as guidance on intergenerational and disabled persons); Internet and phone sex, to sexual harassment, rape, and difficulty saying no, to celibacy.
  • Clear and specific advice on LGBTIQ sexual health, sexually transmitted infections, hygiene, and finding a physician who is comfortable with sexual orientation.

3. The Manuscript:

  • Status: A completed, revised draft is available.
  • Special Features: No charts, graphs, tables, illustrations, or photographs
  • Anticipated Length: 96,500 words
  • Anticipated Completion Date: Manuscript is completed.

THE MARKET

1. Characteristics

Buyers of this book are teens, young adults, and adults seeking to improve their lives and experience greater happiness. Those who will gain the most are persons who sense they are—or might be—lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, queer/questioning (LGBTIQ), their family, friends, and those who care for or about them.

2. Motivations

Connecting issues of sexual orientation to the quest for happiness—this offers a way to include middle age and older adults, as well as younger readers. The book is a compendium of current research shared in an easy-to-read, caring style.

3. Readership Groups

  • Persons who sense that they are gay or are in the process of doing so.
  • LGBTIQ persons with an interest in self-improvement.
  • LGBTIQ persons who have or are experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and low self-confidence—or who care for or about someone who is experiencing any of these.
  • Psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, teachers and students in colleges and training schools.
  • Members of online discussion and self-help groups

4. Competition

How to Be Gay AND Happy offers information and considerations on a dozen issues Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ) persons face in self-discovery, coming out, and living an authentic life. It covers in a chapter what previously was treated in a modest-sized book. No title provides direct competition to Field’s compendium of subjects.

The closest title is Terrence Sanderson's How to Be a Happy Homosexual: The Gay Man’s Handbook for the 1990s (Heretic Books, 1980, revised 1992; 978-0854491919, 144 pages, $6.95), which is out-of-print and still rings of the 1980s. Field’s book contains the latest research in all the subjects from happiness to assertive living, relationships to sexual health, and also includes lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex people, whereas Sanderson’s did not. Sanderson's book has sold extremely well in the UK, but was never promoted in the US or elsewhere.

A book focusing exclusively on male gay sexuality is Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano's The Joy of Gay Sex (HarperCollins 2000, revised third edition on Kindle, 2006, by William Morrow)—a real best-seller over the years.

Closest competition is Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (Plume, 2012; 978-0452297616, 352 pages, $13.44). It is a New York Times bestseller and helped launch the YouTube “It Gets Better” Project. Field’s book covers more topics in fewer pages (estimated 256 pages), but has the coming out, becoming assertive, and living your life sequence at its heart.

In view of the author’s credentials, his extensive psychotherapy experience with LGBTIQ persons, and his own identity struggle, Peter Field’s How To Be Gay AND Happy offers an insightful compendium of a broad range of topics in easy-to-understand language by a well-qualified author.

THE AUTHOR

1. Background

Peter Field is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health, and a UK registered psychotherapist, counselor, and hypnotherapist. He is a Consultant Psychotherapist for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the largest HIV and sexual health organization in Europe. He is a Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the National Register for Psychotherapists and Counselors, and The Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.

As a young man, Peter Field struggled with his sexual orientation. Completely lost, homeless, alcoholic and drug addicted, he found himself sleeping in shop doorways and under bridges. Now, as an openly gay man, he counsels gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons (LGBTI), as well as those questioning their sexual orientation.

Peter delivers LGBTI assertiveness training to organizations and companies throughout the UK. His LGBTI assertiveness training clients include major UK companies such as British Telecom and organizations such as Terence Higgins Trust. He has lectured on LGBTIQ issues in numerous universities, colleges and schools, and has trained police, social services, and youth organizations on countering homophobia.

Peter runs busy hypno-psychotherapy clinics in Harley Street, London, and Brindleyplace, Birmingham, UK. His hypno-psychotherapy clients are drawn from all over the U.K., as well as from overseas. They are people from all walks of life—including psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, businessmen and women, and celebrities from the world of entertainment and sport.

2. Previous Writing:

Peter Field is the author of The Chi of Change: How Hypnotherapy Can Help You Heal and Turn Your Life around—regardless of Your Past (Psyche Books, 2014), and A Sense of Joy: Words of Encouragement and Inspiration from a Psychotherapist (Red Valley Publishing, 2012).

3. Personal Marketing:

Best-selling author Peggy McColl has been engaged to mentor the author on book marketing and sales tactics that the author will employ before and after publication.

Peter Field has an author platform. He is a regular BBC contributor, a signature writer for Huffington Post, and writer on psychotherapy, hypnosis, and health. His expertise has been featured in journals such as The Times and The Daily Mail, and on broadcast media such as BBC, NBC and ABC. His knowledgeable articles are currently published internationally on more than 200 different websites.

CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER OUTLINE

Introduction

Doing a keyword search for gay brings up gay porn, gay dating, gay clubs, gay saunas, gay magazines, and gay news. Yet, you will find nothing that tells you about the original meaning of gay—joyful, carefree, and bright. Many gay persons live such lives. This book, explains those things that can act as blocks to happiness for gay people—such as homophobia, shame, and low self-esteem—and how they influence our thinking and affect the way we feel. The reader learns how to effectively deal with such negative forces. He or she learns that happiness is something they can actually choose to embrace, and is taught research-based strategies and techniques that enable them to do this.

1. On Being Gay and Happy

People who spend their time looking for happiness, spend their lives doing just that—looking. There is no one form of happiness or one way to achieve it. This book clearly explains useful, practical strategies that have been proven to work; as well as approaches, attitudes, and techniques that the reader can learn and put into action in order to live his or her life assertively and experience a greater degree of personal happiness. The book demonstrates that happiness is a choice that any LGBTIQ person can make, an essential aspect of human emotions. Ben’s story illustrates how pursuing happiness makes it elusive and how true happiness comes from self-acceptance, as well as in consistently being the person we were born to be, and in claiming our rights as full members of society.

2. The Ugly Face of Homophobia

At sixteen, Adam was put out of his home; when he reached out by phone to his mother, she asked why he had not ‘done the right thing’ and killed himself. Thirty percent of UK homeless youth are LGBTI; 40 percent in the U.S. So many of society’s proscriptions against being gay are the product of the two essential ingredients of prejudice—ignorance and fear. These result in discrimination, ranging from innuendo to outright violence. The LGBTIQ person’s ability to be happy is deeply influenced by his or her ability to deal with homophobia in its various forms. After a brief history of the word homophobia, four basic types of homophobia are detailed: cultural, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized homophobia. Throughout the message is, “You are not the problem, they are.” Homophobia is a learned behavior that also harms heterosexuals. Handy responses and retorts to homophobia are also given.

3. Myths about LGBTI and Questioning

The following myths, some embraced by LGBTI and Questioning persons are addressed: (1) Being gay is a choice; (2) It is just a phase you are going through; (3) Gay men abuse children; (4) Gay people make bad parents; (5) Being gay is just about sex; (6) Gay relationships never last; (7) LGBTI persons are that way because of abuse; (8) Heterosexuals live longer than gay people; (9) Gay people try to recruit; (10) Because gay people cannot procreate and so is unproductive, gay sex is wrong. Some of these myths also operate within the gay community.

4. The Powerful Voice of Religions

Every religion has something to say about sex and sexuality, especially as these relate to moral or ethical living. Yet none is a monolith. Some Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and other believers affirm that being gay is not a sin. Some fellowships are open to, even geared toward, LGBTI believers.

  • Relevant Christian texts are cited and discussed, noting a number of other biblical injunctions nearby that are no longer followed.
  • Jews, including Orthodox, have interpreted Torah much as Christians have. In 2010, however, they affirmed the worth of LGBT persons, calling for compassion for persons and openness for same-sex marriages.
  • Orthodox Islam, like Orthodox Christianity and Judaism, condemn homosexual activity as punishable (but no punishment is specified in the Qur’an, their holy book). There is no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality. Yet, for most orthodox followers it remains a grave sin.
  • Hindu society rarely discusses sexuality; homosexuality is a taboo topic. It recognizes a “third gender,” but under British-Christian rule, passed laws against homosexuality.
  • Buddhism places the key distinction not between bad and good homosexuality, but between sexuality and celibacy, the religious ideal. Today, its appraisal tends to reflect the attitudes of its host culture, except for Tibetan Buddhism, which seeks to accept and find a place for all things, including homosexuality.
  • Sikhism is supposed to harbor no animosity or hatred toward anyone, regardless of color, race, caste, creed, gender, or sexual orientation.

LGBTIQ persons are encouraged to follow their own path or pursue a personal spirituality.

5. Coming Out

Coming out can range from the person keeping their sexuality hidden—disguising true feelings—to being comfortable with their sexual identity. Coming out to others can be an important milestone on the way to a genuine sense of healthy self-esteem and greater happiness. Examples of famous actors, entertainers, and sports people are given.

  • Being LGBTIQ in a world that assumes everyone is straight means that gay people have an additional layer of identity to unpack and assimilate, particularly during adolescence.
  • Coming out to self is the important first step to recovering our self. Guidance is offered, and sites for persons to explore their questions with others are listed.
  • Making the decision to come out, and choosing with whom to come out, allows each person to have control of the situation, which is a powerful ally in the disclosure process.
  • Before age eighteen, teens are cautioned to use discretion if they have reason to believe their parents or guardians will be unwilling or unable to accept their sexual identity.
  • Whether or not they are out, LGBTIQ teens need to be aware that they can be targets for bullying, teasing, and harassment. Practical guidance is given on this.
  • The importance of finding supportive friends, perhaps connecting with a support group, is explained. Advice on connecting with strangers on the Internet is given.
  • Insights are offered when coming out to parents, siblings, when married or partnered, and when at work.
  • The LGBTIQ person’s mantra when coming out to anyone should be: “There is nothing wrong with me, and I really do matter.”

6. Accepting Yourself

Accepting our self is the key to inner balance and emotional harmony. Without the ability to accept our self, we block an essential component of happiness—self-esteem. This is the basis for successful relations, whether with oneself—our personal happiness—or with others.

  • With a healthy self-esteem, we are able to appreciate our self; with self-acceptance, we are able to adopt all aspects of our self, even those darker parts that rankle and sometimes feel awkward—the ‘shadow’ parts.
  • In order to be happy, we need to feel safe. We need also to trust our self enough to believe that we can experience happiness. More than this, we need to believe that we are worthy of happiness.
  • Though we may not recognize it, our approval-seeking behaviors are a continuation of our need for the validation w may not have been able to generate from within. They are an extension of your own lack of self-acceptance and damaged self-esteem.
  • Guilt and shame are painfully common among LGBTIQ people. Guilt is the remorseful feeling we get when we perceive we have violated some ‘moral code.’ Shame is the feeling we get because of what and who we believe we are. Shame can be even more difficult to deal with than guilt. Guidance is offered in these areas.
  • A 2014 study found that self-acceptance is the strongest predictor of a person’s happiness and overall satisfaction with life.

7. Assertive Living

  • An assertive person isn’t demanding or pushy, but can be forthright with opinions and stand up for their rights calmly and with dignity. This is a skill that can be learned or relearned.
  • Aggression is all about winners and losers as it creates conflict through bossing and bullying, demanding and manipulating behaviors. Aggressive people are not really in charge of their emotions.
  • Assertive behaviors allow us to remain in our control and make choices in our responses
  • One reason so many do not take assertive actions is that they fear being seen as selfish, demanding, or unlikeable.
  • A Bill of Rights is proposed.
  • Four characters are used to illustrate the behaviour options: Aggressive Arthur, Passive Pamela, Indirect Ian, and Assertive Angela.
  • The training includes use of body language and nine assertive skills.

8. On the Road to Happiness

If our goal is to be happy, then how will we know when we have achieved it?

  • Research shows that success is not the key to real joy; money does not buy happiness.
  • Half our sense of happiness is innate; 10 percent is a matter of circumstances (e.g., a good job, housing etc); and 40 percent is really subject to our own influence. This 40 percent does not vary by income level. It is not stumbled upon, but is cultivated.
  • Happiness then is a realistic choice we can make, even in the face of homophobia. We can choose to ‘focus on the shit or on the sunshine’.
  • Because every mind dwells on negative experiences, but quickly releases positive ones, we need to remember, draw up, and savor joy-filled moments to replace negative ones with positive ones. This creates neural pathways in the brain conducive to enhanced joy.
  • The chapter closes by detailing nine practices or happy habits: gratitude (thankful people are happy); kindness; forgiveness; optimism; time control; self-care; ethical living; a sense of a meaningful life; and smiling.

9. Finding Friendships

LGBTIQ persons need LGBTIQ friends. In order to get the full benefit, the reader is asked to respond to two questions before proceeding: Why do you (or anyone) have friends? What do you look for in a romantic relationship?

  • Strong friendships that endure need to be cultivated and nourished on a regular basis. Interpersonal activities, socializing and social groups, social media, roommates, friends of friends, and work friends are all sources of friendship.
  • The chapter closes with a discussion of loneliness, even in a crowd.
  • Readers are counselled not to put friends on the back burner when entering into a romantic relationship.

10. Gay Relationships

Here the reader is asked to write down what they look for in a friend. It becomes apparent that what we seek in friendships is very similar to what we seek in relationships. This is the reason that friendships can turn into relationships.

  • It starts with meeting people. Bar etiquette and strategies are reviewed.
  • Cruising (searching for relations or contacts in known public places) is mentioned (more in the next chapter).
  • Online activities including dating sites and ways to be discreet (have a private photo available to send or attach to messages etc.). Non-traditional dating sites, such as net, Craigslist.com etc. are also discussed.
  • Life as a couple is detailed. Research shows that LGBT couples are generally speaking happier with their partnerships than heterosexual couples are.
  • Civil partnerships and gay marriage are explored from the couple’s perspective.
  • Considerations for children, either brought into the relationship or adopted after the couple is established, are examined.
  • The chapter closes by looking at open (non-monogamous) relations. Parameters need to be set at the outset, logistics considered, and partners need to be secure enough to handle any resulting jealousy.

11. Gay Sex

This chapter, like the others, focuses on the information and considerations LGBTI persons need in order to examine and live their lives with balance and joy.

  • The stereotype is that LGBT persons—gay men, especially—cannot get enough sex. However, research has shown, for example, that over 90 percent of gay men had their last sexual encounter with a relationship partner whom they loved at the time.
  • If the sex we are having is unsatisfying, or if we are not as sexually active as we would like to be, then we should tap our assertiveness and reflect on (1) the reasons we have (or want to have) sex, and (2) how these compare with our desire for friendships and relationships.
  • The author offers a Bill of Sexual Rights.
  • Satisfying sex focuses on what we and our partner(s) want and how to understand and accommodate this.
  • LGBTI sexual behaviors are discussed in an open, non-technical and non-judgmental manner. Male and female masturbation and other sexual practices are discussed in separate sections, with a focus on genitalia, the anus and other erogenous zones in each.
  • Safer sex practices are described, as are kinky sex, sex toys, and fetishes as well as intergenerational sexual relationships and sex with and for those with disabilities.
  • Other topics include cruising techniques, sex with straight persons, sexual addiction, internet porn, internet and phone sex, sexual harassment, rape, difficulty in saying no to sexual activity, and periods of chosen celibacy.

12. Gay Health

We do not need to find a physician who is LGBTI, but we do need to find one who understands and is comfortable with our sexual orientation.

  • Recent research shows LGBTI couples approach life with more humor, yet depression is more prevalent among LGBTI than among heterosexual persons.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases (STDs) or venereal diseases (VD) are discussed, including major sections on HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia.
  • Minor sections detail Non-Gonococcal Urethritis (NGU), genital human papillomavirus (HPV), LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum), herpes simplex, Trichomoniasis, pubic lice and scabies, and shigella dysentery.
  • Hygiene includes anal sex hygiene, and drugs and alcohol.
  • Sexual difficulties and domestic violence close the chapter.

Conclusion: Bringing It All Back Home

The road to a joyful, happy life is open and available to all LGBTIQ persons. Those born gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or intersex do need to be more attentive because of their minority status. However, developing a robust sense of self-acceptance, nurturing and expressing a consistent sense of gratitude and kindness, and cultivating meaningful relationships—these are entirely possible for LGBTIQ persons, and with them comes a greater degree of happiness. A study in the Journal of Psychology, for example, discovered that not only does kindness make us happier, but happiness also makes us kinder. Questions discussed, include:

  • What is the shared LGBTIQ history?
  • Does positive body image relate to self-esteem for all? Or, is this just a gay man thing?
  • What to make of research that shows straight men loving their bodies most, then lesbian women, then straight women, and finally gay men? How do some characteristics relate to effeminacy?
  • How can travel affect LGBTIQ persons, and what are our travel options?
  • Where can LGBTIQ persons get more information?
  • Useful telephone numbers and websites are listed throughout.

 

 

Chapter Six: Accepting Yourself

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

– Gautama Buddha

There can be no doubt: Accepting yourself is the key to inner balance and emotional harmony. Without the ability to accept ourselves, we block an essential component of happiness—self-esteem.

Valuing yourself and having a robust sense of self-worth is the basis of successful relationships—whether with other people or with yourself. And if your relationship with yourself is out of sync, then so, too, is your relationship with happiness.

Yet my work as a psychotherapist has demonstrated that for many gay people, as well as for many straight people, developing self-acceptance and a healthy self-respect is one of the biggest challenges to be faced. This is particularly true for LGBTIQ people who have grown up in a culture that considered gay to be wrong, sinful, or sick.

The good news is that regardless of what you have been taught or made to feel, whatever your lifestyle, interests, or sexual orientation; short or tall, male, female, or intersex, slim, medium, or rotund, it is possible to accept, appreciate, and even like yourself. And it is possible to be happy. It might take work, as anything truly worthwhile does, but this is something you can learn to do and be.

Self-Esteem and Self-Acceptance

Without self-acceptance and self-esteem, life becomes a battle raged from within, a never-ending struggle to comply with other people’s ideas of what your life should be and how you should live it.

SIDEBAR: “Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.”                           – Heath L. Buckaster

Though often linked together, self-acceptance and self-esteem are a little different. With a healthy self-esteem, we are able to appreciate ourselves; we can recognize our positive qualities and use our valuable abilities to propel ourselves forward. This helps us to achieve and accomplish, which in turn enhances our sense of self-esteem, adding to our sense of self-worth. Through self-esteem we validate our being and know that our life is somehow worthwhile.

Self-acceptance denotes something even broader, and perhaps more profound. With it we are able to encompass and adopt all aspects of ourselves, even those darker parts that rankle and sometimes feel awkward—the ‘shadow’ parts. With self-acceptance comes the ability to acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses, to accommodate our inner darkness—as well as our moments of blinding light—without allowing these aspects to destroy our balance or eclipse our sense of self-esteem. And it is possible to do this while still committing to a lifetime of personal growth, but this means taking whatever harsh self-judgment we might have been passing on ourselves and transforming it into understanding and compassion.

Almost all of us, gay and straight, arrive at adulthood carrying some form of baggage from our early years. For LGBTIQ people especially, the negative bias and messages of disapproval generated by a homophobic environment, by religion, or by myth, are likely to have planted seeds of unworthiness and self-doubt deep within. Our journey may have left us with feelings of fear, not only toward others, but toward ourselves.

These things are the enemies of self-esteem. In order to be happy, we need to feel safe. We need also to trust ourselves enough to believe that we can experience happiness. But more than this, we need to believe that we are worthy of happiness. The greater our self-acceptance, the more we allow ourselves to recognize and accept happiness in our lives.

We human beings come into the world in a state of need and dependence. We are born helpless and in need of protection. As infants, instinctively we know the importance of pleasing and, if necessary, placating those with power over us – the adults. We need them to like us, and so we submit to their judgmental authority. Failure to accomplish this might mean that they will stop providing us with what we require: protection and the love that fulfills our needs.

As we grow and move into the greater outside world, we carry this need with us to some degree as we seek to demonstrate our worth to others who might judge us. We try our best to win their approval. Being gay, we have been exposed to homophobia on many levels, which may well have shaken our faith in ourselves and damaged the belief in our full rights as people. Because of this, many gay people become caught up in an endless cycle of seeking approval from others by being super good, super nice, or super accommodating and likeable. After all, the reasoning goes, if people like us, then they might even forgive us for being gay.

Though we may not recognize it, our approval-seeking behaviors are a continuation of our need for the validation we may not have been able to generate from within. They are an extension of our own lack of self-acceptance and damaged self-esteem.

Only by understanding how this happened and releasing ourselves from the belief that we are neither ‘guilty’ nor ‘not guilty’ of being gay – we simply are gay – can we reclaim our lives and enter into a balanced relationship with ourselves, one that might previously have eluded us.

It takes courage and a good deal of persistence for anyone to become himself or herself – the person he or she was born to be. It is an ongoing process, one that will continue until we die.

Becoming yourself requires you to revisit old beliefs and the emotions that they generated, recognizing that though you are responsible for your sexual behavior, you are not to blame for your sexuality. Sexuality and sexual orientation have nothing to do with guilt or innocence. They simply are.

SIDEBAR: It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”                                    – e.e.cummings

Living with the Past

Just like straight people, so many LGBTIQ people have been hurt in the past, and this hurt may have caused us to act or react in ways that we regret, perhaps even hurting others in the process.

In order to move forward with life, it’s important to recognize that whatever thoughts, feelings, or actions we have engaged with in the past were driven by a combination of personal history, what we might call experiential ‘programming,’ and perhaps also of biology. The mistakes we have made can now act as fuel for our journey into greater growth. They were the product of our younger selves’ perspective—what we believed about the world and ourselves at the time—and that perspective had been influenced by the messages we received from a society that was judgmental, unaccepting, and largely homophobic.

In other words, no matter our past, we acted as best we could, given our ‘programming’—the information available to us back then.

Guilt and shame are painfully common among LGBTIQ people. There is a difference between the two. Guilt is the feeling we get when we perceive we have violated some ‘moral code’; it is remorse for what we have done or failed to do. Shame is different; it is the feeling of remorse we get not because of what we have or have not done, but because of what and who we believe we are. Because of this, shame can be even more difficult to deal with than guilt. For LGBTIQ people, these emotions are so often the result of homophobia, particularly the internalized homophobia we discussed in Chapter 2. Usually, they stem from the mistaken belief that homosexuality is both morally wrong and a choice.

Society has been telling this tale for so long that, even after coming out and affirming our sexual identity, though we know in our heart that these things are not true, some part of us may still believe it. Tell people that they are wrong and bad and sinful often enough and for long enough and it is difficult to remain unaffected. Homophobia, like so many other cultural norms that we have learned, can linger within us, and we may continue to judge ourselves as though we have somehow committed the ultimate societal taboo.

Carrying these emotions will negatively impact our relationships—with others and with ourselves—and block the road to the abundant happiness that we deserve, so it’s important to acknowledge these feelings, and find ways to overcome them. Getting past guilt and shame may require quite a good deal of internal work. It has taken a lot to ingrain these feelings in us, and it will take effort to shake them loose and free ourselves from their grip, but it can be done. Be patient with yourself, be compassionate, and be vigilant. Once you’ve identified the enemy, don’t allow it to sneak up on you again.

To move past guilt, ask yourself, “Have I really done anything wrong?” Answer honestly. If you answer in the affirmative, then identify specifically what it is that you believe you have done wrong. Remember that being born gay is not a choice, and while it’s not the norm, neither is it wrong any more than being left-handed is wrong. Knowing this and believing this will be an important step in putting guilt and shame behind you and moving forward into a much happier life.

More than anything else, self-compassion and still more self-compassion is needed as we correct the misunderstandings and release the faulty beliefs that we have consciously or subconsciously accrued and through which we have viewed our lives and ourselves for so many years.

If it is safe to do so, coming out and owning your sexuality publicly is the ultimate shame-buster (see Chapter 5). So many who find the courage to come out report feeling relieved, clean, whole, and happier, even if those to whom they come out don’t take it well at first.

Yet even those who have been completely out and open for years can inexplicably feel shame and guilt on occasion due to the deeply ingrained teachings of society. Remember that you hold your own set of morals and standards, and as long as your behavior isn’t harmful to others, you are not bound by society’s norms for love and intimacy. By embracing and reflecting your true values, it will become easier to set aside the opinions of others and to embrace your own sexuality guilt-free.

So many LGBTIQ people have been unduly hard on themselves, and many excel at self-criticism. Now is the time to treat yourself with kindness. Try to understand that you have been doing the best you could under the circumstances, and in the future you will do better because you are more experienced now. As more information becomes available to you, so your understanding will deepen and your vision will become clearer.

Depending on your upbringing and current level of support, it isn’t always possible to overcome guilt and shame without some professional help. If you’re unable to move past your guilt or feelings of shame, it may be helpful to work with a therapist or counselor skilled in this area. The right therapist will help you let go of such negative feelings and move on into a happier future.

SIDEBAR: “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”                                                                                                    – Jiddu Krishnamurti                

Self-Acceptance

As we have seen, self-acceptance is a major player in our efforts toward mental and emotional wellbeing and happiness. Accepting ourselves requires an honest, although admittedly subjective, understanding and acceptance of our own strengths and weaknesses. It means that we are essentially okay with who we are, while understanding that we are not perfect and can still make positive strides toward improvement.

Self-acceptance also differs from self-esteem in that esteem relates to a person’s sense of self-worth, while self-acceptance is a more global affirmation of who we are—there is no judgment. A self-accepting person recognizes and accepts all the facets of his or her personhood: sexual orientation and gender identity, of course, but also strengths and weaknesses, past mistakes as well as successes. Real self-acceptance means we like ourselves, warts and all.

Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In 2014, psychologists from the University of Hertfordshire surveyed more than 5000 people and found that self-acceptance was the habit that most strongly predicted people’s level of happiness and overall satisfaction with life. It also revealed that acceptance was the habit people practiced the least.

Note that word ‘habit.’ Self-acceptance is a habit that can be developed through continued practice. Developing a loving attitude toward self will greatly increase our capacity for happiness. Far from trying to gain the world’s approval, self-acceptance – and so a great deal of our capacity for happiness – lies in recognizing our own worth.

We know that bias against being gay may well have conditioned a shame or guilt response, and that some LGBTIQ people choose or feel obligated to hide their sexuality. But those who are unable to accept and like this important component of their identity will struggle with self-acceptance. In doing this, they have erected a significant barrier to their own ability to experience real happiness.

If this describes you, either in the past or in the present, it might take a concerted effort to learn to appreciate who you are. Self-acceptance might require you to retrain your brain. This can be a difficult journey, especially if everything that you’ve ever heard about being LGBTI has been negative. Remember that although this is your own journey, you are not alone in having to unlearn what you have been taught in order to become self-accepting. Many other LGBTIQ persons have traveled the road before you and are symbolically traveling with you.

Lock securely in your mind the fact that being gay is not a defect. It is simply the way you are. Just as you did not choose your parents or your eye color, this is the orientation you happen to have. It is one of your unique characteristics. It does not make you somehow less than others. Being gay is another way of being, and there is no reason to feel guilt or shame. You have the right to exist—in fact you have the right to thrive, to live a life full of the expression of the person that you are. You have the right to know happiness in your life. You certainly have the right to love and be loved, and you do not owe it to anyone to have to explain your preferences, any more than you owe them an explanation of why you like chocolate rather than vanilla ice cream.

Being gay really isn’t a curse. In fact, with time, you may come to see it as a blessing. Generally, however, it’s like every other characteristic: neutral. It’s what we do with it—how we apply it in our lives—that makes the difference.

SIDEBAR: “Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”                                                                                                                                ? Iyanla Vanzant

Asserting Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance is an intensely personal journey, and while a strong support network and a good therapist can be extremely helpful; the vast majority of the work is internal. It has to take place within.

Self-criticism and self-doubt sabotage self-acceptance. To curtail their negative impact, we need to cultivate a spirit of self-forgiveness.

Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend. You wouldn’t allow your best friend to be beaten up or to wallow in negative thoughts; you’d do what you could to help, to bolster his or her mood with loving honesty. And you wouldn’t let someone else hurt or speak negatively about your best friend; you would be quick to step in to defend him or her. Asserting your self-acceptance is learning to do these things for yourself. It means becoming your own friend.

A crucial first step in asserting self-acceptance is to interrupt negative self-talk. When you hear yourself saying, aloud or in your head, something like, “Why did I say that? I’m so stupid,” immediately interrupt the thought and counter with a more forgiving thought: “I probably could have handled that better, and I’m learning to do that.”

Instead of, “I’m an idiot in social situations,” consider, “I’m a bit introverted/extroverted and something of a flirt/wallflower, and sometimes I get carried away/hesitant when I’m with new people. But I will make the effort to smile/think before I speak and talk to people at tonight’s party.” Keep in mind that your mistakes are not who you are, and find a way to leverage and appreciate your innate traits.

And instead of, “I wish I weren’t gay,” remind yourself, “Being LGBTIQ makes me different, not flawed.” Trust yourself: you are capable of handling whatever challenges life might bring your way.

SIDEBAR: “Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.” ?Aberjhani

Unapologetic

The way we think is greatly influenced by habit, and habits are the product of repetition. Get in the habit of repeatedly thinking positive things about yourself.

Tell yourself over and over again that you are okay, that you’re doing the best you can, and that your best is plenty good enough. Accept that you will make mistakes—after all, you are human. We all make mistakes and, with very few exceptions, most of our mistakes aren’t fatal. With some effort, we can learn from our missteps and move on in some meaningful way.

It really is best to avoid using the words “I’m sorry” as the introduction to, or a filler in, every conversation. There’s no need to apologize for making a contribution to a discussion, and this prelude to speech has a negative impact on your self-worth and may also diminish you in the eyes of others. Plus, these important words lose their true power if used too frequently. If this is your habit, stop it! Choose your words before you speak, and edit out words that sound apologetic. Practice speaking gently and calmly, but with authority.

If, on the other hand, you’ve done something that truly warrants an apology, make it promptly and sincerely, and then let it go. Don’t beat yourself up over things that cannot be changed.

Another important step toward healthy self-acceptance is to learn to appreciate your past without dwelling on it. All you’ve seen, done, and experienced has helped shape the person you are. While no one would choose to be bullied in school or rejected by friends after coming out, even such difficult life experiences as these have the potential to strengthen our character and to deepen our empathy and understanding.

Experience is a wonderful teacher—provided we allow ourselves to learn from it. Once we have learned, then we can allow whatever has happened in the past to be consigned to the past. Celebrate the fact that you have survived this far. And whatever you had to do in order to survive, you did because you felt you had to do it. You did the best you could with what you had at the time. No need to second-guess. Accept it and move on.

Be content with who you are. It is enough. You are enough.

SIDEBAR: “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

Accepting responsibility for our actions as we move forward, we can continue to work on our self-acceptance, and as we forgive ourselves, so too, we can perhaps learn to forgive others—even those who have hurt us—realizing that they too, in their own way, were as much the product of their conditioning, their introjected values, and learned belief systems as we were.

The work of self-acceptance is mission critical to a life of happiness. It’s a long-term, on-going effort, but with practice it will become second nature. Even those who have a highly cultivated sense of self-acceptance have times of sadness and moments of self-doubt. At times such as these, interrupt your negative self-talk and give yourself the pep talk, or ask a friend to do it for you. Remember that each day you have the right to exist, to live, and to love. You have the right to know real happiness.

As we become more self-accepting, we can begin to appreciate that we are not to blame, and that we never really were. The fortunate among us—and each one of us is as fortunate as we allow ourselves to be—might even arrive at that place where we can access the profound understanding that just as there is nothing wrong with us, so there is nothing really to forgive.

We were always innocent; we just did not know it. And with this understanding comes the realization that we can accept and like ourselves—and still commit to a lifetime of personal growth.

SIDEBAR: “There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.” –John Fowles


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