Self-Help for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else
“As I grow older and older
and totter toward the tomb,
I find that I care less and less
who goes to bed with whom.”
I’m not much a self-help guide user. My ex gave me a book once called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!, which I laughed at, sensitively, and then proceeded to give it a nice home in the closet. But, should you be someone who struggles with understanding your sense of self and/or your role in a romantic relationship, or if you’re looking for an open-minded, meditative approach to working on being a healthier, happier person and/or partner, The Power of a Partner is a good starting point.
What’s nice about this book, as far as self-help guides go, is that the author addresses relationship topics that everybody can relate to (e.g. establishing healthy partnerships, dealing with difficult family members, understanding love versus lust), but offers a courteous pronoun “switcheroo” to speak directly to gay and lesbian readers through “he/he” and “she/she” examples. While there are a few issues tackled in the book that are unique to the gay and lesbian community—lack of gay role models, “coming out” anxieties, lack of access to legal benefits and marriage—nearly all commentary is general enough to be directed to a mainstream (i.e. heterosexual) audience. This includes the handy list of “Seven Tips for Dating Success” as well as the “Awareness Meditations” for tapping into your “Guardian Spirit” and “The Child Within,” should you be so inclined. One of the more gay-friendly exercises is “the Heterosexual Questionnaire,” a quiz intended to make heterosexual people realize how stupid they seem when asking gay people why they’re gay.
Breaking down the book into the three sections “Partners,” “Family and Friends,” and “Therapy,” Dr. Richard L. Pimental-Habib—a psychotherapist with a background in clinical hypnotherapy and 15 years of experience working on GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) issues—almost immediately answers the question of his own sexuality by aligning himself with gay and lesbian readers when using “we” in the examples he presents involving the gay community. As Pimental-Habib indicates, the point of this book is to address “many of the relationship topics most important to gay and lesbian lives,” which turn out to be, surprise surprise, many of the same relationship topics most important to heterosexual lives.
But aside from pronoun changes, perhaps what makes this book stand out among other self-help guides is its limitless acceptance of all types of readers and all types of practices. This is illustrated by the author’s gentle, non-judgmental, “you craft your own way” approach to relationships, which includes Zen analyses of your role in the universe, a rundown of the different religions the author has dabbled in and found happiness as a gay man, and guidelines on how to manage a non-monogamous relationship in a healthy, communicative way. In other words, this book can help you to become a happy, healthy, slutty, Jewish-Catholic lesbian who meditates well with others.
Now that sounds like fun! But this is a self-help guide, so of course the book is sprinkled with all sorts of predictable and mushy quotes (“On the way to one’s beloved, there are no hills”), frequent meditations involving breathing and validating yourself (“My process is ongoing, unique, and valid. It is mine”), and a long-winded “What if” game intended to help you understand what things you would change or do if you could (“What if you could say any one sentence to our current president . . . what would you say?”) Don’t answer that one.
There are a couple of moments where the author seems to generalize to the point of making unfounded statements. For example, in talking about homosexuality and societal rejection, the author states, “One thing gay people have been adept at is creating a sense of humor as a way to fit in . . . and as a way to get through what can be a difficult life filled with challenges . . . “. Sadly, there are plenty of gay people with a terrible sense of humor, and in fact scores of heterosexual people who go through life with tremendous difficulty in comparison to others within the gay community. The author also offers a seemingly contradictory example of “a wonderful human sexuality teacher” he had in college who “strongly advocated that everyone needs to explore his or her sexuality” and who even “once disclosed that she wished she were bisexual: ‘I feel I’m missing out on half the fun!’” Well then, do something about it, girlfriend, instead of getting caught up in labels!
Overall, it’s difficult to decide whether there ought to be self-help guides targeted specifically at gay and lesbian relationships, particularly when, as this book illustrates, so many of the relationship struggles and successes are the same as what heterosexual partners go through. But until mainstream guides can stop projecting rigid heterosexuality as the inherent voice of authority and as its sole base of readers who need relationship help, The Power of a Partner justifies itself as a unique and progressive resource, even if what it really comes down to is switching some pronouns and splashing the words “Gay and Lesbian” across the cover.