Monday, 30 September 2013

Dr R

My mum is concerned at my dysfunctional lifestyle. I have been reclusive and have been sleeping during all hours of the day. I have consulted the Wikipedia article on depression; it lists symptoms that seem worryingly applicable. She has scheduled a meeting for me with a psychiatrist who she says comes highly recommended. He is an Orthodox Jew.

I meet him at his office. He flashes a smile, offers a handshake, and gestures to a chair.

"Name?" I answer him.
"Where have you been studying? And for how long? Are you depressed?"

The questions come thick and fast. He iterates my mum's concerns, inquires about my symptoms and then throws out a cluster of possible causes.

"You do drugs?"
"No."
"Gamble?"
"No."
"Even occasionally? I know that some Yeshiva students visit the casino?
"No."
"Are you gay?"

The question takes me unawares. He is looking at me, waiting for an answer.

"Uh. Yes."

My voice is shaky.

He straightens up. He's pleased at the speed at which he has identified what's been troubling me.

This is the first time I've disclosed my sexuality. I am feeling light-headed. My fingers are trembling. I'm nervously awaiting his response. It takes ages to arrive.

"For how long have you felt this way?"

I am taken aback. I was expecting a more empathetic response; one that acknowledged the hardship I have endured. Even a trite but sympathetic "I'm glad you shared that" would do. Instead, he is smoothly proceeding with his mental checklist, waiting to tick his next box - I am ticked off.

A few more questions and he is ready to discuss my personal situation. He tells me about another Orthodox patient - he corrects himself, another client - that is married, who he helps balance his sexuality with his religious lifestyle. It is evident that his advice will entail a stabilising act: I am to become a trained sea lion balancing my wobbly sexuality on the tip of my nose. My desires are to be managed or repressed; not realised or sated. He is not prepared to operate outside the confines of his religious boundaries. I too am to be fenced-in. 

"Is this guy happy?"
"He is married with kids. He is no longer preoccupied with his same-sex feelings."

This is the second time he has described homosexuality as "feelings". Ethereal and transient feelings. Not something substantial like an "instinct" or a "drive". Definitely not part of a genetic make-up.

"Do you still regularly see him?"
"Yes."

He reaches behind him and proffers me a leaflet. It advertises the services of JONAH: Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing. It shows a smiling man on the front. It claims to "heal" people through reparative therapy. I have heard of this organisation before. Two Jewish men that went through its program allege they were instructed to strip by one of its therapists while he observed them. One says he was told to fondle himself.

I scrunch up the leaflet and throw it in the bin. OK, I don't, but it's what I want to do. After all, he has just scrunched up a primal part of my identity and callously discarded it.

"No thanks. Not for me. Not what I'm looking for."

He asks me if I'm certain. I reassure him that I am. The session comes to an end and I prepare to leave. As I begin to walk out, he tells me to go to his receptionist and book a series of sessions. That way, I'll be eligible for discounted rates.

I decline his offer. I won't be coming back.

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