April 2020 Highlighting Minority Masculinities column
Highlighting Minority Masculinities is a blog spotlighting psychologists whose work examines the masculinities of underrepresented groups. The following column is part of a Division 51 task force whose goal is to bring awareness to the psychological challenges and strengths of minority masculinities. Edited by William Elder, Ph.D.
The April 2020 column is on "Men Who Own Guns", with veteran and senior social worker Kevin Beasley.
Kevin Beasley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who earned his Masters in Social Work from Arizona State University. He is an Air Force veteran, whose professional experience encompasses over 20 years working as an individual and family therapist specializing in trauma and substance abuse. He has presented about gun culture and firearm safety considerations in healthcare since 2014. He has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 13 years and is the Senior Clinical Social Worker for the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinical Team at the San Antonio Veteran Healthcare Administration. 1. What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with men and guns?
There were two events. First, I was at a training for mental health clinicians in about 2011. A question was asked about patients who own guns and the general response from the audience, who were well-education and well-intentioned, was “guns are bad,” “people who have guns are dangerous.” And I thought, “Well, what is wrong with owning guns?” “I’m a gun owner; are we really dangerous people?” These questions caused me to seek research related to the topic.
Second, I had a patient about the same time who worried that his mental illness would potentially affect his gun ownership rights. This impacted what he disclosed in session and I could sense that he wasn’t forthright with me. Eventually, as we built rapport, he told me he earned his living selling guns at gun shows. I had a neutral approach to gun ownership, and I tried to use that to understand where he was coming from. I also provided education about the actual facts about gun ownership and mental illness. For example, many mental illnesses, such as depression disorders, anxiety-related disorders, or trauma-related disorders do not typically impede gun ownership.
2. Broadly, what are some ways men construct or experience gender in unique ways?
Men own guns for many different reasons. Masculinities intersect with guns around emotion regulation skills. Men who have effective emotional regulation have a different relationship with guns than men who don’t. For example, during a time of high stress, emotionally regulated gun owners don’t stockpile ammunition or start caring their gun when the leave the house. However, dysregulated men can view their gun as creating safety and control in unpredictable situations. The gun is connected to showing that you are not weak and to avoid feeling vulnerability, although statistically, gun ownership increases one’s vulnerability to physical injury and death. Struggling with emotional regulation may also be associated with other masculine role performances—like use of substances, anger outbursts, and physical violence.
3. What are some important clinical considerations in working with men and guns? First, I try to talk with men who own guns about risk and safety. I ask about gun ownership in intake, and I ask if guns are stored safely. Men have higher risk of gun- related death, especially veterans. I encourage men to think about their family members and to understand that having a gun in the house statistically increases the risk of family members to danger.
Second, I try to talk to men in a way that does not shame them or shut down their vulnerability. As a result of taking this non-judgmental stance, I can facilitate considering how to best store guns. I have seen clinicians pathologize men in session, but then they miss opportunities to plan for safety. I say things like, “I worry about you. I know you have a lot of guns. Can we work out a plan to store them safely?” If they respond defensively, you assert that if you are authentically concerned for them and their family 4. What are some protective factors or strengths for men who own guns? Responsibility to one’s family, to protect those they love. Men resonate well with the idea of protecting their families. Through education you can make use of this strength to encourage them to become open to getting a gun safe or a locked cabinet. Shooting recreationally, like at a range, can also be time spent with family members, educating them about gun safety, participating together in shared pastime. I shoot guns on occasion with my friends. It can be a healthy hobby that gives people a sense of accomplishment.
5. How has this work impacted your involvement in professional organizations?
The first talk I gave about cultural biases against patients with guns and how to talk sensitively about guns was in 2014. I have presented that talk many, many times, in front of thousands of people in the past 6 years. It has made me more collaborative with professional organizations, including those whose focus is on suicidality, as well as sleep medicine, whose considerations include sleep medications that can lead to risky behaviors when guns are unsecured.
6. If others are interested in learning more about masculinity and guns, what resources would you recommend?
http://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/topics/suicide/ https://dailyutahchronicle.com/2019/08/24/u-professors-research-suggests-that-preventive- methods-can-save-lives-of-military-personnel/
January 2020 Interview with Thomas Zigo on first generation college masculinities
Thomas Zigo completed his Master’s in Social Work from Ohio University. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Counseling Center where he provides supervision to MSW graduate trainees. Before joining the Counseling Center team at UNCG Thomas provided psychotherapy with college students through MSW field placement at Ohio University Counseling and Psychological Services, a Post-Master’s Fellowship in the University Counseling Center at Grand Valley State University, and employment at Grinnell College Student Health and Wellness.
1. What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with first-generation college men?
Growing up with sports and playing baseball through college shaped me in a lot of ways. When organized competitive athletics ended for me, I was presented with a catalyst to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life that would be both feasible and meaningful. In a way this was the first time that I was not prioritizing an adherence to what traditionally accepted masculinity was telling me how to live. Entering a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) program at Ohio University was the first time that I got to embrace this identity in a concrete way. I completed an MSW capstone research project on college students’ self-stigma and perceived public stigma related to seeking mental health services on campus. Congruent with much of the research, I found statistical significance supporting the notion that men are less comfortable than women seeking counseling services. This began my passion for addressing men’s reluctance to seek help.
Additionally, in 2016 during a Post-MSW fellowship in the University Counseling Center at Grand Valley State University, I saw few young men working as clinicians in college counseling centers. I immediately dove into learning about men’s issues and masculinity. At that time, managing a caseload and developing my first men’s group truly allowed me to begin focusing on the unique intricacies of first-generation college men.
2. Broadly, what are some ways first-generation college men construct or experience gender in unique ways? Many first-generation college men have a somewhat traditional experience with masculinity. First, being surrounded by new people and situations can be intimidating. This may lead to self-assigned pressure to perform a version of hegemonic and normative masculinity that is perceived as favored by others. Second, these men may not talk much about their emotions and challenges because they want to figure things out on their own and not worry others. That can lead them to prefer to keep to themselves at home and at school. Though first-generation college men’s academic success seems to be positively correlated with having supportive relationships with faculty and staff, it appears that at times they may be ambivalent about making these connections.
3. What are some important clinical considerations in working with first-generation college men? I previously mentioned that this group may be less likely to seek support. It is crucial to develop trust and rapport when they begin. This can also serve as a valuable precursor to inducing buy-in for other resources available on campus. It may also be important to explore positive coping strategies for self-regulation. Some common techniques that I discuss with my male clients include deep breathing, mindfulness, physical activity, and identifying safe people to engage in open emotional expression with. Coping skills are important because there can be a sort of culture shock that comes with getting acquainted to the very nuanced social and academic demands of college for the first time (eg. sharing space with a roommate, learning when/where to buy textbooks, registering for classes, etc.).
First-generation college men can be especially resilient and persistent. They are willing to figure out unfamiliar territory and try something new to them. Additionally, there is often a sense of gratitude, since first-generation college men are experiencing things that non first-generation students may take for granted.
5. How has this work impacted your involvement in professional organizations?
Upon developing a strong affinity for clinical work focusing on men’s issues and masculinity I sought membership with APA Division 51. My involvement with Division 51 has afforded me rich opportunities to reflect on how masculinity shows up in my professional work and personal life experiences; both past and present. A monthly video chat mentorship program through Division 51 has been particularly impactful for me.
6. If others are interested in learning more about masculinity and first-generation college men, what resources would you recommend?
First Gen Journey Podcast
O'Shea, S., May, J., Stone, C., & Delahunty, J. (2017). First-in-family students, university
experience and family life: Motivations, transitions and participation. London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-58284-3
November 2019 Interview with Lori Brotto on asexuality and men:
Dr. Brotto completed her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of British Columbia (UBC), where her research focused primarily on psychophysiological aspects of sexual arousal in women diagnosed with sexual dysfunctions. She completed internship at the University of Washington (UW), as well as Fellowship in Reproductive and Sexual Medicine at UW. She is professor in the in UBC Departments of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, the BC Cancer Agency, and is the executive director of Women’s Health Research Institute at BC’s Women’s Hospital. She is also a clinician in private practice.
1. What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with asexuality?
I began to do research on asexuality in 2005 for two reasons. First, there was a large British study published that year asking about sexual attractions and 1% of those in the study endorsed no attraction to any sex. This was the first paper that indicated many people have an asexual identity.
Second, in my clinical work at the time, some of my colleagues, after reading this paper, wondered if these study subjects were mislabeled as asexual when they actually experienced low sexual desire. That set me out to do our first paper. We gathered data online and also conducted some in-depth qualitative interviews. I was convinced after this study that individuals who endorsed no sexual attraction were not reporting low sexual desire: they were qualitatively and quantitatively different from individuals with low desire. My research since has explored the difference between asexuality, or those with no sexual attraction to any sex, and allosexuality, or those with sexual attraction.
2. Broadly, what are some ways asexual men construct or experience gender in unique ways?
Asexual men’s behavior is significantly different, as you would imagine. Asexual men engage in less dyadic sexual activity, but we have found that they did not differ in masturbation habits. That led to some criticism of asexuality as a construct, the criticism being: “how can men say they’re asexual if they continue to engage in masturbation, which is a sexual activity?” Asexual men have reported that, for them, masturbation is not a necessarily a sexual activity, or focused on sexual arousal, but a way to get to sleep, cope with emotional distress, and attend to prostate health. The content of their masturbatory fantasies is less dyadic, and may not include sexual scenes, but may be more frequently fantasies of non-human figures, inanimate scenes, or focusing of one genital part—one stimulus.
I imagine that these men feel out of step with normative ideologies about masculinity, although this needs additional study. Some newer research indicates that while some asexual men are aromantic, and want no romantic or sexual relationships, other asexual men endorse some romantic relationship attraction; that is, some interest in pursuing romantic companionship. I might predict that there are differences about masculinity ideologies between these types of asexual men.
3. What are some important clinical considerations in working with asexual men?
As I worked with the DSM-5 Task Force for Sexual and Gender Identity, I advocated to include a caveat about distinguishing between asexuality and low sexual desire. Frequently, men are diagnosed with low sexual desire with no exploration of the possibility that they may be asexual. However, if someone has consistently not demonstrated sexual attraction, then clinically, this may not be an area of distress. It’s a sexual orientation identity.
Asexuality as a sexual orientation identity accurately addresses and validates emotions some men have felt since youth. Clinically, psychotherapy then becomes about what to do with that new identity, and possibly how to adjust to a relationship with someone who is allosexual. Therapy isn’t about eliciting sexual desire, but negotiating between someone who wants sex and someone who doesn’t.
4. What are some protective factors or strengths for asexual men?
Asexual men frequently explain that when one is not preoccupied by sex, it frees one to focus on all the other aspects of their self, their well-being, and relationships. Asexual men tend to be very insightful regarding their own emotions and how to articulate them. They have spent a lot of time engaged in self-reflection, and are not shy to disclose thoughts and experiences, and not in a simplistic way.
5. How has this work impacted your involvement in professional organizations?
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) has been a source of recruitment and support for my research. I’ve sat on their research advisory board, on their committees to advise community leadership to assist in creating research questions, and how to handle media misinterpretations of research findings. I also belong to sexual health and sex research organizations, such as the International Academy of Sex Research, which explores empirical research, as well as the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, which approaches asexuality from a clinical perspective.
6. If others are interested in learning more about masculinity and asexual men, what resources would you recommend?
The AVEN website is very good; it’s a hub that contains discussion boards and peer reviewed articles. I would encourage psychologists to explore not only the empirical literature, but also perspectives from the humanities and social science. These resources are often overlooked by academic clinicians, but more frequently use qualitative research methodologies to explore the lived experiences of asexual persons.
September 2019 Column
Dr. Alfonso Mercado received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fielding Graduate University. He is an associate professor at University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, a National Register Health Service Psychologist, and provides psychological services in an underserved community in the Texas-Mexico border. Dr. Mercado is active in the Texas Psychological Association as the Diversity Division Chair, the American Psychological Association, and the National Latinx Psychological Association.
1. What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with Latino immigrant men?
I live in the Rio Grande Valley, a unique geographical region in the path of human migration to the U.S. This is also an under-served region. I wanted to pursue research and clinical work with vulnerable populations and started to identify a need for psychological services for immigrants coming into this corridor. I am bilingual, and there are not a lot of bilingual psychologists in this area. My team at UTRGV started to volunteer at a humanitarian respite center in McAllen for those seeking asylum. We then began doing research and clinical work with immigrant groups.
1. Broadly, what are some ways Latino immigrant men construct or experience masculinity in unique ways?
First, Latino men are motivated to live by unique cultural values, including familismo, sympatia, and respecto. Second, they experience tremendous violence in the northern triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), where the highest rates of gun violence exist in the world. Third, Latinx immigrants to the U.S. consider their family relationships, especially as fathers, as central to their identities.
2. What are some important clinical considerations in working with Latino immigrant men?
Trauma history is important to consider, but also clinicians would benefit from identifying the unique ways culture impacts expression of these trauma symptoms. For example, mental health symptoms of trauma may manifest as physical health concerns, including stomach ache, headache, or chronic pain.
3. What are some protective factors or strengths for Latino immigrant men?
First, the Hispanic Health Paradox Model posits that Latino individuals are at a health advantage compared to others in western culture, with better cardiovascular health and longer life expectancy. Second, although immigrant Latinx men suffer elevated rates of trauma compared to other groups, cultural values have been found to lessen the severity of psychiatric effects and resiliency. Latinx immigrant men often have experienced pre-migratory traumatic events and physical disabilities, then travel 1000s of miles to the U.S. before experiencing migratory trauma. Then, while seeking asylum, many are separated from their children and other family, leading to additional trauma. Latinx immigrant men are resilient.
4. How has this work impacted the way you think about your work in professional organizations?
I am a board member of Texas Psychological Association and co-lead the Diversity Division there. We have incorporated awards that highlight psychological work with cultural diversity. About two years ago, I joined with National Latinx Psychological Association and have helped form a collaborative task force to develop immigration evaluation guidelines. As we speak there are no guidelines for immigrant evaluations. Every clinician is doing their own style. I’m also on the Rural Health Committee of APA.
5. If others are interested in learning more about masculinity and Latino immigrant men, what resources would you recommend?
This is an important area to explore, although this is the first interview I have done about men and masculinities, specifically. You can look at my team’s research webpage at UTRGV. Currently we’re looking at attachment effects on adults in Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and Spain whose parents immigrated to the U.S. as children. We have approximately 1500 participants. Preliminary results indicate family separation leads to insecure attachment.
July 2019 Highlighting Minority Masculinities column
Dr. Heard has a B.A. in psychology from Spelman College, M.S. in counseling from Howard
University, and Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Lehigh University. She is a licensed
psychologist in the state of Maryland and is certified as a National Health Service Psychologist. She serves children, adolescents, and adults, as well as provides supervision to graduate trainees and mental health professionals. She has held positions as affiliate faculty member at Loyola University in Maryland and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She was recently elected to a second term as a Division 51 Member-of-the-Board.
What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with Black boys and men who
identify as Christian?
I honestly didn’t seek to work with this population, but in a sense, these men found me. In 2015, I was hired as a clinical director for a faith-based counseling center in the DC metro area. Many of our clients sought services at our center to freely discuss struggles with faith, without feeling judged or misunderstood. I am grateful to be a resource for Christian Black boys and men who accessed our center because it was a population that I had less experience with as a budding ECP.
How do Christian Black boys and men construct or experience masculinity in unique ways?
Black Christian boys and men have similar experiences of masculinity as non-Christian males, but often their understanding of masculinity was influenced by Biblical teachings. For example, most Christian men that I’ve worked with are instructed that dating and marrying anyone other than a woman is unacceptable. “Same-sex attraction” is a term used sometimes, and some congregations offer programs to address unwanted same-sex attraction, so that in itself sends a message about how men should identify. Partnered men who are in relationships with women often reference the expectation to be the financial provider and leader of their household, which sometimes comes with extra pressure. These ideals are taught in some ministries and gospel lessons targeting men.
What are some important clinical considerations in working with this population?
These intersecting identities are just as important as any other aspect of their identity, but often receive less attention. It is important clinicians explore aspects of clients’ Christian identity and how this influences mental health. I’ve heard clients recount experiences working with clinicians who did not welcome discussion of faith in clinical work. This should never be the case. If the clinician is not knowledgeable about Christian tenants, she or he is encouraged to increase their competence, as he or she would seek information about other aspects of unfamiliar cultural identities. It is also important to avoid assuming that Black Christian boys and men struggle with values that differ from their faith, yet still identify as Christian.
What are some protective factors or strengths for Black boys and men?
Frequently Black boys and men are invested in family and being a source of strength for their families. They also share a healthy sense of love and affection for peers within their ministry spaces that are dedicated to supporting others. These spaces also serve as powerful mentoring opportunities for their community.
How has this work impacted the way you think about the Division?
This work has made me wonder if any other Division 51 members work with this population and how we could find one another. It would be great to have a member directory, with each
member’s areas of interest that could be accessible to all. That may help us connect to one
another beyond conferences and midwinter meetings.
If others are interested in learning more about masculinity and Black boys and men who identify as Christian, what resources would you recommend?
Christian Counseling, Revised and Updated Third Edition, By: Gary R. Collins Ph.D.
Dr. Sherry Molock of George Washington’s research on developing suicide and HIV
prevention programs in African American faith-based communities.
Dr. Mark Yarhouse has done extensive research on Christian communities, specifically
focusing on sexual identity and some of his work can be found here:
Timothy Rogers, Ph.D., is a Military Internship Behavioral Health Psychologist employed by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine for the Uniformed Services University Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Texas, 59th Mental Health Flight, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (WHASC). He serves as the Associate Program Director for the Clinical Psychology Internship at WHASC and is responsible for supervision and training of psychology interns with a focus on deployment related issues. Dr. Rogers received his Ph.D. in 2009 in counseling psychology at the University of Akron, completed clinical psychology residency at Wilford Hall Medical Center, and served as an active duty psychologist before separating in 2014. Dr. Rogers' research interests include help-seeking behaviors, PTSD, and masculinities.
Dr. Rogers initially became interested in working with military service-members through help-seeking research. He was inspired to address issues related to access and outcomes of healthcare provided to service-members. This led him to a career committed to reducing barriers to care and improving the care psychologists provide to service personnel.
Military members have a culture of “toughing it out,” he described, rather than seeking help. Especially with male service-members, Dr. Rogers described the influence of “traditional masculine norms” on hesitation to seek mental health services because it may not feel congruent with some folks’ conceptions of what it means to be a man. Any culture that teaches men to “minimize problems,” he said, even if this is a well-intentioned desire to independently care for oneself, can lead to increased risk of substance use, relationship problems, and even cardiovascular problems. “One of the things that has me concerned is military service members having heart attacks very young. We know stress can be a silent killer and men often somaticize their stress.”
In response to these issues, Dr. Rogers suggested using strengths-based approaches for interventions. “Their goals must come from them. We frame it as a strength that a service member knows where they want to go, and I consult like a personal trainer,” he noted, using a combination of accountability and empowerment. He described that the military’s culture of fitness and performance-optimization aligns well in this regard. For example, he suggested physical health analogies can be useful in military culture. “You don’t go to the gym and do one bicep curl. Once you become a peak physical specimen, you don’t just eat whatever you want. You keep it up. It’s the same with mental health.”
When mental and behavioral health professionals work with current or former service members, Dr. Rogers further recommended having an awareness of military culture and service-members’ backgrounds. It can be particularly helpful to incorporate analogies applicable to their patients’ military lives. He described that his work relies on helping service-members come up with plans for when they are forced to choose “between what is right and what is easy.” He uses the work ethic and resilience of military men to focus on improving mental and behavioral health and well-being. To this end, he said his work often includes identifying how the brain sends messages to the body (such as stress responses or biofeedback) in order to work in congruence with patients’ holistic lives and professional goals. In other words, linking psychoeducation about thoughts and emotions to work-related aspects of service members’ lives can make it more salient for them. “Work is often a proxy for life for many service men. If work sucks, everything sucks,” he said.
However, this can also be used positively. “Work life in the military promotes leadership, problem-solving, and effective communication. Military culture is a very results-oriented, achievement-oriented culture,” he said. Therefore, as psychologists, we can use these values to improve holistic human functioning with those we are working with. He suggested, “In doing so, it honors the culture of something that is or was important to them. Not doing that can be a missed opportunity.”
May 2019 Highlighting Minority Masculinities column
Highlighting Minority Masculinities is a series of interviews with psychologists whose work
examines the masculinities of underrepresented groups. This column is part of Division 51’s goal to raise consciousness surrounding the psychological challenges and strengths of living outside mainstream masculinities.
Heidi Levitt and Work with Butch Lesbians
Heidi Levitt, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts- Boston. Dr. Levitt’s line of research examines sexual minority cultures and gender minority cultures (e.g., butch, femme, bears, leather men, Latinx and Black cultures, transgender, houses/families and drag). Specifically, Dr. Levitt studies the culturally-driven experiences of gender identities, how and why they form, and what they mean within these specific sexual minority communities. Dr. Levitt places importance on looking at the margins of gender in order to shed light on the boundaries and limitations of gender as a concept. Ultimately, Dr. Levitt’s research has led to a new definition of gender that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ experience and conceptualizes gender identity functionally—in terms of its purposes of representing one’s authentic sense of self, resisting oppression tied to gender norms, communicating community affiliation, and sexuality.
Her new work discusses the effects of gender identity upon people’s identity, security,
belonging, and values.This theory will be featured in an upcoming special issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly, with an introduction and two response pieces (by LGBTQ+ researchers Elliott Tebbe, Bonnie Moradi, and Laurel Watson) and Levitt’s rejoinder reflecting on how her theory can be used as an analytic framework to identify the functions of other gender identities. The central article is now available online:
Levitt, H. M. (In press). A psychosocial genealogy of LGBTQ+ Gender: An empirically based theory of gender and gender identity cultures. Psychology of Women Quarterly. doi:
10.1177/0361684319834641. Available in Online First: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0361684319834641
Dr. Levitt described becoming interested in psychological work with lesbian populations during her postdoctoral fellowship. She recounted, “I came into this community and it was strongly feminist and its members used a lot of butch and femme identifiers. I did not understand it. I wanted to make sense of what it meant to be a part of this community.” Dr. Levitt said she quickly became fascinating in learning more about the intersection of gender and sexuality; specifically, how gender expressions and characteristics function within the lesbian community. She then expanded these questions to other communities in order to broaden her understanding of gender.
While studying gender constructs within this lesbian community, Dr. Levitt found that some
lesbian women have an internal sense of themselves as more masculine than cisgender girls and women. It could be confusing to make sense of this difference and the stigma around it as a young girl. Coming to find LGBTQ+ community and adopting an LGBTQ+ gender identity, like butch, was often an affirming process. Ultimately, butch lesbian women’s gender serves functions across four domains: (1) a psychological function (i.e., permitting identification with a gender that feels more authentic to oneself); (2) a cultural function (i.e., the cultural assertion of characteristics that have been denied and devalued through shared signs and symbols); (3) a interpersonal function (i.e., these signifiers form a gender expression that communicates affiliation with an LGBTQ+ community and status), and (4) a sexual function (i.e., that this gender expression becomes eroticized so that gender is embodied and desired, increasing sexual self-esteem). She describes that these four functions have been found to underlie all of the gender cultures she has examined and so views them as integral to the meaning of gender identity.
Dr. Levitt expressed that the lesbian community itself can be a strength or mental health
protective factor for women—both masculine and lesbian: “despite the increased discrimination that butch women face, we don’t find differences in mental health between femme and butch lesbians.” Lesbian communities can support the psychological and cultural functions of gender (through increased self-esteem and sense of social and sexual validation). Although butch lesbians may face discrimination, the community can support their resilience in the face of challenges. For example, Dr. Levitt has found that within the butch-femme community, butch women’s strength in resisting gender norms was valued and butch aesthetics were appreciated. This social understanding led to these women being seen as highly desirable, which shifted the shame that was associated with their gender in cisgenderist contexts into a sense of pride.
Dr. Levitt suggested that work with people with LGBTQ+ genders include exploration of the
many types of masculinities and femininities that people experience simultaneously across life domains. For instance, psychologists may encourage people struggling with their gender identities to learn about the varying communities that may support their own sense of gender, so they can find both affiliation and affirmation. Given that some people may not feel they fit in with the heterodominant, cisgender masculinities, these communities can provide support for people to live authentically and with pride. Lastly, Dr. Levitt encourages mental health practitioners to conceptualize gender with their clients from a functionalist perspective and to consult the 2011 APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients.
March 2019 Highlighting Minority Masculinities column
Dr. Amber Hewitt is the Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Nemours Children’s Health System’s National Office of Policy and Prevention. She is also a Commissioner for the District of Columbia Commission on Fathers, Men, and Boys and the Public Interest representative for the Committee on Early Career Psychologists. She was formerly an APA/AAAS policy fellow in the office of United States Senator Cory A. Booker where she worked on health and child welfare policy issues. Her research and background have focused on raising critical consciousness, African American masculinities, and improving the lives of children through health policy in Washington DC.
What initially sparked your interest in psychological work with African American men and boys of color?
While at Loyola University Chicago, my graduate school adviser, Dr. Anita Jones Thomas, was studying the gendered-racial identity and socialization experiences of African American girls. The research team created a psychoeducational curriculum designed to facilitate critical consciousness around gendered-racial stereotypes. One of the parents in the group asked if we had a curriculum for African American boys. That question sparked my interest and I then went on to develop a curriculum for African American boys with the same goals.
How have you turned these interests into your work on advocacy and public policy?
Looking from the outside, the worlds of academia and policy seem vastly different. I work as an advocate to improve the lives of kids through policies that address the social determinants of health. In my research, I became sensitive to the influence of context and systems on the lived experiences of African American boys and how African American boys can have an impact on systems. That is the same lens that I bring to my policy work. Public policy work is often siloed by issues (health, education, criminal justice, etc.). I try to bring an understanding of systems, intersectionality, and the experiences of marginalized groups into the conversation.
What are some ways the individuals you have worked with construct or experience masculinities as they relate to their minority identities?
I can say that the field of men and masculinities has historically centered White, cisgendered, straight men in the research. The African American boys and men that I’ve worked with often talk about their masculinities as deeply interconnected with their racial-ethnic identities. I also often hear a desire to assert their humanity, and manhood, which is something that I don’t often hear in so called “mainstream” experiences of masculinity.
What are some protective factors or strengths for African American men/boys and the men/boys you work most closely with in your roles?
Protective factors/strengths for African American men/boys can include racial-ethnic socialization; critical consciousness; bicultural competence; civic engagement; and mentors and positive role models who are men.
How has your work in policy and prevention impacted the way you think about the psychology of men and boys and masculinities work in psychology?
My work in policy has increased my desire to promote civic engagement among African American boys and youth in general. An understanding of public policy and the ability to connect policy to your real life experiences is very important. It creates a sense of agency and can empower youth to be socially active about issues that directly impact them. To me, this is the crux of what it means to be critically conscious.
Based on your work in policy and prevention, what are some important considerations for psychologists when it comes to working with and advocating for men and boys of color and particularly African American men and boys?
It’s important to center African American men and boys’ experiences, highlighting studies that are dedicated to studying their unique experiences – not just comparison studies and studies that have included few men of marginalized identities. It is also significant to understand the historical context of race in the United States, its current manifestations, and valuing equity and racial justice. Finally, policy and prevention work will thrive when psychologists possess an awareness of the intersection of race and policy issues (such as, criminal justice, access to health care, inequities in education, etc.).
More from Dr. Amber Hewitt is available through her blog with Psychology Today at: