Gay Trauma and Gay Trauma Therapy - Quick Links
Trauma Can Affect Anyone BUT Gay Men Are At Higher Risk
Being a gay man in society can be very traumatizing and while we are being honest, so can traditional therapy that does not address the needs or wounds of gay men.
Trauma is not discriminatory in one sense. It doesn’t care what age you are, or your gender, or your sexual identity. It can affect anyone and can happen for any reason. Most people commonly associate trauma with specific events or situations. Some examples of common traumatic events can include:
- Car accidents
- Witnessing or being the victim of a crime
- Abuse (Domestic, Sexual, Emotional)
- Natural Disasters
- Climate change events
- Being burgled or mugged
- …the list goes on.
No matter what happened, if something is traumatizing to a person, it means it deeply affected them emotionally.
The above were very specific events and situations that can cause someone to feel traumatizing which therapists call ‘simple trauma’ or ‘single incident trauma’. But, how can life as a gay man be traumatizing and how can one overcome the effects? This is where understanding gay trauma and receiving gay trauma therapy can help one to heal and flourish at any age.
As a gay man myself who specializes in providing therapy for gay men, I can tell you that I see this over and over again with gay men of all ages and backgrounds. This is happening before our very eyes in Florida due to homophobic and hate filled legislation which instead of making society safer or better, will ensure that future generations require gay trauma therapy to overcome society’s mean spirited attacks on some of its most vulnerable citizens.
Let’s Define Trauma
First, let’s go over a brief definition of what trauma is. Trauma is the emotional response to deeply stressful or emotional situations. That is the loose definition that most practitioners and doctors will use to define what trauma is – because it can be applied to so many different things.
However, in order to actually receive a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD (the clinical name for trauma) it needs to meet certain criteria, as described and outlined by DSM-5, NCBI and the Mayo Clinic. This isn’t exhaustive, but can include:
- Intrusive memories (flashbacks)
- Negative changes in thinking, mood, and behavior
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions (arousal and hyper vigilance to potential danger)
The Psychological Establishment Itself Caused Gay Trauma
Like society, psychology is evolving and improving. But like society, psychology hasn’t always been embracing to gay men (or any other lgbtq+ person for that matter). Up until 1973, the manual used by Psychologists worldwide, called the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Illness or DSM considered homosexuality to be a diagnosable disorder. And even in the year 2022, many therapists call themselves, “LGBTQ Friendly”.
As a gay man and as a gay therapist, I don’t find this term friendly at all. LGBTQ Embracing, Celebrating, yes, but ‘Friendly’ sounds to me like a message saying, “I am not actively hostile towards you.”.
Many therapists to this day, don’t know this history, and don’t realize how patronizing ‘LGBTQ Friendly’ sounds, nor how pathologizing mainstream psychology has been to gay people. This is why I strongly believe that receiving gay trauma therapy, by a gay therapist, who works with gay people and specializes in the issues that gay people experience (including societally induced gay shame) is super important and sorely needed.
Defining Gay Trauma and Gay Trauma Therapy
Gay trauma refers to the trauma of growing up gay, coming out as gay, and living as a gay person in a society that still largely assumes everyone is straight and very rarely treats a gay man as equal and worthy of love and respect. It wasn’t easy being gay 30 – 40 years ago, and while progress has been made (and lost too), it still isn’t easy to be a gay man in society.
I mentioned above that trauma is not discriminatory, and what this means is that anyone can be traumatized. BUT certain groups have much higher rates of trauma. Not because there is anything inherently different, or weaker in certain groups, but rather because society itself causes marginalized communities to be traumatized. A society that doesn’t respect or validate all people equally traumatizes those with less privilege.
Unfortunately, unlike the examples above regarding ‘simple trauma‘ or ‘single incident trauma’, being exposed to external and internal homophobia over many years is a type of ‘complex trauma’ also known as Complex PTSD or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Growing up as a gay person is very traumatic for many people because of how society treats gay people. Homophobia can be overt, but it can also be very covert and full of microaggressions that are hard to spot or name, and even harder to change. When was the last time you heard the phrase, ‘That’s so gay’ to mean something derogatory?
Imagine hearing this phrase over and over while growing up. Constant exposure to frequent microagressions such as this is traumatizing and effects a person’s self esteem, self identity and ability to feel safe in the world. Gay trauma needs to be named, stopped, prevented and healed.
Why Gay Men Get Traumatized
It goes without saying, but being a gay man or an lgbtq+ person, historically, is not an easy experience. While it is undoubtedly better than it ever was (except in the places where it isn’t), there is so much more work that needs to be done. Work to break the taboo surrounding mental health and gay men. It is long overdue. We need to stop the stigma and stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a gay man.
Gay Men Experience Exposure To Violent Situations More Often
Those playground bullies who picked on anyone they didn’t deem worthy? They grew up to the adult bullies. The ones who purposefully get into physical altercations with someone just because they are gay. Government sanctioned bullying is not being condemned as it should be. In just the past year, there has been a massive increase in anti gay and anti-lgbtq+ legislation around the USA and the world.
But it isn’t just physical violence that causes trauma. Being a victim of hate crimes or hate speech can be just as traumatizing. The nightclub shooting in Orlando, for instance, is a prime example of a recent hate crime against the LGBTQ community. Imagine being a survivor of one of the deadliest hate crimes in recent history – all because your sexual and romantic attraction is towards the same sex.
Worsening this issue is that each state in the United States is allowed to govern what they define as a hate crime. Some states are strict with it while others barely define it. And as of the writing of this article, the US senators can’t be bothered to ensure that same sex marriage remains a right in the USA.
These are examples of continuing gay trauma induced by society. While it is unfair to have to even go to therapy at all over issues that are societal and not due to your character, gay trauma therapy can truly help a gay man strengthen their inner core so that they can cope with these challenges and thrive. As a gay therapist, I see gay men and lgbtq+ people learn to do this every day.
Little Access To Mental Health Care – Where are the Gay Trauma Therapy Specialists?
Without being treated, gay trauma and it’s symptoms can worsen over time. Which is why for anyone who experienced a traumatic event related to their sexuality (including just existing), and seeking the support from a gay therapist who isn’t just ‘gay friendly’ is extremely important. But there aren’t enough gay therapists and unfortunately most insurance plans and even online therapy directory and medical directory provider services are woefully behind the times.
Where does this leave gay men? In the dark, essentially. Why in 2022, can’t a gay man or a gay therapist, do a search in their insurance register by the terms, ‘gay therapist’ or ‘lgbtq+ therapist”? Most insurance directories only let their members search by gender (and then it is only narrow definitions of binary gender at that). Not even including gay therapists as a searchable category is a microagression towards gay men. How hard is it to add a box on a searchable database?
Because of stigma surrounding what it means to be gay and how that can “affect” them medically, gay men are marginialized when it comes to the access to health care they are afforded. Even with the recent (but not recent) occurrence of Monkeypox, it was wrongly coined a ‘gay disease’ in the beginning of the outbreak.
Homophobia (External And Internalized) Causes Gay Trauma
If you can’t even imagine a world where the outward hate that people show towards you causes you to internalize and be against who you are, consider yourself lucky. Homophobia, in 2022, is still very much alive. Because of the amount of hate gay men receive to this day, it convinces them that they are less than. Not worthy. And they internalize that hate until they are just a shadow of their former selves OR never become the selves they were born to be. This is the very definition of complex trauma.
As a gay man in society, we are traumatized over and over again. From our own personal experiences. From the experiences of our community. We thought finally, same sex marriage is here to stay, and now even that seems under threat. It can’t keep going on like this. But if you take only one thing from this entire, article, please take this: gay trauma is not your fault and gay trauma therapy can help you heal and get on with living your best life.
Gay Trauma Is Not Your Fault AND Gay Trauma Therapy Can Do Wonders
All too often, many gay men blame themselves for their struggles. While it is of course a good thing to do one’s best to be responsible for oneself. It is never a good idea to try and internalize / take responsibility by oneself for a societally induced problem. Homophobia causes the trauma in gay men. Gay trauma therapy with a gay therapist who understands this unique kind of trauma is worth considering if any of this blog resonates with you.
If you are looking for support from a gay therapist, who specializes in gay trauma therapy, please reach out to my Honolulu or London clinic for a free test drive therapy session. Click to learn more about therapy for gay men.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the USA and an Accredited CBT Therapist in the UK with over 16 years of experience. I specialize in therapy for gay men, anxiety, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy.