Note: Not sure if this properly published last week; so here it is again. Matt Gardenghi
Sadly, many assume that a woman who has same-sex attraction is easy to peg—easy to spot. They assume that this type of woman is “ugly,” “bra-burning,” and “man hating.” In The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource, Janelle Hallman argues that there are many more women than just those conceived stereotypes struggling with same-sex attraction. After years of counseling women with SSA, Hallman has written a book that explores the causation, different expressions, and methods of counseling women with SSA.
The Heart is divided up into two parts, “The Building Blocks: Understanding Their Stories” and “The Work of Restoration: Leading Them Home.” The first section explores causation, the therapist or counselor relationship, codependency issues, and contributing social and familial issues. The second section weaves together stories of Hallman’s clients with practical applications of “how to” help women who find themselves with SSA.
Hallman begins by destroying the idea of the stereotypical radical lesbian. In her prologue she discusses the beginning of her interest in helping these women. While in a women’s Bible study, she saw two women confess that they had “crossed the typical physical and emotional boundaries of friendship” (p. 11). Apparently, these women were not “that type,” and yet they had fallen to this behavior. With this impetus, Hallman discovered that “every woman with SSA is unique . . . in how she experiences her same-sex attraction” (p. 23). Contrary to what the stereotype may be, Hallman’s clients range from 25-50, single and married, parents and grandparents. These women struggling with same-sex attraction will often express it in ways that do not always include physical activity. At times their SSA will be manifest in relationships that are emotionally dependent and destructive in their introspection.
Unlike men who deal with homosexuality, women’s expressions of SSA rarely have a root in physical attachment, but are more enmeshed in the realm of emotional dependency and satisfaction. “The relationship is about connection” (p. 106). The web of varying SSA behavior seems ultimately to be attached to the events of the woman’s past, including but not limited to childhood experiences. Hallman cites numerous experiences with her clients as well as other scientific studies that lead her to this assertion. When a woman looks to “another woman . . . to survive or adapt to unresolved childhood deficits and traumas, she can inadvertently become extremely emotionally dependent on her friend and block or negate her own autonomous growth and healing process” (p. 100). A harmful childhood is not the only contributing factor to SSA, but one of many. The message throughout The Heart is that female same-sex attraction must be confronted as one peels an onion—slowly and deliberately breaking through the layers.
In the book’s second section of practical applications, Hallman presents four steps for the counselor or therapist to lead the client through. She reminds the reader that it often takes months, if not years for women to see lasting and meaningful change in this area. There isn’t an “SSA switch” that can be flipped. Change comes through the transformation and renewing of the woman’s mind. The four suggested steps include: Formation, Transformation, Integration, and Consolidation and Maturity. Hallman spends several chapters on each explaining how the counselor can walk the client through this laborious and rewarding process.
Because women are so relationally oriented, Hallman urges the counselor or therapist to be unconditionally accepting of the woman herself. Some readers may be uncomfortable with this perspective or see it as “too soft on sin.” She, however, argues that for the counselor to succeed in challenging, and assisting in changed behavior, the counselor must provide a warm and welcoming environment so that the first stage of healing, Formation, can be reached (p. 118). These hesitant readers would do well to remember what Christ did in dealing with another woman caught up in sexual sin; He focused on the nature of who she was, not the mere act of her sin (John 8).
Perhaps due to our permissive society, the evilness of our hearts, or pervasive abuse, there seems to be growing amount of women dealing with same-sex attraction. I have known several women who would self-identify as lesbians. But I have known more women who engage in destructive, “canabalistic” female friendships that ended in pain and heartache (p. 105). Some of these women were single and some were married; all of them considered themselves Christians. Yet, they engaged in inappropriate emotional relationships, turning their friend into an idol (p. 101); someone who they hoped would give them a reason for being. It was because of these women that I wanted to read this book. Anyone who is in a counseling position, be it a man or woman, would benefit from this book including Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, pastors, and counselors.
In the end there is hope. A woman can walk through this “lengthy process in which she reclaims, piece by piece, her heart and her soul, which have been deposited or housed in the other woman. She must salvage the threads of her true self and reknit them around new perceptions, impressions and beliefs that arise out of a corrective experience of love, support and acceptance” (p. 114). A love ultimately found in God, not another person.