Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families: A Handbook for Therapists

By Krestan, Jo-Ann | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families: A Handbook for Therapists


Krestan, Jo-Ann, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


Laird, J., & Green, R. (Eds.). (1996). Lesbians and gays in couples and families: A handbook for therapists. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 462 pp., no price.

In a courageous foreword to Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families, Monica McGoldrick calls for an end to the heterosexist assumptions that have dominated the family therapy field and an acknowledgment that we have "drawn false maps of human psychology and of family connections."

Those heterosexist assumptions have, she asserts, rendered us ignorant not only of the other but of ourselves. She goes on to delineate some of the ways in which her own writing and teaching have rendered gays and lesbians invisible.

In Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families Laird and Green set out to deconstruct the myths that dominate public discourse on lesbians and gays in couple and family relationships and to bring together theory, research, and clinical practice on lesbians and gays in couple and family contexts. They have edited a remarkable book, ambitious in intent, comprehensive in scope, challenging in concept.

Social constructions are carried largely by language. The title, Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families, serves notice that this book will challenge our heterosexist, racist, homophobic, gendered, and classist constructions, our lines. If Laird and Green had titled the book, Lesbian and Gay Couples and Families, we would start by languaging ourselves into a continuation of the belief that differing groups (differing from the white heterosexist premise) are monolithic. All Latinos are alike; all lesbians are alike. Naming is no idle whim. Lesbians and gays are in couples, and in families.

Next we visit the names and definitions we give to family. In the opening section, "Personal, Political, and Professional Context," Ann Hartman's incisive review of social policy leads us to the heart of the matter, the definition of family. It is from that definition and who controls it that family policy is crafted. Family policy is pervasive and often disguised as well. As Hartman points out, the "don't ask, don't tell" rule in the military is an example of family policy that has not been labeled as such. Research in social psychology has long demonstrated that we will transform the world into a fair, just, and egalitarian place by changing structures first; only then will attitudes change. When your gay co-worker gets spousal medical insurance for his life partner, it will be harder to invalidate his relationship. Also in the first section, Meme English's memoir portrays the stereotypes of lesbian adolescent development with an intensity and clarity that leads us beyond stereotypes.

The dialogue between straight and gay therapists Gillian Walker and Stanley Siegel is excellent. Walker's comments demonstrate unusual clarity of thought about issues such as privacy and secrecy for lesbians and gays, not just secrecy but the pejorative stories about secrecy that come out of heterosexist assumptions. A straight family therapist who operates simplistically on the notion that all family secrets damage may profoundly trivialize the real dangers of being gay. These dangers are further propounded in the chapters that deal with Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Again, all is context.

Part 1 expands our context for thinking about the territory traversed in the rest of the book. The sections on families of origin, couples, special issues, and parenting return repeatedly to certain thematic issues: developmental perspectives, the importance of narratives, discussion of boundaries, differentiation, fusion, and coming out. None of these ideas can be fairly understood without particularizing the context in which they are explored. As a side note, I am writing this review from a formerly Mormon house in Utah, looking out my window at a highly phallic monolith of red rock that has been featured for years in Marlboro commercials. …

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