“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Are gays cray in a special rainbow way? Dr. Lauren Costine, a Clincial Psychologist based in Beverly Hills, is pioneering programming devoted to lesbian minds—and founding the LA Lesbian Center while she’s at it. Dr. Costine, who describes herself as a “Clinical Psychologist, educator, writer, instructor, and activist,” is writing a book on lesbian psychology, heading the effort to create a Lesbian Center in gay mecca West Hollywood, and specializing in LGBT Affirmative Psychology at her private practice. She found time to speak with me about “internalized lesbianphobia,” our urge to merge, and a fabulous upcoming party.
“LGBT Affirmative Psychology is based on the notion that gay people, in this case lesbians, have a unique way of experiencing the world,” Dr. Costine explains.“Things are definitely getting better but most of us grew up in a heterosexist, homophobic world. Heterosexism—the presumption that everyone is/should be straight—is subtle but insidious, and can be seen everywhere, particularly marketing or entertainment. Every billboard, every commercial, every film presumes and depicts people to be straight.”
Heterosexism enforces the perception that because heterosexuality is natural and expected, homosexuality is different and outside of the world’s natural order. Omnipresent heterosexism and homophobia can create “toxic shame”: the belief that one is flawed or inadequate at the core of one’s being.
“I’ve coined the term ‘internalized lesbianphobia’ to describe the double problem lesbians face: homophobia and misogyny,” says Dr. Costine. “We grow up in a world that still devalues women, and is simultaneously homophobic. This creates a unique set of issues for gay women. By using Lesbian Affirmative Psychotherapy, I’ve been able to simultaneously treat those problem… It’s all about realizing that the problem isn’t rooted in ourselves, the problem is rooted in society. With that awareness, a patient can separate from, and then resolve shameful feelings (aka internalized lesbianphobia) that might have been damaging her life and self-esteem.”
This damage creates a void that many people try to fill with addictions. Members of the LGBT community are more likely to suffer from addiction issues than their straight counterparts. Dr. Costine suggests that one unexpected addiction might be especially prevalent among the lesbian community: love addiction. She’s even writing a book about our “Urge To Merge” that breaks down the science of U-hauling.
“U-hauling happens for two reasons,” Costine explains. “Biologically our brains are wired for a relationships and connection. We emit much more Oxytocin than men. Oxytocin is a hormone women emit when they’re falling in love, having sex, or breastfeeding. It’s biological encouragement to attach. It feels so good that for some women, in this case lesbians, they can’t get enough. Since there’s two women, there’s twice as much Oxytocin floating around… The second reason U-Hauling happens is society. We live in a society that tells all women being in a relationship is one of the, if not the most important life goal. Combine those two factors with low self-esteem caused by internalized lesbianphobia, and you’ve got the U-haul recipe. When that person starts getting love from another woman, it temporarily fills that low self-esteem. All the red flags are dismissed, ignored, or simply not thought out.”
Sounds like a good time, right? Well it is. We all know it is. But the problem with that void filling love party is it won’t last. I’m not talking about your relationship of course; your U-hauling experience is special and unique. But for other, lesser lesbians, U-hauling is prompting followed by burn out.
“It doesn’t last,” Dr. Costine says. “I have found with lesbians it has a shorter life span than heteros… We get burned out quickly, after between three-18 months. After 18 months the female body slows, then stops producing that attachment hormone. The high gone, the honeymoon phase is over, and suddenly you have two women looking at each other a realizing all the things they don’t like about each other.”
This isn’t some random woman telling you how to live your life: This is science. Costine helped start the LGBT specialization in clinical psychology program at Antioch University in 2006. The program is composed of 4 core courses: LGBT History & Myth, LGBT Multiculturalism, LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy, and (you guessed it!) LGBT Family Systems. Here’s her advice on beginning a healthy, stable new relationship based on mutual understanding and respect. Ugh. Sounds perfectly horrid.
Dr. Costine: Lesbian relationships tend to happen very quickly. The problem with merging is neither of the women has really checked out the other for compatibility… When you begin seeing someone new, you should hang out once a week—not every night.
Dr: Costine: If you hang out every day, you’ll burn out emotionally. Any lesbian who wants to break out of a merge pattern should set a dating plan.
Me: REALLY REALLY?
Dr. Costine: Even if you really want to spend the night, it’s important to stick to the dating plan, so I suggest you get a friend or therapist to help.
Dr. Costine: For the first two months you should only see them once a week and talk or text every other day.
If you’re in the LA area, you should grab tickets to Wonder Woman, a fundraising event for The Lesbian Center’s new West Hollywood offices, which should be opening well within the year. According to Costine, ”Many lesbians in Southern California have been experiencing a void around having a unique space to create community outside of the bar scene. One of our main goals is to be the place lesbians of all ethnicities and ages can connect to one another.” The Lesbian Center plans to offer education, mentoring, scholarship, workshops, and entertainment for women throughout the LA lesbian community. I’ll be there on October 12 at 8 p.m. looking pretty as per usual.