Why do I have these feelings?

Taking a break from book writing, and inspired by the Satel article, I put some thoughts together than might be an op-ed when they grow up.

In my clinical work and on my website, I receive many inquiries from people who experience homosexual attractions. Most often, the writers are distressed by their feelings and want some advice or assistance. One of the most frequent questions I get is, “why do I have these feelings?”

The question is natural enough. Although widely discussed in the culture, having attractions to the same sex is statistically infrequent. The percentage of the population who identify as gay has been pegged at between 2-3%, so asking why one is in the minority reflects a natural human curiosity about being different.

However, what most people really want to know is what made them gay? Some questioners wonder if they inherited the feelings and many others wonder if their feelings came from conflicts with their parents.

My responses begin with an academic bent. I first inform them that there are many contradictory research findings. Some studies implicate pre-natal factors, while others point to a role for social environment, including family. I tell them that there is a group of researchers that line up on the side of biology, with others more aligned with the environmental camp, with still others (myself included) who see both nature and nurture as working together in different ways for different people to lead to one’s sexuality. However, I rarely stop there.

I ask what difference it would make to them if they knew why. In other words, how would knowing why help you in your life?

I ask because my research and experience leads me to be skeptical of two related ideas that permeate the field of psychotherapy generally and specifically, among those who help people make peace with homosexual desires. The first idea is that one can know with certainty why one feels attracted to the same sex. The second is that knowledge of why directly leads to an elimination or acceptance of homosexual attractions.

Recently Sally Satel, psychiatrist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute covered similar ground in a New York Times essay. Writing about addictions, she says,

Reconstructing the story of one’s life is a complicated business for other reasons. What scientists call hindsight bias kicks in when we try to figure out the causal chain of events leading to the current situation. We may well come up with a tidy story but, inevitably, it will contain large swaths of revisionist history. It’s not that we bias ourselves deliberately; it happens because the mind tends to make events in the past appear comprehensible and orderly. We forget the uncertainties that might have beset us as we struggled in real time.

To be sure, humans seem driven to explain. Wondering why a co-worker didn’t say hello or why one fears speaking in public is a natural part of our mental lives. However as social psychologists teach us, we are biased observers, not only of others but of ourselves. Furthermore, human memory is far from being a tape recorder. Rather, our present memories are fuzzy reconstructions, sometimes involving events that never occurred, motivated by a need to reduce confusion.

Bias may also enter our deliberations because tidbits of our experience may conform to narratives we find in the culture or among social groups we like. About this phenomenon, Satel says,

Narratives are shaped also by a natural tendency to focus on information that confirms theories we already hold. These theories — for example, that molested children are likely to grow up to have sexual compulsions of their own — may be imbibed from the media, self-help books or therapists.

Dr. Satel’s illustration about child abuse is reminiscent of the frequent narrative offered by many conservative groups that homosexual attractions derive from detached relations with same-sex parents or from childhood abuse. However, pro-gay therapists may gravitate toward the media fueled narrative that regards homosexual attractions as being invariably inborn and immutable, despite weak evidence to that effect. Complicating the search for many people I work with is that they can scan their lives and find evidence for both narratives. Research has demonstrated that many therapists selectively ask questions and respond more favorably to information from clients that fit therapists’ theories. Thus, certain events may seem more meaningful when trusted advisors and conventional wisdom unite to provide a coherent story.

So people are biased observers and we really don’t know for sure why anyone feels attracted to the same sex. Doesn’t psychotherapy rely on psychological investigation to get results? Surely people feel better when they learn why, don’t they?

Dr Satel addresses this question well, writing,

If our own accounts of our actions are often so slanted and embellished, is composing them simply a misbegotten quest? Surely not. To a therapist, the attempt signals that patients are aware that they have a problem worthy of attention. And the narratives themselves can help them make sense out of confusion. This, in turn, can diminish anxiety and exaggerated guilt. Such relief might be sufficient in and of itself for some, or, depending on the goals of therapy, it could embolden a patient to make further healthy adjustments.

Searching for why may provide some benefit but it does not lead to a value judgment. I submit that whether one is born gay or is socialized to become gay, one still must make a value based decision about how one wants to live.

Case in point, one of my clients initially came to believe the reason he was drawn to men was due to his father’s distance and lack of love. This insight was powerful, meaningful, and full of emotion. However, even after this recognition, and an emotional reconciliation with his father, my client felt very little decline in his attractions to men. He decided perhaps he was predisposed to homosexuality. However, due to his religious convictions, he determined not to pursue gay relationships. He gained more satisfaction from therapy and his life when he stopped seeking insight and started to implement strategies to help him in the present.

So after why, perhaps, the better question is: “now what?”

49 thoughts on “Why do I have these feelings?”

  1. Jamie,

    I think Timothy’s link sounds like a more direct line than searching ‘affirmative’ under churches as I suggested earlier.

    Thanks for your honesty and openness, BTW, and ‘welcome aboard!’… I see you’ve found us up on the current thread.

    LOL! In the midst of the other advice, I don’t think I made it clear that THIS would also be a good place for you to ‘hang out’ and find fellowship while you’re deciding your next steps. I see on the current thread that you’ve already found your way to the SIT materials. I admire your tenacity and ‘follow through’.

    (Warning: we actually tend to blog less on weekends so if things get quiet for a day or two, don’t worry. Things will pick up again come Monday.)

  2. Thank you all for the info.

    Here’s some comments regarding all your replies and Eddy’s questions:

    1). I never really did identify as gay when I was a kid. But as I grew up I realised that I was in denial about my attraction to other guys. Do I call myself gay? I don’t like to label myself as it always means something else to different people. But yeah I’m pretty sure I’m SSA or whatever you want to call it. I just can’t imagine being intimate with a girl, it feels weird and wrong.

    2). Identifying as such is a problem for me as I’m a Christian. And all I ever heard all my life was that homosexuality was a perversion (that usually involved molesters, crazed lunatics and the like). But I know now it’s not that black and white. That might have been why I was in denial about it for so long, I didn’t see myself as some pervert.

    Okay, sure, I’m not proud about the fact I’ve lusted and fantasized about other guys my age. That has conflicted with my Christian beliefs. But having come to grips with that and not being as – how do i say this – …randy and full of hormones as when I was a teenager, I am now at a crossroad.

    I don’t see myself as a pervert, I don’t want to use other human beings just for their bodies. I want to be in a fulfilling relationship. But I feel like a freak at times, because this isn’t considered ‘normal’. And with all the bad role models and gay subculture that exists, I often wonder, is this where all gays are destined to go? Partying, drugs, sex, disease and superficiality?? This leads on to the next point below.

    3). I feel alone in the world, I don’t know who trust about this. There are well meaning pastors who try and understand….but can never really do when they are heterosexual. There are other pastors who condemn the ‘lifestyle’ and the ‘choices’ made by these men and women who have ‘chosen’ to lead such an immoral path.

    Then there’s the pro-gay groups who encourage the sexual liberation and encourage others to experiment. There are groups who try to cause doubt about the Bible and say that “all those ancients were doing all sorts of bad stuff, we can’t be sure what’s right and wrong in that book”. etc

    I know that was showing extremes, but that’s what I encounter usually, though not always. I feel like someone should speak up in my church and raise this as an important issue….then I remember, only someone like myself who knows these feelings can speak up…..but I probably never will, as that would make people never trust me again. Maybe that’s another reason why I cry and hate myself, because I’m too afraid to speak up for all the other girls and guys suffering in silence like me.

    What I’m going to say next may seem terrible or crazy, I dunno, but please understand.

    I’ve sometimes felt it better when I was crying and filled with disgust, confusion and sadness. Maybe cause when I feel like that, for that space of time, I know I’m not going to get those other feelings of attraction to a guy. Like I’m not supposed to enjoy life and go about my day, as I’m a freak to others. I feel like the case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, so many mixed feelings.

  3. I think Eddy gives excellent advice. I do not know of a therapist in Australia that practices according to the SIT framework.

    If any other readers do, please contact me via email.

  4. Well, it looks like a few others have found you hiding here in the archives. Good deal! Y’know, Jamie, no one here can give you answers…we can help steer you to where you’ll find them…but I’m afraid that finding the answers is up to you. LOL! But I’m more than willing than help you with the questions!

    1) It sounds like you identify as gay but you also are conflicted about society’s stereotypes of masculinity and feminity. So, do you think you identify as gay or would ‘different’ be a better word?

    2) You really didn’t mention how or why ‘identifying as gay’ would be a problem. That’s a very important 2nd question. Why is that a problem for you? (your morals? your parents’? your community’s? the social stigma? fitting in with your friends? religious beliefs? dream of a family?) LOL! Don’t worry if it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that but do try to determine what YOU believe. My gut feeling is that you shouldn’t make serious steps in either direction until you’ve answered that one.

    3) That answer might lead you to the next one. What kind of help/support are you looking for? Ken and Ann both gave excellent suggestions. If you’re really not sure what you’re looking for, then sampling the available resources representing BOTH sides might be of some value. Hopefully, the internet has made finding those resources a whole lot easier. Under ‘churches’ you might search the word ‘affirming’ to find churches or groups that would help you accept your gay identity. Searching ‘ex-gay’ or “Exodus International” should help you if you feel you’re gay but it conflicts with your faith. (Our blog host, Dr. Throckmorton, is developing another form of therapy known as SIT–Sexual Identity Therapy. I don’t know if he knows anyone he could refer you to in ‘the land down under’ but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.)

    My only caution to you when visiting either pro-gay or ex-gay groups is to be wary of group and peer pressure and persuasion. (That’s why it’s so important for you to have some sense of where you’re at before you go. When the day is done, you still have to be true to you and what you believe.)

  5. Jamie,

    Please also consider some organizations that are not exclusively gay – that way you can really experience all that you deserve to and then as you “sort things out”, you can start to see how you feel and more important – what you value and how you want to live.

  6. Jamie said:

    But it would be nice to sort out my feelings. When I see many of my friends getting married, or getting into relationships I’m realising that it won’t be so easy for me.

    Perhaps you should look for some gay organizations to join (i.e. political orgs, sports groups, charity orgs, support groups, churches, social groups etc), to meet other gays. If you live in a rural area, then you may wish to consider moving to a more urban area with a larger gay community.

  7. Eddy:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to generalise. I was trying to explain that in different cultures the interaction between people of the the same sex is viewed differently. For example, when my family came to Australia, my mum wanted to walk arm in arm with her best friend (a woman). Yet that friend warned that they couldn’t do such a thing here in public cause they’d be branded lesbians.

    These are the types of social constraints which only make things confusing for me. As I don’t know which of my feelings are “normal” or not. I’ve only met one friend (he’s straight) who didn’t have a problem hugging me or other guys.

    I know, I don’t have to figure it all out before I’m 25. 😀

    But it would be nice to sort out my feelings. When I see many of my friends getting married, or getting into relationships I’m realising that it won’t be so easy for me. Of course many people stay single until they’re 40’s like you said. But I’m not so worried about the single aspect as I am with the fact that I identify as being gay.

  8. Hey Jamie. I’m glad that this site has provided you a lot of food for thought. I wanted to comment on your one sentence in particular. You said: “It’s funny how straight men can dress up in drag, imitate gay stereotypes and everyone applauds, laughs and has a good time. Yet if a man (any orientation) wants to embrace another guy, tends to show his feelings, etc they’re immediately branded gay and every negative stereotype that comes along with it.” It seems you’ve become victim to a form of ‘tunnel vision’…not everyone applauds and laughs at drag but, if you’re at a show, it’s sure going to seem that way. Our biggest local drag show gets lots of straights in the audience; I’ve noticed that some laugh out of their own discomfort with something so foreign to their everyday experience.

    It may be quite an overstatement, also, to suggest that EVERYTIME a guy hugs another guy or shows feeling that they are IMMEDIATELY branded as gay complete WITH ALL the negative stereotypes. if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that many times we imagine these feelings and we generalize that they are happening when, in fact, they are not. I’m not saying that the negative stereotypes don’t exist; I’m trying to point out that ‘tunnel vision’ makes us see only the extremes and obscures the reality in between.

    You mentioned that ALL of your friends are getting married. Is that really true or does it only seem that way? In my world, a lot of people do get married between high school and their early twenties but I know many, many people who remain single into their 30’s or 40’s. Anyway, give yourself a break from the time pressure. You’re young yet with lots of years likely ahead of you. You don’t need to have it all figured out by the time you’re 25!

    (BTW: You might want to check the sidebar on the page for ‘most recently commented’…this would lead you to some current topics where people are discussing. I’m hoping that a few will notice that you’ve commented on this older topic and will respond to you here but, otherwise, come and find everybody in the more current topics.)

  9. Wow, first let me say this blog and the discussions are great. If only I had access to some of this stuff a few years back.

    I also struggled with my feelings towards other guys during my teenage years. The annoying thing is that in our western society (English speaking countries) you can never talk about such feelings and taboos. So it only builds up and gets worse.

    It’s funny how straight men can dress up in drag, imitate gay stereotypes and everyone applauds, laughs and has a good time. Yet if a man (any orientation) wants to embrace another guy, tends to show his feelings, etc they’re immediately branded gay and every negative stereotype that comes along with it.

    That in a nutshell is why it has been very confusing for me growing up. I come from a European background, where both genders kiss, embrace, make comments about someone of the same-sex’s looks, and no one thinks twice about it. Yet in Australia where I’ve grown up, you were immediately branded a fag for not wanting to play rough with the other boys, if you wore anything slightly different in colour, style. If you weren’t as sexually promiscuous with the girls or if you hug a male friend.

    All this has made me wonder about how my identity developed. All the stereotypes out there don’t fit me. I have two great parents and have always gotten along fine with my dad, I haven’t been abused and I’m not afraid of men or women. It can be hurting when heterosexuals tell you it’ll go away and brush off my worries. It was especially insulting when one of my friends I came out to, said he knew that all gays were abused and couldn’t believe I hadn’t been.

    At the moment I dunno what to think. It’s hard making other’s understand it wasn’t some flippant choice I made. The feelings just came and grew, I could blame myself for giving in to them. Yet I didn’t know any better, how could I? It felt natural to like other guys. Right now, I’m 23, all my friends are getting married and I’m stuck with the prospect of being alone all my life.

    One more thing that has troubled me, God has answered my prayers, I no longer lust and fantisize about other guys like I did, I also have a good self esteem and have purpose. Yet I don’t feel anything for girls, I can tell who’s attractive etc. But I have more of a tendancy to be with a guy. No it’s not about lustfully looking at a guy for sex. I just want a close friend, a companion.

    With both sides of this issue so polarised, I dunno who to trust, there are extremes, judement and stereotypes from both sides. Personally I’ve only got God left, but I just wish so much that I knew what “normal” feelings were.

  10. I first realized I was attracted to members of the same sex when I was about 12. A girl was walking down the street and I remarked how good looking she was and my brother called me queer. I thought it was perfectly normal. I then kept my remarks to myself. I realized that I was the only one like the way I was. For the longest time I was terrified that I would be exposed. One of my coworkers said she knew who was gay. In our society when most women are highly promiscuous and you’re not it’s pretty obvious.

    I never engaged in or sought out the gay lifestyle. As far as I’m concerned it has no advantages.

    As far as the cause is concerned the theory of familial cause is ridiculous. If the parents are at fault then all the kids would be gay and not individual ones. I have a sister that’s not gay. So why do I have these feelings?

  11. I would say that it is possible (and I believe probable) that some men do come to homosexuality through a means such as described by Ed. However, this cannot be generalized to all gay men and certainly not to all women. What I reject is a general theory of homosexuality.

  12. Ed hurst said:

    “It turns out that his ’strong feelings’ originated in envy and admiration. This person represented everything he wished he could be: strong, self-assured, handsome.”

    This is the same, old (and very tired) explanation that gays are gays because they feel like inadequate males and therefore engage in a sort of psychological cannabilism — coveting and consuming the masculinity they lack.

    Sorry Ed. You should not assume that your inadequacies are shared by most gay men. I know a lot of straight guys who don’t feel particularly strong, self-assured OR handsome — and they like nothing better than to have sex with chicks. Conversely, I know gay men who are very strong, self-assured and handsome and enjoy being intimate with men who share these same qualities. Try another theory — maybe strong Mom/weak Dad? Childhood abuse? Demon possession? Soy in food?

  13. Anonymous – I assume you are fine with people whose beliefs lead them to take a different path?

    I think I am with you except I am curious about your statement:”…aside from the prejudices and stigma applied to it from various groups.”

    Is the belief in sex being within monogamous heterosexual marriage an example of a prejudice or stigma?

  14. The problem with this, is that no one seems to present the person who has a good life. I am a professional woman who is soon to be married to another woman – who is, without a doubt, the love of my life.

    We have a fantastic love and life that is Christ -centered and absolutely joyful. Unlike the stereotypes I always hear, we’re monogomous, not substance abusers, don’t suffer from mental illness, have never been promiscuous, and have healthy – happy – and supportive christian families. Why is this never presented or discussed?

    We have friends and others who are much like us. We attend church regularly, go on family vacations, etc..and really have no idea what all the fuss about sexual orientation is all about – aside from the prejudices and stigma applied to it from various groups.

    I would never want to change…my God – it is an unbelievable part of my happiness, and I am so very thankful to be exactly who I am.

  15. Ed: I assumed you would have realized by my post that I meant in a sexual sense, in regards to whom one notices in the gym first. My question to aforementioned Pshychologist was phrased as such. I did not think I needed to spell it out for the readers. As for judging, It was he who made the comment that it is common for gay men to have aspects of borderline personality and it was he who made the comment that I probally had this type of disorder. So it was not i judging, but he. Then thats when I said to myself, this is Bull%$#& . How can anyone make such cookie cutter online diagnosis of a person just because of their sexual identity. make sense?

  16. Good points Ed, I do ask these questions when doing counseling and nearly always rewarded with nuance I would not have had without the question.

  17. In Rich’s most recent post he noted that he asked a Christian Psychologist “when you go to the gym to work out, who do you notice first, the guys or the girls?” Is this implying that men who answer ‘guys’ are gay? that men who answer ‘girls’ are straight? If so, I take exception to the logic.

    I worked in a gym for approx. 3 years. How can I say this? The folks who are serious about working out, for the most part, notice their own gender first. It’s not out of sexual desire though. Admiration? A desire to work for that same build? Noticing progress. Noticing lack of progress. There are many ways of ‘noticing’ that are totally non-sexual. (The first time one of the regulars told me that the results of my working out were beginning to show…I was sure he was hitting on me.)

    Conversely, I’ve noted that many men have practiced not noticing the girls. It’s a certain respect. “They’re here to work; I shouldn’t be ogling.” Others don’t ‘notice’ the girls because they feel it would damage the relationship they now have with their wife or girlfriend. I’ve known other straight men who were shy or insecure; they wouldn’t notice the girls first either.

    And, to beat a point to death, we had a gay temp for about 6 months. He’d notice the women and never the men. 1) he had drag queen inclinations 2) he loved the social company of women 3) he was terrified of ‘straight men’ and was afraid of being bullied.

    I guess I finally have to apply this to the original question…”why do I have these feelings?” My first response was “please define ‘these feelings'”.

    I had a client who had very strong feelings for a man in his church community. He felt tremendous guilt over his attraction, bordering on obsession, with this man. Finally, though, I had a realization and asked “so, what is it that you want to do with him…sexually, I mean?”

    It turns out that his ‘strong feelings’ originated in envy and admiration. This person represented everything he wished he could be: strong, self-assured, handsome. Soon, he found himself obsessing over this man…his smile, what he said, how he said it. He also realized that he would light up when in this man’s presence and then be wracked with guilt afterwards. He would imagine the next time they’d run into each other and play out dialogues in his head. Somehow, he had identified this entire emotional package as homosexual struggle when it was more akin to juvenile hero worship.

    Since that experience, I always made sure I knew what someone meant when they complained about ‘these feelings’. Sex is not the only feeling that incorporates desire.

  18. Dennis: I do not “pass judgement” on people who choose not to act on their gay feelings. On the contrary, I think they have every right to live in accordance with their values — as do I.

    Also, I have not said that “nothing that can be done to change how one feels about their orientation”. For example, I used to hate my orientation and now I am at peace with it. Ex-gays (who by their own report are still not “heterosexual” in the common sense of that word) want to be peace with their feelings and behavior. So they choose not to act on their ongoing gay feelings. That’s OK with me.

    What I am saying is that changing one’s BEHAVIOR or “changing how one FEELS about their orientation” is NOT a change in sexual ORIENTATION itself.

    I feel sorry for people who want to change their oriention, but I do not judge them. It is not their fault that they don’t like being gay. They are not bad or worthy of harsh judgement. In my eyes, they are the victims, not the bad guys. They have been taught that they are sick, sinful or psychologically disordered — and that they should try to “change”.

    I view those who want to change their orientation in the same way I view those who wish to have a healthy limb amputated. They hate a perfectly normal and useful part of themselves and they want to get rid of it. That’s terribly sad, but they don’t deserve judgement. As for ex-gays who are happier not acting on their homosexual orientation, I am happy for them.

  19. Rich,

    Why is it that those who have choosen to leave same-sex behaviour are not to be allowed to judge others, but yet for those who choose to believe that there is nothing that can be done to change how one feels about their orientation seem to be allowed to freely pass judgement.

  20. I know that in my heart, but i asked the question to gauge the response. The response was as I thought it might be. Most of the “Exgay’s” that I have spoken with, when I have asked them very pointed and direct questions, they seem to get moved of message. And if someone has to be on message, then there is something not genuine about where they are coming from. I was sorta naive in the beginning, because I was so wracked with Fear of condemnation, but I am now sure that I have never met anyone that has sincerely been changed from Homosexual to Heterosexual. I spoke with a Christian based Psychologist once, and he was trying to insist that because I was gay, that I was a borderline . I was sorta taken back, that he was attempting to make a diagnosis from a mere 5-6 posts. So I asked him the question: “when you go to the gym to work out, who do you notice first, the guys or the girls” When he became enraged, I knew the answer. But I had to seek the answers, because I do care. But I could not tolerate the lies.

  21. Rich asked: “Do you think that there will eventually be some movement to get a largescale scientific, peered reviewed study of gays who have changed to being straight?”

    Don’t count on it. And it’s not because “gay activists” or the APA are stopping them. The fact is, you wouldn’t be able to find enough subjects to do a “large scale” study. That’s because even those who claim to be “ex-gay” admit that they aren’t really “straight”.

    They are just choosing not to act on their ongoing gay feelings. They may be heterosexually married and may even have a satisfactory relationship with their wives, but they are still homosexuals who would “rather not have those feelings” — according to Joe Dallas of EXODUS.

    The point is: straight men don’t struggle with gay attractions. That’s what unhappy gay people do. A handful of people have made the claim that they have lost all of their homosexual feelings and are now completely heterosexually oriented, but they are a rare few — and they are rarely able to live up to such a claim.

    Even Dr. Throckmorton has decided that the focus of his work should be on helping people behave in accordance with their values — not on changing their orientation. It might more more useful to do a study on those who have changed their BEHAVIOR.

  22. Rich – I don’t know really, I think the questions asked by researchers involve the importance of religion, not a specifc aspect of doctrine. Might depend on the denominational background. Reformed theology churches would not hold that out as an issue since you cannot lose your standing in Christ once you believe. With Armenian churches, this might be an issue — which is true of adherents who struggle with all sorts of urges. Spitzer’s study found three big issues leading to a desire to want to change: religious incompatibility, desire to stay married or get married, and being tired of a promiscuous life.

    Don’t know about the peer review thing. Michael Bailey and I have discussed a brain imaging study of ex-gays which might give us a baseline to do pre and post work.

  23. warren: But do you deny that Fear is a primary factor in motivatiing gays to seek change ? It seems that most same sex debates in various Christian forums get stuck on Gay=abomination=Hell. I guess from how I have surveyed the gay exgay landscape, I have not observed that family values would be the leading motivator in a gay person wanting to try and change. I also have a followup question. I often here from debators, “peer review” Do you think that there will eventually be some movement to get a largescale scientific, peered reviewed study of gays who have changed to being straight?

  24. I think the religious affiliation and identity is a big factor followed by a desire for a traditional family. Affiliations bring comfort and safety and so can be quite powerful. Some simply turn their lives over to God as a kind of sacrifice. But i think the situation is probably primarily a values motivated effort.

  25. Warren- In your work, would you say that for those that could be considered Primarily Homosexual in atttraction, would their desire to change, be motivated primarily by their religious beliefs or exposure to those beliefs? My example would be the whole Christian Gay condemnation belief system. From my personal subjective experience, I have noticed that those who come from a secular background, the notion of changing ones Sexual identity would not even be a question that was contemplated. But for those of us that were brought up and under a Christian religious teaching, There seems to be a great fear and conflict of the whole condemnation thing. So my the point of my question is: Is the desire to change spurred by fear or a genuine desire to live ones life as a heterosexual?

  26. Michael – Regarding your experience with your father, I have seen similar things in my work with people. The freer they feel to explore the more good they remember. I do not ignore trauma but I have been surprised at times to find clients reindex their memories of their parents once the focus is on what now, versus what did you (parents) do to me. For those reading this comment, please do not think I ignore trauma and disavow abuse, in no way do I do that. I do however value connections and where there is a more vague sense of my dad was not there for me, I try to go a little deeper.

  27. Dennis – I appreciate you sharing your story. It seems to me to underscore a point that I have come to believe. Even when the narrative of a person’s life fits in with the defensive detachment model of relations with other males, learning about that and having some insight into why does not of necessity make the desires go away. The now what question, still requires acceptance (without approval if that is your belief), contextual change and values focused action in order to lead to a desired life.

  28. Thank you Warren,

    You have just confirmed for me what I have come to realize for myself over the past 2.5 years. That I must make a choice on how I want to live my life. For so many years I battled with my same-sex attraction and was unable to form healthy relationships with other men because of feelings of inferiority, guilt, and shame. Then I hit my lowest point and was afraid I was about to loose what really meant the most to me, my wife and children. At that point I vowed to stop the behaviour and use whatever it took. This meant I had to start trusting God and others to help me stay free of my old habits. The connections that resulted have given me a freedom that I have not known in my adult life. I feel a depression has left me that was with me for most of my adult life and I began to learn how to love myself and my wife in new ways.

    Don’t anyone try to tell me that these feelings cannot be changed. This is a difficult journey but it is one of the most worthwhile journeys of my life. Why do I have these feelings? What I have found for myself is that they draw me into relationship with other men. When I felt insecure around men I had a hard time relating to them. Now I am thoroughly enjoying their companionship and I am finding a whole new appreciation for my women also.

    Thanks again Warren. I admire your courage and you have helped me tremendously. Now I have to take some of what I have learned into my relationship with my own boys so that I do not make the same mistakes that my father did. I have started by forgiving him for the hurts that I have carried with me for so many years and now I must ask him to forgive me for my isolation.

  29. I believe that for some the importance of WHY defines for them whether they are guilty of sin or simply a person who happens to be different. The Christian church has told us again and again that it is a sin to be Gay, or at least to act upon it. For me, if it was lets say, something I was born with, and this could be determined definitively, then I would no longer have the conflict of deciding WHO I am. I believe the conflict arises from the belief that we are sinners and condemned to Hell, if we act upon our Homosexuality. For me anyway, thats where the conflict centers. If I could feel secure that I was not condemned to a place called Hell, then I would be fine with who I am. Seems pretty sad and simplistic, but that is the story.

  30. I read about this on an ex-gay list. All I can say is right on! Well, I’ll say more. I have tried several approaches and counselors and I still have gay feelings. I have been to a Journey into Manhood weekend and it was great but nothing changed. My counselor said he was doing reparative therapy and nothing changed. I really relate to the guy in your story there, because I cannot get my beliefs to cahnge and so I am not comfortable with being gay. I have no idea why I am gay but I have no idea why I am a Christian either, except that God saved me and that is my foudnation.

  31. When someone asks “Why do I have these feelings?”, it is not the role of the therapist, counselor, helper to provide the answer. Their role is to provide an environment where the ‘questioner’ can answer–to some degree–this question for themselves. While the therapist can provide facilitation to the search, all need to be especially sensitive to their own bias and how it could impact an honest search i.e. steer towards certain ‘favorite’ conclusions.

    In many cases, the client is already aware of the therapist’s particular beliefs re: homosexuality when therapy first begins. This can lead to them ‘coming to the conclusions’ that they suspect the therapist is seeking. Back when I counselled, this was my most challenging experience: not only to avoid these ‘canned conclusions’ but also not to steer towards other conclusions that I personally believed in. It was rewarding, though. Admittedly, there were many common conclusions but there were many diversities as well.

    I’ve often found it helpful to explore that question from two distinct vantage points. “Where did these feelings I have come from?” and “Why am I having these feelings today?” (I don’t obsess over either question. I’ve chewed on the first one for 40+ years and only have strong opinions, no solid conclusions. I only ask the second when I’m suddenly feeling ‘horny’. {Pardon my bluntness.} ) But, nonetheless, they are good questions and enhance self-awareness.

    My thanks for a thread with an overall great tone and lots of thoughtful and thought-provoking dialogue. Mike, you were in especially good form! And, Timothy, what can I say? You’re a born teacher.

  32. Also, does Jose know something we don’t? How does he plan to prevent “genetic freaks” like me from “even being born”?

    Here’s yet another (admittedly extreme) example of people asking “why” someone is gay so that they can do something about it. Maybe if we can’t prevent them from being born, we can alter them or do away with them at a later date? Left unchallenged, these hateful and ignorant attitudes lay the groundwork for the mistreatment or even murder of gays. I know. I have lived through it.

  33. I agree with Warren on this: I am also very concerned about people “who think they know why a person has a certain experience prior to the exploration.” As I have pointed out many times, that’s prejudice, not science.

    Regarding being “so proud of being gay” — I am NOT proud of being gay, I am just not ashamed of it anymore. I accept it. To me, it is morally, psychologically and spiritually neutral. “Being” gay is not an issue anymore. Instead, I care about HOW I am gay, how I live my life and how I treat others.

    Being dysfunctional if you choose to live in a dyfunctional way. Unlike Jose, I certainly do not consider myself (or any gay person) to be a “genetic freak”. And, I would NEVER turn to someone for “help” who had already made up his mind that I was.

  34. I am the mon of a gay guy and have a support group for families of gays. I have no answers but ask one question. What is GAY about any of this . If there is any program or prayer that will help them cope, control or overcome these “feelings” bring it on.

    Marcia, I can appreciate that as a mother you are concerned about your son and his well being.

    I am glad you are pursuing a support group which may help you work through a few of your feelings. They may be able to help you understand that same-sex attractions are not “feelings” that can be easily “overcome”. Attractions determine the bases for the interplay between people – be it romantic, emotional, or even sexual. They are a very strong aspect of ones personality and outlook on life, perhaps stonger than faith, race, family, or nationality.

    And while you may wish for a program or prayer, to date no one has been able to identify one that will change the direction of attractions in the majority of gay people. The odds are that at best, the most you can hope for is coping methods to allow him, as a same-sex attracted man, to modify his behavior to either celibacy or a functioning relationship with a woman which is not the same that a heterosexual might experience.

    Ultimately, the decision is your son’s. It is quite likely that he will not seek to live in a manner inconsistent with his orientation. If he does not, you have to decide what is a realistic response on your behalf. If he refuses a plan of celibacy or limited heterosexual functioning, you can decide whether you wish him to remain your son.

    If you project rejection of him, he most likely will cut you out of any aspect of his life that involves emotion, honesty, or life decisions. Your relationship will become little more than a shell.

    Or you may decide to encourage more appropriate and fulfilling behaviors, regardless of your religious beliefs. For example, you could create a dynamic that encourages monogamy and responsibility – even if you think that a monogamous and responsible same-sex relationship is sin, surely it is more likely to result in happiness than promiscuity. For example, you could take steps that encourage a relationship, meet his significant other, incorporate this person into your life. And in this way you may remain part of your son’s life as well as contribute to his happiness and health.

    If, on the other hand, your son decides to seek celibacy or a heterosexual relationship, you should encourage him to be honest. That means with himself, with God, and with any future woman he seeks for relationship. And you might encourage him to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on a change of orientation and instead focus on realistic expectations and on skills for coping in these special circumstances. I believe that Dr. Throckmorton’s upcoming book will try to identify and present some of those skills.

    Ultimately, it’s rather unlikely that these “feelings” will ever go away. And any efforts you make to influence your son’s response will probably impact your relationship with him far more than it will on his decisions. If you push him to be straight, you may push him away. So don’t push. Just be a loving mom.

    I don’t know what type of group you belong to. But I would encourage you to contact PFLAG. They do not expect you to be gay supportive, and they will welcome you and listen to you anyway. You will find others there who can give you pragmatic advice which may not be present in an anti-gay advocacy group.

  35. Thanks for all the comments. Robbi, I think an existential why is somewhat different than a search for historical reasons. Not disagreeing with anything you said, but want to be clear that I am not discounting exploration, even of trauma. I do however, want to critique helpers (whether they be therapists or Job’s counselors) who think they know why a person has a certain experience prior to the exploration.

    Timothy – As I suspect you have picked up, this shift has been gradual. The sexual identity therapy framework takes the emphasis away from reorientation and places it on congruence. I Do Exist had some of this newer emphasis in there but I was also sincerely wanting to let people just tell their stories. I think over time, it is becoming clearer that people can change but there is wide variation in what that means for each individual. It is also clear to me that some people do not change much despite following the prescriptions offered.

  36. I agree that the question as to “why” is much less relevant to the process of bringing values and behaviors into allignment.

    However, I don’t think the issue of reorientation can be addressed at all without knowing (or seeking to know) the “why”.

    Warren, perhaps this recognition of the futility of arguing the “why” (at least at present) may have been part of your shift in focus towards values and away from reorientation?

  37. Linda,

    Considering your previous post telling us (and your daughter) that orientation could have not possibly have a biological basis, I’m glad that you have come to the revelation that the reason why doesn’t matter that much after all.

    However, you do have a few presumptions that may hinder you from fully understanding the dialog on this site. The following is not subjective opinion but is, rather, factual and is agreed upon by most who are part of the conversation to varying degrees:

    1. Same-sex attraction and same-sex attracted persons are not considered “uusally repulsive to most of the 97%”.

    Studies show that while the majority of people are not same-sex attracted, their opinions on the rights and equality of those who are certainly does not reflect repulsion. A majority of Americans do not support marriage equality but, conversely, according to Pew Research in March 06, only about 1/3 oppose gay people serving openly in the military.

    Perhaps an easier illustration to understand is the presence of gay persons in culture. Clearly if the 97% were repulsed by gay people, then certain television show or movies would not be so popular.

    I think perhaps you might be displaying your own attitudes rather than that of most people when you made that comment.

    2. “Gay pride” as a term does not mean that gay persons are proud of being gay, per se.

    It is a term that indicates a pride in the accomplishments or culture of a minority group in the same way that one might have “Irish pride”. This phrase was also chosen as a way of contrasting at a time when there was a great deal of cultural shame being directed towards gay people. Certain gay leaders sought to say, “don’t own the shame thrown at you by others, instead embrace the pride of accomplishment of your community”.

    Gay people do have a great deal to be proud about the accomplishments of gay people. Without the contributions of those such as Aristotle, Socrates, Michealangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Alan Turing – just as a small example – the world would be a much different place. So too are gay persons proud of the more mundane accomplishments of gay people on a very small scale and of the culture that they have created.

    Just as someone who is not Irish may have difficulty in appreciating Irish Pride, so too may someone who is not gay have difficulty in understanding Gay Pride. But to dismiss the idea as unworthy is much more reflective on the one dismissing than the one dismissed.

    3. Many gay people do not find their orientation to be the source of any pain or to interfere with normal functioning whatsoever.

    Many gay people are completely content with their attractions and have built happy, healthy, productive lives surrounding themself and the person they love.

    Just as unbelievers may think that Christianity interferes with normal functioning, so to might someone who has an irrational hatred of gay people think that their orientation interferes with normal functioning. Neither is true.

    I am confident, Linda, that these minor corrections will allow you to better understand the conversation of others here. And they will free you from the necessity to disparage gay persons and instead focus on the topic at hand.

  38. I am the mon of a gay guy and have a support group for families of gays. I have no answers but ask one question. What is GAY about any of this . If there is any program or prayer that will help them cope, control or overcome these “feelings” bring it on.

  39. Musings on “why” lead me to remember that “why” was the question I asked myself and God for a good five years after being beaten and raped at knifepoint when I was 19. I’d just celebrated my first year as a born again Christian. Those five years overlapped the founding of OUTPOST and EXODUS. It now makes me wonder how the original trauma and subsequent post-traumatic stress I experienced influenced my theology and my counseling with people who wanted help leaving the gay life.

    I do know that being able to talk about sexual abuse issues in general, especially with the women who came to see me, was hugely helpful both to them and to me. Nearly all the lesbians I spoke with experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives, usually by men, but occasionally by women. It did become apparent to me that I was being most helpful discussing those issues, rather than homosexual feelings.

    I think in the end being able to be open, explore memories, feelings, experience anger and forgiveness in the course of prayer and conversation began to lessen the need to know “why.” Why had these things happened to them? To me? Eventually I came to think, “why not?” Why not me? The world is fallen, and it falls on well-meaning, truth-seeking folks as well as evil doers.

    And so my personal narrative shifted. Self-pity, self-blame and anger, not to mention fear of wearing high heels cuz you can’t run away in them, gave way to gratitude and hope and a larger sense of self. I believe that’s true for many of the women I counseled, too. Reconciling with this part of their lives didn’t make them straight of course, though in a couple cases it made living in their heterosexual marriages easier for both them and their spouses. But moving past “why,” as Michael said, was a good and important step.

  40. I agree it doesn’t really matter why a person is attracted to another of the same sex. I always read that gay people say “I would never choose this”. So if this is aomething they would never choose, something that makes you different than 97% of the population, that is uusally repulsive to most of the 97%, how do you get to being so proud of it? Having so much gay pride? This seems inconsistent to me. We can be predisposed to something, be born with it or acquire it. Its pathway into our lives might be of some value but usually only initially. Once you discover it is present in your life, you then evaluate it. If it is something wonderful like a musical talent you can take full advantage of it. If it is something like a chemical imbalance or a tendency toward depression or negativiy, you can recognize it, acknowledge it, evaluate it and take the action that your own conscience and convictions lead you to. If it is causing pain or interfereing with normal functioning at some level, why wouldn’t you get help dealing with it & living with it, whether you can develop coping skills, get rid of it completely, indulge in it, let it take over your life, whatever. The decision should be made by the person experiencing it, considering all the consequences and ramifications.


  41. Oh no! Not the why question, again… While some certainly may ask out of a “natural human curiousity”, it has been my experience as a therapist for the past 25 years working with SSA clients that the vast majority of them ask, not simply because they are “curious”. Instead, they ask out of a deep dislike of themsleves — coupled with a perfectly human need to fit in, to be accepted and to feel safe in their own families and culture.

    They typically ask because they have introjected negative attitudes about themselves and their sexual orientation. They think they are inferior (or somehow unacceptable to God) because they are gay. They want an explanation so they can change it.

    And the explanations offered by therapists can be very harmful. Consider the narrative that says you are gay because your parents screwed up. If you believe this, you will invariably find “historical “evidence” for it. Dr. T said it well: “We may well come up with a tidy story but, inevitably, it will contain large swaths of revisionist history.” This was certainly true in my case.

    My early mentors in my quest to become “ex-gay” insisted that my Dad MUST have been cold, harsh, weak or rejecting. In fact, there were times when these things were true. (ALL parents are a mixture of positive and negative traits.) But my “helpers” wanted me to focus only on my Dad’s shortcomings because this fit their preconceived narrative. As a result I resented my Dad and blamed him — for YEARS. Thank God, I gave up that narrative.

    After leaving the exgay movement, I began to examine my REAL relationship with my Dad more objectively — recalling MANY times that he went out of his way to be supportive, patient and accepting. It was hard to undo that damage of the myth that gays MUST have has dysfunctional parents. I did not have toxic parents, but I was coached into believing that I did.

    The other narrative (that one is born gay) can also be harmful because it provides an easy cop-out for irresponsible and self-destructive sexual excess. We are responsible for what we DO do matter how we feel or what “caused it”. Now, I have a new narrative: namely, that no one “knows”, that it ultimately does not matter and that “now what?” is a much more useful question than “why”?

  42. Anon – Actually, there are numerous people that seem receptive to this, but as you assume, some are not.

    Ck – If you are up to it, perhaps post this link and see if it gets published.

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