Ella is a 23-year-old cis gender woman who identifies as bisexual and grew up in a suburban neighborhood with her mother, father, and two brothers. Throughout her childhood she went to the local Protestant church with her parents and siblings and states that she had a strong sense of community and joy from the church; going to youth group, attending services, and praying at home with her family. She knew from a young age that she identified as bisexual and came out to her parents early on. Her parents are supportive of her and helped her to try and navigate the relationship between her beliefs and her sexuality. While her family was accepting, when she decided to come out to a few others in her church community, she was met with mixed reactions, from acceptance to being told she was a sinner and was going to hell. She was simultaneously deeply hurt by the reactions of those who did not accept her and felt a lot of love from other members who prayed with her and helped her navigate the situation.
After that point she continued to attend church and engage with members of the church who supported her, however, she left the experience also feeling embittered by those who ostracized her. Her relationship with her church was completely severed at the age of 17 when she was sexually assaulted by a member of her youth group who stated that he would turn her straight. Ella left the church and her community to go to college, and, from this experience, decided that she did not want to engage with God or church. She felt that God had abandoned her because she identifies as bisexual and believed the church to be a place of lies and hypocrisy. Throughout college she did not engage with religion much to the heartache of her parents. When Ella graduated and entered her first job she met Jamie, a coworker who identifies as both spiritual and religious. Jamie and Ella eventually struck up a relationship, however, religion and spirituality remain a point of contention. Jamie would like to talk openly about spirituality and religion with her partner, and Ella sees how much joy it brings Jamie, however, it is difficult for Ella to engage without anger. In some ways Ella would like to explore her religion more as it did bring her a sense of peace and community in the past and she states she feels drawn back to that side of her, however there is still a lot of hurt and anger toward the church, God, and religious people. Ella is coming to you to see how best to handle the situation and explore whether or not she wants to engage with spirituality/religion. She is also afraid that this may tear her and Jamie apart.
What cultural considerations are important in this case?
What messages has Ella received up to this point regarding the intersectionality of her sexual identity and her religious/spiritual identity?
According to the text, what messages might have been conveyed through her religious/spiritual identity and the abuse she endured?
What societal messages might be affecting Ella’s reconciliation and integration of her sexual identity and what principles are underneath those messages from a greater societal perspective (think about the chapter on religion, morality, and prejudice – what factors are associated with prejudice/discrimination/stereotyping for individuals in same-sex relationships)?
Imagine you are Ella’s counselor. What might be some goals you would want to address in your sessions together?
What information would you want to provide Ella to help in integrating her spiritual/religious identity and her sexual identity?
What psychoeducation would you want to provide regarding the importance of the mind/body/spirit connection and her physical and mental wellness?