My name is Tim Klein. I’m a registered psychologist and I’m a psychotherapist. I have qualifications in both psychology and psychotherapy as well as in youth work and I’ve been working in the field for about 20 years.
A lot of my work has involved working with issues of sexuality amongst same sex attracted young people as well as same sex attracted adults. And just to fill in my background a bit – this has included being involved in doing a lot of counselling and therapy with same sex attracted young men and women, and same sex attracted adults and their families, as well as being involved in organising one of the first conferences that looked at issues of suicide and self-harm among same sex attracted young people. In the second conference it looked at issues of addressing homophobia in the school system. As well as that I’ve done extensive training with youth workers, human service workers etcetera in South East Queensland regarding best practice around working with same sex attracted young people.
So it’s an area I feel quite passionate about.
So that’s my background. In terms of the unequal age of consent, the bottom line is that it’s another piece of discrimination.
Many, many years ago when I was in a position of first starting to train workers in regards to working with same sex attracted young people, I spent quite a bit of time trying to distill a lot of the research that I was coming across in how socialisation worked in our culture – and the words I ended up with were that, in essence, how society teaches young people three things:
- They teach people that they need to be heterosexual
- They teach people that they shouldn’t be homosexual
- and the don’t teach people about being a homosexual.
So you’ve got your blatant heterosexism, and all the models around heterosexuality – which a lot of heterosexuals have to find their way out of anyway, because they’re quite rigid. And then you’ve got the overt homophobia of “You shouldn’t be gay” and all the things that are wrong with that. And then there’s the covert homophobia, which is where young people aren’t presented with positive role models of adult gays and lesbians. There’s a whole silence around the reality of being gay.
Now, those three things work together quite well and are oppressive for everyone in our culture. There’s quite huge links, particularly in Australian culture, between homophobia and the construction in particular of masculine identity – in that basically guys learn form an early age that you prove that you’re a real man by proving that you’re not a poofter. And that’s quite oppressive for straight men – all the bits of themselves that they have to cut off to fit into that tiny little box. So those three things that people are taught that I was referring to– they’re oppressive for everyone. But for people who are actually same sex attracted – people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual – it’s actually a source of trauma and as far as I’m concerned it’s actually a form of systemic abuse.
I’ve been saying this for about ten years now, that this is a form of systemic abuse, and I think what the research is showing more and more is that, yes, it is a form of abuse and the impact of that abuse, the research around that is starting to come out more and more.
I know when I first starting saying it to other therapists and other human service workers back in the mid-nineties, referring to this socialisation as a form of abuse actually got some responses of “Oh god! How can you use that word? That’s a bit strong isn’t it?” Now when I talk about it there is no response like that – there’s actually, it seems to me, there’s a growing realisation particularly amongst the sector that I work in that, yes, this is a form of abuse.
Now, it’s a form of systemic abuse. It can exacerbated by what might happen in an individual’s particular family or particular school, but it’s systemic in that it’s across the culture. When we look at the laws in our culture, those laws support that systemic abuse - the laws regarding same sex marriage, civil unions, laws regarding superannuation etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But then, here in Queensland, when we look at the age of consent – that’s another example of where you’ve got legislation that not only supports, but is part of that systemic abuse of same sex attracted young people - that very clearly gives out the message of “You’re not equal”. And if you’re not equal, then you’re less than – it’s that you’re better than, you’re less than.
The Government actually says that this issue – the unequal age of consent – is something that they don’t have to pay particular attention to, because they consider it to just be a “vexed” issue – that there are strongly held opinions for and against. But would you consider that the psychological welfare of youth is such that they should be paying much more attention to this issue?
Well it’s an issue of discrimination. The bottom line is that it’s an issue of discrimination. So that means that same sex attracted young people do not have the same rights as opposite sex attracted young people. I mean for that alone it needs to be paid attention to – it needs to be addressed.
You’ve pointed out that the lack of acceptance that’s already existent within our society for same sex attracted youth, as they’re evolving through their teenage years, that that actually constitutes a form of abuse. So would you expect then that if the law was changed, the age of consent was made equal at 16 for everybody for all sexual activities, that that would then enable youth to have a better chance of developing to be people with greater self-esteem, with greater respect for others?
I think it is part of it. It’s an important part of it and it’s only one part of it – and it’s a part of it that needs to change. I mean what the research shows is that for an individual that is same sex attracted, all other things in their life being equal, the development of a positive sexual identity represents a form of developmental crisis - kind of like a speed bump that they have to go over. And once that’s actually resolved, the mental health of same sex attracted people is pretty much on par with the mental health of heterosexual people – once they can get over that speed bump.
Now, things like the unequal age of consent. Things like same sex couples not having the same rights regarding their relationships. These are the things that make getting over that speed bump more difficult – and also that means that once you’ve got over that speed bump, yes, you may have developed a positive sexual identity, but it still means that you’re in a situation where you don’t have the same rights as your heterosexual counterparts. And that discrimination and the message of inferiority, the message of lack of acceptance, the message of contempt, that those lack of equal rights give, that can then have ongoing psychological impacts on same sex attracted individuals.
(end of interview)