The New York Times, By Mimi Swartz
Should therapists help God-fearing gay people stay in the closet?
Denis Flanigan isn’t hiding anything. A 42-year-old psychotherapist in Houston, he has a straightforward manner that meshes nicely with his no-nonsense buzz cut and neatly clipped goatee.
Unlike many mental-health professionals, Flanigan puts personal items on display in his office, including a photo of his partner, who is attractive, and male.
For his patients’ amusement he has on hand an S-and-M Barbie as well as a Tickle Me Freud doll. (“It’s so, so . . . wrong,” Flanigan told me, in a tone that signaled he believed it was exactly right.)
So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that when potential clients come to Flanigan’s office to discuss their sexual orientation — in particular whether they should reveal their homosexuality to friends, family or employers — his first response is to ask, in a neutral tone, “Why do you want to do that?”
Flanigan has a 20-year history of gay activism behind him, so you might expect that his primary goal would be to help gay clients discover and cultivate their most authentic selves. As Jonathan Ned Katz wrote in “Gay American History” in 1976, “Therapists who do not help their homosexual patients to fully explore the possibility of homosexuality as a legitimate option have not helped to expand those individuals’ freedom.”
Flanigan doesn’t disagree with Katz. “I’m a very strong believer in people’s rights,” he said one gray morning at a Starbucks in Houston. But during his early training, he encountered a few clients who either would not come out of the closet or suffered mightily when they did. Christians of the kind who earnestly believed that the Bible deplored homosexuality were particularly troubled as they tried to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation.
The more Flanigan studied this conundrum, the more he came to see it as intractable. Some gay evangelicals truly believe that to follow their sexual orientation means abandonment by a church that provides them with emotional and social sustenance — not to mention eternal damnation.
Keeping their sexual orientation a secret, however, means giving up any opportunity to have fulfilling relationships as gay men and women.
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