Robert Snellgrove’s life has been one of caring about others. Although he had a strong sense of social justice since childhood, it was the AIDS epidemic that precipitated a life-changing career choice.
Snellgrove was born in Atlanta in 1953. He was the youngest of three children, with an older brother and sister. His father worked in an industrial sales job, and his mother was a homemaker. In 1962, the family moved to Houston when Snellgrove was nine.
“The book helps readers to heal and become their authentic selves—to be the individuals they were born to be, and to live life fully.”
Snellgrove always loved creative things, especially art. He began to draw at an early age, and was encouraged by his art teachers and his parents. He still has a vivid memory of visiting a Rodin sculpture exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, when he was ten. “I was very moved by those sculptures,” he says.
Theater also fascinated Snellgrove. He remembers the excitement he felt when he saw Huck Finn at the old Alley Theater. His love for theater would remain with him into adulthood.
Snellgrove continued to follow his passion for art as he moved from drawing into painting. He enrolled in numerous art classes and participated in summer art programs.
One day, Snellgrove’s mother suggested that he might like architecture, and he began to explore that field. “I used to cut up the cardboard that comes in laundered shirts and build model houses,” he recalls.
A Career in Architecture
Snellgrove attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock and earned a degree in architectural design. He remembers being an introverted student who didn’t date.
After college, Snellgrove returned to Houston and worked for three architectural firms. He came out during his time as a draftsman at the first firm, after realizing that there were several other gay employees there.
Shortly after coming out, Snellgrove participated in the 1977 Houston protest march when anti-gay icon Anita Bryant came to town. “I’ve never seen anything like it since,” he says. “People came out from everywhere. It was an incredible experience.”
At the third firm he worked at, he was assigned to do very high-end interior-design work for the executive offices of large oil companies. He became a senior associate and continued in that field for more than a decade.
Responding to the AIDS Crisis
As the AIDS epidemic began to play out, Snellgrove saw a need to get involved. “A horrible thing was happening—people were dying, and a lot of people were hurting. People were isolated and sometimes even shunned by their own community. I saw that something was wrong, and it bothered me.”
In 1984, Snellgrove joined the fledgling AIDS Foundation Houston. He attended a weekend of intensive training and volunteered with the buddy program and the crisis hotline. He eventually headed up the hotline program, training and scheduling volunteers.
Snellgrove remembers one hotline call that had a powerful impact on him. A mother from Pasadena said that her son was flying to Houston, and she didn’t know how her husband would react to the news that their son had AIDS. “She was lost. She had no one to talk to. She just needed someone to listen.”
On another night, Snellgrove was alone working the hotline when someone called and said he was going to come and kill him. Snellgrove hung up, but the man called back and repeated the threat. “It was very disturbing.
I closed down the office and left.”
The one day at his architecture firm, Snellgrove had an experience that left him even more committed to making the AIDS crisis his first priority. He was working on an executive office project, and the executive called him in to complain. “The man was on his hands and knees searching for flaws in the wood floor. He showed me one tiny spot that hadn’t been stained. I felt that something was very wrong. The AIDS organizations were held together with bandages and tape, and all around me people were dying. And here was an executive complaining about the slightest of flaws.”
In 1988, Snellgrove became involved with the Bering Support Network. Although only 15 people attended on the first night, the network quickly grew. “We wanted people living with AIDS to know that we would eat with them, hug them, be with them. For them, it was a huge thing to be fully accepted at that time.”
Snellgrove also began to do a lot of hospital visitation work at Park Plaza and Twelve Oaks, where people from the Bering Support Network were hospitalized. “They were becoming isolated, and many times had no families to support them. I visited and talked with them. Sometimes I would talk with partners and mothers. They all just needed someone to be there for them.”
Snellgrove says that he has had a sense of social justice since he was young, especially after the death of the family’s African-American housekeeper who had helped raise him. “Mary was given penicillin for an infection, and had an allergic reaction. She was denied treatment because she did not have health insurance. I was ten years old, and it had a traumatic effect on me.”
“I’d always had an appreciation for creativity and beauty,” he says, “but social issues have to be addressed. I felt it was wrong to just sit by and be quiet. I had a responsibility to respond to injustice. I began to have a distorted view of the world. All around me, people were dying. There was so much frustration. Sometimes I would attend three memorial services in a week.”
Snellgrove also saw many people in the architectural design industry die of AIDS. He went to Washington, DC for AIDS marches. “It was very moving to look back down the street, and as far as I could see, there were candles.”
In 1989, Snellgrove decided he wanted to make a career change, and enrolled in the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. He attended night school for two years, and then began full-time coursework. In 1992, he received a degree in clinical social work.
Snellgrove felt very much at home in graduate school. “It was a good fit, and I liked the environment. It affirmed my sense of social justice.” His first placement was working 40 hours a week for a local food bank. It was a front-line experience for him. He interviewed people seeking assistance and helped them find the most effective way to get back on their feet.
In 1995, Snellgrove met Tony Waguespack at the Fitness Exchange gym. A relationship quickly developed, and they moved in together in 1997. That same year, they had a commitment ceremony at First Unitarian Church with 150 friends in attendance.
In 2009, the couple got a domestic partnership in Vermont before finally getting legally married in New York City in 2014. They flew to New York, got their license, and waited the required 24 hours before getting married at City Hall.
As they were getting dressed for their wedding, they realized that Waguespack had left his tuxedo shirt studs in Houston, so they stopped at the 34th Street Macy’s on their way to City Hall. There were no shirt studs on the sales floor, but the sales staff liked the couple so much that they searched everywhere and finally found a set.
Waguespack works as a physical therapist at Thomas Street Clinic, where he has been employed for the past 20 years.
“Never for one moment have I regretted the decision to love that man. It is the best thing I ever did in my life,” Snellgrove says.
A New Career in Psychotherapy
After graduation, Snellgrove did a second placement at the Montrose Center, where he spent two years as head of the chemical dependency program. He then became director of the Bering Care Center, a position he held for seven years.
Snellgrove started a small part-time psychotherapy practice in 1994. By 2003, he had built it into a full-time practice.
He says the most rewarding thing about his practice is seeing people grow. “All the time I hear people ask me how I can listen to all these stories from my clients. The wonderful thing is watching people become whole.”
Snellgrove says that he has learned over the years to help people truly embrace all of themselves as being okay, and to wrap their arms around their humanness. “We don’t need to be perfect. We are perfect in our imperfection.”
Snellgrove believes that the biggest problem for gay people is shame. “There are things we have been taught, and at an early age. Those messages have a powerful effect. It’s about more than our sexuality—it’s about our identity.”
He also feels that family acceptance is important. “There is a lot of emotional pain when families don’t embrace us.”
Two current issues that concern Snellgrove the most are immigration and homeless LGBTQ youth. He works to be supportive of both.
In 2017, Snellgrove began working on his book entitled The Masculine Eros, which was published in late 2018. The book started to develop along with classes that he offered at the Jung Center. The classes walked participants through a healing process.
It took a year to write the book, and he gave himself exactly that amount of time to complete it. He decided to write the book in order to clarify his thoughts and create a structure for all the therapy approaches he had learned. “It gave all those thoughts a concise, logical, sequential structure. I felt that if I couldn’t communicate them in a book, then I wasn’t clear on what they were. It forced me to learn and grow. I always need to be learning and growing.”
He says the book “helps readers to heal and become their authentic selves—to be the individuals they were born to be, and to live life fully.”
Snellgrove’s life has been one of caring. He feels that in today’s political environment there is a lot of callousness toward those who are the most vulnerable. “But there are still a lot of people who do care,” he emphasizes.
At 67 years of age, Snellgrove looks back on his life and says, “We grow and change and evolve and find out what matters—and find that stuff we worried about earlier doesn’t really matter.”
For more information about Robert Snellgrove, visit robertsnellgrove.com.
Thriving in a Toxic World
Robert Snellgrove’s new book offers wisdom for troubled times.
By Brandon Wolf
The Masculine Eros is a timely book by Houston therapist Robert Snellgrove, who helps readers learn how to live in an increasingly toxic world without becoming toxic themselves. The author explains why it is essential to become our authentic selves even during times when society seems to be in danger of losing its soul.
This book is a collection of insights that often resonated with Snellgrove’s clients over the last 27 years. His style is warm, humorous, and always human. Snellgrove says that his purpose in writing the book was to impart a sense of hope during troubled times. “People need a sense of fullness—of embracing life and living it wholly.”
Snellgrove wrote the book after presenting a workshop at the local Jung Center entitled The Healing Power of Eros, to help participants reawaken their lives. The material he had pulled together was too much for a single workshop, so he decided to bring it together in written form. Throughout the book, readers are challenged to keep a journal and answer questions, requiring them to look deep into themselves and honestly evaluate their thoughts and feelings.
Eros, the Life Force
Snellgrove uses ancient mythology and entertaining folk tales to present complex psychological terms in a way that makes them easier to understand. He feels that the ancient Greeks were geniuses of the human psyche who understood the various needs and desires of the human experience.
The author is particularly interested in Eros, the passionate god of love and desire, who pierced the hearts of both mortals and gods with his magical quivers. Snellgrove explains the Eros is not merely about erotic love, but about an incredible life force. The mythology of Eros evolved in the eighth through the third centuries B.C.E. During this time, Eros rose from being one of many gods to becoming the first among the gods.
In the mythological world, originally there was chaos before the birth of Eros brought light and healing to the universe. It is for this reason the author has chosen Eros as a symbol of what the world needs today.
The life force of Eros can be divided into four categories: positive masculine, positive feminine, negative masculine, and negative feminine. Snellgrove does not suggest that males are dominant over females, but rather that both males and females can equally embody these four sources of energy.
Positive masculine is assertiveness, while negative masculine is aggression. Positive feminine is the healthy containment of feelings and expressing them at the right time. Negative feminine is uncontrolled feelings.
Snellgrove sees what he feels is an alarming increase in negative masculine behavior today, with some factions of society actually celebrating it.
In Greek mythology, the gods had our human traits, both positive and negative. They could be generous, but they could also vengeful if humanity ignored them. Snellgrove suggests that if we don’t honor Eros, that boundless source of life and love, his revenge is to leave us lifeless and filled with depression, anxiety, compulsions, and self-destructive behavior.
The Journey of Individuation
Snellgrove focuses on the basic human process of individuation—becoming authentic beings who look to their own thoughts and instincts. We must separate from the warm embrace of what we were raised to believe and set out on a journey of self-discovery, experiencing defeats and victories. It is only through this process that we can return home, stronger but also more humble.
The author reveals many of the blocks to achieving authenticity, and demonstrates how we can transcend them. Through a variety of photographs from his friend Gary Laird’s book The Male Nude: A Personal Journey, he illustrates a range of different feelings and asks the reader to look carefully into the photographs to view the subjects’ emotions.
While reading the book, we are challenged to think and live “outside the lines.” During a time in our nation’s history when aggression and repression have become the new normal, it is important for us to still care. To care means to suffer while also continuing to remain compassionate.
James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author, says of the book: “Robert Snellgrove’s thoughtful study is an effort to reclaim the power of this transcendent energy already at work in our lives. The cost of reducing Eros to mere sexuality is the pathological narrowing of this transpersonal urge for connection, for life-affirming exuberance, and for generativity, whether in men or in women. Reclaiming and redeeming such energies is [an essential part of] the healing process, and The Masculine Eros is an articulate addition to that redemptive project.”
Originally following a career in architecture, the realities of the AIDS epidemic prompted Snellgrove to change course and become a licensed psychotherapist, opening a practice in Montrose in 1992.
Snellgrove is a lifelong political and social activist who has participated in many human-rights movements, both locally and nationally. He is a strong advocate for the disenfranchised.
An abstract-expressionist painter during his free time, Snellgrove lives in the Houston Museum District with Tony, his spouse of 21 years.
This article appears in the March 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.