By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
The longing request of the Z and Millennial Generations is to see them for who they are as individuals; diverse in race, culture, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, gender identity, sexual preference, and other things, too numerous to mention. This is a good thing, not so different from the longing desire of each human being.
Having grown up in the era of. “Children are seen and not heard,” I came much later in life to this desire and recognition. A recent article in the NY Times, “I Want the World to See Us Kissing,” is Kadar Small’s desire to see images of L.G.B.T.Q. people of color sharing their affection for one another. He is a Trinidadian, photographer and director, relating his experience of observing ridicule and harassment when two black boys were kissing. He cited the attack of a gunman at a queer nightclub in Colorado Springs showing us that being L.G.B.T.Q. in America is still deadly.
His article on people of color showing affection reminded me of my reaction when Leslie and I were planning our wedding ceremony in June 2016. I was sharing with her that I thought kissing her in front of people would be very strange for us. As a person who came out as a Lesbian in 1977, we knew PDAs were really never ok unless it was in a gay group of people. This becomes an internalized habit of protection against prejudice and harassment.
My earlier life experience as a ‘good’ Catholic girl of the 40s and 50s was to be polite, seen and not heard, and obedient. Fast forward to the 60s, when I found myself in a religious order, learning radical theologies, new ideas, and the great permission for questioning and rebellion. I began to be in the group that did think, ask why and rebel against the status quo. I also began to have this emotional and magnetic attraction to the other young women. This was condemned as ‘particular friendships’ and, certainly, forbidden.
After much anguish and soul-searching, I found my way out of the religious order, landing a job at an in-patient mental health center. I began to find my calling as a mental health professional, and put those feelings toward women in a secret place. I married, we adopted our beautiful daughter, and the feelings and ideas about women kept haunting me. I left my marriage, and moved to Minneapolis, MN, to ‘come out' in 1977.
Society saw L.G.B.T. people as perverts, pariahs, performing illegal acts, and was harassed if found out. Being seen was not an option, it was a liability. I learned, along with many others, how to live a secret life, hidden from others, for the protection of myself, my child, my career, and my family.
As with many other persecuted minorities, creating a place of equity and acceptance, was of political and social concern. Like so many others, before and after me, I joined the resistance, fighting for women’s rights, gay rights, and civil rights for everyone. Justice for all people has always been important to me, heightened by my own experience of fear and discrimination.
The thing I know, as a Lesbian, a woman, and a therapist, is that when society had prejudice and discrimination against any group, persons in these hated minorities learn to hate and disregard themselves and others in their group. This is the deeply insidious result. This leaves those who have been immersed in this soup of hatred, with the task of learning to love themselves, and others like them. Hopefully, as we do this, we can embrace diversity in a positive, meaningful way.
This takes a lot of work, individually and collectively. As we learn to love ourselves, and accepting and love others, it is so helpful to have people who look like us in books, magazines, newspapers, movies, tv shows, and other forms of media.
Seeing others ‘like us’ helps us to love ourselves, and for others, unlike us, to see us as wonderful, healthy, lovable human beings. To generations who have bravely paved the way, for those of us still working on this, especially those carrying the truth of this forward, I say ‘thank you’ and hope we can continue our individual and collective journey of accepting, supporting, and including diversity as our daily way of living.
This is good mental health, as well as enhancing our physical, spiritual, and intellectual lives. So let us be seen and ‘see’ others in all their beautiful diversity.
Jude LaClaire, Ph. D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem solving. For counseling appointments, seminars, in-service training or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org; www.heartlandholistic.com