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Gay Support Groups

Group4Summary: A men’s or women’s support group can help you by providing understanding, acceptance, and encouragement. This section covers the following topics: choosing a support group, joining a group, open and closed group formats, how to support each other in a group, confidentiality and anonymity, spirituality, safety, and how to deal with problems among group members.

Many people who experience same-sex attraction find support groups to be helpful. A support group should be a safe and confidential place where you can feel the love and acceptance of others. It is a place to find encouragement from others who have similar values and goals as you have. A support group can help reduce your feelings of being alone, different, and isolated. This section discusses the purpose of support groups and tells you what to look for in choosing one. It then discusses how to support each other in a group and the need for spirituality and safety. Finally, it explains how specialized support groups, such as sports programs, can be helpful.

A support group is about helping others. In the beginning, you attend to help yourself, but you soon discover that you find the help you need when you extend help to others. When you begin to care more about their needs than your own, you find yourself healed in the process.

Support groups emphasize dialogue as a way of learning. As you listen to each other, perhaps for the first time you will listen to yourself. The typical newcomer sits and listens, and soon discovers that he has finally found people who think and feel like he does. When he recognizes that he is safe and can trust the group, he begins to open up and the healing process of sharing begins. He discovers that even when others know all about his struggles, they still accept him. Once the fear of rejection is gone, he finds that he has the courage to relate to others in the group and eventually to men outside the group. Support groups can help you by providing:

  • a safe environment where you can face your problems.
  • feedback, insight, and practical ideas from others who have experienced the same things you experience.
  • a place to begin to build healthy relationships with others of your same sex.
  • interpersonal experiences in validation, love, and friendship.
  • direction, vision, goals, and encouragement to continue when it is difficult.
  • accountability for your actions.
  • positive experiences to offset the effects of negative peer pressure.
  • reduction of your sense of isolation.
  • understanding, empathy, and acceptance from others.

A support group alone may not provide you answers to all your issues. A support group should never take the place of a church, your circle of friends, or a professional counselor.

Depending on your personal issues, you may find individual or group therapy helpful. If you have addictive behaviors, you need the help of a twelve-step program (see the Organizations and Resources page).

Choosing a Support Group

Support groups have varied purposes and goals. Before deciding to participate in a support group, review its goals and practices carefully to ensure it aligns with your vision of the kind of support you want. Before you choose a support group, get a copy of their written literature and read the group’s mission statement. (If they don’t have a mission or values statement, they likely have not defined their purpose well enough for it to be a healthy environment.) Does the group function according to the written statements? Do the values and beliefs of the group match yours? Does the group inspire respect for the individual and promote personal growth? Does the group have written policies to protect participants in their vulnerabilities and provide a safe environment?

See the Organizations and Resources page for a list of groups that you might find helpful.

Joining a Support Group

When you first attend a support group, you will likely go through the following stages:

Fear and anticipation. You may have a number of fears and concerns as you attend your first meeting. Will the other men accept me? Will I be able to open up to them?

Sense of relief. Although your first meeting can be frightening, you will soon find that it is easy to make friends because people are there to lend support. Most people report an enormous sense of relief to have found a group who also experience attractions and whose values and beliefs match theirs.

Curiosity and sharing. The next phase is one of learning new information and exchanging ideas with others in the group and hearing what has helped them to be successful.

Open and Closed Group Formats

An open group is one where you can attend the group meetings whenever you like. A closed group is one where the participants are identified and each makes a commitment to attend all meetings. Closed groups are more stable because people are not always entering and leaving. Because of this continuity, the participants tend to be more dedicated and accountable to each other.

How to Support Each Other in a Group

The Bible exhorts us to bear one another’s burdens (see Galatians 6:1–2). We also read, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).

Alex explained, “The men in my support group were able to give me a lot of support and help. They understood my feelings and helped me find solutions to my problems. When I felt vulnerable, I called them and they talked me out of inappropriate actions. They were genuinely concerned about me and I was genuinely concerned about them. I relied on them many times. I never would have made it without the love and support I got from my friends who were always there when I needed them.”

The following suggestions can help you have effective relationships in your group:

Be a consistent support to others in the group. Make attendance at the group meetings a matter of high priority. Consistency is very important both for your own progress and that of other participants.

Be honest with yourself. Many people tend to keep issues hidden and festering. Many people feel that they are the only ones to have same-sex attractions. Admitting your feelings can be a first step in healing.

Be honest with others in your group. Opening up to others in the group can help relieve feelings of isolation. As you openly explore your feelings in regular meetings, you can get much needed support from those who have experienced the same things in their lives. You can help each other be accountable and you can share with each other the things that you have found to be helpful.

Confront and challenge other group members. Sexual activity thrives in secret and the group can be a place to bring it into the light. Group members who are trying to control their sexual behavior can confront each other kindly and respectfully and help others be honest with themselves when they see rationalization or denial.

Respect the rights of others. Respect the right of others to have opinions different from yours. No one should ridicule or belittle another participant, even jokingly, nor should they be judgmental or critical of others. Like you, they are struggling through difficult circumstances.

Give equal time. Don’t dominate the discussion time, but allow others the chance to express themselves as well. Allow equal time even to those who appear not to want to talk. You have a responsibility to help them feel comfortable and bring them out of their silence.

Have a proper spirit in every meeting. Although the meetings don’t need to be somber, they should have a tone of respect for each other. Every meeting should begin and end with prayer to invite God’s Spirit to guide you through the process. Watch your conversations so they don’t drive the Spirit away.

Avoid inappropriate conversations. Share your feelings and experiences with others, but don’t give graphic details of sexual activities or divulge locations where sex or pornography is available. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you know. Keep conversations about others positive. Don’t let the discussions become a pity party where you devalue other people, but instead encourage each other in positive ways.

Help others recognize and develop feelings of self-worth. Help others see their value as individuals. Always watch out for others and when it appears they need extra help, do all you can to include them and help them feel a part of the group. In addition to acts of kindness, tell them you love them and appreciate their friendship. Help them see that their friendship is of great value to you.

Move to deeper levels of conversation. It is usually easy to talk about surface, knowledge-based things. Although a certain amount of this kind of conversation is necessary to build a relationship, be sure that you also discuss feelings. It is when you begin talking about your feelings and emotional reactions to things that you move into the areas that will be the most beneficial.

Be accountable to each other. Group members should hold each other accountable by asking each other to report regularly on their progress toward their goals. You may want to organize a buddy system so that when you are tempted to do something inappropriate, you have a buddy you can call to help.

Be wise in your activities with other participants. Don’t participate in activities that cause you to be vulnerable, arouse same-sex feelings, or include physical intimacy with others. Avoid inappropriate jokes and innuendo. Don’t spend excessive time with any one participant to protect yourself and the other person from emotional dependency or from the possibility of sexual behavior. Limit the time you spend with group members. Spending excessive time with them limits your time to associate with others from outside the group.

Confidentiality and Anonymity

Many people who have same-sex attractions have chosen not to disclose them to others outside the group and could be deeply hurt by the release of information about their situation. In some cases, even spouses may not be aware of their participation in the group. Rules of confidentiality ensure privacy for individuals in the group. It is a safeguard of special significance to those who may hesitate to participate in a group if they have any reason to believe that private information about them could be revealed to others.

In addition to protecting the identities of fellow participants, it is vital to keep confidential what is said in the group. A helpful phrase to remember is: “What we say here stays here.” Outside the meetings, don’t mention the people you saw or repeat the things you heard. One careless slip of the tongue overheard by someone else could have a devastating effect on a fellow participant. While this principle may be clear in theory, putting it into practice may not always be easy. The following general guidelines may be helpful:

Keep identities anonymous. Most groups have guidelines about using only first names and last initials.

Membership lists. Lists of names, telephone numbers, and addresses should be kept only when absolutely necessary. If you keep lists of members, guard them with strict care.

Return addresses on mailings. If the organization mails materials, consider not including the name of the organization in the return address.

Messages. When leaving messages, be careful not to identify the individual with any group or meeting or to inadvertently divulge information that may be revealing. Assume that the person who receives the message knows nothing about the individual’s involvement with the group. Be aware that some people pretend to know more than they actually do to get information from you, sometimes unintentionally (out of curiosity) and sometimes willfully (out of spite). Either case can be damaging. Since others may have access to the individual’s voice mail or e-mail, leave only the information you would give to a stranger.

Spirituality in Group Meetings

For many people, spirituality can be a great motivator in achieving your personal goals. If this is your motivation, it is critical that you make spirituality a key ingredient in your support group program. You can strengthen each another by sharing testimonies, praying for each other, and encouraging each other to be righteous. There are many encouraging stories from groups about spiritual experiences that have had a profound influence on their growth and recovery. If your group is not having similar experiences, evaluate your activities and plan for ways to invite God’s Spirit into all you do.

Safety Boundaries

In addition to the safety rules of the group, it is important to establish personal boundaries. While the group process is helpful, it can also open you to dangers you need to manage. In the group setting, you experience emotional intimacy with others on levels that perhaps you have not experienced before. Although you do not talk about sexual details, the fact that you discuss sexual problems may make you vulnerable. If your discussions open up old wounds, you may experience anxiety or hurt and be tempted to revert to old patterns of behavior to relieve the pain. Since each person in the group discusses his or her area of vulnerability, others can wittingly or unwittingly take advantage. Therefore, boundaries must be established for the protection of everyone in the group. These external controls are safeguards to prevent you from responding to situations in unhealthy ways.

You will likely need to set personal boundaries on what you will and will not do after the meeting.

John explained, “When my friend Randy first joined his support group, he was so relieved to find other men with similar goals, that he didn’t want to go home after the meetings ended. He would stay in the parking lot talking with his newfound friends for hours. He also discovered he was vulnerable during these late-night chats alone with other men, and found himself getting intimate with one man. He quickly had to set boundaries to stay out of trouble and committed never to be alone with another man because he knew there was safety in numbers. He also set for himself a limit of thirty minutes after the meeting, at which time he would get in his car and go home. He found that from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. after the meeting he could undo all the good he did from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the meeting. Go home while you are still on a spiritual high so you can continue to think through new ideas and keep positive thoughts on your mind. Keep the momentum going and don’t lessen the experience with something less uplifting.”

If two members of the group car pool to the meetings, it may be a good idea to hold them accountable each week for the time they were alone together. When they arrive at the meeting, ask them how the drive went, and before they leave after the meeting, ask them if they feel they are vulnerable and what they intend to do about it.

For many people entering a support group, boundaries are nebulous, and while there is room for growth, there is also the potential for sexual problems if it is not managed properly. Watch for people who cross boundaries or don’t set boundaries. Challenge people to look at how they respect themselves, how they set boundaries, and how they maintain integrity for themselves.

If group leaders suspect problems, they should confront those involved to determine if there are problems. Such confrontation should not be accusatory, but in a spirit of concern for their welfare and a desire to help them grow. This can be a good learning opportunity for those who may not know how to interact with each other socially in appropriate ways.

If sexual activities occur, group leaders should intervene immediately since sexual activity can quickly destroy the unity of the group. The leaders should confront those involved and discuss the occurrence to help them understand what led to the behavior and to set in place precautions to avoid a recurrence.

How to Find a Support Group

To find a support group whose values and beliefs match yours, see the Organizations and Resources page.