By Jeff Levy
Between Gay and Straight
Honoring a client's multiple identities
Rob rushed into his first session with me, gym bag on one shoulder, briefcase on the other, 10 minutes late and out of breath. He set his bags down, gently put his Blackberry on the table in front of him, and heaved himself onto the couch. He sighed and began: "OK, I'm gay, I'm married, I have three kids, and I'm not getting divorced." He'd shared some of this information with me in our phone conversation, but I was still struck by the sense of hopelessness in his tone. As he paused, awaiting my response, quite honestly, I was awaiting my response as well. I knew this was not Rob's first experience in therapy and that a lot was riding on what I was about to say.
Rob had been referred by a former client of mine he'd met in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Just out of alcohol rehabilitation treatment, he'd begun attending AA meetings, where he'd shared parts of his story. He described a long struggle with his sexual orientation, growing up in a devoutly Roman Catholic family, where he learned that his sexual attraction to men was cause for eternal damnation. Perhaps to overcome his shame, he excelled academically, medicated himself with alcohol, and married a Roman Catholic woman his parents considered the perfect mate for him. After college, he became a lawyer, fathered three children (now 13, 15, and 18), and started his own law firm with a colleague. Outwardly, he was the epitome of success, admired and envied by his siblings as the star of the family; inwardly, he experienced himself as fraudulent, hopeless, and trapped. Finally, out of desperation, he told his wife, Mia, about his lifelong sexual attraction to men.
To Rob's surprise, Mia didn't reject him. To the contrary, she thanked him for his honesty and assured him they'd be able to "get through this together"—as long as Rob remained true to his faith and worked on their marriage. Mia consulted their priest, conducted extensive research on the Internet, and identified a reparative therapist to help him "overcome" his homosexual impulses. But after months of reparative therapy, he found himself even more depressed, drinking more heavily, unable to function at work, and still lying to Mia about his sexual attractions. He contacted a therapist in Chicago who identified as gay and, upon hearing Rob's story, took a decidedly different therapeutic tack: in his first session, he advised him to move out and begin the process of divorce. Rob panicked, drank to the point of passing out, and decided to enter alcohol rehab.