If you are gay, treat gay people, know a gay person, and/or want to see a great movie, watch Gus van Sant's movie, Milk. Milk follows Harvey Milk from the closeted early 70's business world in NY city, to his exhuberant personal and political awakening in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood to his becoming the first openly gay politician (and martyr) in the United States. It's funny, sad, exhilirating, and devastating. Sean Penn is spot on as Harvey Milk. The political scene is rendered perfectly. And the film is as much about the person as the politics. "Milk" gives a context for how we got where we are today. And it is the portrait of a man who chose to become himself, despite all risks.
Why see the movie? You will learn how it was everywhere and how it still is in many places. If you were gay in the early 70's, you could lose your job, your housing, your liberty (frequenting a know gay bar was illegal in many places), your family, your church or your life. If you are gay in many parts of this country, right now, you can still lose your job, your housing, your family, your church, your liberty or your life. Or you can simply be socially shunned. Despite "Will and Grace", Rosie, and Ellen, "queers" are still bashed, sneered about, and face blatant discrimination. As a therapist, it's important for you to know your clients' social context. Things have changed in 30 years. There are gay and lesbian hotlines, thousands of websites, dozens of books, and counseling services. I'm represented by an out, gay state rep and a gay city council person who ran as the "establishment" candidate. But your not-yet-out client may not know another gay person; may carry deep shame for being different; and may be deeply afraid of losing her or his identity, family and social connections. Or your client, in the process of coming out, or in the process of having dealt with discrimination, may be royally pissed off or traumatized. Or your client, having been through the coming out process, may be absolutely fine with her or his gay identity, social life, and place in society and may be seeing you for the normal depression, anxiety, or life stressor issues that the rest of your clients have.
I won't give a list of all the issues you will encounter with gay clients. There are plenty of books and websites to help you with that. However, I can share some intake questions you might use with gay clients, to be sprinkled in with all the other intake questions.
- When did you first know? What was that like?
- Who did you first tell?
- When did you/Did you come out?
- What's it like with your family?
- Are you out at work? What's that like?
- Any stuff left over from coming out?
- What's it like when you tell someone now?
And don't assume that you know much about the person because you know she or he is gay. There are as many kind of gay people as there are kinds of coffee drinkers. Be clinically curious, as with any client. And go see this good movie.