Reading this article in the New York Times made me think of some of the cases I have worked with involving teens and family disclosures of sexual attractions to others of the same sex.
Most stories of teens, sexual identity and religion of late involve references to live-in programs or parent-child discord. With permission from those involved, I want to briefly describe a situation that challenges several stereotypes. I am masking this to avoid identification but the basic points are right on. Scott (not his real name, of course) felt intense attractions to boys since he was in mid-elementary school. He was a well rounded boy who did well at any sport he tried, although he preferred individual sports. He also enjoyed singing, playing in the band, and acting in community plays. The younger of two boys, he loved his brother and they had a harmonious relationship. He recalls no sexual molestation.
In his early teens, he confided in his father (with whom he felt most comfortable) that he wasn’t getting “those feelings” for girls but that he was getting them toward certain boys. His dad was a sensitive and involved father who assured Scott of his love. Scott and his dad then told Scott’s mom who was upset but also reassured Scott that he was loved. In their discussions, they talked over what Scott thought about being attracted to the same sex. In addition to his other gifts, Scott demonstrated a devotion to his faith. He told his parents that he wanted to talk to a Christian counselor to ask some questions. They agreed and called me.
In the mean time, Scott parents contacted the local PFLAG chapter and attended a meeting. They wanted to talk to other parents who had conservative views about sexuality but had found ways to support and love their children. At least at this chapter, they did not find this. Instead, the participants said they would need to change their religious views because of their gay son. Otherwise, they were told, they would harm their son unless they began attending an affirming church. They did not go back.
For his part, Scott had some questions for me which surprised me. Was I one of those therapists who would tell him to just accept being gay? If I was, he said, he wanted to leave now. I assured him that I would take his values and beliefs seriously. Here is a long story, shortened: Scott was quite set against “being gay” but understood that, for him, being same-sex attracted was nothing anyone caused. He also did not have hopes that he could just change. Once he was assured I would not try to push him to come out, he asked questions about sexuality, maturation, and disclosure. In our visits, we discussed the social and identity issues probably most kids with attractions to the same sex experience – whether gay-identified or not. Scott believed he had lots of time to figure things out.
That was several years ago, and I am now aware that Scott’s beliefs about sexuality are essentially the same and have been integrated within a consistent worldview. Although he is not fond of labels, if pressed, he describes himself as bisexual and dates girls selectively. His parents have struggled with the typical theories of homosexuality and at times, been quite resentful of the church in their odyssey. They have been to an Exodus conference (which they loved) but cannot find a parent’s group they like.
Of course, this is a story in progress. I am not offering it as typical. In fact, when it comes to the relatively calm manner these folks handled the disclosure, sadly, it isn’t typical. However, in many respects, this seems to be a different path to a healthy sexual identity.
25 thoughts on “Youth and sexual identity: A different path”
Earlier in this thread, Timothy Kinkaid remarked: “What Iâ€™ve seen is the ex-gay movement looking for some label that rejects the reality of the attractions and sounds good on a TV show or when lobbying legislators. … I have little patience with those who misuse language to lie to themselves or others.”
George Carlin expressed similar frustration in an HBO stand-up routine. He was talking about how our society likes to “soften” language to disguise many uncomfortable truths. People are not “fired”, they are “downsized”. Quoting Carlin: “Changing the NAME of the condition does not change the condition!”
Or to put it another way, no matter how hard the ex-gay movement tries to wiggle out of it, an “ex-gay” is still a “person with unwanted same sex attractions”. He is still homosexual. Still gay. Straight or heterosexual people do not have “unwanted same-sex attractions”. That’s what unhappy gays or bisexuals have.
Warren, I don’t mean to be a pest but I am really interested in your answer to my question above:
Anon2, you say you don’t want people to judge, but your statements are literally filled with judgment.
That’s a moral judgment. Again, as things stand it is, at best, highly unlikely that someone will experience a large degree of change in their sexual orientation no matter what they do. To get an honest man of science to say otherwise would be asking him to lie. To say that this means they were only “trying to justify the choices they made for themselves” in saying so is assigning an ulterior motive which is telling concerning your own motivation.
More judgment. What do you think the majority of gay people were doing before recent years when living their lives honestly became a real possibility? Who didn’t try to change?
But the most judgmental thing you have said comes after that, the suggestion that those who are gay are not following the call of God in their lives. And I suggest you think long and hard before you attribute the work He has done in so many gay people’s lives to something other than He. You are responsible for your own conscience, why are you trying so hard to be someone else’s?
Until you stop comparing the lives of good people who just happen to be gay to those of substance abusers and sex addicts, I doubt you will get much understanding from anyone on this side of the aisle. And I don’t quite see how God can do much through you in that respect either.
I hope the same is true for those who have choosen to live a gay life. Let them not judge those that have been called to something else. The issue for me has always been what others are trying to convince me about whether or not SSA can be overcome. Instead I have learned that the issue should really be am I in a right relationship with God.
Some in science tried to convince us that nothing can be done to change in order to justify the choices they made for themselves. According to you that is perfectly justified. I feel it is not. True it is a difficult journey, but if no one was saying “you cannot change” perhaps more would try and more would be successful. On the other hand if we were more supportive of the person where they are at they may feel more willing to follow the call of God in their life.
I have met many who cannot reconcile their SSA and their faith, but truly want to. For so many of these people the issue is not overcoming the SSA, but removing the isolation they find themselves in because of not feeling accepted. What I think is required by me is to show that I Love and accept each person, but I do not have to condone or reinforce in them that that is the only decision for them. If my children choose to use drugs I have a responsibility to them to warn them of the dangers. If I see someone who is risking their life through hazardous sexual behavior I have a responsibiltiy to them as well. True it is up to them to choose whether they listen to my warning or not, but I have done my part. That is not being unchristian, infact that is the christian response for all of us as is outline in the teaching of Christ.
I was empathizing with you somewhat until you put that old line out there.
Personally, and I mean this with no disrespect, I don’t care what you believe. If you believe sincerely that God wants you to abstain from intimate relationships with the same sex, well then you better abstain. But your attitude toward those who believe differently is puzzling considering how close you say you are to God. Someone from your background, who is truly in a right relationship with God, should at the very least understand the pain that often accompanies coming to an understanding of one’s faith (no matter which way that lands them on this subject) and therefore respect their choices.
So conduct your life as you see fit, but please don’t interfere with the lives of others, perhaps in an attempt to reinforce your own beliefs. I believe God has a right to deal with all of us as He sees fit without anyone else’s input – and people also have the free will to reject Him entirely. And since the majority of people who happen to be gay do not change and apparently don’t want to spend their lives at the attempt, you may have to put up with yours being the minority view. That isn’t likely to change, but if it’s right for your life then it shouldn’t make any difference.
Anon2 wrote: people trying to convince me that there is nothing wrong with being gay, while I continue to see young people and older people giving themselves to promiscuous sex, alcohol, and drug addictions while being exposed to various diseases. You can continue to believe there is nothing wrong for you to accept that you are â€œgayâ€, but do not try to tell me that all is well with homosexual behaviour.
Why are those necessarily defining behavioral qualities of being gay? Why could you not apply your own sense of ethics towards your own defined gayness? Certainly many of us have come to apply that Christian ethic for the rest of the world to our own definition of gay.
I wish I could see things the way you do, but my experience tells me something very different. All I have seen for years is people trying to convince me that there is nothing wrong with being gay, while I continue to see young people and older people giving themselves to promiscuous sex, alcohol, and drug addictions while being exposed to various diseases. You can continue to believe there is nothing wrong for you to accept that you are “gay”, but do not try to tell me that all is well with homosexual
The other part of this that I have become extremely angry with is that for so many years now there is always someone who is very quick to judge what my Church is saying about this issue, when truly they do not have a clue as to what it is really saying. After years of being separated from my faith and from God because I believed that God could not accept me for having same-sex attraction I have come back and truly learned to appreciate the teaching of loving the sinner, but not the sin. It was the sin that separated me from a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with a loving God not what my church was trying to teach me. I have stopped listening to those who want to condemn the scriptures because they do not completely support what they want to do with their life. It is a matter of obiedience and through that learning how deeply God really does love me.
I am so tired of hearing the gay movement try to say if you have any level of SSA then you are gay but just wonâ€™t admit it.
Perhaps it will help if you recall that for most gay people the word “gay” means same-sex attracted.
Gay people tend not to think that gay means “lifestyle” or “acceptance” or “good thing”. They think it just means “gay”.
I can understand why Scott did not want a therapist who would tell him just to accept being gay. He was a young teenager–who can say how his sexual attractions might change as he matures? Some people are certain, even at a very young age, of their sexual orientation, and are ready to identify one way or the other. But plenty of young people just need more time and freedom to figure out who they really are.
That being said, I find it extremely sad that Scott was already “quite set against ‘being gay.'” In other words, even if his primary sexual orientation proved to be toward the same sex, he isn’t able to accept that identity, because he has been taught homosexuality is wrong.
I’ve just been reading some personal stories on the new “Beyond Ex Gay” web site, and I am struck by how many echo the same themes I hear in this story of Scott. To quote from one: “A childhood centered in church and family. A growing awareness that I was attracted to guys, not girls, coupled with systems of massive denial. My identity was centered in being a good boy, an obedient son, a committed Christian… I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t include a wife, children, and the respect of others for being a Christian role model.” And so, someone tries to live in a way that is opposite to his/her true self, and ends up years later with a broken marriage or other sad consequences of denial.
Haven’t we heard enough of these stories to know what could lie in store for someone like Scott ? I don’t think for a minute that anyone should pressure or proselytize a young person like this to identify as being gay. But I think he would be far happier in the long run if his parents, church, and therapist could all say to him, “If you do turn out to be gay, that’s fine with us.”
Personally I feel the best description of this is “same-sex attraction”, because that is what it is and personally I believe that we are all somewhere along a continuum between OSA and total SSA. As the science is showing there are many reasons why someone may have such attractions and although some of these may be biologically controlled, the environmental influence must not be ignored.
As much as some want to accuse the ex-gay movement of trying to push the idea of change on them, I am so tired of hearing the gay movement try to say if you have any level of SSA then you are gay but just won’t admit it. This way of thinking is extremely dangerous and for myself has caused me much hardship. If you want to accept that you are gay and that is what you want for yourself them do so and let others who cannot accept that this is a good thing for them follow their own path without your personal judgement.
Timothy Kincaid wrote: Iâ€™ve no problem with those who seek to live according to their values. Or those who seek to diminish their attractions (or reactions to the attractions). Or even those who seek the (highly improbable) task of changing their orientation. But I have little patience with those who misuse language to lie to theirselves or others.
Is not doing the first – living in accord with some value, diminishing attractions/reactions, or changing orientation – at most times necessarily an outgrowth of the non-acceptance of the reality of that language you would have used? Or the reality behind the languange?
David Roberts wrote: I am curious about one thing; what would you say to a client who made the same requests as did Scott, but who you strongly suspected was acting out of of pressure from family or society?
And Warren wrote: Not wanting to convey an approval of the behavior, they do not view themselves as gay. Same-sex attracted is a descriptive term that does not convey anything about willingness to actualize the impulse. This is the basic issue as I see it. Terms can convey a moral message
Is not “same-sex attracted” a social construct which seeks to deny the reality of the homosexual orientation? Doesn’t that tacitly imply then that Scott was under a societal pressure (even if it was one born of a religious morality)? Is then the position one must take based in the religious morality one that is necessarily set apart from reality on this issue?
The struggle the ex-gay movement has is one of attempting to redefine reality especially in terms in kind with the Abrahamic religions which didn’t even understand that a homosexual orientation existed in nature and don’t care to accept that reality today.
Ok… The question is then is reality, certain values of society, and happiness really mutually exclusive. When are values, truly values if they should depart from reality? This is a question I have been dealing with all my life. One that ultimately came to mean that values are meaningless if they do not align with reality. But then what is reality? Seems to me that is what we are discussing here.
I appreciate being able to read all of the comments and that W. would share this article and some of his experiences with the youth. I am a mother of a son age 15 that didn’t come to us with it but was found searching for internet porn. “Be sure your sins will find you out” He was addressed by both of his parents that love him very much. We saw a Christian counselor who has a son that came out. We were not satisfied with the results that they encouraged we need to nurture and accept his choices. We believe they too were in process and still working through their own family situation. We sought out more help and found W. for our counseling. We were all helped and we have kept in conversation about his position on the SSA. He still isn’t sure of his attractions. He hasn’t defined himself one way or the other. We continue to pray and keep conversation open. He is a strong healthy youth active in theatre, music, tumbling, dancing, singing, and friendships. We believe God is responsible for showing our son what to believe as He is his Creator and Savior. We (parents)do have our belief as the Scripture is clear and hope that that is our sons outcome. We will be here for him no matter the outcome and believe God will do His job in his life. At this time we do not believe that any abuses were present as contributors and he has a healthy relationship with his father. He had some teasing as a middle school child and his older brothers could be the stereotype “macho” man. We do not believe these play into his SSA. We are not trying to place blame or find out where it came from. We are praying for him and loving him. Empowering him to be all His Creator intended him to be. Thanks for the opportunity to read and share.
Re the “identity” question.
Warren, I disagree. I’ve not seen the ex-gay movement looking for some term that allows for same-sex attraction but not acceptance of behavior. What I’ve seen is the ex-gay movement looking for some label that rejects the reality of the attractions and sounds good on a TV show or when lobbying legislators.
Be it “ex-gay” or “formerly homosexual” or “walked away from homosexuality”, all are designed to sound as though same-sex attractions are – viola – gone with the wave of a cape.
There are PLENTY of words that could accurately describe persons who are same-sex attracted but not willing to engage in same-sex romantic or sexual activity. They could use “celibate gay”, for example. Or what about plain old “same-sex attracted” – that includes those who are both happily and unhappily so.
My concern is that so much of this is couched around the idea that if we don’t use ANY words at all, then we can pretend that it doesn’t exist. We can talk about “I don’t use labels” or “I identify as a Christian” or “life if more than attractions” or “sexuality is complex” or anything else to change the subject. But ultimately it comes down to this undeniable fact – some people are attracted to the same sex. And because there are those who are and those who are not, there are (and should be) words to distinguish between the two.
One may not like the fact that one is short, or red headed, or left handed, or same-sex attracted. But that’s reality. And dismissing it all as some sort of social construct or claiming that “you don’t have to identify that way” doesn’t have any impact on the reality of the situation.
I’ve no problem with those who seek to live according to their values. Or those who seek to diminish their attractions (or reactions to the attractions). Or even those who seek the (highly improbable) task of changing their orientation. But I have little patience with those who misuse language to lie to theirselves or others.
Re Scott: “…for him, being same-sex attracted was nothing anyone caused.” Thanks for sharing this. Everything I read (at age 12 and since) said “all gay men had bad relationships with their Dads.”
EXODUS’s Elizabeth Moberly (whatever happend to her?) went so far as to say “when a boy has a healthy relationship with his father there is NEVER a homosexual outcome.” Such a view sterotypes and trivializes the REAL relationships men have with their Dads — good AND bad, tough AND kind, etc.
Why do we insist on blaming parents for something that is not sin or sickness? Heterosexuality is not “caused” — and neither is homosexuality. They are normal variations in the human sexual spectrum, which includes bisexuality. I suspect that Scott was bisexual all along. And, I believe, that’s true of many who now call themselves “ex-gay”.
Thanks Warren, but you forgot the questions in my first comment – I’m actually more concerned about those.
I wish Scott peace and happiness wherever it is that his journey takes him.
I am very happy that he did not end up with a therapist that sought to find out what horrible things his brother did or why his mother was overly smothering or his father cold and distant. I’m quite sure hearing, “you must have been molested and just don’t recall it” could have resulted in real damage to the family.
I assume Scott is now in his late teens and is identifying as bisexual in the hopes of pursuing a relationship with a woman. I do hope that Scott does not marry or jump into a relationship too quickly. I’ve seen that scenario followed too often and the end results were not pleasant.
I personally would hope that he spends a while, at least, as Jay does – not denying the direction of his attractions but also not allowing attractions to dictate behaviors. (OK, really I wish him to be resolved in his orientation and come to the understanding of Scripture that I have… but I’m not counting on it 🙂 )
Thanks for commenting Jay. Hope to hear more from you.
David – Who one is can be organized around several different labels for being attracted to the same sex. Gay, to many who don’t like the term, conveys an approval of homosexual behavior. Not wanting to convey an approval of the behavior, they do not view themselves as gay. Same-sex attracted is a descriptive term that does not convey anything about willingness to actualize the impulse. This is the basic issue as I see it. Terms can convey a moral message and the “ex-gay movement” stills searches for the way to describe attracted to the same-sex without intention to do anything sexual.
It is not as easy as a virginal opposite sex attracted person saying, “I am straight,” because saying this is like saying, “at some point in the future I could/might put the impulse into practice and I approve of that.” For someone who is same-sex attracted but does not approve of putting that impulse into practice, saying “I am gay” is problematic because, to many, the word “am” implies social or personal approval of the potential outcome of the actual impulse.
This may be a cultural thing that will change. A common analogy for evangelicals is to alcoholism. Accompanying this is often the picture of someone who will desire to drink to excess for the rest of one’s life – an action which is plainly disapproved in Scripture. However, saying, “I am an alcoholic” does not convey social or personal approval. In fact, it often implies, “I see my situation realistically and therefore I cannot drink at all so I will arrange my life around this reality in order to avoid falling morally.” In fact, saying I am an alcoholic is often viewed as a good step. Not so with gay. I wonder (and please social conservatives reading this, don’t write hate letters -it is a blog, I am thinking out loud) if Christians could reclaim gay or some similar term in the way alcoholic means a step toward the pursuit of a valued outcome.
Ken – He wanted to figure out how to live within his beliefs even with his SSA.
Ivan – We never figured anything out really. He explored it some because now and then he would read Christian stuff on homosexuality and get angry. There are some other issues that shed some light on it all but I cannot go into it withou compromising the confidence. However, he is still figuring that out but mainly he doesn’t think it matters.
RE: bisexuality. I am going to do a post on that soon. I think it is important to not limit talk of change to losing SSA and gaining OSA. Some never lose SSA but acquire OSA; seems like that is pretty interesting in itself.
Since it comes up all the time, and again here in Ivan’s comment, could someone please explain to me the difference between what one is and what one “self-identifies” as? For those who know what I mean, this always smacks of “postitive confession” to me (which has always made my skin crawl).
What were Scott’s goals for therapy?
That was a fascinating case study. What do you think led him to experience homosexual attractions, and what led him to experience some heterosexual attractions, thus leading him to self identify as bi-sexual?
The juxtaposition of the NY Times article with that of Dr. T’s story brings to my mind that while it is easier to come out as gay in these days and times, it is also easier to seek out therapies for same-sex attraction.
When I was in therapy in the early 70s it wasn’t concerning my sexuality, however my therapist guessed at it. Or rather what landed me in therapy was ultimately my sexuality, but I didn’t want to admit to it. The whole idea was just too wrong in my mind to divulge to anyone.
I had done so earlier to my best friend at the age of 14 and what I got back began my plunge to deep into the closet. That was the atmosphere of time and of place concerning homosexuality in which I grew up, which was in a good part due to the religion of small-town and farming families. But nothing in that atmosphere was conducive to dealing with those issues in either respect.
No matter what one’s choice in avenues today, it seems to me that the gay movement/agenda/community – however you wish to think of it – is that reason why either choice is today available. Without Stonewall, without the 1973 APA decision, without a more general acceptance of gay folk today, it would appear to this traveller through time that the choice Scott made would not have been so easily pursued.
Am I seeing this ‘quirk’ of time wrongly?
I agree that a therapist should not interject labels or personal agendas, but they do need to be honest. To say anything other than “this is unlikely to change no matter what you do” would be dishonest at this point.
I’m also reminded of the number of times I have read cautions by ex-gay groups about how sexuality is not fully developed until one’s twenties, so a teenager is unable to make a decision about being gay before then. In this story, no one seemed to voice similar concerns that Scott, a teen, was adamant about his own direction.
While I don’t think it is too surprising that parents who do not want their son to be gay would be pleased with a Love Won Out conference and not so pleased with a PFLAG meeting, I have to say that I have found parents all over the spectrum at our local PFLAG chapter.
I hope we can agree, again, that in the vast majority of cases the situation involves a child whose orientation is not likely to change and parents who need help dealing with that. So it is not a big shock that most support comes in that fashion. After all, a few short years ago the opposite view, the one these parents apparently liked, was by far the dominant one.
I am curious about one thing; what would you say to a client who made the same requests as did Scott, but who you strongly suspected was acting out of of pressure from family or society? At what point would you, if ever, suggest to someone that accepting their orientation might be the best course to take? Or would you always be the therapist whom one can recommend and be assured that the client will never come away thinking such a thing?
I think “identity” is key here. “Sexual identity” is a recently isolated sub-catagory. To say no one is born gay is no more nor less true than to say everyone is born gay. To a certain extent we are born sexual beings, but that’s just a small part of who we are meant to become. Our physical attributes and temperment are integral factors as we develop an identity, but the summation of our experiences from infancy to young adulthood I believe have much more to do with how we perceive and deal with this sexual aspect of ourselves. Those experiences include our realization of self-hood, a secure sense of place and primary relationships where we “belong,” and that we “make a difference” within our physical and relational environment. Role models, peer pressures, and especially the expectations of significant others will influence the formation of our identity. So will the ethos of the culture and community with which we identify. If my son says he’s different from other kids, I agree –because he’s one of us, not one of them. He’s a unique human being who can become all he is meant to be. Regarding attractions to others, even other males, is not unusual –nor necessarily sexual. “You don’t have to be gay to love one another. In fact, you don’t have to be gay at all!” Beware the boxes our current culture tries to fit us into, just to assign us a sure identity. We can establish our own identity with the choices and decisions we make while dealing with whatever life sends our way. The turn-around for ex-gays is essentially an identity makeover initiated by that person’s conviction that he can be who he wants to be. I’m sure these thoughts could use some refinement, but it’s a start on seeing the larger picture rather than focusing just on sexual identity because that’s the cultural topic of the times.
Was I one of those therapists who would tell him to just accept being gay?
I’ve been down this road before here, but it bears repeating: Ethical therapists will not make pat decisions about their clients’ orientation and and prescribe an explicit self-identification. Nor will they insert their beliefs into the therapeutic process at the expense of their clients’ beliefs.
I know you’re also not making that point, Warren.
But, too often, that’s where it seems to me that misunderstandings begin.
Folks participating in any layperson-led peer support group, whether it be PFLAG or PFOX, AA or a grief support group, must understand that the probability of hearing directives, predictions, or advice — in a form no therapist would ever give — is high.
Bisexuality is real. The complexities of navigating the intersections of faith and sexuality, as well as the transitions from adolescence to adulthood, are real as well. Competent, ethical therapists know that and support their clients without predicting or directing the outcome.
I like this story. Scott sounds very similar to me, in that he has both a strong faith and a strong family. The fact that he gets along well with his older brother, and even “came out” to his father first, must alienate him somewhat from those who say that homosexuals don’t have good relationships with men. I believe that Joseph Nicolosi once said this:
“I have never seen an exception to that. I have never met a client who is dealing with homosexuality who had a salient older brother.”
“The guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men. When he begins to trust men, his homosexuality disappears.”
..and after reading it I decided that his views were certainly not for me. My father and brother are the two people that I care about most in the world, and I trust them with my life (and they trust me).
I appreciate the calm and logical approach that Scott has taken with his attractions. I’m currently going down a similar road and it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one. I pray that he and his family have peace.
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