Welcome to Our Blog!!

This blog is a hate-free place, dedicated to the spreading of awareness and understanding of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community, their shame experiences and their potential to be resilient. Our goal is to increase your empathy and compassion.

We do not claim to be experts on this topic, however, we recognize the importance of sharing what we can in the hope that at least one person feels compelled to re-evaluate their thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Voice from Working with the GLBT Community

Keville Ware, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Montrose Counseling Center, joined us for a discussion about the shame experienced in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, and the effects of those experiences on individuals.

Ware has been working with the GLBT Community in the Houston area since 1992; hence, we were eager to get his thoughts on this important issue. We asked him questions based on his professional experience...this post is a feature of some of the major highlights of our discussion.

Throughout the process of creating this blog, it became evident to us that shame is a major issue within the GLBT Community. In speaking with Mr. Ware we discovered that not only is shame as a core problem for the individuals of this Community, but that many of his clients experience depression, negative self-talk, feelings of worthlessness, and cycles of self-medicating as a result of their shame experience(s).

Ware specializes in working with gay men who have tested HIV+. We were curious if the shame experiences of HIV+ homosexuals were different than those of HIV+ heterosexuals. We got a resounding “YES.” Ware discussed how society attaches greater stigma to HIV+ homosexuals than HIV+ heterosexuals. The straight community treats the HIV+ gay community differently. In addition, the non-HIV+ gay community also treats the HIV+ gay community differently. Being outcast by your own community can be very shaming…for anyone!

Although any given individual processes and deals with shame in a different way, we thought it was important for future social workers to be aware of some of the most common consequences of shame are in the GLBT Community.

Based on his professional experience, Ware identified high rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual addiction, relationship struggles, body image disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, and symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as the most prominent issues that social workers would encounter in relation to shame. Another problematic situation is when clients present with the “if society says I’m wrong then I am wrong” mentality...that is internalized homophobia. Ware also identified perfectionism as a means to compensate for experiencing shame.

So, what triggers shame for the GLBT Community? Like anyone from any background and community, there are no universal shame triggers for each gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individual. Each person is unique (no, they are NOT all the same because they are gay), and therefore, they have their own set of shame triggers.

Ware described politics as a major shame trigger for the GLBT Community. For example, the highly publicized political campaigns to promote to promote policies, such as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the illegalization of gay marriage. These policies serve as discrimination which isolate and belittle gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The more difficult aspect of these political campaigns is not that they initiate shame, but that they constantly reinforce shame, making it difficult for healing and, as Ware stated, recovering from shame.

On a different note, Ware noted that there are major life stressors that also trigger shame for some, such as losing a job, aging, loss of an important relationship, testing HIV+, and life rejections.

In society today, shame is a taboo talk – it lives in silence, it breeds in silence, and it can be destructive in silence. Obviously, there is a certain discomfort that evolves through discussing a dark, taboo topic. Let’s face it...it’s not your typical conversation starter! Ware described the importance of psycho-education to explain shame to struggling clients.

An important aspect of Ware’s psycho-educational program involves implementing the Shame Resilience Model of Dr. Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW. He describes this model as being useful in helping clients to recognize thoughts and feelings that surround the emotion of shame. Ware often utilizes the term “mindfulness,” which he describes as a combination term encompassing the concepts of shame, learning positive self-talk, and becoming resilient.

As the discussion progressed, the issue of “Gay Pride” came up. One would think that having pride in your culture would (or could) minimize the shame associated with being a part of that culture. However, Ware offered a different spin on the idea of pride and what he believes may be that actual result of "Gay Pride." He discussed “Gay Pride” being detrimental to the GLBT Community in the sense that it only focused on being proud of one’s sexuality and not acknowledging the collective pain and suffering of growing up gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in a straight world.

Ware acknowledged that while being able to celebrate is important, the community also needs to stop ignoring the negative feelings (like shame) that are ever present. The GLBT Community needs to address the idea that it’s okay to have shame, but it’s also okay to feel pride in embracing who you are. For example, Ware suggested that part of “Gay Pride” should be holding a candlelight vigil to mourn the shame felt within the Community.

Since one of the goals of our blog is to educate future social workers and other helping professionals to understand the shame of the GLBT Community, and how to effectively work with them by building cultural competency, increasing empathy, and increasing compassion, we felt it was appropriate to ask the “advice” question. What better way to be advised on how to work with the GLBT Community than from a seasoned professional? Ware believes that part of working within this community is walking with individuals on a journey of self-acceptance, which involves being uncomfortable. Learning about sexuality is essential to do this work.

Ware recommended a book by Joe Kort entitled Covert Sexual Abuse of the Gay Male Culture for any future social worker wishing to work with this particular population. In addition, any other reading material (book, or journal articles) that discusses the phenomenon of internalized homophobia, oppression, and trauma of the psyche due to shame can be helpful.

Ware described that many times individuals of the GLBT Community will begin to develop their own form of internalizing homophobia due to the oppressive experiences of living in a heterosexist/homophobic society. This is something that social workers need to be mindful of to help these clients navigate a difficult path. Social workers also need to weary the phenomenon of counter-transference, where the social worker develops their own homophobia and internalized hatred by vicariously experiencing the same issue as the clients. Perhaps having your own therapist is helpful!

To conclude, Ware made a beautiful point that is the heart of being a social worker – and, in fact, it should be the heart of being human. To work with, to relate to, and to live in harmony with the GLBT Community, it is unquestionable that there must be empathy, there must be understanding, there must be a respect for diversity, and there must be compassion. You do not necessarily have to know what it is like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, but you do have to know what it is like to experience shame and what is would feel like to bring that to light as a client. That is how empathy and compassion for the unknown begins to develop.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Keville Ware for his time and willingness to discuss shame with us. It was a valuable learning experience for us all, and it is our hope that it will be a learning experience for you all.
Thank you.