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Recently, Ben Blankenship, P.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, published a piece of empirical research with Dr. Abigail J. Stewart on LGBTQ identity in The European Journal of Social Psychology, as a part of a larger special issue on the social psychology of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The research article, titled The best little kid in the world: Internalized sexual stigma and extrinsic contingencies of self-worth, work values, and life aspirations among men and women, explores how many lesbians and gay men develop a drive to be successful in extrinsic pursuits (e.g. money, status, appearance, etc.), as a result of a defensive strategy that they likely learned at a young age.
Since they learn that others may reject them at any point as a result of coming out, they learn to not rely on the acceptance of others as a way to feel good about themselves (what we called “contingencies of self-worth” in psychology), instead learning to rely on aspects that are seen as within their own control, such as their achievement in their career, their ability to gain high status, or their drive to earn financial resources, as a way to feel good about themselves.
This tendency was found to be driven by internalized stigma, or the tendency for some gay men and lesbians to feel negatively about their sexual orientation, as a result of the larger society’s negative attitudes toward their marginalized group.
Drs. Blankenship and Stewart explore how internalized sexual stigma and extrinsic contingencies affect the path gays, lesbians, and bisexuals take in their lives. “The study looked at how LGB folks identify with their sexual minority identity, and then how that translates it to their values and things that they want to get out of their work, their life, etc.,” says Blankenship.
The findings lined up with a previous study by the name of “The Best Little Boy in the World Hypothesis” looked at gay men and why they felt driven to excel in achievement related areas of life that others could not take away from them; for example of this individual success, wealth, education, and appearance are all things that they may strive to exceed expectations in.
What Dr. Blankenship wanted to explore was twofold; the first aspect looked at if this phenomenon was true for anyone in the LGB community, not just gay men, and the second was the mechanism in which this psychological process happens. To do so, he looked at domains of internalized stigma or “the extent to which sexual minorities feel negatively about their sexual orientation status.” Through this he found that this was true not only for gay men, but lesbians and especially bisexuals. He theorizes this might be because, “bisexual people kind of have this dual stigma. In mainstream society, they get marginalized for their same sex orientation, and same sex attraction. But within the LGBT community, they get marginalized for their opposite sex attraction.”
But further research needs to be done because there are many bidirectional influences that play a role in why this could be. Furthermore, he discusses the need for transgender inclusive research. While he does not comment on a hypothesis for what might be found within this community, he does stress the need for inclusivity in all aspects of research. While he did not have the scope to attain data for anyone outside of the binary, when participants that did not identify as a man or woman were included in the original data, there were no differences found in the results.
When asked about his own research team and how that played a role throughout the process he talks about how important inclusion is: “ I legitimately think if I don't have certain experiences on the team, I'm going to miss something important.”
Dr. Blankenship stresses how vital it is for research and for representation to be present for all of the communities being looked at. Additionally he talks about the effect discussing this with his students has had. The students really like the approach of the study. And they like some of the more nuanced things where they have discussions in the lab and they disagree. Is it something that's a problem? Or is it something that needs to be evaluated?
And these questions carry outside of the current research leading into new ideas of interest that can then be explored more in-depth. So this research is really important, not just from a psychological perspective to better understand how these things work but for learning and life experience. Blankenship shares an experience he had after a presentation at a conference where people engage how “that makes total sense. Like it clicked for me, you know, that's why I'm pursuing a PhD.”
And for a lot of people LBTQ+ this sentiment probably resonates close to home. It’s something that is almost never at the forefront of the mind, but an unconscious pattern a lot of us share. It’s comforting knowledge knowing that it is a commonality but it also begs the question of why is it that society does this or is allowed to do so to an entire marginalized group of people. But perhaps that’s another study to be done another day.
Update: According to the Ray Boltz website, the Christian musician is now retired and living in Florida with his husband. Read on to learn more about Ray Boltz, his music career, his family, and why he decided to come out. In 2010 his album True won Album of the Year at the OUTMusic Awards.
During the course of 15 years in the Contemporary Christian Music Industry, Ray Boltz acquired three Dove Awards, two gold albums, one gold video, 12 number one singles, and sold more than 4 million units of product. Then, he decided to let the world know he's gay.
Why now? Why, after 30 years of marriage, four children, and a career most Christian artists only dream about, would Boltz step boldly out of the closet?
Growing Up in Indiana
In order to understand his actions, it is important to understand Boltz’s background. He grew up in a small town in Indiana with his parents, an older brother, a younger sister, and a younger brother who passed away three months after being born.
He went to public schools and attended a small one-room Methodist church. But even during these young formative years, Boltz would find ways to express his musical ability aside from taking piano and guitar lessons and singing special music at church.
“I was always writing songs…even as a little kid," Boltz said. "I would lay around in the back yard, stare up at the sky and write songs. I loved doing that.”
“When I was young, I also knew who I was attracted to. But anytime I thought about it, it always came with a lot of guilt. I didn’t know any gay people where I lived and never saw it on television. So I listened to what the church told me about homosexuality. And that is, that it was wrong. But if I truly gave my heart to Christ, I could get victory over anything. I just needed to serve the Lord, and He would take care of it.”
That was the mindset that would affect every thought and every action Boltz would have.
Boltz attended college at Ball State University and graduated with a major in marketing and a minor in radio and television. While he was in college, he married Carol, who would be his wife for 30 years. During his college days, he began singing in a variety of churches and associations. This eventually led to him going full-time in contemporary Christian music in 1986.
But when Boltz stepped boldly out of the closet only a few months ago, some of his fans might have felt deceived. After all, Boltz has been blessed with a beautiful family and a successful career that put him on a national and international platform to proclaim the 'good news of Christ.' Yet all that time, Boltz was hiding the fact that he was gay.
I wish I could take people into where I was…to walk a mile in my shoes," Boltz said. "I set out to deceive no one. I believed with all my heart if I prayed enough, if I believed enough, if I read the Bible enough, if I sought counsel enough, if I fasted enough, then these feelings and thoughts would go away. I spent my entire adult life fighting and struggling that way. I don’t think that is deceptive at all. If anything, I was the one who was deceived…by well-meaning people who said it could be overcome.”
Deciding to Come Out
Boltz read every book he could find on the topic, and outside of a Christian counselor, told no one about his struggle.
"After 30 years of trying to overcome this, I finally realized this would never change," Boltz said. "Being gay is not something I do, it is who I am.”
Another counselor Ray was seeing felt he needed to be completely honest about who he is. So one night, Ray was sitting with his family. They knew he had been depressed for quite some time but had no idea what was going on.
His family asked, “Dad, what’s wrong?”
Finally, after years of devastating struggle, Boltz said, “I’m gay.”
“I had never said these words to anyone, outside of a counselor," he said. "But I felt if I couldn’t tell my family, the people closest to me, who could I tell?” It was an emotionally overwhelming time as a family, but a time that would strengthen them as a whole.
“Each member of my family, all four children, and my wife, came to me individually saying they loved me, they cared about me, they accepted me,” Boltz said.
Boltz and Carol separated and eventually divorced realizing that healing needed to occur on many levels for both of them.
“We still love each other," Boltz said. "We talk every day. But we both knew it would be healthier if we separated.”
Ray Boltz on His Faith, Sexuality, and Gay Marriage
And now, four years later, Boltz has made more of a public statement about his faith and sexuality. Why now? Why, after coming out to his family four years ago, would Boltz feel the need to come out in a public way?
Boltz said when he came out to his family, he inadvertently put them in the closet.
“I had a good marriage," Boltz said. "People never suspected there were any problems. So if my kids were asked why we separated, they couldn’t be honest. By coming out publicly, they could be honest and authentic.”
Since coming out to his family, Boltz spent much of his time visiting a variety of Metropolitan Community Churches and other gay-affirming churches.
“These churches were no different from the churches I had sung in for the past 30 years," Boltz said. "They were seeking to worship God in a way they see fit.” They eventually began asking him to sing.
“I knew if I was going to do that, then I had to be completely honest and authentic about my life," Boltz said.
Since coming out publicly, Boltz said his faith has deepened.
“I have come to a point in my faith where it is okay to question things…I don’t want to believe something just because culture says I should believe it," he said. "This is reflected in my songwriting as well. It isn’t wrong to express doubt. Our faith can grow through doubt.”
Though Boltz has overcome the barrier to authentic happiness, many in the Christian music industry are likely still hiding the fact that they are gay out of fear of losing their career, or simply not being able to reconcile their faith and sexuality.
“I can’t be a poster child for people to come out," Boltz said. "But I can say everyone needs people in their lives they can be honest with.”
Boltz said that he plans to continue writing and singing songs in the future. Now he'll be able to share fully who he is and what he believes.
"I think being partnered is a possibility, but what I’m learning is that before you can be happy with anybody else, you have to be happy with yourself and I’m finally coming to that place,” Boltz said.
Find out more about Ray Boltz's music by visiting his shopify site.
So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:
- It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
- There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
- Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.
Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.
Transgender bathroom bills
So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.
Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.
So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.
Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.
By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.
The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.
Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.
This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.
Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues
- Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
- There is a rich history behind transgender issues
- Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
- 3(b). The facts
- 3(c).The confidence
- 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights
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To begin, a quick history lesson will keep you up to date with all the work transgender people have put forth in order to help Pride month happen in the first place. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights dates back further than one usually imagines but, in particular, is typically marked by the Stonewall Riots. Led by Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson, a transgender woman of color who helped the New York activist scene for over 25 years, the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 in New York. Alongside Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson led one of the most important queer liberations in history.
While the Riots remain a huge moment in history, many often forget those who played front-facing roles in it. Marsha was only 23 years old at the time but was a fearless, ferocious, brave leader who tackled injustice head-on in the riots. In addition to this, she was also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for homeless transgender youth; she was a big activist for the BIPOC and LGBT+ community, and STAR was revolutionary in many ways, including being the first-ever LGBT+ shelter in North America which was also the first organization in the US to be run by a trans woman of color. Marsha's contributions toward the first Pride parade preceded it by an entire year- the first pride parades came a year after the stonewall riots to commemorate it. Her legacy will live on through her acts and is celebrated by members of the LGBT+ community alike every pride.
With that out of the way, being trans during pride month can hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people, especially given the incomparable history led by transgender women that helped to shape the LBGT+ community today. Pride itself has a long history rooted in defying gender normalities and cisgender, heteronormative ideals. That, in it itself, is a lot to be proud of- let alone each individual's transgender experience that brings more color to personal pride. It is something to celebrate, our own continuation, contribution, and resistance to oppression. For those who are out as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, nonbinary, or identify anywhere outside of the cisgender binary, just being yourself and expressing your gender identity is a way of celebrating this. And it is momentous to do so! However, of course, it's not the only way; going to pride parades, celebrating with friends, or having your own celebration is just as good, if not more fun. Going to pride marches, participating in pride events or activities, and any form of activism are great ways of acknowledging and indulging in the history that brought us here.
Reaching out for helpPhoto by Stormseeker on Unsplash
But, of course, there is always the other side of the coin because this can be extremely difficult for some due to past experiences or traumas. And for others, this is not an option because (and unfortunately, more often than not) coming out is not a safe, viable option due to age, location, and often the stiff political climate that makes transgender people stay hidden. So while there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must also be prideful for those who are unable to be. Because in addition to the rich history of activism and change, there is still an extreme deficit and predisposition to suicide and murder. According to some of the most recent research, the transgender suicide rate is up to 43%, and once every three days, a transgender person is murdered, with transgender women of color being the most likely victims.
Efforts to calculate and track transgender murder rates are often hindered by laws and data collection, therefore reported numbers may not be the best representations. Alongside these statistics come very scary legislation, such as House Bill 151 and HF 184 that allow the 'inspection' of young girls' genitals in an effort to keep transgender girls from participating in sports. There are also bathroom bills, pronoun and name bills, and medical care acts that are trying to strip away our rights. The huge dark cloud of oppression still hangs heavily over many transgender people within the United States and is much worse elsewhere in the world.
But, these are all reasons to be more prideful as well. Trans people have historically risen above and fought to be themselves- and admit the oppression, we will continue to do so unapologetically. So despite all the sorrowfully realities we face, we must take them in stride and use them for our pride, We need to keep them in mind not just to remember the reality but to be able to say, "This is what we deal with and yet, we use it to fuel our pride." Because the reality is that we are all making history just by existing and that is something to celebrate. So take pride in everything and for everyone, especially for those who may not be able to themselves. Pride month is a time to celebrate ancestors, self-discovery, friendship, and much more, so if you are able to, do so!
Activism has always and will continue to be a huge part of pride until there is equity for every minority group. So consider using these resources to continue your activism of change towards trans rights and equality. You can do so by contacting your legislators regarding your local anti-trans legislature. Or if you are able, donate to funds that support transgender persons legally! And if you're unable to do either and are in need of support, here are a few resources that may help: The Trevor project; 1-866-488-7386 Trans Life Line; 1-877-565-8860.
Author's Note: It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge the deep-rooted history that transgender individuals had in creating equal opportunities and rights for the LGBTQ+ community but also recognize the deep-seated oppression that continues to plague the transgender community today, despite best efforts towards equality, justice, and freedom. When discussing Pride Month or any celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, give credit where credit is due.
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