Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people live their lives within a culture steeped in heterosexual bias, despite numerous advances toward equality. That bias tells them everyday that being heterosexual is preferred, and superior, to being non-heterosexual. Same-sex couples are reminded of their minority status in the boy-meets-girl love songs on the radio, the traditional family images portrayed on most sitcoms, and the stories of husband and wife that flow daily in newspapers, magazines, and on CNN.
While no longer invisible, same-sex couples still have to work harder to find information and role models that will support and sustain the healthy development of their committed love relationships. Many LGBTQ couples face loving each other within the context of painful rejection from their families of origin and places of worship as religion-based prejudice continues to spread and be used to support condemnation. Others cannot be open about their identity at work for fear of losing their job or career.
As a result, false stereotypes about gay and lesbian relationships are deeply woven into the fabric of our society. Some of these include:
- Gay and lesbian relationships are counterfeit (not "real" relationships)
- Gay and lesbian relationships are psychologically immature
- Gay and lesbian relationships are less committed
- Gay and lesbian relationships are short-term and rarely last
- Gay and lesbian relationships are unhealthy for raising children
A growing body of social science research shows the distortions in these long held assumptions. Psychologist John Gottman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, has been studying couples for over four decades. Gottman started the Relationship Research Institute and has written over 190 papers and authored or co-authored over 40 books. On September 14, 2001, a colleague and I had lunch with Gottman at a hotel in Dallas, Texas. During the meal, I asked him about his research and what it demonstrated about same-sex couples. Gottman (who is heterosexual and married) replied:
"Gay and lesbian relationships are the vanguard of what heterosexual relationships could be and I think heterosexual couples have a lot to learn from gay couples."
I nearly choked on a french fry. It was the first time I had ever heard a respected social scientist suggest that same-sex couples might actually serve as role models for opposite-sex couples. Gottman later made similar statements to the press and in 2003 said:
"I think that in 200 years heterosexual relationships will be where gay and lesbian relationships are today" and "Gay and lesbian couples are a lot more mature, more considerate in trying to improve a relationship and have a greater awareness of equality in a relationship than straight couples."
In my next post, I'll share some of the current research findings that support Gottman's conclusions. But for now, breathe in love and exhale fear. Then, I invite you to write the following mantra on a sticky note and attach it to your bathroom mirror. Every morning for one week, say the following out loud:
"My sexuality and my relationship are beautiful gifts with enormous capacities for enriching the lives of others within my community. From now on, I vow to love myself and ___________ (partner's name) in ways that are affirming, life-giving, and redeeming."