TPD pp 92-94: How not to counsel one of your flock

Trigger warning: Mental health issues, terrible doctor-patient relationships, implied slut-shaming.

On Friday evening, Hank couldn’t get the upcoming business meeting off his mind, which was probably to his advantage considering the young lady sitting across from him in his little office corner of the house. He had asked Mary to stick closely around and act loving and wifely. […] The way she dressed and carried herself, Hank made sure that it was Mary who answered her knock at the door and let her in.

I do not posses a Y-chromosome. Therefore, I can’t say I really can relate to the male condition in all its physical fineness; regardless of my gender orientation, it’s entirely possible I do not have the same hormonal reactions when I am attracted to someone that a biological male would undergo. Time and time again I am told that “men* can’t help themselves”, that the mere physical presence of a reasonably-attractive female in anything less than a burqua prohibits polite interactions due to the male’s overwhelming physical response. I can’t actually speak on this topic because I have never experienced it. I’ve experienced momentary distraction by thoughts of desire, but perhaps my ease at pushing them aside has to do with the lack of a penis and Y-chromasome. On this topic, I’ve asked a real, honest-to-goodness, cisgendered male to speak:

As far as the idea that men have no self control, I think it’s a complete crock. Being a man myself, I can honestly say that I don’t find myself unable to concentrate on what a woman says because of her boobs, legs, lips, eyes, or any other attractive feature. I make note of them, but that doesn’t sway how I view their opinions. In fact, I find the entire idea to annoy the hell out of me. How exactly am I supposed to feel when it’s just assumed I’m not going to listen to what someone is saying just because they happen to be female and wearing a skirt?

Yes, I understand some men are like that, but that doesn’t mean the majority are. I’m not going to start spouting sports analogies and belching, so I shouldn’t be expected to turn into some sort of horn dog just because you happened to show a bit of skin. It’s as much of an unfair stereotype as the idea that women can’t enjoy football or that all they care about is how much money you have. It’s stupid, it’s discriminative, and I can’t wait until I won’t just be expected to act like a sexist pig because of what other people say or do.

I then informed him that the context was a pastor having a meeting with  one of his flock to discuss some problems she was having that she thought might be of a spiritual nature (specifically, hearing voices). This was his response:

 Alright, this situation is just stupid. Firstly, how the hell would you even get any sort of meaningful council if someone else is sitting there and staring at you as if waiting for you to do some sort of whore-ish thing. Because that’s what the person would obviously be thinking. Second, he’s a pastor…and he doesn’t think that he can be alone with this woman. The implication is that either A) He actually CAN’T control himself, at which point….what the hell, why are you a pastor, or B) That he doesn’t want his WIFE to think anything happened, which is even worse! So either he has no way of defending himself from her ‘feminine wiles’ or he wants to prove a point that he isn’t going to be doing anything shady with the woman to his wife…which means he’s a terrible person and doesn’t care about what the person coming to him for help is saying, even before it’s pointed out later. This is the kind of shit that makes it to where no guy who is actually decent can ever be perceived as such, and is either stupid or just trying to trick you into liking him.

I am, however, qualified to speak about mental illness and how you should approach a situation that might involve such. Carmen has been hearing voices. This little exchange rankled me:

“You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?” […]

“Uh…” Hank withdrew his hand to scratch at a nonexistent itch. “No, Carmen, I’m not– I mean, I don’t.”

[…]

“I knew you’d believe me.” […]

“Uh,” he said, trying to be comforting, sincere, and nonjudgemental. “Listen, I think it’s been a fruitful hour…”

If you honestly think someone is suffering from mental illness, please, for the love of god, don’t lie to them. I had mental health professionals smile and smile and assure me that they believed what I was saying, that they understood my point of view, and then turn around and tell my parents that I was dangerous and needed to be locked away and/or heavily medicated. Not one of them bothered to look into my situation; I was the crazy person and my mother was sane, so if my mother said I was crazy, they’d happily drug the spirit right out of me. Today I have panic attacks if I’m in a therapy situation, complete with an overwhelming compulsion to lie. Dishonesty helps nobody; it just erodes doctor-patient trust.  In this situation, Hank is standing in for a doctor; what’s Carmen going to think when she finds out he does think she’s crazy but he’s too polite to say so? What are the odds she’ll ever share that bit of herself with anyone else ever again?

It’s entirely possible I misread this situation. It’s hard to tell what Hank thinks, since all he seems to think about is the way Carmen is dressed:

Hank closed the door and leaned against it.

“Whew!” was all he could say.

“Hank,” Mary said in a veyr hushed voice. “I don’t think I liked this!”

“She’s… she’s a real hot one, she is.”

“What do you thin of what she said?”

“Ehhhhh, I’ll wait and see.”

In other words, Hank is a very shitty pastor.

*I would assume this is meant to be Cismen, but I’ve never heard this statement in a conversation that acknowledges anything but a binary directly corresponding to naughty bits.

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11 Responses to TPD pp 92-94: How not to counsel one of your flock

  1. Jarred H says:

    I’ll have more to say (incuding much agreement with your points) later, but I just wanted to comment on this:

    I then informed him that the context was a pastor having a meeting with one of his flock to discuss some problems she was having that she thought might be of a spiritual nature (specifically, hearing voices).

    As I interpret this passage, I don’t think Carmen is actually a member (or even an attending non-member) of Hank’s church. It seems like this is his first time ever meeting, and we’re given the sense that his congregation is small enough for him to know everybody and give them personal attention. While that doesn’t justify Hank’s behavior, it certainly puts this whole scene in a rather strange situation, such as wondering why Carmen is seeking the advice of a pastor who she’s never spoken with before about such sensitive matters (and why Hank isn’t inquiring about that, himself).

    • yamikuronue says:

      …yeah, I just sort of assumed she was a newish member to the church or something, because as little as I understand the urge to have all your life problems sorted out by your spiritual adviser rather than, say, a couple’s counselor or therapist or other trained professional, I understand even less the idea that you’d go to a total stranger and spill your guts based on his choice of professions, despite his having no moral or contractual obligation to help you. Lolwut?

      (that was a really long sentence. I need more sleep)

  2. Mau de Katt says:

    Some points to consider: the reason this whole passage reads so strangely to non-RTCs is that it’s, yet again, one long dog-whistle to “the in crowd.” The tone of the book is already in “Spiritual Danger Zone” red, and it’s already been established that a) there have been and continue to be Illicit Sexual Goings-on Afoot! and b) Heroic Hank is facing Spiritual Attack.

    When a gorgeous woman shows up for “counsel,” dressed and acting in deliberately provocative ways, the audience is already supposed to “know” that this isn’t an Ordinary Counselling Session. (Because women are Temptation Incarnate, going back to the apple and the snake and all that — remember, that story is Literally True to these folks — and Gorgeous Women Who Dress And Act “Slutty” are nothing BUT temptation.) Plus, for those in the “spiritual warfare” crowd, her complaint of “hearing voices” is already an indication of Demonic Influence, especially given that we’ve already seen behind-the-scenes For-The-Reallies Demons flitting about and plotting.

    So the whole scenario is geared to confirm the audience’s already existing prejudices and expectations, instead of providing any accurate portrayals of proper counseling behavior and practice. And the behaviors of Heroic Hank and Mary The Pure (couldn’t Peretti have given her a *slightly* more original name??) are seen and accepted as “proper” by the audience, in this case.

    Actually, even putting the spiritual warfare plot aside, the “Women Are Temptation” and “Men Just Can’t Control Themselves” tropes are why Hank’s behavior is seen as appropriate. One of the major “important issues” that is held to be a standard is to “not give even an appearance of impropriety.” Having someone around as a “chaperone” in mixed-gender one-on-ones is supposed to be necessary, so that the party/ies in question can then say that “nothing could have happened, because there were witnesses at all times.

    (Sadly, this has also become necessary in many secular situations — I had a male friend who was a substitute teacher back during the Satanic Panic Aftermath days, and he said he would never have a teacher/student meeting, especially with a female student, if the doors weren’t open and he and the student in question not clearly visible at all times. I don’t know if things have gotten any better since then, but in today’s litigious society, I can’t imagine that they have.)

    • yamikuronue says:

      For me, it’s not so much the (reasonable) precaution of having his wife nearby to make sure things stay appropriate as the fact that he’s entirely unhelpful because he’s spending his entire time thinking about how inappropriate this is. He offers no counsel at all, and the glimpse into his thoughts makes me a little queasy. And this is a good guy! If he can’t do his job when faced with teh ebil boobies, how on earth is he going to win a spiritual anything? Don’t they have demons with demon boobies they can use to distract him?

  3. Mau de Katt says:

    And also that Pastor Hank’s inappropriate counseling behavior is instead showing his “spiritual discernment” that “something about this situation is Not Right.”

    Instead of showing that he’s an insensitive and amateurish dolt.

    • yamikuronue says:

      Ick. We’ll have to see, I haven’t read ahead at all from this point*, but I’ll keep an eye out for signs.

      *For some reason, it’s difficult to read this book for more than my assigned sections at a time. I wonder why 😐 I only stop to shout at it every two pages, after all

  4. Taryn Fox says:

    Um, I’m an MtF transsexual who grew up assigned male in a fundie religious house.

    Hank can’t help it not because he’s male, but because this kind of bad religion does that to guys. You’re taught that Good People don’t have sex before / outside of marriage, don’t look at pornography, don’t even masturbate, and that if they do any of these things they will break their wife’s heart and lose their family and go to Hell. So naturally you’re scared to death of anything remotely sexy, and can’t stop thinking about how good it would feel to just give in and enjoy yourself.

    This is how addictions happen. It’s why they think all guys are perverts and can’t help themselves, and why they’re so strict (and then get caught in a gay strip club or with the neighbor’s kid or something). It’s not a matter of physical gender, it’s a matter of how guys are treated and taught. My “addiction” magically went away once it was okay to look at cute guys and girls and to enjoy porn, and I basically got bored of it.

    You used the word “cisgender” so I assume you’re trying to be trans-inclusive, but I personally felt a bit alienated by your talking about a “real” cisgender guy, and using y-chromosomes and penises to suggest what “real” means. >.>; I know you’re getting at the presumption that this is something about a natal male’s reproductive system and his or her experiences that you don’t understand, it was just a little discouraging to see you express it that way.

    I do want to say that I’m really enjoying this series, and I’ve been reading through it in order and hope to continue it. >.>b Thank you for sharing your experiences as well. I really sympathize.

    • yamikuronue says:

      I didn’t mean to offend; I was merely repeating and thus holding up for criticism unfounded beliefs about maleness that I have been exposed to in the past. I wholeheartedly agree that it has nothing to do with either his penis or his gender identity; furthermore, I reject the notion that he can’t help it at all. But I didn’t want to make bold assertions without being biologically male because technically I have no personal experience of any strange phenomenon tied to the male sex (as opposed to the male gender).

      Sorry, I can get a bit harsh when I’m putting myself down. It was never my intention to alienate my transgendered readers.

    • yamikuronue says:

      I edited some of the offending sentences in the hopes of being more clear. And then I spent ten minutes fighting with WordPress about why it was actually published back in January and not today, but I think that’s fixed now. Let me know if there’s other instances that are troubling 🙂

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