Understanding and Addressing Female Same-Sex Attraction: Safe Relationships Part II

Creating A Safe Place

Practically what does creating a safe place for women with same-sex attraction look like?

Listen: Sounds simple, obvious, and easy but it will take a lot of time and patience. It may take time for a woman to “find her own language to unfold her experiences, beliefs, identities and…goals” (p. 24). For many it will be an emotional and painstaking process that will most likely take more than one meeting. However, don’t underestimate how valuable a listening ear can be. For some, simply the process of talking things out and sharing their pain and struggle with someone who they know will not be wagging fingers can be extremely healing. In our busy world time is a valuable commodity and patience is a virtue not often exercised but it can be one of the best gifts you can give to a woman who is in conflict with her SSA.

For me one of the most healing times in my life was when I was able to share my past and present struggle with a friend through e-mail and received her gracious response of understanding.

Ask Questions: Actively seek to understand her. The best way to do this is to ask questions. As I post more about some common experiences thought patterns etc. of women with SSA you will be helped in knowing what questions to ask. For now I will say that just the fact that you are taking the time to ask thoughtful genuine questions will communicate that you want to understand her thoughts, feelings, relationships, and decisions that she has made in life, regardless of how you may agree or disagree with them.

If you are unsure whether your friend or counselee would welcome your questions about this very personal issue in her life simply ask her permission to ask questions. Tell her your desire to understand her and where she is coming from and more likely than not, especially if you have been a good listener up to that point, she will welcome your questions.

Listen and Ask Questions Before Your Try Anything Else

In most circumstances what will be the most effective first step to helping a woman with SSA is to compassionately and humbly listen and ask questions before you try to help. Honestly, this is what most of us want from the people we seek help from regardless of the issue we are struggling with. It is a huge part of creating a safe place for a woman who has most likely taken great risk in making herself vulnerable to you.

The following quote sums it up nicely.

“It will probably require a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to make the initial phone call to, let alone show up in, a counselor’s office. She comes scared, tentative and unsure of her goals for therapy yet possibly is unable to continue life on her own without support and outside help. Most women with SSA enter therapy believing they are bad people—dangerous, malformed and even repulsive to God. Shame often shades every aspect of their being. It seems to me that the last thing they need is for their new therapist to focus on perhaps the most shameful issue in their life in an effort to affirm or disaffirm. I have observed that as I offer my respect by first getting to know my client and understanding all aspects of her life, bolstering her sense of dignity and value, she is then able to expose and explore these deep and perhaps shameful aspects of her life” (p. 33-34).

Hallman shares 4 things she does with each new client she counsels.

1. She communicates that her client has value.

2. She works to know her client as an individual.

3. She commits to her client “as a person, not to a particular therapeutic outcome.

4. She works to “support growth and development” in all aspects of her clients life, “promoting her overall welfare and well-being.” (p. 34)

As a biblical counselor in training I feel great tension concerning Hallman’s last two points and I am still wrestling with what, as believers who have been entrusted with the truth, our response should practically look like to counselees who choose to embrace their same-sex attractions. I realize that we must take into consideration biblical passages that speak of church discipline and the difference between those who claim Christ but without a care embrace sinful lifestyles and those who are unsaved and are simply living as unsaved people live. These are questions I will consider attempting to address in future posts but for now my hope is that this post will help you understand the value that the relationship itself can have in someone’s life and how creating a safe place for a woman with SSA is the first step towards creating an opportunity to speak truth into her life. Truth certainly needs to be shared, for our love would be incomplete without the sharing of truth, but let us first work to love and understand so that the truth we hope to share can be shared skillfully and without the atmosphere of coercion or threat of rejection as a person.

(All of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)

Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Understanding and Addressing Female Same-Sex Attraction: Safe Relationships Part I

safe place

The Importance of the Relationship

Hallman shares a story of a woman who, after the breakup of a three-year relationship with her female partner, entered therapy and over the next several years experienced incredible significant changes in her “core negative beliefs about herself and God,” her defensive behaviors, her paths of emotional escape and her dependent and sexualized friendships with women. When this woman was asked, “what helped her stabilize and make such incredible changes,” she replied,

“My therapist! She was focused on me, She cared about all of my life. She showed respect. But even more than that she was always the same, even when I was wrung out with anxiety and thoughts of hurting myself. She was consistent, attentive and patient. Her calming voice, her strong boundaries, her availability, her listening ears, her gentleness and her femininity all somehow changed me! She never gave up on me. She gave me hope” (p. 18).

Hallman posed this same question to over 20 women who fought with unwanted SSA; “what affected them most about psychotherapy or lay counseling?” She received the same answer from all of them: “the relationship” (p.20).

Most of us would agree that there is a biblical precedent for the importance of relationships in our sanctification*. Many of us can testify to a time when our lives intersected with another and were forever changed for the better because of it. These relationships, characterized by love, patience, humility, perseverance, and stability are in and of themselves curative and invaluable to helping a woman with SSA (Hallman, 2008).

Safety and Trust  

Most women with SSA need to feel safe first, before they can feel loved and begin to trust (p. 20).

Hallman explains that safety is a particularly difficult thing for women with SSA to find. The debates and controversy that surround homosexuality particularly in regards to the topic of “change” can leave a woman overwhelmed and exhausted. She goes on to say, “These women long for a safe, quiet place to simply be…They want to be known as a person, not just a woman with SSA…They are so much more than the sum of their sexual expression, yet—like all women—need a place to explore and ask personal heartfelt questions about life, love, sexuality, gender and God without being rejected or worrying about political correctness. They need a safe place” (p. 21).

Hallman goes on to say that one of the first goals a counselor should have when meeting with any woman with SSA is to offer this safe place. She suggests that what provides this safe place is “unconditional love, acceptance and genuine desire to understand a woman’s choices with respect to her life” (p. 33). Our relationships should reflect “God’s undying faithfulness and enduring presence to these women.”

Hallman concludes by stating that she “therefore remains committed to a woman regardless of her current decisions” (p. 33). Tomorrow I will be posting a bit more on what creating a safe place practically looks like. Enjoy your Saturday evening and have a blessed, restful and worshipful Sunday.

Note: While I may not agree with everything Hallman says in regard to this particular topic of what a counseling/therapeutic relationship should look like, I greatly appreciate her general approach and have learned much from her. While Hallman may be speaking from the perspective of a professional therapist much of what she says can be applied to less formal discipleship relationships as well as friendships etc.

(All of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)

*(Ephesians 4:11-16; Galatians 6:1-2; I Peter 4:10; James 5:16; Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25; I Thess. 4:18, 5:11, Colossians 3:16)

Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Understanding and Addressing Female Same-Sex Attraction: Things to Keep In Mind

I am under no allusion that everyone is going to agree with everything I write in this blog. My husband and I spent several hours last night talking about the difficulties that come with writing about homosexuality, particularly in a blog format. We came to the conclusion that I cannot assume people will know the basic assumptions and context I am writing from. So, in this post I am going to talk about 4 basic assumptions that I want you all to keep in mind and remember as you read my other writings concerning this topic. I hope this will help alleviate misunderstandings, particularly with my more conservative friends. For my friends who may disagree with the assumptions themselves I would love to dialogue with you about those disagreements but in the end we may have to simply agree to disagree. I pray God would help me communicate my beliefs in a gracious and loving way.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

My belief in the sinfulness of homosexuality was established in my last post. I am not going to belabor the point here since debating the right or wrongness of homosexuality is not the main goal of this blog. I will simply say that the reason I believe homosexuality is a sin is because I believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, that it makes clear that homosexuality is not part of God’s divine design for sexuality, and it is therefore sinful. (For those of you who would like to read more about what I believe the Bible says about Homosexuality I would recommend a book by Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?) Below is a link to a review of DeYoung’s book.


The Need for Both Grace and Truth

In Ephesians 4:15 Paul tells the Ephesian church that they are to speak the truth in love for the purpose of growing and maturing believers in Christ. Earlier in the same chapter Paul instructs the church to “walk in a manner worthy” of their calling, which includes walking with “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” and they are to do this with an eagerness “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Passages like this are full of tension that Christians must wrestle with and live with every day; the tension between standing by and speaking truth but doing it in a loving, patient, humble, longsuffering way.

The circles and churches I come from tend to have the truth side of this tension down. We are zealous for truth, we know what we believe, and we know why, and we are convinced of the importance of sharing this truth with others. Truth is important; it is good to know what you believe and why you believe it and it is imperative to let people know what God thinks and says regarding all sin as well as the mercy and grace offered to all who repent and believe. However, in this blog I am going to focus on the grace, side of things; how we can bear with others in love, humility, and patience. This is what many conservative churches need to develop and learn how to do practically; not just in word but deed.

Love and Acceptance

Loving, accepting, creating a safe place for, not judging. These are words that mean many things to many people, and can vary by context. Over the course of my writing I anticipate these concepts will be fleshed out further. When I use them, I am not suggesting we should condone or celebrate someone’s lifestyle. I am saying it is possible to genuinely love and accept someone’s dignity, value, and relationship, even if they have no intention or plan to change.

The Ultimate Problem and The Ultimate Answer I believe that sin is the ultimate problem in all our lives and Christ is the ultimate answer for all our sin problems. However, I do not believe this means other considerations aren’t helpful in the process of healing and change. Part of learning to love practically is being able to say more than just, “this is sin, repent and change!” It is also learning and acknowledging that there are other influences, experiences, and biological tendencies that can lead a person, many of them from childhood, to homosexual feelings and behaviors. We need to be able to compassionately and patiently help men and women work through and find healing from those influences and experiences. In my own life I have found that identifying those influences, experiences and biological tendencies that led me to same-sex attractions has helped me identify more specific sins and lies in my life than just the broader category of homosexual feelings and behaviors. While the statement “this is sin, you need to repent and change!” may be true, it is not very helpful.

I am training to be a biblical counselor; learning to skillfully unpack biblical truths and apply them to people’s lives is extremely important. However, we will not be able to skillfully apply the Word to people’s lives until we become familiar with those lives. I can attest to the damage that can be done when we assume we know people and what they need before we spend time with them, get to know them as complete people and more than just a sexual problem, humbly and respectfully ask to be let into their lives, and truly seek to understand where they are coming from.

Conclusion Like I said above, I anticipate that many will disagree with some of what I write even with the above assumptions made clear. I know some of you may disagree with the assumptions I am working from. That is ok. Feel free to voice those disagreements but please do so in a respectful way that promotes loving, humble, open discussion and I will address and answer what I can. I pray especially for my fellow believers that you would lavish me with grace as I attempt to share about this difficult but relevant topic.