*Major LIR thanks to our guest blogger today, Heather Davies, LCSW, who is a queer therapist and trainer currently in private practice in Austin, TX. She has worked with and for the Voices Against Violence Program at the University of Texas at Austin in various capacities over the past eight years. We’re excited to share her insightful post*
The media offers us little in the way of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) relationship diversity or models of healthy and satisfying LGBTQ relationships. Sadly, with this invisibility often comes the assumption that such relationships cannot or do not include dating abuse and interpersonal violence, as well.
Many youth just entering into the LGBTQ dating world often feel alone when it comes to figuring out what is healthy in their relationships and what isn’t. Add to this the fact that we live in an era where the public and political fervor around same-sex and transgender rights is increasingly polarized and that many youth just beginning to question their gender identities and sexual orientations fear for their psychological, emotional, and physical safety…and, well, yikes! Putting it all in context, we begin to grasp the enormity of the risk and courage it takes for an LGBTQ-identified youth to reach out and talk to someone about a relationship situation that may not be feeling safe or comfortable.
So what do we do? Well, if you are the family, friend, or ally of an LGBTQ youth who reaches out to you, begin first and foremost with understanding that this person felt that you are someone who might actually see, hear, and respect her/him/hir*. In a world that often feels overwhelmingly judgmental and rejecting, that is saying something! You can best honor that trust by:
- Listening to her/him/hir actively and without judgment,
- Validating her/his/hir courage in reaching out and whatever feelings she/he/ze* is experiencing,
- Offering options in terms of additional support and/or advocacy, and
- Honoring the choices that she/he/ze makes for what to do next.
Research shows that LGBTQ survivors of interpersonal violence continue to access more and varied avenues for support and healing when the responses they receive from their initial efforts to reach out are positive ones. How you choose to respond can make all the difference for that youth going forward.
If you happen to be an LGBTQ youth contemplating reaching out for support, the reality is that many times this process just isn’t easy. I tend to think of it as “warrior work”…one of those defining moments when you turn towards your fear and uncertainty and say “No!” to the isolation and silence. Only you can decide when you’re ready to take that step to reach out. When you get to that point, I encourage you to think creatively about whom might be best able to respond with the support you need and want. It could be a friend or family member; a teacher, counselor or coach; a trusted healthcare professional or open-minded spiritual or religious figure; a member of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA); or a peer advocate at www.loveisrespect.org. Listen to your gut. Honor your own rhythm and readiness. Lastly, know that you have value in this world and deserve support in making your life and relationships all that you want them to be!
*The gender neutral pronouns “ze” and “hir” are utilized here as inclusive terms for those whose gender identities lie outside the traditional binary of male and female.