As the adopted child of a very conservative, religious family in the South, the message that you could be loved, accepted, and seen for all of who you are was often couched in the unsaid caveat of “as long as…” I grew up in a culture that said: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
This version of love never quite made sense to me.
The first exposure I had to the LGBTQ community was at church. I listened in as my parents and their friends spoke about how selfish the HIV+ brother of a congregation member was for “putting his sister through this.” “This” meaning AIDS. I was seven.
I wasn't happy with the box I was supposed to fit into and I found ways to express that even as a young teen: a closet full of Goodwill, band shirts (all black of course), studded belts, chucks, and a music collection that included lots of screaming, moshing, and fist pumps. A concert wasn’t good if I could hear at the end. #rocknrollbaby
I ended up at a tiny, conservative liberal arts college in the woods of East Texas for undergrad (mostly because it was close). One of my favorite college memories is quite an ordinary moment. I was sitting around with my best friends from undergrad, a gaggle of gay men from my beloved theater department, on a lazy, hot day watching movies after class. We put on The Little Mermaid and, all at once, with the rising crescendo of “...part of your worlllddddd..," my friends started singing. Loudly. The entire living room started singing louder and louder as I joined in. I remember the sense of family and joy like it was yesterday. As I watched my friends attempt to navigate their emerging sexuality and identity in an oppressive environment, I realized I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a therapist for the LGBTQ population.
During this time, I was also diagnosed with a pelvic pain disorder. As someone who had zero sex education outside of the books I snuck from the library, I had never felt more hopeless, alone, and broken than I did try to navigate and understand pelvic pain, especially with mental and physical health providers who also had a lack of education about these issues.
Spoiler alert: My challenges with pelvic pain, paired with growing up in an oppressive culture, became some of my biggest strengths and catalysts for doing the work I do now. (Subtext: Thinly veiled life-lesson.)
After undergrad, I put down roots in Chicago for graduate school, focused all my work on the LGBTQ population and trauma, and became a licensed therapist in the state of Illinois. Unsurprisingly, I also came out as queer pretty quickly after moving to Chicago. My family wasn't thrilled to say the least. First, Sodom and Gomorrah is a popular topic in my family (wamp, wamp). Second, while I believe that love and authentic relationships are based on all parties being able to bring all of themselves to the table, my family believes that keeping things peaceful and pleasant, even if it means hiding large parts of yourself, is best.
In the words of Jeanette Winterson, “I have no idea what happens next.”
Fresh out of graduate school, I got a job helping run and grow a group counseling practice focused on the LGBTQ population. Over my six years with the practice, I was able to help grow the business from five therapists in one office to twenty-two therapists in two different locations and establish ourselves as one of the leaders in LGBTQ mental health care in Chicago. I am proud to say that we were able to serve 300-400 clients a year that came to us specifically because they wanted a place to feel safe and affirmed when talking about mental health concerns.
The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
Despite my love of working with the LGBTQ population, I felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. Through my work with the LGBTQ population, as well as my personal experiences, I knew both how deeply painful concerns about sex and sexuality can be, as well as how powerful and affirming healthy sexuality and pleasure in our own bodies can feel. I was hungry for more information and training, so I completed the University of Michigan’s Sexual Health Certificate Program with specializations in Sex Therapy and Sexuality Education and learned that I could happily read boring research studies about sex and sexuality for hours. I went on to become a Certified Sexologist through the American College of Sexologists and kept hungrily devouring more and more information to build my knowledge and expertise about LGBTQ population, sex and sexuality, and trauma. I had found the missing piece of my professional puzzle in sex therapy and education.
Where I am Today
Today, I have a chosen family that will cheer me on in my victories, and watch movies with me in onesies on bad days, and will dance about with me on all of the days in between to the sounds of Whitney Houston, Solange, and Beyonce.
A couple years into my time in Chicago, a friend from college visited me. As we sat in a quintessential Chicago dive bar sipping Goose Island beer, she looked at me and said, “Wow! I’ve never seen you so comfortable in your own skin.” I thought to myself, “You’re right.” And it just keeps getting better.
I get to do work I love with people that I think are the tops.
I feel like the luckiest duck to be able to spend my days doing sex therapy, coaching, consulting, teaching, speaking, and writing that helps you uncover more of who you are so you can also feel confident in your own skin and teaching other professionals to do the same.
I provide folks with the support they need to go from feeling broken and alone to whole and part of a community. Because I know what it feels like to not have that.
Join the movement or contact me for more details on how we can work together.
***Please note that the views expressed on this site are my own and not necessarily those of my place of employment and any information provided or interaction that we have does not replace you seeing a therapist, seeking necessary mental or physical health care, or constitutes a professional relationship with a therapist. If you feel like your life or another's life is in danger, please call 911 immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.***