Friday, December 11, 2009

Coming Out Straight & Other Lies

Because of the strong response I got to yesterday's pro-gay post, and because I'm still pissed that Ugandans are facing imprisonment for the "crime" of being gay, and because that's absolutely ridiculous, I decided to spend more time on This story is from a man who claims the program is helping him to lose his Same-Sex Attraction (SSA or homosexuality for non tards.)
Tom's Story
“Out of the forthright admission of one’s frailties and the determined commitment to go on, comes a laminated strength powerful enough to overcome those who have not made such a struggle.” –from “Fantastic,” by Lawrence Lerner
Who the heck is Lawrence Lerner, another cure-the-gay quack? No, Laurence Lerner is the author of Fantastic but that's not the whole title. It should read Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Somehow I doubt that quote is about coming out homosexuality.
By the time, at age 32, I began to seriously address my SSA, I had been struggling with it for so long I could barely remember life without it. There are no words to adequately express how consuming and crippling it was. As I write this, I am thirty-five and continuing on my journey of recovery, moving toward the reclamation of my true masculine potential which lay dormant for so long. Although two and a half years have passed since I decided to finally confront my SSA, the start of this journey seems like it was a lifetime ago. In some ways, it was.
Maybe you could "barely remember" life without homosexuality because you were born gay, and at 35 you are still gay. Not all men are masculine, and almost no men are entirely masculine (though I can sort of see why a program that lionizes machismo might admire Arnold.) I'm including straight men in this category. Just as I know very masculine gay men, I also know some fairly effeminate straight or bisexual men. I know guys who do martial arts and also get manicures. As one friend put it, "Bunch of pretty girls touching me for an hour while I sit in a massage chair? Hell yeah." There are straight men who like to dress nicely, and there are gay men who couldn't care less. This program is such obviously fake bullshit.
It all began when I was six years old. My father was at that time a raging alcoholic, my older brother (seven years older than I) was rebelling against him, and my mother was desperately trying to hold our family together. At about this time I started school, and I began to see how other kids behaved with their parents and how life appeared to be in their homes. I was and am a very sensitive person, very quick to read the surroundings and underlying mood of a situation. I recognized quickly that something was not entirely right in our home, not only with my father but with our entire family. As the years went on, it was very painful to watch my father deteriorate into his addiction, and along with him our family life deteriorated too.
You grew up in an abusive, dysfunctional home. That sucks. Your brother, like my brother, fell into the rebel role. It's not a fun one, but it is actually the healthiest. Your mom became an enabler, and you became an appeaser. I've loved and lived with an active alcoholic before. It's hell. You had a terrible childhood, and you didn't deserve that. I'm sorry it happened to you, but it did not cause your homosexuality.
When I was 10, my mother gave my father an ultimatum: “Stop drinking or I am leaving you!” He did stop, and never touched a drink again. Still, although the nights of wondering if my father would come home drunk ended, I still never felt comfortable with him. Particularly in the early years of his sobriety, it was as if our family was playing a game of make-believe; as if the turmoil caused by his drinking-or the anticipation of that turmoil-had never existed. To this day, my father has never once acknowledged that he was ever wrong. Even after nearly twenty-five years of sobriety, he cannot speak of his drinking days, and worse, he takes no responsibility for them.
My ex-husband didn't respond to my ultimatum the same way, and I'm glad. I think even if he had quit drinking he still would have been an asshole and that man would have died before admitting he'd made a mistake. He absolutely could not have a conversation about what went wrong and how we were gonna fix it. He's probably still an asshole, but he's not my asshole anymore.
As I’ve grown and come to better understand my father, I recognize that he is in many ways what Alcoholics Anonymous calls a “dry drunk,” someone who is no longer drinking but whose thinking is still distorted by the thought patterns of addiction. I also recognized very early on that I would rather die than be like him. It gives me no pleasure to say that; it is in fact profoundly sad to do so. But it is true. While my father was staying sober, my brother-with whom he never got along-was going his own way. My brother had the unique ability to infuriate our father on many occasions. Why couldn’t he just shut up and keep the peace? I made the decision somewhere around the age of 13 that I was never going to be like my brother, either.
AA calls anybody who's not a member of their cult a "dry drunk" (especially atheists.) Your brother was actually the healthy one. He was "going his own way" and going against your father - of course it caused friction, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do. I'm glad I rebelled. It was important to get practice making different choices, so that when I became a mom, I was able to be a completely different kind of parent. Now I've found love, and it's nothing like what my family or my ex gave me. But I had to learn to go against them and go against the way things had always been, and rebelling gave me years of practice.
During those turbulent years, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was to protect my mother. In my view, she’d been through enough. My father’s insensitivity to her, the stress she took on mediating between my brother and father, the pain the entire situation caused her-it was too much. I vowed that I would never hurt her. I would be the perfect son. In the process I became her sounding board, in a sense her emotional “husband.” To say I became overly attached to her is an understatement.
My mother tried to make me into her co-victim, too. I fell for it for years, but one day I woke up and I realized she should have done more to protect me. Just as surely as your father hurt you, your mother let him. She is no better than the omnipotent god who sits by and watches as priests rape children and cults poison minds and kill people. Also, you've trapped yourself in with always/never thinking - you'll never be like your dad, never like your brother, never hurt your mother... It's a lot for one kid or adult to handle.
Meanwhile, I was discovering that my extreme sensitivity and lack of athletic ability in a hyper-masculine hometown were crippling me. I did not fit in with the other boys. I was passive, afraid to fight. I liked to dress nicely, and I was weak and overweight. I felt in some ways, really in many ways, crushed by the circumstances of my life. I wanted to be someone else. By this time I was 13, in the spring of the seventh grade, and now my SSA began.
It sounds like you've been getting the message that you "ought" to be more masculine for a long time; that's unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with being sensitive to others' feelings or to dressing with care. While it is of course preferable to be healthy rather than unhealthy, it doesn't determine who you are or how much you matter. Trust me - losing the weight alone, without learning to love yourself, will never make you happy. You hit puberty, and your sexuality woke up. That's normal. For gay teens, that means being attracted to people of the same gender.
The first boy I became attracted to was a year older than I, and he was everything I could have been “if only.” He was smart, athletic, preppy, and seemed very nice. At that point I didn’t consciously think it was weird for me to be constantly thinking about this guy. What I remember asking myself was, How can I be more like him? How can I turn into him? How can I get him to like me?

As I entered high school, I re-experienced those feelings for other boys. They were always the same-lean, preppy, baby-faced, safe. I studied how they dressed and acted, what they liked and tried to emulate them. Above all else, I worked hard to get them to like me and be my closest friends. The tension and excitement that this all-consuming quest caused me cannot be overstated. I often masturbated while thinking about them, trying to relieve the anxiety that all of those feelings caused. Yet I remained in deep denial about the nature of my feelings.
I think probably a lot of us who felt uncool in middle and high school formed these kind of hero-worship infatuations. I certainly followed after a few alpha-females during my years of insecurity. And I'm attracted to woman who I would want to look like - I am pretty femme, and I'm more usually attracted to thin, femme women. It's what I find beautiful both in myself and in other women.* I dated girls and women of all different builds though, just as I've formed meaningful and sexual relationships with people who I didn't necessarily think were gorgeous the moment I met them. However, I most frequently fantasized those women I found most appealing - duh.
In the rare moments when I reflected on what I was doing, I recognized that it was highly unlikely that these boys, whom I so admired, felt the same way about me. But this didn’t stop me-my emotional cravings and need for belonging were too strong. Time after time, no matter what guy I pursued, obsessed over, and longed to be with, every single time I got my heart broken in some way. Nothing ever worked out the way I wanted it to. Before long I would turn my attention toward someone else, and the same thing would happen all over again.
It doesn't sound like you were pursuing mutually satisfying healthy relationships, and you had a poor self-image. That's a terrible combination for early dating years and I remember it well as sucking royally. However, I'm still hearing a lot of "always/never" statements - time after time, every single time, nothing ever worked, all over again - and those suggest to me a distorted image of what was really going on. My grandmother was a monster who led to the deaths of dozens of innocent children, yet even she had moments of kindness. Perhaps the only absolute statement we can make is that nobody is all one thing or another. So it's possible those boys would have liked you, were attracted to you, or would have enjoyed being your friend. It's easy to put someone unattainable on a pedestal - it's much harder to be someone's friend.
My religious tradition was Roman Catholic, and my SSA feelings were a source of guilt and shame to me. I had “girlfriends,” but only because it was what was expected of me. I would never have admitted to anyone that my feelings for guys were stronger and more intense than what I felt for girls. It was an exercise in stamina and required tremendous acting to pretend that I was “normal.”
Ah, now we get to it. The reason you don't want to be gay is because you were taught, brainwashed really, into believing that a Sky Daddy god wanted you to dig chicks. If you had instead come out of the closet, particularly if you'd been in a loving and supportive environment of accepting people, you could have discovered what satisfying emotional and sexual relationships with men could be like. You could have made gay friends and boyfriends and had a full and meaningful life as a gay man. Instead you were a gay man trapped in a straight facade, unable to enjoy the company of women or have the relationship you sought with men. That's heartbreaking. And it's an indictment on religion, not on homosexuality.
In the summer between seventh and eighth grades, a man I had come to trust and tried to emulate offered me a ride home from an event. I was shocked when he started asking me questions about how often I masturbated, how I did it, and whether I liked it. His questions made me extremely uncomfortable, but I wanted his attention too much to say so. Then, after a few minutes of this kind of talk, he softly said, “Show me how you do it.”

It has been twenty-one years since this incident took place and I still cannot adequately explain the fear I experienced in that moment. Why did I accommodate him? Why did I do what he asked? Because I was afraid-too afraid not to. I was afraid that if I didn’t do what he wanted, he wouldn’t like me anymore.

As I complied with his request and pulled down my pants, he took one look at me and then began to mock and laugh. I was humiliated beyond words. Even more confusing, minutes later, as he continued to drive me home, he kept talking about nothing in particular, as if the incident never had happened. In the months and years to come I saw this man frequently and he never again asked me to do such a thing. But what he did, which was perhaps even more devastating, was continue to belittle me as he had done during the incident.
You trusted someone and he exploited your vulnerabilities and your age for his own sick ends. I'm sorry. I used to ask myself, why did I keep going back to Pam's house where her dad would molest me? Because as awful as it was, on some level, I realized that at least someone was paying attention to me. You were starved for love and for attention and this man hurt you, and then mocked you, and never apologized for what he did.
I promised myself not to speak of that event to anyone-never, ever. I tried to put it out of my mind, but for the next two decades I carried it within me, feeling deep shame and confusion. As I got older, I heard about other boys who’d had absolutely horrifying experiences of sexual abuse over long periods of time. I tried to convince myself that my own experience was really nothing-a moment too insignificant to remember. But in my heart I knew that simply wasn’t true.
That was a really unhealthy response. Talking about sexual abuse makes it less shameful, less personal, and less terrible. And it really does no good to compare our pain to someone else's. I remember even as a little girl in group therapy, feeling so grateful that the man who molested was someone else's dad, and not mine. Out of all the girls in there, I was the only one who hadn't been touched by a dad, stepdad, fosterdad, fosterbrother, granddad, uncle, or mom's boyfriend. Yet my pain was sufficient to need help and healing and someone to talk to. There is no minimum threshold for sexual abuse that is okay and not worth remembering or recovering from. Any abuse is destructive and needs to be addressed.
Meanwhile, even as I tried to pursue a normal life, my attraction to guys continued. There were still girlfriends, too, but as soon as our relationships led to intimacy, whether physical or emotional, an automatic barrier closed in around me. Finally, after “fooling myself” for a couple of years, when I was 24 I concluded it was very likely that I was gay.
Ten years after you noticed your first attractions for guys, you concluded you were gay? Okay well then when you look back on the "unhappiness" of your gay life, remember that you were made miserable by religious guilt and pretending to be something you're not. The homosexuality itself wasn't the problem, just how your religion and family made you feel about it, and your decision to try to bury your feelings rather than meet your needs.
Now I actively began to seek out other gays. I wanted to explore my feelings further, even though I felt almost nauseated every time I did so. Gradually my emotional attachments to men turned into physical relationships. Every time it happened, I came away more sad, confused, lonelier than ever, and sickened by my behavior. I tried to convince myself that everything was OK, but something inside me knew very well that it was not.
You jumped into physical intimacy before you had become comfortable with your sexuality. That's bound to cause pain, especially if you've been brought up to believe that homosexuality is somehow evil, unnatural, or wrong. That sense of nausea you describe isn't typical of healthy emotional or sexual encounters.
This pattern of playing straight while having a double life went on for the next three years, until the night I met the man who would ultimately set me on the path to self-recovery. He was the ultimate combination of all the qualities I had sought for the past fourteen years. He was impossibly good looking, preppy, baby-faced, physically unimposing-everything I had ever desired in one package. I fell not into love but into an obsession that I now shudder to think about. I clearly remember thinking, if I could win his friendship, my life would be complete. I was convinced that, with him beside me, my life of longing and loneliness would be over.
The fact that you were "playing straight while having a double life" tells me you never experienced life as an openly gay man, dating other openly gay men and being comfortable with your sexuality. One person can never fill the hole left by our parents. We have to fill that with friends and lovers and therapists over many years, but we can get better. We can't rely on one person to make us happy, though, no matter how much we might admire them and be aroused by them. I have been convinced though, that gaining one simple unattainable thing (thinness) would make me happy. It didn't. It was insufficient to meet my need.
For the next year and a half, I pursued him with sick determination. And every time I went out of my way to prove myself to him, every time I sacrificed, every time I drove past by his house in the middle of the night, I knew deep inside that I was in serious trouble. To the best of my knowledge, he never knew the extent of my feelings. Or maybe he did. The point is my yearnings were never reciprocated. Worse than that, I got the feeling he didn’t really care at all.
Again, this sounds like a very unhealthy way of dealing, although I can recognize you didn't have good modeling of emotional management or wish fulfillment growing up. If you had been an openly gay man in a community of gay friends, you would probably have been protected from some of the worst aspects of this unhealthy obsession and unrequited desire.
The pain was crippling. I could never stop thinking about him, and to alleviate my obsession, I impulsively went out in the middle of the night to hook up sexually with the first guy I could find. This went on for months, until one winter night, I sat down alone in my apartment, lonelier and more isolated than I had ever been. I cried bitterly, thinking of the wreckage my life had become, thinking of all the men I had pursued, especially over the last year. I wrote down a vow that I fully intended to keep, even if I didn’t know how to do so. All I knew was that this emotional torture could not go on. This will never happen again! I promised myself. Of course my SSA desires continued despite my best intentions. For the next few years, I emotionally cut myself off, despite the fact that I occasionally slipped up and hooked up when the craving became too strong. Three years after I made my vow, and after I repeatedly broke it without really wanting to, I admitted to myself that I needed help.
Acting-out sexual behaviors, like hooking up with the first guy you can find because you're unhappy, is unhealthy. Like so many other aspects of your story, it's also understandable. Again, if you'd been openly gay and in supportive friendships and relationships with other gay people (instead of just obsessing over one man and having meaningless sex with others) you probably would not have been nearly so unhappy. You might have had friends or close romantic relationships. You might have been fulfilled, but when you were pretending to be straight, and fantasizing about an unattainable man, you had sex out of misery, not love or desire or intimacy or fun.

I dated a Catholic. He would periodically decide that he felt horrible guilt over his heathen lifestyle (that I quite enjoyed) and would go confess to his priest, and then make vows not to touch beer or women or pot again. These were ridiculous promises for him to make, and only amplified his sense of guilt. Like a perfectionist trying to do the impossible, you were trying to make yourself be straight by sheer force of will. And sexuality isn't a choice; if it was, I imagine fewer people would be gay because Christians in our society so often treat gay people unfairly.
But my fear of seeking help was overwhelming. What would I find out if I actually talked to someone about my life? Was I truly gay? Was there any hope for change? I continued to struggle with these questions for close to a year. At last, shattered by one more intolerable relationship, I finally did a search on the Web for some kind of an organization that could help men like me. I found the International Healing Foundation website, where I read, “No one is born with SSA.”

That was it. I had been right all along. I wasn’t supposed to be gay.
Well, if you'd talked to PFLAG, an SGA, or anybody else who wasn't a quack, you would have found out that about 1 out of 10 American men are gay, and that isn't an insult to their character or anything else; they just happen to like dudes. Instead you found an organization that promised to remove your homosexuality, which is impossible. You weren't right all along. That's okay - I've been wrong about a great many things, more things than I have been right about. But I continue to grow and learn and get healthier. I no longer believe in God, I no longer think I suck, and I am no longer miserable.
Then I read Richard Cohen’s book Coming Out Straight. I identified with so much of what he wrote and recognized in myself several of the causes of SSA that he listed. I learned that I was a classic SSA male-extremely sensitive, with an alcoholic and abusive father, a very close connection to my mother, and a history of sexual abuse. This confirmed what I had always suspected, that my SSA feelings did not happen by accident. After wrestling with my fears a little longer, I made an appointment to talk to Richard.
Your dad's drinking, your mom's enabling, and your unhappy childhood didn't make you gay - they made you unhappy. Richard Cohen is a hack who exploits people's pain and loneliness for his own sick ends, much like the man who took advantage of you as a boy. And I've learned to be suspicious of a cure that "confirmed what I had always suspected" and to instead question what I've always believed. After all, just like you, I grew up in an abusive, unhealthy, dysfunctional home. I didn't get good models of sex, love, parenting, money management, healthcare, or work/life balance. I've had to look for sources that disagreed with the teachings of my family - religious and guilt-laden, like your own - to find real healing.
I thought we could figure all this out in his office, just between the two of us, until he stressed to me the importance of reaching out to other people. Tell other people? He had to be kidding. But he affirmed and reaffirmed this necessity, until I finally agreed to try. “You’d better be right about this!” I warned him.

Before long I discovered that I was blessed with a handful of men in my life with whom I could share the most intimate details of what I’d been through. These men were fantastic. I kept them and Richard captive for hours on end, talking through the heartaches, disappointments and failures I had never talked about to any one before. It was radical for me to open up like this.
Yes, of course you needed to talk to someone. And it makes sense, both as a gay man and as someone who was abused by a man, that you would want to talk about this with men. You were finally open with people about who you were, even though you were trying to change it, and you began to form healthy, strong, intimate relationships with other men on an emotional level, rather than an obsessive or hookup level. If only you'd been doing this in the context of accepting yourself, you could be very far on the path to healing from your horrible childhood by now.
Meanwhile, Richard explained that I had to spend the next year reconnecting to my inner child-the wounded little boy within me. Now at first I thought this was crazy. I did not sense any connection to any child, inner or otherwise. But I slowly realized that it was indeed my inner child who had to be healed, not the 33-year-old adult. This process was not easy, and it took a lot of time for me to connect with my inner child, because “he” had been hurt so deeply. I learned that I had to become a loving father to him-the kind of father I’d never had. Only in doing so could I overcome the lifelong pain, fear and loneliness that had led to my SSA. As I followed this healing path, slowly but surely my SSA feelings started to disappear.
Richard Cohen is a homophobic homosexual, unlicensed and kicked out of the American Counseling Association for ethical practices, who takes respected therapeutic principles and then blends them with guilt, Christianity, and cuddling and hurts people badly by convincing them their natural homosexuality is something that needs fixing.
Other difficult issues arose. Confronting the man who had humiliated me became necessary. Looking back, I am still surprised that I was so gung-ho, because being confrontational has never been part of my nature. When the moment finally came, seventeen months after I started my healing of SSA, I can honestly say that I have never felt God’s power more strongly than I did as I spoke to him. As empowering as that experience was, it was still only a part of the larger process of setting things right.
I screamed "You SUCK" at the top of my lungs at my mom. I called my grandmother and let her know I held her responsible for a little boy's death. I felt an exhilarating rush of relief, excitement, and triumph with both of these, but I did not mistake those feelings for the presence of an omnipotent god.
I wish that I could say the attempts I made in connecting with my father had gone well, too, but I learned something I had never considered: That I had the courage and insight to confront my demons, even if he could not. This process of confrontation, of setting things in order, of dealing with the pain, of listening to my inner child, of sharing with other men, and of embracing what I felt was my true nature, slowly but surely took away the underlying fear I had of “losing myself.” At last I am getting to know the man that I was truly meant to be.
I'm all for confronting demons, seriously. This blog and the book I'm writing are both ways I fight my fears and move behind my tragic past into a bright new tomorrow. It's nice that you've found friends, although the fact that your friends are invested in you becoming straight may place additional burdens on you. It will probably take you even longer to come to terms with your sexuality, as a result of following Cohen's teachings.
As I write this, I am in what Richard calls “Stage Four” of the healing journey. My next step is to speak about these things with my mother and heal my opposite-sex wounds. I am not sure how it will turn out, but I am not worried. I hope to establish a relationship with a woman soon, and believe that I will. The healing process takes a lot of time. You cannot rush something like coming out of SSA. But I can say with certainty that I cannot imagine returning to my past behaviors. I know that change is possible. I am living proof.
You are only proof that brainwashing is possible, and we already knew that. Telling your mom how much she negelcted you, and let your father's alcoholism and rage run your house, is important. It can be cathartic. But it won't make you straight, nothing will. You're a gay man, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the sooner you'll be able to find real love and real peace within yourself. It's sad to think you've wasted two and a half years in this program, and you're still gay. Just accept it - be okay with it. Your religion is nothing but myths, fairy tales, and lies and you are a human, prone to errors, hurt by your protectors, and in pain. Healing those wounds is necessary for happiness, but cannot change your sexual orientation.

That man is 35 years old and has never been in a real relationship. I think this is one of the saddest posts I've ever written. I need ice cream after that. Or at least something humerous to lighten the mood.

* I find lots of things beautiful in women, and think women of every size can be beautiful. I'm only talking about attraction though, and that's naturally a more specific definition.