Growing Sideways (Sexually and Relationally)

by Chris Donaghue, Ph.D., LCSW, CS

Rage Monthly

Sunday January 19, 2014

Psychological health and fitness are inherently built into marginalized and minority communities due to their ability to ignore institutionalized norms, leading to a truly alternative lifestyle of choice.

Assimilationist mentalities (in terms of sexual-relational decision-making) limit the ability for both authentic individual choices and room for growth and are not diagnostic of health. Attempts to direct one's sexual-relational life toward a pre-chosen social vision of "health" allows too much room for a hierarchal division of right versus wrong. The resultant shame has a toxic effect upon one's psychological and sexual-relational fitness.

Traditional communities and sexual majorities have created a "developmental trajectory" that some members of marginalized communities have needlessly internalized to determine their own behaviors. "Straight" culture has co-opted the idea of "growing up," whereas queerer communities have chosen to instead "grow sideways."

The burden of the concept of "maturity" and all the socially constructed assumptions that parasitically attach to it, demonstrate a lack of fitness due to notions of what an individual should be doing at his or her age. Psychology and culture have an obsession with psycho-social "stages of development" and carry with them an assessment and evaluation. To grow "sideways" instead of "up" is to ignore the social constraints for each chronological stage - especially within sex and relationships.

There are typical patterns of social maturation and development, but evolution outside this trajectory is far from problematic and pathological. Examination of ghettoized subcultures reveals homogenized and non-normative expressions of socialization. Many have seen the facial acknowledgment/expression of "normal" peers when one discusses chosen singledom, often seen as a sin due to the lack of marriage or children. Some cannot fathom a lifestyle, identity and social world built solely on career and pleasure-based attributes. A life centered around dating, career and socializing can be viewed as "lacking" and potentially "immature."

Maturity is subjective, built from the health of an individuated and consciously chosen life. My career has shown me heinous examples of lives chosen by others and by "norms" and false demonstrations of "maturity." Being single, career-centered, or socially driven is not regressive or primitive. Growing "sideways" allows for the absolving of normative judgment and expectations upon ones lifestyle.

Crafting one's sexual-relational self does not have to occur in a linear fashion. "Sideways" allows for growth back and forth without judgment. Getting older does not have to have social or psychological implications.

Not all cultures involve the tension of nuclear family versus outer social world. I see a multitude of urban couples who have children and yet maintain full social lives distinct from family lives. Walt Whitman, with a post-modern social constructionist lens stated, "I am large. I contain multitudes." This is a nod to the healthy ability for all of us to be many distinct people at the same time.

I witness far too many attacks on those who do not center on certain aspects in their lives. We all get to choose our priorities and anything short of that is an oppressive form of social policing. I've sat through far too many consultations listening to therapists proselytizing about the importance and primacy of family. Really? Is that not a moral value judgment rather than a psychologically sound concept? Sexual-relational psychology has no room for this subjective externally referented mind control. A liberation-centered individual lives with a trajectory that is self-directed and self-chosen.

I often look to the lifestyles of my minoritarian friends. Their historical legacy and inherent struggles to create their own model of relationship and commitment, demonstrate individuation and differentiation. My transgender consorts always remind me of the importance of self-definition. The act of allowing oppressive institutions to determine anything solid about an individual is abusive and intolerable, yet is allowed and recognized as acceptable. My queer comrades inspire, as they remind us to disidentify and grow sideways.

Psychological fitness and sexual-relational health are generated by self-esteem. This is born from living outside the concepts of "age" and "development." Following externally created norms of chronology dehumanizes and builds rejection of self by self and other.

For more from Christopher Donaghue follow his blog at, follow him on twitter: @chrisdonaghue, or his website at

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