Reports by the Committee on Bisexual Issues and International Committee
Report of the Committee on Bisexual Issues
The Committee on Bisexual Issues (BIC) continues to grow. We added two new members to the committee: Andy Choi from the University of California, Santa Barbara, for convention programming and Melissa Manley from Clark University for student representative. Welcome to both Andy and Melissa.
In honor of the Bisexual Resource Center's Bisexual Health Awareness Month, our student representative Jenna Brownfield led a survey of bisexual+ psychologists, trainees and allied professionals on “What does bisexual social health mean to you?” We then shared a brief reflection of the responses on the Bisexual Issues Committee Listserv. If you are interested in this reflection and did not receive the email, it is also included in this newsletter edition. You can also contact the project authors, Jenna Brownfield or Amanda Pollitt. You can also contact Chris Davids to be added to the Listserv.
BIC continues to be active in programming. The committee hosted a CE-webinar with roughly 70 participants entitled, “Room for Three (or More): How To Create a Poly-Affirming Practice” that was presented by Heath Schechinger of University of California Berkley. Many thanks to Dr. Schechinger for sharing his expertise. In addition, those attending APA are encouraged to join us for our annual bisexual symposium at APA's 2017 Annual Convention. This year, we will present research in a symposium entitled, “Also Bisexual: A Look at the Intersection of Bisexuality in Underrepresented Minorities” on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, 1 p.m.-1:50 p.m. in Convention Center East Salon F. Finally, keep an eye out for details on our annual bisexual issues discussion hour that we will host in the Div. 44 hospitality space at convention.
Report from the International Committee: Teaching and Learning in Wuhan, China
Sharon Horne and Armand Cerbone, Co-chairs
Report prepared by Armand Cerbone
In late 2016, I was invited to offer a keynote address at a conference of psychologists and psychotherapists in Wuhan, China, on LGBT concerns. The invitation included a three-day workshop on professional and ethical considerations in psychological work with LGBT persons and couples. I was given to understand that this was the first time in China that such a forum on LGBT concerns had been offered. The workshop was contingent on sufficient enrollment. It was recommended that I agree to a recorded Skype interview to promote the workshop among conference attendees.
The invitation had come late in 2016 from the Oriental Institute (OI), a relatively new organization of psychologists in central China. (Oriental Institute is an English rendering of the Chinese title.) While independent of the Chinese Psychological Society, OI is well regarded by the national association. My report serves to outline the contours of the program, the conference and the objectives of OI and its invitation. It also aims to acquaint you with the challenges facing LGBT persons seeking psychological services in an Asian country that is only recently seeking to improve access to competent care.
It is impossible within the scope of this report to encompass the extraordinary experience of being in China or addressing LGBT issues. Let it suffice to say that it is not called the other side of the world for nothing! I will add that I learned as much as I taught. Both only scratched the surface but both made worthy introductions.
Oriental Insight's Invitation
At APA's 2016 Convention in Denver last August, Div. 29 (The Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy) signed a partnership agreement with the Oriental Institute. The event marked the culmination of negotiations between OI and Div. 29 that aimed to benefit each organization, OI with access to the resources and scholarship of the APA and Div. 29 with the development of its global initiatives and an influx of international affiliate members. Of note, OI is seeking to improve professional standards through training in supervision and ethics throughout China where psychotherapy is largely unregulated.
As its 2016 president, I signed the agreement for Div. 29. The conference to which I was invited was to be the latest in a series of collaborations with the APA. Four others, all experts on supervision and training, received similar invitations.
China, LGBT Issues, and Workshop Objectives
My keynote, “Love, desire, and attachment in same-sex relationships: The effects of stigma,” was meant to provide research and recommendations to an audience I was fairly confident had little, if any, professional knowledge. What experience they had with LGBT persons or couples in psychotherapy was based on a nationwide survey that suggested LGBT persons do seek psychological services but are likely to encounter uninformed professionals or those whose heterosexist bias leads them to attempts to “resolve” their homosexuality or gender nonconformity. (I found little about transgender in China per se that was helpful.) China had decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and the Chinese Classification of Diseases declassified homosexuality as a disorder in 2007. (I was informed that technically homosexuality had never been criminalized, though homosexuals were discriminated against.) As in this country, it would seem that decriminalization and declassification did not eliminate prejudice. Bias, embedded in cultural values and tradition, would manifest itself repeatedly in the LGBT workshop.
Attendees at the workshop, numbering approximately 25, came from Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei, and other parts of China as far away as Beijing. (Wuhan is a mid-sized city of just under 10 million in a country of 3 billion.) A very few were openly gay. Because of language differences, all instruction was first given in English and then repeated in Chinese by a translator. This is important to note since often there is no equivalency of concepts in translation. My PowerPoint slides, submitted weeks before the conference, appeared with Chinese subtitles beneath each bullet point. Translation greatly reduced the time for instruction and Q&A.
By far, the most enthusiastically embraced parts of the program were the case studies that participants assessed and the Q&A periods. Their questions revealed many of the prejudices I feared and much of the positive regard for the LGBT person per se. Typical was the query put to me by one therapist working in Beijing:
I have a gay client with whom I have been working for some years. He was raised in an environment that afforded little contact with men. He was surrounded by women almost exclusively since early childhood. He came to me when he found himself attracted to another man when he began college. Don't you think that his early experiences were responsible for his college experience? Don't you think that if he had more experiences with men growing up he would have found women attractive?
Their treatment consequently often made the person's sexual orientation or gender expression and identity the focus of treatment. Again, I had to caution the importance of attending to their criteria for mental health rather than what was culturally normative, underscoring that what is not culturally normative is not therefore unhealthy.
Such questions provided an opportunity to reinforce what science and research have demonstrated on sexual orientation and to acknowledge that whatever I taught in three days would contradict what they had thought and lived with for many decades. “Which do you think is likely to last in your thinking: what I am teaching you for three days or what you have believed and practiced for decades?” This best expresses both the challenge and the exceptional opportunity to change minds afforded me.
Given the brief but concentrated hours spent on LGBT psychology, my expectations were limited. I had gone not knowing what people may know or didn't know, what responses they might make to my arguments, or what tensions my Western ways of thinking might generate in a vastly different Eastern culture thousands of years old. I reminded my class (and myself) that I was there to learn perhaps more than I was there to offer what I knew about LGBT persons and psychology. OI emphasized, too, the bridge across vastly different cultures that science builds. What I found to my relief was that they were generally more disposed to considering what I had to present but less ready or able to forfeit entrenched conceptions of LGBT persons or their treatment in psychotherapy. In many ways it presented the same challenges we in Div. 44 encountered in APA in the 80's, the same deeply rooted prejudices that generated the need for practice guidelines.
I have learned from informal communication with the young woman assigned to facilitate my time in Wuhan that several of the participants in the workshop have maintained contact with one another via WeChat and that a few others who are university professors or instructors are including in their curricula much of the data I presented. They have also translated into Mandarin, the predominant language in China, our LGBT guidelines. And I received notice that a week or so ago Taiwan had legalized same-sex marriage. So it would appear that there is fertile ground in China for the seeds we are planting.
While there is much more that could be said about the Chinese culture and values, the take-away from these brief comments is that the work and mission of Div. 44 is far from complete. More to the point, Div. 44 has opportunities, because of its membership in APA and its history of confronting prejudice with science and research, to improve the lives of our sisters and brothers in other parts of the globe. It is also equally positioned to learn from the LGBT lives lived in very different cultures. This International Committee can be the metaphorical yeast in the bread we are baking, but the other elements in the bread are Div. 44's to provide, nurture, and distribute. (Forgive the final flourish.)