Richard H. Reams, Ph.D., is a teacher, psychologist and associate director of counseling services at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he has worked since 1994.
He specializes in sexual orientation and the development of sexual identity, teaching undergraduate, predoctoral, and doctoral students and providing guidance for individuals struggling with these issues. In June 2013, Dr. Reams launched an informational website, "Am I Gay?" ( YourSexualOrientation.info ), to offer guidance regarding sexual orientation and identity. The site features a comprehensive seven-step guide that he developed based on a course he has taught at Trinity since 2004.
Reams also lectures and provides symposium presentations on LGBQ-affirmative therapy to help psychology professionals treat their patients who have depression, anxiety, stress, relationship problems, substance-abuse problems, and other mental health conditions related to conflicts with sexual orientation.
Windy City Times: On your "Am I Gay?" website, you define sexual orientation, based on a definition developed by Ritch Savin-Williams, PhD, of Cornell University ( author of The New Gay Teenager ) as "the preponderance of one's emotional and physical attractionswhether stable or fluidto males, females, both, or neither."
You explain how each word in that definition was selected carefully to account for the enormous complexity, diversity and non-binary nature of human sexuality and gender identity. How widely and deeply would you estimate that this complexity is understood and accepted by the general publicas well as by LGBQ/LGBT individuals themselves?
Richard Reams: Among the general public, I suspect that the complexity of sexual orientation is little understood. Most peopleperhaps 70 percent to 80 percent of the populationexperience physical and romantic attractions that are exclusively directed toward either men or women. For these folks, sexual orientation would probably look pretty simple. Indeed, some will question why anyone would have difficulty knowing their sexual orientation, because their own sexual orientation is so easy to know.
I believe the complexity is better understood among LGBTQ individuals, and probably best understood by younger generations. Those of us who are middle-aged and older and who came out decades ago would have a greater tendency to think that everyone is either a man or a woman and either gay or straightunless we are exposed to and listening to the voices of those who don't fit the man-or-woman and gay-or-straight binaries.
WCT: Would you say that the public is becoming more aware of the complexity of human sexuality and gender identity, compared with 10 or 20 years ago? If so, to what would you attribute this increased awareness?
RR: Yes, there is increasing awareness because there is greater visibility of the diversity of LGBTQ people in social media, such as YouTube videos and the Huffington Post's "Queer Voices" columns. Then again, exposure to these online sources probably varies generationally.
WCT: You note that younger people today, such as your students, tend to have more inclusive, complex and fluid attitudes on sexuality and gender than older people. This suggests that younger people are more enlightened on these matters. But what are some common misconceptions about sexuality and gender that you encounter in your young students?
RR: The Trinity University students that I interact with as a counselor and course instructor are pretty savvy. But I don't know how representative they are of 18- to 22-year-olds, generally.
WCT: Can most people accurately break down and analyze their emotional and physical attractions if given enough time ( such as by considering the questions about thoughts, emotions and behaviors on your "The Evidence" web page ), or do most people have mental or social roadblocks that prevent accurate analysis? What are the best ways to overcome such roadblocks?
RR: Among those whose emotional and physical attractions are exclusively directed toward persons of a different sex, then the answer is yes; they can easily analyze their attractions. But for those who experience some degree of same-sex attractionabout 30 percent of women and 20 percent of men, according to the research of Savin-Williamsthere are potential obstacles to recognizing and accepting one's same-sex attractions.
The most significant obstacle is probably concern about the reaction of parentseven liberal parentsif the adolescent or adult child were to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etcetera. Few of us want to disappoint our parents. Many people, especially younger people, who experience same-sex physical attractions hope that those attractions are merely the aesthetic appreciation of others.
Many hope their emotional attractions are not indicative of their sexual orientation. And for those who, like me, grew up in a conservative, homo-negative religious culture, those negative feelings can be a huge obstacle to self-recognition and self-acceptance. To overcome such roadblocks, the support and acceptance of other admired persons is essentialespecially LGBQ-affirming straight persons and, if one is struggling with a homo-negative religious heritage, LGBQ-affirming religious persons.
WCT: You note that an individual's "preponderance of attractions" may change during life, so that, for example, a woman who previously loved only other women may someday fall in love with a man. Why do such changes in sexual orientation occur? Could they be related to hormonal or other physical/biochemical changes that occur as people age? Could they be related to personal experiences? Or are they simply dependent on the unique dynamics of each individual-to-individual relationship?
RR: Oh, I'm not sure whether biological changes over the person's lifespan can play a role. That's an interesting question. Among those whose understanding of their sexual orientation changeswhich among adults usually means a widening of attractionsit's likely sparked by a specific relationship. Additionally, expanding knowledge about the diversity of human sexuality and growing affirmation of same-sex relationships within the culture as a whole have provided a more hospitable environment for exploring one's sexuality.
WCT: Can LGBQ-affirmative therapy be useful for all people confused about their sexual orientation? What, if any, are the shortcomings or limitations of LGBQ-affirmative therapy?
RR: Yes, it can be useful for all people, and there are no shortcomings. It's important to realize that an LGBQ-affirmative therapist is not merely "LGBQ-friendly." The therapist who has remained current with the field of knowledge is also LGBQ-informed. That therapist is up to date about the multidimensionality of sexual orientation, the diversity of sexual orientation identities ( for example, the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality ), and the diversity of gender identities under the transgender umbrella. However, therapists who have not advanced their knowledge beyond their training in grad school a decade or more ago are probably out-of-date. It is important for therapists to keep up with the research and to attend training sessions, like the ones that I and others provide.
WCT: Does LGBQ-affirmative therapy ever result in the patient concluding that he or she is heterosexual after all? Would that be considered a valid, legitimate result of such therapy?
RR: An LGBQ-affirmative therapist should never prescribe what the outcome of a client's questioning process should or shouldn't be. And that process is unlikely to lead to the client realizing that they are straight, unless a psychological condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder is at play. It is possible that a client might conclude they are "mostly straight" with occasional same-sex physical and/or emotional attractions. In fact, Dr. Savin-Williams has found through multiple studies in recent years that there are more mostly straight people than gay, mostly gay and bisexual people combined.
WCT: You also mention the Metropolitan Community Church ( MCC ) as a source of "affirmative ministry to LGBT people." What is the basic nature of this church, and how did you discover it?
RR: Having grown up Southern Baptist, I sought out LGBTQ-affirming religious alternatives after I came out in 1978 following years of questioning. I learned of the affirming beliefs of MCC churches, the first having been founded in Los Angeles in 1968. Over the years, I've attended MCC worship services in various cities and spoken with several MCC pastors. I know those pastors will probably know of LGBT-affirmative resources in their cities, including local congregations of various religious identities that welcome LGBT people.
WCT: Is there anything else you would like to say to Windy City Times readers?
RR: I encourage readers who are clear about their sexual orientation, as well as those who are questioning, to read my website. It's important for us in the LGBTQ community to be well-informed about the complexity of sexual orientation and the diversity of sexual-minority people. Like LGBQ-affirming therapists, we need to be well-informed so we can understand and support those who identify as something other than gay or lesbianand those who are still questioning their sexual orientation. We all deserve understanding and affirmation in the LGBTQ community.