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Bathhouse shrink faces honour and prejudice in home country

Bathhouse shrink faces honour and prejudice in home country

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Toronto's Towel Talk program brings therapy to bathhouses
A gay Toronto psychoanalyst candidiate doing cutting-edge outreach work in bathhouses is being honoured this week at an international conference in his home country of Mexico. The bitter irony is that in Mexico, gay people often face barriers in becoming psychoanalysts.

“Ever since I was a kid I thought, One day I will be an analyst, and one day I’m going to present my work, and one day I will explain the work that I do within the population of people I work with,” Marco Posadas told Xtra before leaving to attend the International Psychoanalytical Studies Organization (IPSO) conference in Mexico City, running Aug 3 to 6. “That dream is now coming true.”

Before studying in Toronto, Posadas and his partner moved their life to Canada, in part because of the prevalence of homophobia in the field of psychoanalysis in Mexico City, an unwritten rule that gay people should not enter the profession.

“Because I am gay it is difficult in Mexico. Some institutions will not train homosexuals,” he says. “It is opening up a bit, but it comes down to the people in these organizations. It’s been passed on as an assumption that homosexuals were not suitable candidates to become psychoanalysts.”


“So that’s quite a journey I’ve had, to now go back to my hometown and talk about this. I am expecting questions, and I hope people question me on this. The only way to move forward gay rights is we need to not preach to the choir.”

“Mexico is a country with massive contrasts. So while there are gay refugees from Mexico that come to Canada seeking asylum, there is also gay marriage in Mexico City. One reason is that the church is really involved in politics.”

Since 2009, Posadas has been doing groundbreaking work with the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT). Several times a week, he ventures out to visit bathhouses, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Wanna Talk?”

Towel Talk is an outreach program that “targets men who have fallen through the cracks of the mental health system,” he says. Funded through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the program has been enormously successful at raising awareness about harm reduction and HIV prevention.

“The goal is always to reduce transmission of HIV and STI,” he says. “So we believe that talking in the right moment can help men make the decision that is best for them.”

In each bathhouse – Steamworks, Spa Excess and Central Spa – Posadas and two other counsellors do three-hour shifts. Clinic hours begin when the sign goes up that says, ‘The counsellor is in.’ Unlike the clients, the counsellors keep their pants on.

“So we might go to Steamworks on Monday at 6am to catch the guys who have been partying all weekend, or an evening through the week… Once inside, lots of guys are curious. They ask, ‘Why are you here?’ or ‘Why aren’t you wearing a towel?’”

That’s just the icebreaker Posadas needs -- anything to push open the door and turn small talk into a productive session. “It’s a time where men can talk about anything they need support in -- relationships, depression, being married to a man or a woman, HIV disclosure, substance abuse, housing, immigration, anything.”

Posadas says he is creating a therapeutic alliance with men who might not normally want to access an organization like ACT for fear of stigma, he says. “Guys don’t want to be identified HIV positive, whether they are positive or not.”

After the bathhouse counselling session, the men may choose to continue with the therapy. If so, Posadas sets up sessions at ACT or he might refer them to other resources. “So far the reaction in the community has been amazing support. The response has been very warm.”

Since nudity is understood and sex surrounds the sessions, the men often open up more than they would in an office.

“People are often surprised to run into a counsellor at a bathhouse,” he says. “The surprise factor actually helps tap into much more complicated material.”

Towel Talk is just one of the innovative ways ACT is getting the message out to the community. In May, condom packs distributed at the Inside Out Film Festival drew controversy when a few people expressed concern that ACT seemed to be promoting barebacking. Not so, ACT’s spokesperson, Andrew Brett, told Xtra at the time. The condom pack is simply meant to remind people that there is always a choice when it comes to sex, regardless of how dirty and kinky the sex is. And ACT has harm-reduction tips for everyone.

In Towel Talk’s first year, Posadas had about 88 counselling sessions.

After two years of the program and more than 250 sessions, Towel Talk continues to expand, and Posadas has been documenting the research every step of the way. “There is not a lot of work done in sexualized environments, bringing mental health to community-based spaces where men do seek therapeutic counselling sessions.”

The paper Posadas submitted won first place from the IPSO and was awarded with the international writing award. It will be published in the next edition of the IPSO journal. The honour also means he is one of the keynote speakers at the conference, fulfilling another childhood dream of presenting his work to a roomful of colleagues.

Every two years the IPSO Congress hosts a conference in a different city. “Two years ago it was in Chicago, two years from now it will be in Paris, and this year is in Mexico City.”

It is the largest professional conference in the world for psychoanalysts, Posadas says, and brings together more than 2,000 analysts from all over the world.

For more information on Towel Talk, visit ACT’s website.

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Comments

The issue
I think is the piece itself leaves more questions than anything. However there is also the issue of people not truly understanding and paying attention to what they DO, and the subsequent results. People have generally become completely disconnected from their actions, they have been bought and sold into this devolved and corrupt culture. Their investments (body, mind and spiritual) are entirely given over to this devolved and corrupt culture, that insists, that rather than try to reflect upon themselves and one's deeds, truly, they must invest their energies defending their investments and thereby breed division. Which in this devolved and corrupt culture is rewarded. There is division here.
there just a bunch
of jealous haters.
Sad...
A person could really become quite demoralized after reading all the nasty comments from readers. Tones of xenophobia, misdirected anger, accusations against a man's integrity, and suggestions that men at bathhouses interested in speaking to a professional therapist are "vulnerable and mostly disenfranchised" and being taken advantage of. Whew! It is no wonder that homophobia continues to run rampant through Canadian social, cultural, and political institutions and structures. It's no wonder that so many gay men refuse to volunteer their time or offer their skills professionally to a community full of individuals so quick to cry for the blood of their brothers. It's sickening. It's unfair. And it only reinforces the violence and betrayal that so many (i said so many.. not all.. I know some of you are looking for a way to hang me even as you read this) gay men are forced to endure through our early years and in many cases, throughout our lifetimes. Gay men's health does not exist in isolation of the health of our gay communities. The health of our communities is reflected in the way we treat/mistreat each other. Internal attacks divide us when we need to work together to advance our human and sexual rights and those of others. I don't have any great hope that angry, hurt, unwell gay men will spontaneously transform into more compassionate, friendly, and emotionally healthy individuals overnight. But without the work of individual gay men and our allies, along with the community organizations and structures that we create to support that work, who the f*%k do you think is going to dedicate the effort required to end the violence and heal the hurt, and protect the rights of gay men (+ other queers) in a world where those that would seek to roll back our advances and to imprison or kills us for who we are have not given up on advancing their own agenda??? --- I for one want to say YAY to Marco and let him know that I have his back. And thank you Marc
don't shoot the messenger
I think the issue here is not about the poor guy featured in the story, but is about ACT. With all the bullshit ACT has pulled and with it under fire on all sides as a bloated insular useless money pit, to feature a STAR employee is bound to draw fire. If you read the comments, they are less about Marco and more about ACT.
Proud
Marco, GO, GO, GO! I have worked for different gay communities in Mexico including Censida and here you would not ever had the support you found in Canada, unless you were related to a someone from the government or seeked to work your frustrations though an organization. There is no funding for any long term program in this country, not even for condom use, so please, to all the ENVIOUS Mexican gay psycotherapists, GET REAL!!!! This country is way behind, and piece of paper doesn´t make you an expert, probably better if you are modest and empathize.
Faboulous!
.....larger than life! Go Marco go!
Seriously???
To all of you who feel the need to try and tear someone down, do you homework first. Why attack someone from your own community who has worked so hard??

I completed my Master of Social Work with Marco (which in Ontario means we are able to practice legally as psychotherapists - Marco has done a TON of extra training as a psychoanalist candidate), and he is a well respected colleague and friend. Shame on those of you who hate.

Way to go Marco!

love you

Cheri
John Maxwell? Clarification?
What is it you have clarified? Seriously? I've read the piece thoroughly and ALL the comments. I don't get what you're clarifying.
Clarification
For clarification, Marco gives men the opportunity to have follow-up sessions at ACT or other locations - including his own private practice office, however he does not charge men for these sessions.
I know eh?
They are all just a bunch of jealous haters. To all you haters out there, get a life.

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