SAMARITANS AND HOMOSEXUALS
“I think I’m a homosexual. Please help me.” This plea for help has been heard by thousands of Samaritans either on the phone or in interviews. The question that we, as homosexuals, must ask is, “What kind of advice and follow-up do they receive?”
The answer, inevitably, consists of thousands of replies. The following remarks, admittedly subjective, are impressions gained from talking to Samaritans in a general way, from meeting gay women and men who – at one time – were befriended by the Samaritans, and from some limited experience as an ex-Samaritan in the north of England.
It is doubtful whether the Samaritans see a cross-section of the homosexual population. Some gay people may try to hide this, and even a widely experienced Samaritan may have difficulty in understanding or even detecting concealed homosexuality.
Most gay clients, however, are simply lonely, isolated and sex-starved. Quite likely, they will have no close gay friends, will know next to nothing about the gay scene (even the terminology) and will be scared stiff about “anyone knowing”. Religious confusions and suicidal tendencies (not necessarily a firm resolve) are common. Quite a number may never pluck up courage to meet a Samaritan befriender face to face. This is left, quite rightly, to the wishes of the client. And strict confidentiality is the watchword.
The Samaritans deny they are an advicegiving body. They stress confidential and sympathetic listening and, on the whole, they do this well. It is, I’m convinced, a great relief for many lonely gay women and men to “get the whole thing off my chest”, possibly all the more so with someone kindly and anonymous. A minority of clients may genuinely want nothing more. The majority, though, will surely want some form of follow-up:
a) where do I go from here?
b) how do I meet other homosexuals?
And this is precisely where the trouble starts.
It is sad, but true, to say that hair-raising advice is not unknown. Many Samaritans, notwithstanding the exceptions and the organisation’s propaganda, are not well-trained, at any rate in cases of sexual difficulty, particularly homosexuality.
Perhaps suggestions such as “keep yourself busy with hobbies”, “take up sport”, “think of other things” have a temporary stop-gap value, but our gay friend – fortified with his cup of coffee, will wander off into the night to resume an empty life. Referral is another possibility: “see your doctor”, “I think there’s a cure”, “I’ll try to arrange for a psychiatrist”, etc. This is a dangerous game, not only in terms of advisability but of the limitations of the National Health Service as well. Even for the misguided gays who “want” to be “cured” ten minutes with a psychiatrist and a bottle of pills (and it happens – often) is no answer.
Many Samaritan branches offer befriending facilities for clients, i.e. a chat or drink with a Samaritan at weekly or monthly intervals. This is excellent for as far as it goes, but may have restricted value for a gay client whose need may be for homosexual company. Lastly, some Samaritan branches keep a list of local meeting places, mainly clubs and pubs, which are revealed on suitable occasions. The dangers of an inexperienced and shy homosexual, particularly if belonging to an older age group, becoming more unhappy and isolated as a result of wandering into a gay pub can hardly be exaggerated.
What, then, can be done to improve the lot of gay Samaritan clients, assuming that most are lonely and distressed? It would certainly be helpful to know the size of the problem, from a statistical point of view. I doubt whether the Samaritans have anything to learn about confidentiality and sympathy; but that is not enough. Talks and seminars led by homosexual organisations may have much value, depending on whether they bear in mind the needs of the type of gay person under discussion. CHE could produce tape-recordings (I wouldn’t open here the big question of content) which could be played by Samaritans in less busy moments. Above all, much more personal contact between the Samaritans and the gay organisations.
Many CHE branches already have their own befriending services, although co-ordination and general principles are not fully worked out yet. Indeed, CHE may have much to learn from the experience of the Samaritans about the techniques of befriending. As a bare minimum, CHE should be prepared to offer lonely Samaritan clients some hope of social integration, however small at first. In particular, we must teach ourselves if necessary, the Samaritans, then clients and anyone else that homosexuality is not just a matter of releasing sexual tension at frequent or infrequent intervals. On the other hand, sex is important. It would be foolish to deny that an inexperienced forty year old man will not readily find “the affair” he so often desires. Indeed, CHE befrienders may well have to give serious thought to the question of the middle aged Samaritan client whose immediate problem is primarily sex (or rather the lack of it).
All this of course is to talk in generalisations. Individual cases more often than not will not fit. The married homosexual and the pedarast are different again. We must remember, too, that the aims of CHE or GLF for that matter are likely to be a complete bewilderment at first to Samaritan clients. They will tend to expect a lot of personal satisfaction too quickly; we must be prepared for this and understand it. Obviously, the Samaritans themselves have not got the answer, they can and must improve. Closer contact with CHE will go part of the way, even though the politics of the organization may be an irrelevance to some.
This is a challenging and urgent task. But we ought not to be alone, surely there must be gay Samaritans?