Friday, November 27, 2009

The Purgatory of "Straight" Men Who Have Sex with Men

One of the wonders of this blog is the opportunity it affords to meet others from all around the world and also those who have traveled parallel journeys with my own, including the stages of denial of one's true sexual orientation and even getting married to a woman in the hope that somehow the unwanted thoughts of other males would cease. Needless to say, the thoughts do not go away and sooner or later one cracks and is forced to face the truth either voluntarily or as a result of an unplanned encounter as was the case with me. One such fellow traveler is Dr. Loren Olson (pictured at left) who is a psychiatrist and blog master of a blog called Magnetic Fire which is aimed at providing LGBT resources for mature gay men, their spouses or ex-spouses, their kids, their extended families, and their counselors and clergy. As I have discovered through this blog there are MANY, MANY men struggling to "come out" in mid-life or otherwise come to terms with the sexuality. Loren has shared with me a piece he wrote that shares some of his own experiences and also looks at the quackery known as reparative therapy. Sexual orientation cannot be changed, but as long as they can make money and dupe politicians the proponents of "ex-gay" therapies will continue to peddle their snake oil. Here is Loren's article (it's long but worth the read):
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a final purification necessary to achieve the holiness essential to enter the joy of heaven because, although we may die in God’s grace with our mortal sins forgiven, many impurities may still remain within us.

The entire controversy surrounding ex-gay ministries and reparative therapies unfolded at my last family reunion. Prior to the reunion, I had received a form to update information about my scion of the larger family tree. Adding new grandchildren was easy, but making a decision about whether or not to write “Doug,” on the spouse line proved to be more difficult, even though he’d been my life partner for over 20 years.
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Although my immediate family had been in on my somewhat secret life for most of that time, I could not bring myself to talk about my sexual orientation with the extended family until after my mother’s death. Now that she had passed, I decided it was time. Since I was to give the farewell “message” on Sunday morning, I decided to speak about family secrets: my being gay and my grandfather’s suicide. Breaking the silence on either subject would not have pleased my mother.
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Upon arriving at the reunion, I ran into one of my favorite cousins. I asked her about her family and she told me in Christmas-letter fashion how well two of her children were doing, omitting any mention of her third, a son, so I asked about him. “Oh, he’s in Wichita,” she said. Nothing more. I pressed on. “What’s he doing there?” She looked away from me, and out of the corner of her mouth, she sputtered, “He’s involved in ex-gay ministries.” After regaining my composure, all I could say was, “Tough work.” Spoken almost like half a good bye, she said, “Yes, it is.” We didn’t speak of it again the entire weekend.
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I didn’t need to extend the conversation with her to understand her belief. “The Bible proves that homosexuality is a sin, and only through total surrender to Christ can homosexuals transform themselves into heterosexuals.” I was certain my cousin felt called to lead himself and others out of that “inherently sinful life.”
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I was raised in the less conservative Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- now faced with the prospect of splitting over the issue of allowing gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve in the clergy. My mother’s pastor had counseled her that my sexual orientation would send me straight to hell. Although she always loved Doug as a son, until the time of her death, she struggled with the nature of our relationship. Until I was forty, I wrestled with painful internal conflicts about sexual orientation, family and religion.
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“Conversion-Reparative Therapy (CRT)” is any one or a combination of different forms of “treatment” based on religious or psychological concepts, designed to change a person from a primarily homosexual orientation to a primarily heterosexual orientation. The religious approaches are often called “ex-gay ministries,” and the psychological approaches are referred to as “reparative therapy.” They are typically psychoanalytically based, but may also include elements of behavioral and cognitive therapies.
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Discussions about CRT are often quite emotional and polarizing, and generally focus on issues of ethics and effectiveness. All of these interventions have a few things in common:
1. They consider homosexuality pathological and/or sinful
2. They believe homosexuality is a choice
3. They believe that a homosexual orientation can be changed to a heterosexual orientation, or at a minimum, suppressed and controlled.
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Although I am a believer in prayer and healing, I never felt much impact from my mother’s prayers. I left the church for many years because I really couldn’t see much difference when they said they “hated the sin but loved the sinner.” Since being homosexual penetrated every corner of my existence, the sin and the sinner in my mind were indistinguishable. Ex-gay ministries have been plague by the “backsliding” into homosexuality of their leadership, some of whom have gone on to become the most vocal and credible critics of the ministries. Claims of successful conversion are questionable and don’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
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For the first time in my adult life, I had sex with a man not long after the Stonewall Rebellion. I was studying psychiatry, and while in training, the American Psychiatric Association moved from labeling homosexuality a “psychopathic deviancy” to eliminating it from their diagnostic manual. But even had it remained a “deviancy,” my transformation into a gay man would have continued. The “reparative therapy” movement claims to be dedicated to “research, therapy and prevention of homosexuality,” all of which suggests that they are scientists studying the “disease’ of homosexuality. It is secular, and because the leaders are a psychologist and a physician, it carries an aura of scientific respectability. But auras are illusions.
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The leaders of the academic-sounding National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) frequently talk about “non-gay homosexuals” and the “gay life style.” They refer to homosexuality as a “neurotic adaptation” related to “reactive detachment” from “smothering mothers and abdicating fathers.” There’s a lot to object to in those references, and a lot has been written to refute it. “Neurotic” is a word which hasn’t been used in psychiatry for over 30 years, for example, and hardly anyone who is not a part of the reparative therapy movements believes that parents made their sons gay.
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Reparative therapy has mischaracterized both same sex and opposite relationships, stating that homosexual relationships are brief, volatile and do not possess “the mature elements of quiet consistency, trust, mutual dependency and sexual fidelity characteristic of highly functioning heterosexual marriages.” Neither my ex-wife nor my husband would recognize this description of our relationships.
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The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychology Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all view CRT as unethical because it is based on an unproven theoretical framework, and because the effects of this treatment can be harmful.
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But what about those men in sexual purgatory, not quite straight enough to be heterosexual and not homosexual enough to be gay? And there are a lot of them. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) includes these men with gay men in their category, “Men who have sex with men (MSM).” They recognize there are far more men who have sex with men that just those who define themselves as gay. Uncomfortable with that idea, society as a whole conspires to keep them in a collective closet.
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Talk about African American men on the “down low” caused quite a stir in recent years when awareness was raised about the existence of this phenomenon in the African American community, but it exists in every race and culture, and in particular, those cultures with strong prohibitions against homosexuality.
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Those engaged in CRT use the term “homosexual” rather than “gay,” and by “homosexual” they mean eroticized same sex responsiveness. They only use “gay” to refer to sociopolitical activists who have “adopted a gay lifestyle’ with all the accoutrements of the gay stereotype. The difference is between being gay and doing gay, because they know “being” cannot be fixed but perhaps “doing” can be. They declare their mission is to support those who are unhappy with that “lifestyle” and seek to diminish or eliminate those same sex attractions.
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I lived a good portion of my life caught up in religious dogma as well as in a search for the neurotic explanations for my same sex attractions. What I was not prepared for was to be criticized by some in the gay community as a religiously bigoted, hypocritical, non-self-actualized, self-hating, internalized-homophobic man because I delayed coming out until I was in the middle of my life. Apparently, this large, hidden community of MSM, those “non-gay homosexuals,” is a group which CRT therapists want to cure but also significantly threaten some in the LGBT community.
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Hardly anyone would disagree that the process of coming out is individually quite liberating, described by many as “coming home.” Most of us who have come out understand that coming out is essential for equality and social justice and that people who work against equality while living a secret homosexual existence should be exposed for their hypocrisy.
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But what of those MSM, like Michael, who hosts this blog, and me, who spent years in a kind of sexual purgatory, who, “although imperfectly purified,” are not quite holy enough to enter the either the homosexual kingdom of heaven or heterosexual one? Michael and I, like millions of others, and for a variety of different reasons, gave “the heterosexual lifestyle” a shot. For me, trying to get out of that perdition wasn’t just swimming against a current, it was like trying to climb a waterfall.
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The primary reasons why some gay people wish to “go straight” are related to a fear of family and society’s disapproval and the canons of religious establishments. Were that not difficult enough, these conflicts have been politicized. Through a deliberate mischaracterization of homosexuality and accusing the LGBT community of some non-existent agenda intended to recruit innocent people into the “life style,” organizations like the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage and the Christian Coalition have exaggerated and distorted the issues, extending the time for those stuck in same-sex purgatory.
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Although not born out by the facts, these accusations are repeated as if factual with no concern for their illegitimacy. Through a series of focus groups, they discovered that by promoting the idea children are endangered and that sexual orientation is a choice and changeable, they can convince the homosexually naïve to deny equal rights to lesbians and gays. Working in concert with the ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy, their use of inflammatory speech has recruited membership and milked the best cash cow since threats of communism.
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Over and over I speak with men who well into the middle and even the end of their lives struggle with their sexuality. They say things like, “I love men but I can’t be gay. I love my family/God/sports too much.” Instead of knowing gay men in all of their strength and diversity, they have incorporated an image of the stereotypical gay male exemplified by only a very few.
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Those of us who have come out later in life have an obligation to reach out to those men to show them the true meaning of what it means to be a gay man, but we also need to interpret to those activists in the LGBT community the pain and the struggle responsible for our delayed coming out. We must confront hypocrisy where it is exists while supporting those MSM who have said they are still not ready to live openly as a gay man. Although we do not have a choice about our sexual orientation, we do have control over our value system which dictates how we choose to express it.
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Like myself, Loren wants to be a resource to those who are struggling to make the journey we have made to self-acceptance. It is not an easy path and friends along the way make the journey so much more bearable.

3 comments:

Mr. HCI said...

After discovering the gay/bi blogosphere a year or so ago, and discovering how many middle-aged and closeted guys there are out there, and thinking about things I've seen over the years, I have a gut feeling the old 10% number is actually low.

One thing I find really interesting in blog-after-blog-after-blog is the notion that the blogger himself is a rarity because he doesn't fit gay stereotypes. I had myself convinced of the same for quite a bit of my youth. I wasn't athletic or macho, but I was a big time metalhead and not effeminate in the slightest.

I think if every guy who'd had sex with another guy (willingly, of course) turned lavender for a day, the percentage of lavender men would be probably close to, if not more than, 50%. If the intensity of the lavender coloring varied based on the degree of attraction the men felt to other males vs females, I think the more intense lavender would represent more than 10%.

I used to think I came out quite late in life because I waited 'til I was 28. My heart goes out to everyone, but especially guys that age or older, who is still trapped.

NG said...

I'd like Dr. Olsen to comment on what happens when friends hinder that journey into self acceptance.

Estraven said...

Bisexuality is defined as “The capacity to be romantically and/or physically attracted to the same and other genders.”

So people who are able to fall in love with both/all genders (biromantic) but are only physically attracted to one; people who can only fall in love with one gender (monoromantic), but can have sex with both/all genders, and people who are asexual, but biromantic, would all be considered to be bisexual.

One of the worst myths is that people have to be 50/50 to be bi. It’s absolutely not true. We talk about “straight-leaning” and “gay-leaning” bi people. Indeed, here is what often happens. Someone grows up in a mildly to severely homophobic environment. Let’s say they are 25% straight, 75% gay. They try to squish themselves into that 25% straight as much as possible, depending on how homophobic the environment, and tell their parents they are straight or bi, again depending on how homophobic the parents are.


But they are 75% unhappy. This isn’t working. So at some point they probably move away, declare themselves gay, and now they are 75% happy. But the 25% is nagging at them, and now they have to repress that. This is where we bisexuals believe biphobia comes from. 100% gay guys, who have never ever once in their lives been able to get it up for a woman, generally are not biphobic. So some have a second coming out, and declare themselves bi. But others fear they will be instantly kicked out of the G/L community if they do, so they are in what we call the "closet within the closet;" a bi person identifying as gay or Lesbian because they cannot deal with the biphobia in the G/L community.

So we bisexuals are building a bi community, which grows every year, so when the closeted bi people now denying a part of themselves to fit into the G/L world are ready for their second coming out, we will be here for you.

To find a bi group near you, go to the BiNET USA Website.