An Interview with Loren Olson, M.D., on Finally Out
On today's show, we'll be talking with psychiatrist Dr. Loren Olson about his experience of coming out as a gay man when he was age 40. Loren A. Olson, M.D. is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Olson has conducted independent research on mature gay men, and he presented the initial results of his research at the World Congress in Psychiatry in Prague in September 2008 and throughout the United States. A father of two and a grandfather of six, Dr. Olson came out when he was 40, after an 18-year heterosexual marriage. In 2009, he and his long-time partner, Doug, married six months after the state of Iowa overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage. His book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, is part memoir about his own coming out and part psychological study on homosexuality.
David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.
On today's show, we'll be talking with psychiatrist Dr. Loren Olson about his experience of coming out as a gay man when he was age 40. Loren A. Olson, M.D., author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in Des Moines, Iowa. He's been engaged in the clinical practice of psychiatry for over 35 years. Dr. Olson has been recognized for his achievements by his peers as a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and by patients and their families as a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
While serving as medical director of psychiatry, Dr. Olson was responsible for developing and improving the psychiatric treatment programs at two of the largest hospitals in Iowa, Mercy Hospital Medical Center and Methodist Hospital, Iowa Health System. He's been active in teaching psychiatry to residents in psychiatry and to medical and allied health students. He's also been an advocate for the needs of the mentally ill on a national scale and local level, and he's held several offices in the Iowa Psychiatric Society, including that of president.
Dr. Olson has conducted independent research on mature gay men, and he presented the initial results of his research at the World Congress in Psychiatry in Prague in September 2008 and throughout the United States. A father of two and a grandfather of six, Dr. Olson came out when he was 40, after an 18-year heterosexual marriage. In 2009, he and his long-time partner, Doug, married six months after the state of Iowa overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage. His book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, is part memoir about his own coming out and part psychological study on homosexuality.
Dr. Olson is also a featured blogger on Psychology Today and Huffington Post, and he hosts his own blog for mature gay men, magneticfire.com. Now, here's the interview.
Dr. Loren Olson, welcome to Wise Counsel.
Loren Olson: Thank you, Dr. Van Nuys. I'm glad to be here.
David: Well, I want to congratulate you on your new book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight. And I suppose the most distinctive thing about your story is that you are a psychiatrist and you didn't come out until you were 40 years old. How old were you when you first realized you were gay?
Loren Olson: I began sort of the process of trying to figure out my sexuality at about 32, and it took a while to really come to the point where I was willing to say I am gay. There were lots of smaller steps in between there with questioning my sexuality and going through a period of time when I thought I might be bisexual. But there was really an event, a falling in love with a man, that made me think this is something more than I'd ever imagined it to be.
David: Yeah. I could see where that would be the clincher.
Loren Olson: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean it definitely was. How do you explain this? I wasn't expecting it at all. I mean I really had expected sort of a casual affair, but it became much more than that, and then I thought - and then as I began to think about it and look at it, then a lot of other things from much earlier in my life began to make more sense that I had blown off when I was much younger.
David: Yeah, I was curious about that because so much of the time we hear from gay people that they knew it from the outset, that somehow they always knew that they were gay or they knew they were different in a significant way. So I'm wondering were there hints for you like in junior high, high school? Were there things that made you wonder?
Loren Olson: Well, I think one of the things I tried to do in the book was to put my life back in the context of when I was growing up, so there were things that occurred. There was adolescent same-sex behaviors, and I don't really even now know how much of that is sort of typical of most boys going through that period of time and how much of it was different for me. But at one point it kind of stopped, probably about age 13 or 14 it just stopped altogether, and then I think, looking back, I guess I probably didn't want it to, but it did. And so I thought, well, it's time to move on into the next phase of my sexuality. And I tried dating women, but even like through high school I just found it difficult, and I didn't feel some of the same things that other boys were talking about. There was - a big fascination were women's breasts, of course, and somehow I didn't get it, you know?
Loren Olson: And so looking back on that period of time now, I can see much more clearly that there were other things going on. Well, I grew up in a small town in Nebraska and was born in '43. So, at that time, it was the time of the McCarthy communist witch hunts and gay witch hunts, and so there were a lot of things going on in our world that made the idea of talking about homosexuality, or even thinking about it, pretty foreign, and it was a very conservative, Protestant community, and so I had no basis of reality for what being gay really even meant at that time. And I think sometimes that's hard for people who are younger to understand because they have a lot more references in society now than I did at that time.
David: Oh, yeah. It's changed so much, really dramatically. I can understand, being in a conservative state like Nebraska, a small town, and the time period that you're talking about. I'm roughly the same age, and I remember, oh, the kind of teasing that would go on if somebody was even remotely seemed like they might have a different sexuality. Even if they didn't, it just seemed commonplace for boys to call other boys "homo," and -
Loren Olson: Yeah, in my environment, it was mostly "sissy." Anybody who was sort of gender nonconforming was labeled a sissy. And I think the closest it came to that was hermaphrodite. And that was kind of the word that [unclear] and I don't know if anybody even uses that anymore, but that was the word that came up from time to time. But people were labeled a sissy for sure and picked out and bullied in the same way they are today. And there was this whole thing about wearing yellow on Tuesday or something.
Loren Olson: Yeah, that somehow that made you a sissy. But it was never really well-defined in terms of what that meant, other than just it's something you shouldn't be. You know it's just shameful to be that or to be accused of being that, and that's about the only references, really, until I was much older. I even talked to a friend of mine I graduated from medical school recently. I said, "When I graduated with you in Omaha in 1968, were there any gay bars in Omaha?" And he said, "Well, I don't know." He said he didn't know of anybody who and he didn't know. So even in the '60s at that time in Nebraska, there were perhaps secret places or places where if you were really a part of the community you might know about them, but it wasn't common knowledge that there were gay bars at that time. Of course that was just at the time of Stonewall.
David: Yes. Well, I can certainly empathize with the difficulties and the challenges of coming out at that time. Now, at the time that you did come out, you had a wife and kids. Is that right?
Loren Olson: Yes, I sure did. And I think that's the other question that I'm asked a lot of times, is wasn't your marriage just a sham, that you were hiding behind your wife. And I've talked to my wife. We have a very good relationship now. We've talked about this a number of times, and that was definitely not the case. She and I entered our marriage in good faith with all of the hopes and expectations that most couples do, and it was only later that this issue began to develop, and we'd been married 18 years by that time when I divorced.
And I went back and talked to her later, and I said, "Did you ever have a clue during our sexual relationship that I wasn't really totally present there, that there was something missing?" And she said she had no clue. But we both entered the marriage being pretty sexually naïve, but her take on the whole thing was, no, I was every bit as present in that as she was. So there wasn't a lot of clues in any of that that would have led me to know more either. And she certainly didn't suspect anything at that time.
And later what happened was - after I met this man that I had an affair with and fell in love with - and I had been doing some journaling. And I don't know what your take on the unconscious is, but I suspected that, if we look at it, it may have been that I left some of that out intentionally for her to discover, because she actually confronted me. I didn't come to her and say, "You know I'm struggling with being gay." She confronted me and said, "What's this about?" And that's how it all came to a head at that time.
David: Yes, I am a believer in the unconscious by the way.
Loren Olson: Oh, good. [Laughs] You know some of our profession aren't.
David: Oh, I know. I know.
Loren Olson: Perhaps it's our age, huh?
David: Yeah. I'm forgetting how many kids you had.
Loren Olson: I have two and six grandchildren.
David: And six. I knew the number six was in there somewhere.
Loren Olson: Yeah.
David: Yeah, wow. And -
Loren Olson: And I guess - I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt, but I think that's one of the things that I feel uneasy about when people talk about that, because I don't consider my kids a mistake in any way. They really were definitely not a mistake, and they have been a great joy in my life.
David: Yeah, I can well imagine. Now, was it scary for you to come out in terms of your profession as a psychiatrist?
Loren Olson: Yes, very much so. Part of it was - well, again, I didn't really have a community of support. About the only support I had was that I had found that there was a support group for gay fathers in Des Moines at that time, and I went to that meeting the first time, and I immediately felt some sense of being at home with that group of men, and many of them are still friends. This is 25 years ago. And so that - if I hadn't had that support, it would have been even more difficult, but I did have those people around me, but that was about it.
And that time - this would have been in '86, I think, when I came to Des Moines - there was still a lot of professional discrimination. One of the most sort of shameful things that I experienced at that time was that I was a medical director of a program in psychiatry at one of the large hospitals here, and an HMO was beginning to discuss their criteria for admitting to the panel, and the woman who was leading the discussion said, "Well, we think we have designed a questionnaire which will identify gay men." And that was, of course, just at the beginning of the HIV crisis, and the purpose, of course, was to deny them insurance, and so they didn't run the risk of having to pay for treatment of AIDS patients.
David: Oh, my goodness.
Loren Olson: And I sat there in silence. I was just new in the job. I was not out anywhere, and to have not been able to stand up and say look how objectionable this is, I still feel a lot of guilt about that.
David: Yeah. What about after you came out? What sort of reception did you receive from fellow psychiatrists as a result of coming out?
Loren Olson: Well, you know that's very interesting, I think, because - and I think it's true of most people that we imagine things, they're going to be much worse than they actually are.
Loren Olson: There was an issue that, as medical director, I had to be involved in a disciplinary action against another physician, and I found out that he was threatening to tell the administration that I was gay to try and divert the conversation. And so I went and I came out to the hospital administrator, and she said, "Oh, we knew about this before we hired you." And so that gave me a great sense of peace, to know that they had - I don't know how they knew - she wouldn't even tell me that - because I didn't think anybody knew. [Laughs] But I knew my job was secure at that point and I was going to be judged on my professional merits, not anything else.
And the only time that I really think I might have had a problem, though, that was significant was I had applied for a job as a medical director at another hospital, large hospital system, and we had gotten down to the point of signing a contract and they withdrew it. And the only reason I can think that they would have done that was because they had discovered that I was gay, because I mean I really don't have a lot of other things in my history that would result in that kind of decision, and since we were that close to - I mean we'd got down to negotiating every point of the contract.
Loren Olson: And then it was withdrawn, but they never said, of course. But I have to say that, living in Iowa, people think - like we have legalized marriage here, and people say, "Iowa, of all places." But I have to tell you that the support that we've gotten - and I say "we," my husband and I. We've been together 24 years now, and the support we have gotten in Iowa is just tremendous, and I really haven't suffered a lot in the way of direct discrimination either professionally or personally.
David: Well, that's great. So I take it that you were not involved, then, in the politics around the American Psychiatrist Association dropping homosexuality from the DSM.
Loren Olson: No. That was before my time. Actually, when I began to read about homosexuality and sort of question it was when I was in medical school, and at that time - that was during the first iteration of the DSM - and at that time it was still listed as a pathological deviancy. And so that was my first exposure in psychiatry to the possibility of being gay, and another reason sort of for me to sort of say, well, that's not me. I'm not deviant. I may have this little quirk about me, but I couldn't identify with that diagnosis. And so I sort of followed the history from a distance, but I didn't, even at that time, begin to think that it was applying to me.
When I first had some professional connection, I went to a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, and I saw that there was going to be a meeting of gay men or gay psychiatrists and their - people who supported them. And I thought, well, I'll probably go to that. And it was sort of like going to the gay bar for the first time; you're hesitant to walk in; you don't know who you're going to see.
Loren Olson: And when I got - I expected it to be like a small hotel room with about 10 people or so. It was a ballroom full of people, and there were probably 400 people there.
Loren Olson: And at that point, then, I began to make other professional connections with other gay psychiatrists and a lot of other people who were supportive. So that helped build my confidence too. But there are several - even in Des Moines there have been several psychiatrists who have been gay, so it's not unique by any means.
David: Yeah. Well, coming out in mid-life as you did poses special challenges that I hadn't really thought about before reading your book. Maybe you could take us through some of those.
Loren Olson: Well, I think part of it is you've built up a network of relationships because of your assumed heterosexual identity. I mean, in this case, a wife and children and everybody in your community that you relate to, whether it's through your church or your school or the professional relationships, where you have these complex networks of people who all believe that you're really heterosexual. And you don't have any connections with the gay community, and so you're subject to all the stereotypes that everybody else believes about gay people.
So there isn't any balance in that, and it's like - of course, at first it's in dealing with your marriage and the complexities of that and sort of becoming a part-time father for your kids and then dealing with your own family. But then it's a much broader, and in my case, of course, it was a whole hospital system. And as a medical director, I had supervision of other psychiatrists, and so that there are all those kind of relationships that I had to keep coming out. It was a process of gradually broadening the circle of connections that I had and coming out to more and more people over time.
David: Some of my listeners are mental health professionals themselves. What can mental health professionals learn from your book about the struggle with sexual identity and how gay adults are understood?
Loren Olson: Well, I think there's a lot of people who don't know that there are as many older men as there are who are living heterosexual lives that are struggling with this issue. We talk a lot about teenagers and their high rates of suicide there, and that's quite appropriate that we do that. On the other hand, there is also a whole subpopulation of men who will not identify as being gay. They may call themselves curious; they may call themselves questioning; they may think of themselves as bisexual. They may even insist that they're heterosexual, but they have this powerful attraction to men, and I think they're very much hidden from view.
And so I think one thing that mental health professionals need to know about is that these men exist, and that there are really significant risks for them because they don't - you know if you look at the risks for suicide, they have many sort of the natural ones, but there's more depression, more use of alcohol, and also - because oftentimes they are involved in sort of sleazy sex on a hidden basis, and often unprotected sex - that they often have a high risk of getting HIV. So it's a really public health issue that's not being addressed because the population isn't known.
And they often won't bring it up. So I think it's important when there are perhaps issues of marital issues or people who in middle age - men and women - my study was with just men, so I don't mean to ignore women, but I just didn't try to understand all that goes on for them. But certainly I think that's one thing, is to recognize the numbers.
The second thing I would say is to recognize that coming out and that whole process is not as linear as it was described at one time. You know Cass's model, who was - I'm thinking in the '70s when she wrote about that, she talked about going through Step 1, 2, 3, and 4, and it should all be over at 25. Well, I read that when I was like 35, and I thought, well, I can't be gay; I haven't gone through any of these steps yet. But it's very much a more process like a projectile that bounces back and forth and is impacted by lots of different things. And you may move forward and backwards; you may choose to come out in some areas of your life and not others. So it's just not a "A, B, C, therefore D" kind of a process at all.
And so I think those are the major issues, I would say, and also just to recognize that sometimes when people say, "Oh, I enjoy sex with men. I look at men," the response is often, well, "You have to be gay." Well, no, you don't. I think that sexuality has to be looked at in terms of attractions and behaviors and identity, and really being gay is all about developing identity. And people may be involved in same-sex behaviors and have same-sex attractions, but they're a long way from taking that final step and saying "I'm gay."
David: Yes, and I think in some subcultures - I'm thinking of Latino subculture in particular, and I don't know for sure how accurate I'm being here, so this is just my perception - but I have the sense that there's so much social disapproval in that culture, that people may insist that they're not gay even though they fairly regularly engage in same-sex behavior.
Loren Olson: It's absolutely true, and it's in the African American community. It's in many of the immigrant communities. It's in many of the lower socioeconomic communities. It's in certain geographic communities. So there are all these areas where it's really still not very easy to come out, and in some cases - as you mentioned with Latinos or other immigrants and also Asian-Pacific people - they almost feel a need to make a choice between coming out and their sexual identity versus their ethnicity because they really are excluded from their own culture of origin.
David: Wow. Yeah, that would make it especially difficult, I would think. Now, do you have visibility professionally? I guess I'm wondering if you get LGBT referrals. Do people seek you out as a psychiatrist/therapist because knowing that you would know something in particular about their issues? Is that a factor in your caseload, or not?
Loren Olson: It is somewhat, but I have never really marketed myself as being a psychiatrist for gay people. You know, people do send me people who are questioning and having difficulty with that for sure, but my major professional focus has been on the major debilitating psychiatric illnesses, and even though I do psychotherapy and I enjoy that part of it, that's not the major focus for my profession clinically. So it's a smaller part of my population, for sure.
David: Yeah. What do you think about that issue, which maybe isn't as sharply drawn now as it was some years ago, but for a while there were people kind of asserting, well, you know if you're a woman, you need to be seen by a woman; if you're gay, you need to be seen by somebody who's gay; if you're black, you need to be seen by a black therapist, etc.
Loren Olson: I think, in general, I would say that someone who's struggling with the issues of being gay should see someone who's at least gay supportive, and that's also true of people who - it's socially. It's more important for particularly like mature gay men to have a community of friends that are supportive than that actually that they all be gay. But I think a therapist who isn't going to focus on trying to change you, but someone who can understand that this is something you have to come to as you consider the reassessment of your value system.
But anybody who's sort of either forcing you one way or the other into the reparative therapies or, on the other hand, forcing you to come out - either one of them are not going to be particularly effective, I think, as a therapist. It's really about an exploration of your own value system and seeing which of the values that were given to you, you want to recommit to and which of them don't fit, and that's the process where I think the growth occurs.
David: Okay. Well, as you indicated earlier, there have been a lot of changes socially in terms of visibility and acceptance of gay people. When you survey the landscape, what surprises you, what disappoints you, and how is society still not meeting the needs of the LGBT community?
Loren Olson: Well, there was really a very interesting report that just came out recently by the Institute of Medicine about the barriers to health care and also the problems in research related to the LGBT community. There's still a lot of difficulty within the health care system in accessing it and recognizing that there's a lot of fear, I think, in the LGBT community about approaching health care providers for fear that they will not be accepting.
And in terms of the research, the research in the past has tended to divide people into heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals as if each group were somehow very much the same. And I think what this Institute of Medicine report suggested was that we really, in order to have effective research on gay men and women, have to begin to look at these subpopulations of people and to try and understand them.
There was another study just published in a journal called Pediatrics about teen suicide for LGBT in Oregon, and it's the kind of study that I think the Institute of Medicine is talking about. They're talking about studying a very discrete subpopulation, and they took out all of the sort of usual risk factors and focused on just the social environment. And what they found in that study - and it was a large study of about 7,000 or 8,000 kids - was that a negative social environment really increases the likelihood of suicide attempts in that LGBT population.
And that's the specific kind of research that needs to be done, and of course with my interest in older men, I'm thinking what is the risk of suicide in this male population that's struggling with their sexual orientation. Is it higher? And my bet is that it certainly is. But I think those are the things that are primarily of my concern now.
David: What do you think about media? Because I think there have been real changes in media in terms of - it seems like just about every sitcom is going to have a gay person in it as a character. A lot of movies have gay characters, although sometimes it seems to me the humor is perpetuating certain stereotypes. Do you have any takes on that issue?
Loren Olson: I think there's a much more realistic presentation of gay people than there used to be. I mean they still play off the stereotypes, and that's not all bad. I mean we have to be able to laugh at ourselves a little bit too, and stereotypes fit sometimes. They just do. But I think there is a portrayal of a broader range of characters in the plays. I mean we were watching Brothers and Sisters and there's an older gay couple in there who struggled with their sexuality and they came together probably in their 60s.
So there are better portrayals than there were at one time for sure, and I think less tolerance for some of the really extravagant stereotypical displays as there was at one time. But if you look at the photos of the gay pride parades, it's always the drag queens in feather boas or hunky men in thong underwear, so those are the only pictures that make the front page to describe it. But seeing me marching in the pride parade in Des Moines is not going to make a very good front page picture. [Laughs] It's not going to draw anybody's attention, so it's probably somewhat understandable.
David: Yeah. I should probably self-disclose to my audiences, as I did to you before the call, that I'm the father of an adult gay son, and so I have some personal experience and involvement with these issues and wanted to ask you what advice you'd offer to someone who believed their friend or sibling or child was a closeted gay about to enter into a heterosexual marriage.
Loren Olson: Well, that's a tough one because you worry about what you're going to say to somebody who doesn't really know that they might be gay, but chances are good that if they really are in some ways gender atypical, they've heard it before. But I think to just come out and say "Are you sure you want to do this because you're probably gay" is probably not the best approach. But I think one of my rules in psychotherapy is to act dumb and think smart, and I think just sort of asking general questions about "are you sure you're really ready to do this?" is probably the best approach.
But some are going to press ahead, and some are frankly not going to know. Some are going to try and think that it's a cure for any doubts that they have about their sexuality, and there may be no real way to prevent it from occurring. You'd like to think so. I just got a letter, an email, last night from a woman who's experiencing exactly that and wondering what to do.
But I think if you really have a close relationship with somebody, somebody who knows you're going to love them regardless, I think you can be a bit more direct about it and say, "I've wondered if you've ever experienced some same-sex attractions," and to just put it out there on the table. But I think you have to be pretty well attached to that person and be in a position where you can say things without any particular threat to them, and to let them know it doesn't matter.
David: Okay. Well, to shift ground a little bit, we keep seeing news stories about politicians, and about religious leaders as well, who are crusaders against homosexuality and smut and so on, and then it turns out that they are gay themselves or they are involved in pornography or whatever.
Loren Olson: Yeah.
David: And many of them are at the forefront of anti-gay politics. What's going on there?
Loren Olson: Well, I think - you know when Senator Craig got caught in the bathroom in Minnesota at the airport, my initial reaction was not anger towards him but feeling "Oh, my God. There are so many of us who could have been caught in that situation." And I think we have to - one of the things that I wrote in the book was I don't like the word "homophobia" very much because it tends to pathologize our opponents, and that's what we reacted to for a long time as they were pathologizing us. I think we need to be angry at the policies and the procedures and at the hypocrisy, but to try and - especially within the gay community - understand the pain and the struggle that some of these men have been through and are going through and continue to go through, and to not be angry at them individually but maybe come to some understanding about that.
In doing the research for the book, one of the things that I found out about Senator Craig was he grew up in Idaho at a time I grew up in Nebraska, and that all of the same things that were impacting my life were impacting his, but even to a greater extent, because they had some real significant witch hunts in Boise, Idaho, at the time he was 10 years old. And so if you understand that and put his life in the context of that environment, perhaps you can understand that there were some pretty powerful forces working on his thinking. And perhaps if you look at our defense mechanisms, sometimes we go too far in the other direction to protect ourselves against those things. And so I think we have to be angry at the consequences of those things and confront the hypocrisy when it occurs; but at the same time, we have to, I think, reach out to them. In the movie - let's see - that I saw about Harvey Milk, I think it was.
David: The one with Sean Penn?
Loren Olson: Well, actually, no. It was a different movie about all the - McGready [sp?] and some of the other people who I think - and Senator Craig and some others. I can't think of the name of it right now.
David: I can never remember the names of movies, even one that I've seen the previous day.
Loren Olson: But in the movie, one of the gay people said, "You know, we don't want him anyway." And I felt very personally offended by that, thinking, well, we should want them to join our community and become a part of our community, and try and develop some sense of empathy for other people so we can develop a relationship instead of being guilty of the same thing that our opponents are guilty of, and that is casting all people who oppose us in the same vein.
David: Yeah, I really applaud that stance. That really fits with -
Loren Olson: Good.
David: With my sense of psychology and how we should comport ourselves as human beings.
Loren Olson: Yes. I just think we have to recognize the great diversity within all of our communities and that we're not just gay or straight or heterosexual or non-heterosexual - that there's a great diversity on all sides of this issue. One of the best reviews I got of the book was from a Baptist minister, heterosexual, married, and he said, "You know I don't agree with Dr. Olson's choices, but now I understand."
David: Hmm. Yeah. Well, that - boy. That's good.
Loren Olson: Yeah, and he went on to say, "Anybody who thinks that homosexuality is sinful should read this book." I think that's what I was striving for.
David: Yeah. Speaking of religion, I noticed that one of your daughters is a conservative Christian. How does she deal with or reconcile her religious beliefs with the fact that her dad is gay? What is your relationship like? Has that put a wedge between you, or not?
Loren Olson: It did in a time, but I've learned that I can't speak for my daughter, but I can tell you that I got some help from my own minister, and he said - I said to him, "You talk to people who have a very strict interpretation of the Bible," and he said, "As long as we focus on the meaning of the Scripture instead of the specific details, we can communicate."
And so I kind of used that as a way of trying to communicate with my daughter because, in saying that she's a conservative Christian, I have to say that I was also very angry about that, and I was doing my part to contribute to the difficulty that we were having communicating. And once we sort of got past that, we very much agree in most ways about our philosophies and so on.
And she's been a big defender within her community of me and has spoken out in favor of me. And she's not trying to say you must change your position about whether you believe this is sinful or not, but you have to know my dad as a real person who is a good person. And I think she's done a really good job of that.
David: Oh, that must feel really good. That's wonderful.
Loren Olson: Oh, yeah. It really does, and I think that's important. To go back to the whole issue of homophobia, I got an email when I was first writing the book from a man, and I had written back and I said, "George, you don't know me." And his response was, "Oh, but I do know you. You're gay and you're an immoralist and you're a pederast." And even on - he was sort of saying that he knew everything about me because he knew that I was gay. And that's such a typical response to bigotry and prejudice. To think that we know everything about somebody simply because we know one thing about them just doesn't make sense.
David: Right, and of course that applies across the board.
Loren Olson: Absolutely.
David: Politically - you know those of us who are liberal have strong stereotypes against people who are very conservative.
Loren Olson: We certainly do, yeah. And we often don't talk to each other because -
Loren Olson: And there's no meaningful conversations a lot of times because we only listen to the people who agree with us.
David: Yeah. Well, still on the topic of family, as you mentioned, you have six grandkids. They're all under 12, I guess.
Loren Olson: Yes, they are.
David: How would you advise dads and granddads of young kids on the best way to come out to them?
Loren Olson: For the adult to come out to the kid?
Loren Olson: I think what Doug and I have done is - I mean they've been a big part of our lives, and we've just sort of lived our life together. And when one of them was probably about eight or something, she said to something - I overheard her ask her mom, she said, "I didn't know that two men slept together." And then there was a - but that's just sort of - we haven't tried to hide anything from them. Obviously we don't display a lot of intimate behavior, but even heterosexuals don't need to do that in front of kids.
But when we were getting married, my more conservative daughter was telling her kids - she said, "You know Dad and Doug are getting married." And my granddaughter's response was, "Oh, who are they marrying?" [Laughs] And she said, "Well, they're marrying each other." And she said, "Well, that's weird." And then she thought for a while and she said, "Will there be cake?" And I think that we sometimes - that was really the important issue in her mind, was not what we were going to do in bed, but really was it going to be the same as every other wedding that she'd been exposed to and there'd be cake.
David: Yeah, that's great.
Loren Olson: Yeah. So I think my advice is to not tell them more than they want to know and let them know that you're open to answering questions if they have them, providing their parents agree. I mean you have to take some clues from what the parents will allow you to do or expect you to do, too.
David: Yeah. Do you have any advice for men who are contemplating coming out but fear losing the people and things that matter most to them?
Loren Olson: Well, yes. I think, for one thing, it's better than you think it will be and many of the fears that you have are exaggerated; although there is a period of time, an adjustment, when it's very difficult and you very well may lose friends. But I think the overall - I would say that there is a possibility of reestablishing connection and maintaining connection with your broader family and really, perhaps, redefining family from sort of the traditional model that we have built in our heads, and to make a family in a broader sense that includes more people than you might have imagined.
Like I said, I would hope that they could come to the point where my former wife and my kids have gotten to, and that is that we celebrate life events together, and we enjoy our new spouses together. We have been able to get past all of that. But there was a period of time when it was extremely difficult.
The important thing, I think, is you have to dump the anger that you feel, and then you have to begin to look toward finding some sense of empathy and compassion for that other person and begin to look at what the pain was like that they were in, and then you can come back together again. But you got to get the anger out of the way, and you can't hang on to that forever. If you do, it's really dysfunctional.
David: Well, that sounds like a really good point for us to close on. So, Dr. Loren Olson, I want to thank you for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.
Loren Olson: Well, thank you so much, David, for having me. I've enjoyed it.
David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Dr. Loren Olson. I think his life is a testament to the transformation that can occur when we face our worst fears. As a result of his willingness to come out, not only did he develop stronger, more reality-based relationships with his wife and daughter and others in his family, but he also created a ripple effect that has positively impacted his community. For example, his wife recently told him that she and her husband-to-be wouldn't get married in a church that did not welcome homosexuals, and in the interview we heard how his daughter has broadened her own views to be more tolerant of diversity.
As mentioned in the introduction, Dr. Olson is a featured blogger on psychologytoday.com and the huffingtonpost.com, and I'm sure you can find him by searching those sites. And he hosts his own blog for mature gay men, which you can find at magneticfire.com. And finally, the book's website is www.finallyoutbook.com (as of 7/15/14 website no longer available, book can be found on Amazon).
You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net. If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit Mentalhelp.net, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the Mentalhelp.net home page.
If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at www.shrinkrapradio.com. Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.
Links Relevant To This Podcast:
- www.finallyoutbook.com (as of 7/15/14 website no longer available)