FEATURE: Sex therapist says ‘don’t hold feelings in or bottled up’

Dennis Cornell

What does the word queer mean to you?

I grew up in a time when “queer” and “fag” was used in a derogatory way.  But I like how the LGBTQ+ community has taken hurtful words of the past and turned them into positive connotations for the community such as the pink triangle from Nazi concentration camps.  I see “queer” as the big umbrella term that can be used to describe all the folks that would fit within the LGBTQ+ community.  However, if I’m in, let’s say Eastern Kentucky, and a local calls me a “queer” then he’s going to regret it.

How do you identify?

I’ve been trying to get away from labels for the past several years.  But people still like to use them in order to put others in a box and figure out how they will interact with them.  I often just say that I’m married to a guy without using a label.  I often correct folks who ask “if I’m married and what my wife’s name is” in order to decrease some of the automatic heteronormativity.  

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I was born and raised in Louisville, KY in an ultra Catholic family.  I was so Catholic that I was interested in becoming a priest. I even worked closely for several bishops and parishes.  So being Catholic, growing up in the 1980s and early 90s, and having a family that didn’t talk about my lesbian aunt, I learned to repress, suppress, and deny my non-hetero feelings and thoughts.  I was straight married for seven years and had two children in the unrealistic hopes that would change my non-Hetero thoughts.  I eventually came out in my Late 20s after I finally accepted my authentic self.  And I’ve not been happier.  

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

As a sex therapist and LGBTQ+ psychotherapist, I have worked with lots of folks on coming out.  The best thing for someone struggling with coming out is to find at least one person who they can trust and talk to them about those feelings.  Don’t hold those feelings inside nor keep them bottled up.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

Since coming out, I have vowed never to be a part of something that I can’t be my true, authentic self.  That’s why I waited until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed before commissioning in the US Army.  That’s why I no longer attend a Catholic Church or any church (even though I know there are some good LGBTQ+ affirming churches).  I’m not ashamed of who I am and will let people know that if need be.  

What issues do you see in the queer community?What do you think would solve those issues?

I think the non-discrimination law needs to be passed nationwide so that LGBTQ+ folks can freely access services, housing and employment without the fear of being turned away for who they are.  I also feel that, like the rest of society, white privilege runs rampant in the LGBTQ+ community without much regard for the people of color in the community.  More needs to be done to make everyone feel included.  Intersectionality needs to be taught more and I believe the Fairness Campaign does a good job of that.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

I don’t feel excluded from the mainstream queer community probably bc of my white, cisgender privilege.  But I know people feel like they don’t fit in and we need to do a better job on that.  We as a minority group have no business excluding other minority groups. 

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?

I feel comfortable in LGBTQ+ bars and establishments.  I also feel comfortable at home with my husband and children.  And even though I live in KY, I feel comfortable in public because I’m not going to put up with any blatant or non-blatant homophobia. 

Who influenced the life you live now?

Harvey Milk was a big influence in my early years of coming out.  I admired reading about his tenacity to get things out in the open for the LGBTQ+ community and normalize us to the rest of society.