Living the Good Lie

Should therapists help God-fearing gay people stay in the closet?

  1. Denis Flanigan isn’t hiding anything. A 42-year-old psychotherapist in Houston, he has a straightforward manner that meshes nicely with his no-nonsense buzz cut and neatly clipped goatee. Unlike many mental-health professionals, Flanigan puts personal items on display in his office, including a photo of his partner, who is attractive, and male. For his patients’ amusement he has on hand an S-and-M Barbie as well as a Tickle Me Freud doll. (“It’s so, so … wrong,” Flanigan told me, in a tone that signaled he believed it was exactly right.) Flanigan’s no-secrets policy extends to his Web site, where he writes that he “has frequently been asked to speak on the gay and lesbian experience and mental health, transgender concerns and body-modification issues.” A member of the American Psychological Association, Flanigan has also served as Mr. Prime Choice Texas, winning a contest “designed for men 40 years or older who represent the masculine aesthetic embraced by the leather/Levi/uniform/fetish community.” In his own words, he identifies as a “militant homosexual.”

    So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that when potential clients come to Flanigan’s office to discuss their sexual orientation—in particular whether they should reveal their homosexuality to friends, family or employers—his first response is to ask, in a neutral tone, “Why do you want to do that?” Flanigan has a 20-year history of gay activism behind him, so you might expect that his primary goal would be to help...

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