Stephen Crippen Therapy

A blog about you (and me) by Stephen Crippen.

Archive for the ‘Gay men’ Category

Freedom to marry: a conservative idea

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Many people assume that freedom to marry for all couples (gay or straight) is a liberal, progressive idea. And…it’s easy to see why they make that assumption: freedom to marry for all couples certainly looks like a progressive response to a changing society.

But freedom to marry is a concept that many political conservatives enthusiastically support. ‘Marriage’ as we understand it today can often bring to mind a heterosexual couple, but many conservatives want to expand the definition, understanding that all couples should be encouraged to embrace the stability, community support, and family cohesion that comes with marriage.

What would happen if marriage became legal for all couples, including gay and lesbian couples? More people would publicly promise to share their lives, to commit to one another, and to stand firmly as a couple within their larger families, networks of friends, and communities. (And many, including me and my spouse, count faith communities among those we cherish.)

Many of us need to move from a place of concern on this issue. I myself had to do that when I came out in 1991. My first question, posed to a Lutheran pastor, was, “But…aren’t I supposed to believe that God doesn’t like gay people?” This good pastor answered me with three questions: “Stephen,” he said, “do you think God makes mistakes? And Stephen, how do you think God feels about loving relationships? Do you think God wants more of them in the world, or fewer?”

Can you hear the conservatism in these questions? My pastor was helping me make sense of my orientation and accept the truth about who I am not by leading me away from our shared tradition, but by affirming that what I desired—to accept myself fully, and to love one other person (who, it turned out, would be a man) in a lifelong commitment—was an expression of two age-old beliefs: a belief in the fundamental worth of every human being, and a belief in marriage. It’s a lovely vision.

And a conservative one.

For more, I defer to the inimitable Andrew Sullivan.

It’s not his fault you chose to be with him

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I’ve found myself saying something again and again to clients, particularly couples, when they are upset about something their partner said or did. Most times, when you’re mad at your partner, you have good reason to be. People misbehave, and your partner is no exception. You feel exasperated because s/he said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing, was absent when s/he should have been present, was in your face when s/he should have backed off… there are a thousand ways your partner can drive you crazy!

So the first step I take is to understand that, and let you know that I truly understand it. You have a legitimate case against your partner.

But often enough, that’s not the whole story. For example, my partner has a preference for introversion, in contrast to me (I have a preference for extraversion). That means I’m much more outgoing, talkative, even (to use an old-fashioned word) gregarious. And yeah, there are times when I feel frustrated because my partner (like a lot of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances) isn’t a perfect match for my special blend of extraverted personality. And it’s all too easy to pathologize that. You don’t like to talk as much as me? Well then, something must be wrong with you. You don’t want to stay up late talking about our relationship dynamics and making meaning of the nuances of our union? Well, why not?! It must be your fault.

And that’s where I—or, I should say, my own therapist—gets to say this: “It’s not your partner’s fault that you chose to be with him.” This means that I chose to hook up with an introvert, to cultivate a relationship with him, to open my heart to him. (And I don’t regret it one bit.) But that also means that when I feel frustrated about our differences, or wish my partner would be more like me, I have to remember that he wasn’t put on this earth to please me, or be like me, or make my own life easy. It was me who chose to be with him. Not him. So it’s not okay to expect him to be the person I want him to be.

I can invite my partner to be more like me. I can let my partner know that there is a lot to recommend the lifestyle I prefer. But if my partner insists on being himself, that is not his fault. And it’s not bad or wrong in any way. In short, it’s not his fault that I chose to be with him.

Once I realize that, and let it sink in, I then feel motivated to draw closer to this person who is so different from me, so wonderfully and beautifully different.

And who knows? We may rub off on each other. He may be more open and (shocking!) extraverted. And I may cultivate a richer inner life. I hope so. But for that to happen, we both have to get past the idea that the other person is “supposed to” be the person we want them to be.

Talk to me

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I’m hoping to facilitate a discussion on this blog about GLBT culture, and particularly the cultural assumptions, beliefs, hopes, and fears of gay men on the topic of intimacy. By ‘intimacy’ I mean both physical and emotional, and yes, sometimes the physical is sexual, but my main question is this: how difficult is it for the gay men you know (or for you, if you’re a gay man) to be held by your partner, to be emotionally available to your partner, and above all, to ask your partner for intimacy?

I’ll contribute insights to the discussion from gay men and others in my field who study the issue, and of course I can share my own experiences, both as a therapist and as a person who, like you, needs intimacy with others to survive. For now, I’ll start with a basic assumption to give some shape to the discussion: many, many gay men I know (and read about) are—what’s the word?—skittish, I guess, about inviting their boyfriend or partner into a more intimate relationship. In the first stages of the relationship, it can be almost comically awkward. “If I tell him I want him to hold me, he’ll think I’m needy. He’ll think I’m smothering him,” said one friend. In your experience, is this typical for the gay men you know? And if so, why do you think that is?

Some of the answers are probably pretty obvious. Gay men are socialized as men—and in our dominant culture, men are not rewarded for being emotionally available, generally speaking. And gay men suffer the added pressure of being a marginalized group: their development from boyhood to manhood is deeply complicated by their sexual orientation. You have to be tough to be gay. And so when it comes to dating, co-habitating, and cultivating a relationship, it makes a lot of common sense that gay men are slow to open up.

But is it this simple? And if it is, are their ways you think we can work on it? In addition to my ideas, I plan on consulting this gay man, and also this one. (Though I expect I won’t agree with everything the latter one says.) And I very much want to include the voices of those who are not themselves gay, or male.

We don’t need to discover a set of answers. We may find that the dialog opens up our consciousness on the issue and enlightens us in ways we can’t fully articulate. But I hope we can have this discussion, and above all I hope all people—especially my fellow gay men—can find the deep and nourishing and thrilling intimacy that all humans so deeply need.

If you’re interested in contributing to the discussion, please comment below or email me directly at stephen[at]

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