Clinician Spotlight: Howard Curtis, LMFT

November 13, 2017 in Featured Article, inQueery

Howard & Shoji

Tell us about yourself.  (Pronouns, where you’re from, what you do, or anything else important!)

Pronoun: To tell the truth, when PC staff asked me what pronoun I preferred, I said that I preferred the Mandarin Chinese pronouns “ta/ta/” because they apply to all three grammatical genders of “he she it” (or “he shit” as my mother used to say).  That way, there is no “privileging” of one gender over another—and besides, it is nobody’s business what genitalia I am sporting under my clothing!  But, when the pictures were posted on the board in the front office, I saw that it said I was “he/him/his”.  I wondered what was the point of asking me what pronoun I preferred when I just ended up being assigned the conventional one society has always assigned to me!

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, a kingdom that was taken by armed force against its queen who was forced to abdicate by American business interests.  Although I am an American citizen, I feel because of this historical fact, I am quicker to see the motivations behind this country’s actions in the world.  After I was born, my mother brought me to California, a land that was stolen from Mexico by armed force. Another historical fact forming my view of the world.

I do therapy at PC and EBAC.

As a child, I was confused because my father was Catholic and my mother was Protestant.  In those days, a lot of people assumed the members of the other faction were going to hell.  In trying to figure out which was the “true religion” I came to the conclusion that the “true religion” was the one that I figured out for myself.  I think this informs my therapy work.  I have several religious clients and I respect their beliefs and practices and encourage them to use their religion as a resource.  Well, true, I might be a little subversive at times when I feel they are letting their religion guilt trip them too much!  And I do my best to perform a “homophobiectomy”.

How long have you been involved with Pacific Center? How did you get started? What aspect of your role here do you like best?

My first job out of college was a social services worker for Aid to Families with Dependent Children.  I actually loved the job until Ronald Reagan was elected governor and suddenly we were “converting” from having 60 cases to having 300.  I quit in time to save my health, but just drifted jobwise until age 30 when I got a job at the phone company.  My draft board had classified me 1-Y (“Physically, mentally or morally unfit”—I wasn’t morally fit to go and kill Vietnamese), and the telephone company wanted to know why I hadn’t served in the army.  By chance, at a holiday party given by a gay friend, a psychiatrist overheard my worry about what to tell the phone company.  He said to tell them that in college I had dated a girl and assumed that when we graduated we would get married.  But, she had turned me down for someone else, I was so broken up that I decompensated.  He told me that if they wanted verification to have them call him and he would tell them that he had treated me.  It worked!  I got the job at Pacific Bell and worked for them for 25 years and pretty much hated every minute of it.

I was able to get therapy for four of those 25 years, and only had to pay $25 a session because of the company health insurance.  When I “graduated” from the phone company at age 55, I volunteered for a year at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, and then realized I could get my master’s degree in counseling psychology at JFK and provide psychotherapy to people who needed it but couldn’t afford it.

At JFK, Deborah, one of the counselors suggested that I apply at Pacific Center to do my internship.  But, I went to a job fair and there were so many people gathered around the Pacific Center table, that I figured the competition would be too great, so I gave up on the plan.  But, when I graduated, Deborah was one of the JFK staff handing the diploma to the graduates.  As she handed me my diploma, she said, “Don’t forget to apply at the Pacific Center”.  That was in 2003.  I applied, was able to finish my internship and get my license.  I’m not really an entrepreneurial person, and I like doing therapy, so I figured why not stay on as long as they will keep me.

What aspects of my role here do I like the best?  Hmm.  I guess I will answer that by saying that when I was a young gay man, I assumed that I wouldn’t live very long, or if I did, that I would be a lonely broken old man.  That was the message our culture was giving us.  My friend Gerardo said that at age 30 when no one would want him anymore, he would enter a monastery.  (He didn’t—he’s retired in Mazatlán!)  I like to imagine that my presence here is broadcasting a message to younger LGBT people:  you can grow old and live a fulfilling and happy life.

Any hobbies?  What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bay Area?

I sing in a Gregorian chant choir and dance in a Hula Dance group that performs at Senior Centers and nursing homes and the Center for Elder Independence.  My favorite things to do in the Bay Area are enjoying the foods and celebrations of the many ethnicities here, and spending time by the ocean and the bay.

What LGBTQ, or social justice issues more broadly, are most important to you?  Why?

Social justice issues?  I think our gay liberation movement has been co-opted by the establishment now that they realize we have disposable income to donate to their parties and our votes might swing an election, so they kiss us on the cheeks.  But, I’m not convinced their love for us is sincere.  I’ve read that when Hungary first became a democracy, Hungarian Magyars were not enough of a majority to gain control of their parliament because there were so many different ethnic minorities living on the peripheries of Hungary.  So, they invited the Jews to consider themselves Hungarians and vote with them so they could get a majority.  After World War I and the Treaty of Trianon, which trimmed Hungary’s borders allowing the ethnic minorities to become part of their own countries, the Hungarians no longer needed the Jews in order to get a majority and were quite willing to turn them over to the Nazis when Hitler took over. So, I think we should enjoy our day in the sun realizing that it could be temporary and that we could be dropped if we were deemed no longer necessary.>/strong>

Some people might think I’m cynical, but I don’t think so, I’m just noticing the cynicism around me.  My real concern is that America will never have peace as long as we invade other countries with some b.s. excuse, when the real reason is because the corporations who buy our politicians have an economic interest in being there.
Who inspires you?  Why?

Our very own LGBTQ Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.  These two have made supreme sacrifices to alert the American public about the underhanded things the government has been doing in our name.  Chelsea languishes in the brig, and Edward spends his life in exile, while the people who committed the wrongdoings they exposed have gone scott free.  I stopped going to Gay Pride after they dissed Chelsea Manning.  That only confirmed my suspicion that we have been co-opted.  Big money would have been withdrawn if we had taken a principled stand.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

The best thing that ever happened to me?  I met my husband, Shoji, 24 years ago.  And four years ago, at age 70, I married my by-then 60-year old husband.  Therein lies a tale too long to recount here, but if you’re curious, ask me about it sometime!

I love working at the Pacific Center because I can provide the same kind of relief that I received when I got therapy for four years at Pacific Bell before the coverage was phased out. There are so many people who simply cannot afford what I consider exorbitant prices for therapy.  I don’t think of it as working with “sick” people, but as working with “normal” people who are facing some difficult challenges oftentimes with distorted mindsets acquired in childhood from our misguided society.  I’ve heard of therapists who worked until they were 100 years old.  I sometimes feel like aiming for the same goal.  Wish me luck.