Change is Scary… But Worth It

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In The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, Louis Cozolino writes, “Each of us is born twice: first from our mother’s body over a few hours, and again from our parents’ psyche over a lifetime.”  As babies and children, sense-making happens implicitly and unconsciously as we develop. Our brains become wired over time through the combined contributions of our unique relationships, experiences and personalities, and how each of us then constructs meaning (makes sense) about everything and everyone around us based on our individual formulations. In essence, this informs our autobiographical narratives we tell ourselves that defines who we are and how we understand and interact with the world. Ultimately, we become so inextricably embedded in our subjective beliefs (our stories) about ourselves and the world, that they become to us both truth and fact. We feel so righteous in our position – This is who I am!  This is what I believe! – that anything or anyone that threatens our “truth” or our “beliefs” must be resisted at all costs.

We all do this all the time – it is the basis of our psychology as individuals and it coheres our families, religious groups, athletic teams, political parties, and citizenry – and this is why change can be so hard and so scary: it requires us to tap into our deepest core and question the very essence of who we think we are. It requires us to cast doubt on our own convictions and limitations.  It requires a letting go of rigid and tightly held systems of beliefs.  It requires a tolerance of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tumult. It requires a level of bravery and trust that many simply aren’t willing or able to rise to. Often, the decision to change is one that is forced upon us when we wake up and realize our ways of operating in the world have become intolerably damaging or painful and we know that the responsibility of healing is not about changing anything or anyone but ourselves.

So how do we change?  One way is to change our story.

When we are unable to make sense of experience, when it doesn’t fit into our narrative, pain or fear arises.  Feelings of helplessness - which most of us find so intolerable and avoid at all costs - arise when what is doesn’t match up with what we think should be. We are so instinctively self-protective that it is counter-intuitive to not blame, lash out, make anyone other than ourselves responsible for our pain, helplessness and anger.  The problem with this approach is it’s often a defensive attempt to return things to status quo; to return to what is known so we can make sense of it.  As much as we think we want the pain to stop, we fight to preserve our existing story – who we think we are – which really just keeps us stuck.

Changing our story changes everything.

Once we understand and embrace the idea that we can as easily define ourselves by our future than by our past, we take back our freedom through creating new meaning rather than be created by old meaning. In other words, if the stories we tell ourselves, and the subjective beliefs and perspectives inherent in them, are a product of all our past experiences, is it not feasible to expect that changing our story can potentially change everything? Neuropsychologists tell us that changing our autobiographical narratives "reorganizes" our experience on a biological level; our brains literally rewire themselves in response; Changing our story gives us the freedom to choose how we want to respond to what we meet in our inner and outer lives as opposed to automatically reacting to what happens. Changing our story taps our unique human capacity to creatively chart our course into the future, no longer helpless victims of our past.

Humans are storytellers; This may be one of the things we do best. Therapy at its best is about changing your story: creating new meaning, opening up to new possibilities, letting go of a narrative that no longer works and writing one that does. As a therapist-in-training at IHI Therapy Center, I invite you to join us in courageously changing your story... It’s worth it.

- A reflection piece written by one of the advanced clinical interns at IHI

From Rock and Roll Musician to Psychotherapist (How I Got From There to Here)

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A reflection blog by one of our amazing clinical interns:         

           As far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a professional musician. My father and my grandfather were both professional musicians and I was bitten by the bug very early on. My father played The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” record around the house when I was very young and I loved it. I have vivid memories of running in circles around the coffee table while it played on our turntable. I started playing guitar when I was eight years old. I took lessons and became pretty good early on. I played my very first public performance at a coffeehouse when I was thirteen years old. Two years later, I joined a more established cover band with a bunch of guys who were older than me and played my first gig in a nightclub when I was fifteen years old. Halfway through the third song, I guy walked up to the front of the stage, pulled out a pistol, and then shot our drummer in the shoulder. After the police and paramedics came, I remember thinking to myself, “I’M GOING TO DO THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!!!” As it became more and more obvious that playing music was all I cared about, my parents made a deal with me; if I could keep a 4.0 grade point average, I could play in bands as much as I wanted. By the time I was a senior in high school, I maintained a 4.0 grade point average and I was playing music professionally three to five nights per week. This was to set the stage for the rest of my early adult life.

                My first college experience was a complete disaster. I did not want to be there. I only went out of a sense of guilt in order to please my parents. In retrospect, I should have moved to Los Angeles in order to play music when I first graduated high school. Instead, I stayed in my hometown and went to college for three years. In that time, I changed my major seven times and lived on academic probation while continuing to play music professionally. After three unsuccessful years of college, I finally dropped out to pursue music full time. With any career in the arts, whether it be music, dance, visual art, etc., there is a very thin veil between surplus and deficit, meaning that one has to work a “day job” in order to support themselves. Over the years, I worked many ridiculous jobs, all of which taught me a great deal about what I do not ever want to do with my life. Most were in the service industry. 

                In 1996, I finally moved away from my hometown with a rock band. I supported myself by waiting tables and bartending while playing gigs. This holding pattern continued until 2003. During that time, I worked at several different restaurants and bars, for no other reason than to pay my bills while I pursued a music career. (In retrospect, working in the service industry was invaluable to my training as a psychotherapist.) In 2003, however, I had to leave restaurant/bar work. By this time, my alcoholism was out of control and I decided to get sober. In doing that, I knew that I needed to leave the lifestyle of working in the food and beverage industry. By sheer luck, I managed to get a job at a large musical instrument store. I started apprenticing under a piano tuner and within a year I was earning my living as a piano tuner/technician while playing music.

                My band got a record deal in 2006. This propelled my music career in terms of having something tangible to work on. Because the music store where I worked was flexible, I was able to take leaves of absence in order to go on tour to promote the band. The next several years were spent touring around the country in a van with my band mates. We would go out on the road for several weeks at a time and then return home to our various day jobs. I continued tuning and repairing pianos whenever I was home. As far as touring and playing music went, we never made much money. We certainly never made enough money to be able to quit our day jobs. Touring was hard. We would leave and come home essentially broke. The older I became, the worse that started to feel. I also found that working so hard to make music viable as a business was starting to kill the creative aspect of it. That was a difficult pill to swallow. Still, we kept on and kept working at it for several more years.

                In 2010, our record deal ended. All of a sudden, we had no real safety net. By this time, we had all become a bit disillusioned by the whole music industry and we were bitter. For me, I realized that I was approaching the end of my thirties and that I was tired. I was tired of working so hard for what felt like no return. I loved being a musician in the artistic sense, but I was growing increasingly tired of not knowing whether or not I would be able to make rent each month. It was at this point that I decided to make a very large life shift.

                Back in 2003, I had entered into psychoanalysis in order to work on issues surrounding my alcoholism and the uncertainty of a life in the arts. I continued in analysis all the years that I was playing music. I found it to be incredibly helpful in my life. Furthermore, my analyst had become something of a mentor to me. So in 2010, I made the decision to leave the music industry in order to return to school and eventually become a psychotherapist. This was an enormous shift for me to make. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. First, I had to return to college to finish my bachelor degree. Then I had to find a graduate program that fit what I wanted to do. I did both of those things. I finished my degree in two years.

                After finishing my bachelor degree, I got accepted to Manhattan College’s Mental Health Counseling Program. I moved to New York City in the spring of 2012 and started my graduate program at Manhattan College in the fall of 2012. This has been a profound life shift for me in the sense that I am in a brand new city with a brand new career path. I am currently supporting myself by a return to piano tuning. I freelance as a piano tuner/technician while going to school full-time.

                In the great scheme of things, I am happy with my decision to make the switch from professional musician to psychotherapist. As my clinical internship thickens, I feel better and better about the choice that I have made. This is a career path where, if I choose, I will get to tell the truth every single day. There is something about that aspect of the career that is very appealing to me. It is also a career in which no one will ever force me to retire. Yes, I do miss playing music on a more regular basis, but that is something that I do still cultivate in my life. After I left music as a career, I put together a band to play film score music that I had written over the years. We ended up making a record of that material and it was the fist time that I really did not care if anyone liked the finished product or not. Subsequently, it was the most fulfilling artistic endeavor that I had done in years. By that, I mean that I was free artistically to do what I wanted without having to worry about whether or not it would sell. There was something very special about that and it was only possible because I had decided to change careers.

                I learned a great deal about human nature from working in the music industry and that knowledge will go with me into a career as a psychotherapist. Over the Winter break, I had a session with my old analyst. He told me that the bulk of my psychotherapy training already happened within my music career. I understand what he meant. Any career in the arts teaches you a great deal about human nature, emotion, and heart. Right now I am in my internship and I feel like I am doing actual meaningful work. That feels really great. Adulthood isn’t so bad after all.

Great success following LGBT therapy center fundraiser, featuring Olympia Dukakis and more

On December 9th, stars from film, television, and the theater gathered together at the New York Theatre Center on behalf of the IHI Therapy Center: LGBTQ Affirmative Psychotherapy Center (formerly the Institute for Human Identity) to read excerpts from "The Letter Q," compiled by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne. 

"The Letter Q" is a collection of letters written by renowned LGBT artists to their younger selves, including pieces by Michael Cunningham ("The Hours"), Colman Domingo ("Passing Strange"), and Lucy Thurber ("Scarcity"). 

Directed by Sherri Eden Barber, with sound design by Mark Van Hare, notables including Olympia Dukakis, Wade Davis, Lea DeLaria, and more read from "The Letter Q" to an emotional audience inspired to explore their own journeys and influences. 

"The event was a massive success," said Jaimie Klassel Weiner, staff therapist and outreach coordinator at IHI. "The audience expressed being moved by the show and IHI's mission. We raised much needed money; we shared our organization's history, struggle and vigor; actors and activists of all races, sexual orientations, and genders moved us with the stories of coming out, self actualization, the stories of grief and pain, of sex and longing, and of love and support, written by renowned LGBTQ writers."

Host Justin Sayre bantered back and forth with actor Lea DeLaria on stage, "taking jabs at each other, and expressing adoration for each other." Alysia Reiner and Olympia Dukakis cried while Caitlin Bailey performed a dance piece to the words of Anne Bogart. And retired professional footballer, Wade Davis, took the stage and announced nervously, "I am the only non-actor up here" and then gave an incredibly powerful reading of Linda Villarossa's letter about what it had meant to her to be a black lesbian. 

IHI founder Charles Silverstein wrote his own letter from the organization to its younger self. 

"We will be building a new institution, not the physical plant, rather an idea," he read. "What was it that Dumas once wrote? 'Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time had come.' We are that idea, we are building a therapeutic service as an alternative to the insulting and prejudiced treatment of LGBT people. We are going to help them live productive lives. We are building this new institution–and it will be fun–and the memories of the people, the services, yes, and the battles will live with us forever."

The event wrapped with an after party at Dempsey's pub. "You could hear people sharing their own stories," said Klassel Weiner. "People who knew each other and people who were just meeting one another, telling their tales and sharing how they connected to the pieces from the evening."

You can find out more about the IHI Therapy Center's efforts and development at their website here

429Magazine

Photographs by Grace Chu (show and after party)
Photographs by Kevin Cristaldi (rehearsal and performance)

Haute Living supports IHI

“Love, Yourself”

January 2, 2014 1:02 PM | Read 207 times

Written by Jennifer Kamm

 | Published in The Scene

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To celebrate the 40th anniversary of IHI Therapy Center, notable New York City celebrities including Olympia Dukakis, Carrie Preston (The Good Wife), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock), Lea DeLaria (Orange Is the New Black), Alysia Reiner (OITNB), Zachary Booth (Damages), Wade Davis (The Out List), Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Brian Murray and Halley Feiffer (Bored to Death) joined forces for a one-night performance of “Love, Yourself.” Directed by Sherri Eden Barber and produced by Jamie Klassel Weiner and Mark O’Connell, the play featured emotional readings from Sarah Moon and James Lecesne’s book, The Letter Q. “We all got to read these letters that people wrote to their younger selves,” Preston explained. “My letter really spoke to me. I could relate to it in many ways.”

 

 

Our Founder's Letter to a Younger IHI

Dear IHI,

          It’s June 1, 1973. Your founders, Charles Silverstein and Bernice Goodman have just gotten the keys to your door and have walked into the empty apartment at 490 West End that will be your home for the next few years. It is a classy seven room suite on the upper West Side of New York. Steve Temmer, a friend of the gay community provided seed money to pay for the security and first month’s rent, but nothing else, so you’ll wrack your brains trying to beg, borrow and steal money to install phone lines. You’ll search the streets of New York at night for discarded furniture. No one will care that the furniture is old and beat-up, because this will be home for gay and lesbian people who want psychological help without making homosexuality the focus of treatment.

          You’ll begin with two full time staff. Jeffrey Shaw will work full time as the Administrative Assistant at a salary of $25 a week. Charles will serve as Director of IHI at a salary of zero dollars, but he and his lover William will live full-time in the master bedroom as remuneration. By the time he resigns as director, Charles will be paid $200 a week, well, at least when there is a spare $200 in the kitty. Bernice, her heart and soul in our organization, will be Chairwoman of our Board of Directors.

          Board of Directors? You’ll find that no one has the foggiest idea of what a board should do. They’ll all be therapists because no one from the business community will have anything to do with you. The only lawyer who will help you secure 501(c)3 IRS status and non-profit incorporation with New York State is a heterosexual attorney, Hal Weiner. Gay lawyers will be much too frightened to be associated with you lest colleagues wonder about their sexual orientation. You understand that an opening gay lawyer in 1973 could be accused of moral turpitude and their license subject to revocation.

          You expect the board to provide money to support your work serving the gay and lesbian community, and I regret to tell you that they will fail miserably. They will meet every other Sunday morning, and Charles will buy Danish and make coffee for them. Then they’ll sit around and wonder what to do. Charles and Bernice will suggest that they provide money to pay our expenses, but none of them will ever arrive with a check book. That first board will end one day when one of them complains that there isn’t enough prune Danish at the meeting, and Charles will blow his top and say that at the next meeting they are each to arrive with checks for one thousand dollars, or leave. They left! So you were on your own, but at least you won’t have to buy Danish and coffee to feed them!

          You’ll also sponsor a fundraiser attended by many people in the advertising and marketing industries. Charles and Bernice will buy snacks and beverages, and Charles will make a speech calling for a Gay & Lesbian Community Chest, to snickers from the group. Only one person will give a pledge. $10. And he will never pay it, so in the end IHI will loose money on the fundraiser.

          It won’t be a loss. The IHI staff and its leaders are all filled with piss and vinegar. We will be the first full-time counseling center in New York to provide therapy to gays and lesbians using licensed gay and lesbian (and a few heterosexual) psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. They will each contribute three hours per week and all fees will go to support IHI. And these professionals will love being here, a place where they can be opening gay or lesbian and know that the money is going to a good cause. They will feel at home here because they won’t have to pretend that they are straight like they do at their full-time jobs.

          You will advertise your services in the Village Voice, and by June 30th all available therapy hours will be filled. And in my rooms will be a number of novel ideas, help that the mainstream psychiatric establishment never dreamed of. There will be a lesbian couples group, and a gay mens couple group. There will also be a group for gay men married to their heterosexual wives.

          But the very first group will be for natural childbirth training for pregnant lesbians and their lovers taught by a lesbian nurse. You will advertise it in the Village Voice and in addition to getting calls from lesbian couples, you will be inundated by inquiries from newspapers and radio programs wanting to know “Are you serious?” Or “Can we interview a pregnant lesbian?” Or “How can a lesbian get pregnant?” You’ll also get lots of obscene prank calls, and an unusually large number of masturbation calls. Those will be easy to spot because they will always begin with, “What are you wearing?” (The proper answer is “nothing.”)

          Your phones will ring off the hook day and night for two weeks because of another innovative group you will advertise. It will be a support group for heterosexually married gay men. You will naively believe that they will welcome an opportunity to discuss their plight with like-minded men. “What, you only TALK?” each caller will say with an air of disbelief in his voice. They will think that “support group” is a code for sex. They will believe that we are a gay bordello that fixes up married gay men with hustlers! Get ready for even more JO calls.

          There will also be some funny things that happen the first year of IHI. For instance one day a woman will be looking for the bathroom. By accident she will walk into the room where the nurse teaching natural childbirth is standing over a pregnant lesbian. She will close the door quickly wondering whether she had interrupted some kinky lesbian scene. She will then open another door only to find William (Charles’ lover) standing naked after taking a shower. Outraged, she will exclaim to our receptionist, “What kind of place are you running here?” And she will indignantly walk out!

          There will also a day when Cosmopolitan Magazine arrives to interview Charles, who will not fathom what on Earth they want of a gay & lesbian counseling center. “The Cosmo girl,” the representative will say, “needs to have a way to spot whether her boyfriend is gay or straight.” Apparently Cosmo girls are unusually attracted to gay men providing an obvious problem. Charles, you should understand, has no idea of what a Cosmo girl is – or Cosmopolitan Magazine, for that matter. “You read Cosmopolitan don’t you,” she will ask.

          “Of course,” Charles will say, “every week,” oblivious to the fact that the magazine is a monthly – and frankly, not caring. He will believe the whole thing a put on by members of the staff. “Why doesn’t she just ask him,” he will say. “Out of the question” will be the reply. Impatient with the obvious (to him) stupidity of the question and remembering all the administrative work waiting to be done, he will say, “The Cosmo girl (said with contempt in his voice) should take a walk with her boyfriend. Then watch whether he looks at more men’s asses than women’s asses. That will give her the answer.” Shocked, outraged and insulted, the Cosmo interviewer will collect her papers and with one final sneer, leave the office. None of the staff will believe Charles when he tells them the story, since they also have no idea of exactly what a “Cosmo girl” might be.

          Publicity about you will bring many visits from the police. They will never harass you, they are just looking for information, but will accept the confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship.

          A visit from the FBI early one Sunday morning will be more threatening. They will be searching for information about a missing child. The usual diplomatic Charles will blow his top at their assumption that gay people are child molesters. He will tell them that if they want to search for notorious queers that they should check out their closet queen FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover and his boyfriend Clyde Tolsen. Perhaps that will lead to a new FBI file!

          You will be privy to a few other notorious closet queens. Like Cardinal Spellman, called “Franny” by his gay friends and his chorus boy garcon de jour.  And Roy Cohen who denied his homosexuality until the day he died, but always carried an industrial sized jar of Vaseline with him. Just in case! 

          A few months before opening, Charles and Bernice made a presentation before the American Psychiatric Association demanding that homosexuality be deleted as a mental illness. Charles will spend considerable time the next six months politicking for it, and in December 1973 the APA will announce that homosexuality is to be deleted from their handbook of disorders. We were no longer mentally ill. “Isn’t science wonderful,” Charles will announce to the staff. “On December 14, 1973 we were all perverts, but on December 15 we were healthy and normal.”

          The nomenclature change will be electric. It will be announced in every newspaper and TV program. The New York Times will do a feature on it. And the TV program “60 Minutes” will bring a camera crew to IHI in order to interview Charles, film a therapy session, then interview Barbara Gittings, one of the unsung heroes of the movement. After the program airs, you will be inundated with media requests for interviews, but more important it will bring a number of new therapists to join the staff (at the usual salary of nothing), and many new patients who never before knew about our services.

          And two years later Charles will be appointed Editor of the newly published Journal of Homosexuality, and that same year publish his first two books, A Family Matter: A Parents’ Guide to Homosexuality, and the Joy of Gay Sex (with Edmund White). Bernice will publish a book on lesbian mothers.

          And years later people will ask whether founding and operating me, the Institute for Human Identity was hard. They will think of our living month to month, never quite sure whether the rent could be paid, or harassing phone calls calling us fags and dykes, or going to professional meetings and being shunned by colleagues fearing that they might be tainted by our sin –  our being up front by appearing on radio and TV. But the truth is that our problems were only about money. Every member of the staff was inspired and energized. We will be building a new institution, not the physical plant, rather an idea. What was it that Dumas once wrote? “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time had come.” We are that idea, we are building a therapeutic service as an alternative to the insulting and prejudiced treatment of LGBT people. We are going to help them live productive lives. We are building this new institution – and it will be fun – and the memories of the people, the services, yes, and the battles will live with us forever. How we will take pleasure by poking our fingers in the eyes of the established psychiatric community.

          Bernice will pass away on 2003. Judy Clarke, a charter staff member will serve as Executive Director for a while, and will still be on staff 40 years after we open. Charles will resign as director in 1977, but continue on staff. He will publish eight books, receive many awards, but be present as his lover of 20 years dies. And the staff will watch so many of our colleagues and patients die during the plague years; memorial services will be a frequent activity.

          But IHI will stand tall through the decades and serve our community. Our staff will continue to have fire and energy in their hearts – still searching for new ways to provide competent clinical services to our community – still searching for money to pay our expenses – but always knowing that IHI is home to both our staff and the people we serve. And for many of us, it will be a more inviting home than the one we were born to.

          

Inspired by "The Letter Q": A Letter to my Younger Self

One of IHI's amazing clinical interns, inspired by our upcoming "Love, Yourself" benefit,  writes a letter to her younger self:

Dear Younger Self,

Pssstt.. twelve-year-old self. It’s me, your twenty-seven-year-old self. Please don’t 
get freaked out by this- I’m telling you to just trust me and roll with it because I have some 
important things to fill you in on and I don’t have much time.
    Yes, I saw what just happened- Jenna just pushed her Backstreet Boys folder in your face 
and asked you which one you think is cutest. “That one,” you haphazardly pointed to the one whose outfit you liked the best and wondered why it was so anxiety-provoking to answer such a simple question as you turned your attention back toward the teacher to avoid further interrogation. Maybe because a part of you had to hold yourself back from pointing at Jenna instead- she was rebellious for a Catholic school girl with her thick black buckled shoes and hiked up plaid skirt (it’s funny, your taste hasn’t changed all that much, 15 years later). I feel you, sweetheart. It’s a hell of a confusing time for you right now.  
    I’m not going to lie- it’s difficult for me to look back at photos of you. And it’s not just because you are at the peak of that inevitable “awkward stage” that every pre-teen goes through (don’t worry, Mom and Dad are going to get you braces to fix those fang-like incisors), but because I can see in your eyes how uncomfortable you are in your skin. 
    There are so many things that I want to tell you that I don’t even know where to start. For one, you won’t have to wear that static-prone itchy wool skirt very much longer. That’s good news, right? I’m sorry to tell you though that transferring to public school will be as scary in ways as your innocent heart is currently anticipating but you will get through it because you are a fucking survivor. And gradually over the time between you and me, we will actually find many reasons to be grateful for the way we have been shaped by the experiences that you are enduring now. I want to say thank you for that- for taking one for the team. Our deep desire to see through past the bullshit and straight to the heart of things originated within you and will actually propel us forward through life with fierce determination. 
    Four years from now your first (and only) boyfriend ever will tell you he thinks you are a
dyke before you fully admit it yourself. His evidence will be based on the fact that the movie Girl, 
Interrupted will soon be your favorite (supposedly every girl-lusting girl’s favorite movie at the time) and that you will listen to female-fronted rock bands which he will classify as “lesbionic” feminist music. He will break up with you a few months later because you won’t sleep with him and when you come across his Facebook page eight years later and see that he is still an aspiring black metal musician going nowhere, you will be very glad that you did not permit him to be your first. Side note- I know you have no idea what Facebook is right now, but you should probably tell Dad to invest in this stock in 10 years or so and share with you the profit- trust me). 
    Your own evidence for your “dyke”-ness however, will not be fully confirmed until the first time you lock lips with another girl on a bench in a village alleyway. “Oh, so that’s what it’s supposed to feel like…” you will say to yourself. You will float around on a cloud for the rest of the day and your whole world will be forever changed. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday but I can still remember exactly what that girl was wearing, right down to her leopard-printed scarf. Within a few months from that kiss, she will shatter your world and you will enter the darkest period of your life to date. I’m telling you now not to scare you but to assure you that I will be with you through that. Please feel me in the bleakest moments and I will help to carry you through. And most importantly, you must realize that she is only the very first of several deep loves to come. We’ve got so much ahead of us.
    More good news- you will successfully break away from that stifling suburbia and thrive in the energy of the city that has always been the backdrop to your classroom daydreaming fantasies. I’ve moved from apartment to apartment every year for the past seven years now- you know we’ve never been one to settle. I know you’re looking around at all those boring people driving their boring cars to their boring jobs and wondering if that’s what growing up looks like. Not for you, my dear. Not for you. 
     My therapist asks about you from time to time. I tell her that I’ve come a long way from that shy and introverted young girl but that that girl is who shaped me. I know that you can feel me, deep in your bones- screaming I am here in your future and I am waiting for you with open arms. You should also know that I’m surrounded by some really exceptional people and they are all waiting and rooting for you too. 

I would be nothing without you.

So much love,
Your older self

 

IHI Therapy Center's 40th Anniversary: Love, Yourself

IHI Therapy Center's 40th Anniversary Celebration Gala:  A star studded reading from Sarah Moon and James Lecesne's 'The Letter Q', a collection of letters written by award winning queer artists to their younger selves.  

IHI Therapy Center's 40th Anniversary Celebration Gala: 
A star studded reading from Sarah Moon and James Lecesne's 'The Letter Q', a collection of letters written by award winning queer artists to their younger selves.


 

When
Monday December 9, 2013
7:30 PM to 9:00 PM EST
After-party
9PM to 11PM

Where
New York Theatre Workshop
79 E 4th St
New York, NY 10003

Starring:
Olympia Dukakis, Carrie Preston (The Good Wife, Emmy Award Winner), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock), Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black), Lea DeLaria(OITNB), Alysia Reiner (OITNB), Zachary Booth (Damages), Wade Davis (HBO's The Out List), Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Brian Murray (Tony award winner), and Halley Feiffer (Bored to Death).

Hosted by Justin Sayre (The Meeting) Directed by Sherri Eden Barber

BUY TICKETS HERE!

 

ihi's Associate Director Tara Lombardo Debunks Lesbian Myths

FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2013 AT 02:20PM

Lesbian Myths, Debunked via Alternet by Jodie Gummow 

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For a gay woman, it can often be a struggle to determine where exactly she fits in the spectrum of gender identity in both the lesbian and heterosexual communities. Many lesbians are faced with having their sexuality evaluated purely on the basis of their looks, as if sexuality is something that can be “seen” on the body to warrant approval, while others are not “accepted” for failing to act in a certain way. Such narrow-minded, misguided stereotypes create numerous social problems in advancing gay rights and raise an important question of what gender identity means for lesbians today.

According to mental health counselor Tara Lombardo, of the LGBT psychotherapy center, Institute for Human Identity [3] (IHI), gender stereotypes about lesbians are merely an extension of “internalized homophobia.” In other words, the LGBT community has adopted society’s standard of what it means to be straight or gay based on the only model it knows—heterosexual relationships. In essence, it has had to borrow from this prototype.

“For lesbians, representation appears to be 'owned' by heterosexual attitudes that personify what lesbians are and are not, and this is related to women’s sexuality being invisible and based on attraction. A lot of femininity is based on the male gaze. If you remove the male perspective, you have to figure out the female gaze and at this point we still don’t know what exactly that is in the gay community.  It has been a long trek for lesbians to come out and work out where they identify within these pre-determined social scripts that exist,” Lombardo explained to AlterNet.

A growing body of social science research suggests that the proliferation of gay marriage is redefining the way we view gender and specifically gender roles within family life. According to Liza Mundy in her recent article, “The Gay Guided to Wedded Bliss,” [4] research has shown that same-sex unions are happier than heterosexual marriages, with lesbian couples experiencing the most intimate relationships compared with their heterosexual and male gay counterparts. 

“Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on pre-existing gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples,” Mundy said.

While the critics of gay marriage warn of the effects of a “genderless” society, Mundy believes gay marriage can help us to shed ancient, old-fashioned stereotypes by re-evaluating gender norms.

“If a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and childcare and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry, bring it on! Beyond that, gay marriage can function as a controlled experiment, helping us to see which aspects of marital difficulty are truly rooted in gender and which are not,” she said.

We are certainly making some headway, at least in the eyes of the law, with over 14 nations now having legalized gay marriage. Such efforts have generated extensive media coverage of gay weddings and enhanced the visibility of the many different types of gay couples that exist in the LGBT community. Moreover, such transparency has helped to normalize lesbian identity for heterosexuals and thus paint a clearer picture of society’s evolving gender norms.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding such progress, hiccups and push-backs remain in the struggle for equality. As we celebrate Pride Month [5] this June, we still find ourselves living in a world where gay people are subject to discrimination and anti-gay hate crimes [6]. While some lesbians are fortunate enough to escape such prejudice by slipping under the radar and not being recognizable as gay, these women face other obstacles such as the effects of “femme invisibility."

According to gay rights activist and writer Megan Evans, the concept of femme invisibility is the lack of recognition and validation that feminine lesbians experience by being perceived as heterosexual as a result of looking feminine. The forgotten "femme," as she states in her article, Femme Invisibility [7], is the feminine-looking lesbian who goes unnoticed because of her girlish appearance. 

“We fall victim to heteronormativity and heterosexism: the notion that heterosexuality is the preferred and normal sexual orientation. We are presumed to be heterosexual by both communities, which leads to the feeling that we don’t belong to either,” Evans told AlterNet.

Sadly, pop culture has not done much to dispel such misconceptions. While femme lesbian characters have risen over the last couple of years on popular TV shows such as “The L Word,” according to Evans, most are either portrayed as “femme” or “butch” with not much diversity of representation of the lesbians who sit somewhere in between.

What’s more, story lines about femme characters tend to involve struggles over sexual identity or a lesbian having relationships with both men and women, which only perpetuates the idea that lesbians can be “turned straight” or “swayed by men."

Evans explains: “Frequent comments that I hear as a femme lesbian are, "But you're too pretty to be gay," and "Who wears the trousers?" We are often seen as a challenge for straight males who think that they can 'turn' us, and lesbians mis-label us as straight fag hags,” Evans said.

Lombardo, who is also the associate director of IHI, echoes this sentiment: “The challenge for the queer community, particularly for women, is that if you identify as a femme, you have the burden of proving you are a lesbian as well. There is a struggle with such classification because femme women have to prove their sexuality to both straight and gay communities,” she said.

The lesbian porn industry also fuels misconceptions about “lipstick lesbians" by centering on two femme women to satisfy the sexual fantasies of men. In porn, feminine couples are constantly objectified and dominated to fulfill their sexualized roles according to what satisfies men. 

Last week’s YouTube [8] clip, “Real Lesbians React To Porn [9]," which recorded the reactions of real lesbians watching lesbian porn, shattered the myths surrounding the bedroom antics of lesbians. The comical video showed lesbians poking fun at the use of suspiciously long fingernails and oddly placed stiletto heels. With over 2 million views already, the clip confirms what most of us already know: lesbian porn is made for straight men.

“Lesbian porn only reinforces the view that lesbians are not 'really' gay. It also undermines our relationships, for example, when we're seen to be kissing for the pleasure of men, instead of as an expression of love towards our partners,” Evans said.

Undoubtedly in this day and age, it seems unconscionable that anyone should have their sexuality scrutinized for the simple reason that it does not conform to a misguided stereotype. But how do we go about avoiding such stigmatization? The answer lies in positive lesbian role models in the community who can act as mirror images for society

Lombardo explains: “Those who identify as a lesbian all look and act very differently. Because coming out has changed over each decade, it seems that while acceptance of sexuality is more acceptable today, it is still a challenge. Thus, by branching out, people in the lesbian community can act as mirrors for other women. If there is internal shame in a community, there is a tendency for women to isolate themselves, whereas if you can expand your mind and ideology by becoming more active in the LGBT community, you begin to develop a better idea of who you are,” she said.

Megan Evans agrees: “We have Portia De Rossi and Chely Wright, but there are not many high-profile celebrities that have come out to proudly say that they are a lesbian. Growing up I felt that I did not have a role model to look up to so that I knew I could be feminine, gay and happy,” she said.

In response, Evans launched the Femme Visibility Campaign [10] to combat the invisibility of feminine lesbians and change lesbian stereotypes through encouraging fellow femmes to come forward and have a voice. The campaign was launched as part of Evans’ own website, What Wegan Did Next [10], a blog about her life with her wife, Whitey, as a loving feminine lesbian couple.

“What I strive for is the day that it will no longer be a shock to be feminine and gay. After all, 'feminine' is not a synonym for 'heterosexual.' I hope that with more lesbians coming out and living their lives proudly, that we will slowly but surely show both the straight and gay communities that our sexual orientation is legitimate and that we deserve to be treated that way,” Evans said.

ihi's Dr. Frank Corigliano teletalks!

FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2013 AT 02:47PM

Listen to internet radio with Jim Blue on BlogTalkRadio

Today's guest is Dr. Frank Corigliano, currently a Postdoctoral Psychology Resident specializing in telepsychology in New York. He is working on two exciting projects at the intersection of psychology and technology. Dr. Corigliano sees patients for individual and couples therapy privately and at the Institute for Human Identity. In addition to seeing patient’s onsite, Dr. Corigliano is working with the institute for Human Identity to develop telepsychology services such as using video for therapy which would allow the institute to offer their services throughout New York State.

The second project Dr. Corigliano is working on, and the one we will be discussing today, is a Supportive Televisiting Program of the Social Service Board at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Televisitng uses live, real-time video and audio to allow kids to "visit" through the TV, with their incarcerated parent.

Dr. Corigliano earned a Master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from St. John’s University. He trained at the Beck Institute in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

Join Jim and Dr. Corigliano in a discussion on the growth of telepsychology and how he sees it expanding in the futur

ihi Board Member Mark O'Connell shares his "quite queerly" perspective on the play "A Kid Like Jake"

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 2013 AT 01:41 PM

The Many Mothers of Cinderella Boy

The new play "A Kid Like Jake" explores gender nonconformity in children

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What if Cinderella attended the wrong ball? What if she was asked to catch a ball—instead of to dance—and was ridiculed when she refused? What if Cinderella is a four-year old boy named Jake, whose parents desperately want him to get into an elite private school?

These are among the questions raised by the new play  "A Kid Like Jake," opening on Monday, June 17th at Lincoln Center. Like most non-musicals in New York City these days, the context here is contemporary, upper-middle-class "white people" problems. However, unlike several of its peer productions, which feature myopic, sterile, conflicts of the "to sip cocktails, or not to sip cocktails?" variety, the stakes here are high and broadly relevant: namely, how does one effectively parent a gender non-conforming boy in the face of norms more wicked than a fairy-tale stepmother?

 The play opens much like Cinderella, with a mother plotting anxiously to secure her child's “royal” status, and therefore her own—in this case, status means enrollment in a fancy private school. Though we never meet the child in question, Jake, we learn right away that princesses inspire his play, and that his parents seem more than cool with that (e.g., buying him every princess doll, book, and movie on the planet). Hence the central question of the play: can Jake's parents be progressively attuned to his unique sense of self, and be status-quo/status-hungry at the same time? Or, in other words, can this be achieved without Cinderella's mother becoming her evil stepmother?

 When Jake's mother, Alex (played with fierce, empathic conviction by Carla Gugino) meets with the principal of his pre-school, Judy (a sharp and dropped-in Caroline Aaron), for advice on gaining admission to a top-tier grade school ("the ball"), the plot becomes more complicated. Is Judy a Fairy Godmother, and if so, whose: Jake's or Alex’s? Judy is highly attuned to Jake, including his "gender variant play," which she explicitly names and encourages Alex to make use of in school application essays. But Alex shudders at the words, apparently having dissociated from the princess-play she has been encouraging and participating in at home. Instead, Alex pleads with Judy to use her “magic” connections (and discreteness), to squeeze Jake into the best possible school by underplaying his gender variance.

 As the school interviews commence, and Jake is encouraged to contort his behaviors, he becomes aggressive, acting out some of the more violent moments from the Grimms’ Cinderella story—e.g., drawing bloody pictures of the stepmother as she cuts her daughters' feet to fit the glass slipper. This of course instigates a cycle of rage, as Jake fails to get into many of the schools, exacerbating Alex’s disappointment and frustration, and leading her to become more and more controlling ("wicked") as the play progresses.

 And then something unexpected happens: the playwright gives us access to Alex's inner life, by way of a dream sequence. We begin to understand her as someone who has confronted the pressures to give up her own "girly play" in order to gain status. We learn that she worked as a lawyer before choosing to raise Jake full time, and that the fear of failure has always pervaded her life. We begin to appreciate the many hours she spent alone raising Jake, in a fantastic play space she created for them, where each of their "girly" desires could safely, mutually expand and not be shunned—where each of them could be Cinderella. We also recognize the great loss they both share when the clock strikes midnight, the carriage becomes a pumpkin, and social norms reclaim them.

 A similar mother/son dilemma appears in psychoanalyst Ken Corbett's book "Boyhoods: Reclaiming Masculinities." Corbett describes his work with a gender non-conforming boy and his mother, who accepted his "girly play" but struggled with his need to be "pushy" about it, often saying "everything is princess this, and princess that." Corbett eventually helped the mother to address her ambivalence about "girly play"; to locate her own childhood "pleasures of exhibitionism," of "being the object of desire": and to identify the shame she learned to link with those pleasures—i.e., the pressure she felt to conceal those desires, and to contort herself, so as to gain respect and status in a man's world. As an alternative to modeling this anxiety and shame for her son, Corbett helped the mother to create a reflective space, rather than a punitive one, in which they could talk about the dilemmas they faced together. Fortunately, by the end of the play, Jake and Alex seem to be on a similar trajectory toward reflection and understanding.

 As much as we may cringe at yet another play about wealthy New Yorkers, "A Kid Like Jake" not only presents a more thrilling premise than most, but the core conflict is also arguably enhanced by the privileged setting. The dilemma of wanting to be a boastful, proud, attuned parent of a fully self-expressed child, while also wanting to be the boastful, proud, disciplined parent of a private school enrollee, is a high-stakes conflict of interests faced by those who can afford it. Though various dilemmas regarding the parenting of gender-variant children in public vs. private settings take place in all of our communities, watching class-conscious parents negotiate the advantages of conformity vs. nonconformity is particularly theatrical. It also challenges us to consider our own parenting values when faced with questions of our children’s mental, emotional, and physical well being.

 The more stories of gender-variant children that we share on our stages and screens, and the more conversations we have about the various challenges it presents, the more safe, reflective, spaces we can offer “princess boys” and their families, in all of our communities, not only in New York City’s wealthiest.

 In the meantime, give yourself 115 minutes of reflective space on these issues by getting a ticket for "A Kid Like Jake."

Copyright Mark O'Connell, L.C.S.W.

This piece was first published in dot 429 Magazine

 References

Corbett, K. (2009), Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities. New Haven & London, Yale

ihi's Jamie Klassel Weiner talks spanking

TUESDAY, JULY 9, 2013 AT 03:42PM

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Parenting and discipline: To spank or not

When it comes to providing discipline for children, one controversial topic is spanking. Over the past three decades spanking has fallen out of favor but when you survey american households many still believe that it is a valid parenting technique. During this hour we are joined by live callers and parenting guest Jamie Klassel Weiner M.A., MHC-LP.

For To Spank or Not Podcast click here.