There’s more to being a gay man than AIDS and coming out.
But those issues are the primary focus of many gay men’s self-help books. Regardless of how much time and emotional turmoil was involved in revealing your sexual orientation to others and whether or not you carry the HIV virus, we face other situations daily that are uniquely gay and uniquely male.
Christopher Alexander’s book, Growth and Intimacy for Gay Men: A Workbook, is just what it says it is. It contains text accompanied by over forty exercises aimed at helping gay men deal with gay life. It has sections on lots of issues — growing up, childhood abuse, self-esteem and shame, addiction, relationships and friendships, aging — and of course, a bit about coming out and AIDS.
“I thought it would be helpful if something could give gay men more insight into what it’s like to be gay, but not just focus on the coming our process or some of these kinds of topics that tend to get repeated over and over and over again,” Alexander said in an interview.
Growth and Intimacy doesn’t provide insight on being gay, but it offers tools to help you gain your own insight.
Alexander is a private practice psychologist in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is the publisher of the Gay and Lesbian Quarterly, a summary of pertinent social science research, and editor of the 1996 book Gay and Lesbian Mental Health: A Sourcebook for Practitioners. He is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Homosexuality and the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.
Obviously, he is no stranger to mental health issues, but this is his first book aimed directly at gay men. The book was originally conceived as a tool for therapists to use with their gay male patients, but at the request of the publisher, Alexander says he expanded the work to make it a self-help workbook.
If he were to pick the most important part of the book, he says it would be the section on families of origin — the people who raised us.
“I put a great deal of emphasis in the book on the family of origin stuff because I think that permeates most of our life as gay or non-gay people,” Alexander said.
In its almost 300 pages, the book contains text about many topics with which gay men struggle followed by exercises to help evaluate where you stand on each of them. The exercises are intended to help men arrange their feelings by helping get those feelings in writing. For example, one exercise asks men to list memories of times they felt different.
“Did this feeling of being different feel like a secret?” the exercise asks. “Do you remember being fearful that anyone would find out about you being different? What were your fears and feelings?
Other exercises do things like help assess self-esteem and coping styles and one helps establish dating rules.
“It’s a worthwhile book for gay men who are either starting out or are in the process of learning more about their personal growth and mental health,” Alexander says . “One person may not be dealing with all the topic areas, so then the book becomes a reference that a person can go back to over time.”
It is still a good supplement for therapists to use with their gay clients, too.
“It’s a good book for therapists who are looking for a tool to bridge some gaps in the work they’re doing with clients in therapy,” he says.
He says for many, therapy is a place to “get a reality check” and to be reminded there is nothing wrong with being a sexual minority. The book is useful for men who want to deal with some issues but who for whatever reason aren’t involved with a therapist.
And Alexander says that not everyone needs therapy. Men from accepting families with strong networks of friends may not need professional intervention.
Whatever your situation, though, Alexander’s exercises can help you organize the emotions involved in being a gay man. In other words, the book helps you clean your closet — whether you’re in it or not.