In 1991 Simon Le Vey, the well known neurobiologist, discovered that homosexuality was biologically determined, as opposed to environmentally caused. He discovered that the hypothalamus of the average homosexual man was smaller than the one found in heterosexual men. This discovery lent strong credence to the biological theory of homosexuality in opposition to the old idea that homosexuality was caused by the environment or as choice made from a side effect of “weak” morals. People who have erroneously operated out of the belief that homosexuality was environmentally caused have cause irrespirable emotional and psychological damage to their gay children in a futile attempt to usurp nature.
This erroneous and archaic understanding implied, if not outright stated, that homosexuality is caused by poor parenting skills, something that anti-gay parents abhor. This belief maintains that homosexual men did not have a "normal" development and are therefore unhealthy. Certainly, no parent wants to be held responsible for causing such damage to their very own child.
Gay men have been made to feel as though they were somehow flawed right from the beginning of their childhood. If only they had the right and normal experiences when growing up, maybe they would have turned out "normal" in their sexuality like their heterosexual counterparts. This labeling and looking for causes for homosexuality has done more harm than good for the self-esteem of gay men and women. Just the suggestion of a cause for homosexuality implies the possibility of a "cure" for their "disorder." The self esteem of gay men and women is not served by such implied beliefs.
According to Richard A. Isay, M.D., the strained relationship between a gay child and the family may be a result, rather than the cause, of a child's development of homosexual orientation. It is a widely held belief backed by research that gay males experience a high proportion of hostile or withdrawing fathers. Isay, however, proposes that it is the fathers who are reacting to their sons' homosexuality with withdraw and hostility, rather than the hostility and anger causing the homosexuality. It is from this withdraw and hostility that the gay child begins to develop a lower sense of self-esteem.
Fathers of gay sons may become aware of their child's differences at some time in the early development of the child and have a sense that the child is closer to them than what they expected or for what society deems normal. Some fathers grow very uncomfortable with this sense of closeness or difference and reject the child through either withdrawing or by becoming hostile towards the child. It is the father's initiative to reject the child not the other way around. The reasons for this rejection has more to do with the father's sense of insecurity than with the child's actual "deviant" behavior.
It is also probable that the father feels some sense of responsibility and guilt for his son's being gay. It might be difficult for a father to face the son or even be able to stand the feelings that might be associated with the thought of having caused his son to be gay. Isay proposes that gay male children do go through an Oedipal phase of development, but it differs from the heterosexual experience in that the love attachment is to the father rather than to the mother. It is at this point that the father becomes uncomfortable with his son and begins the hostile or withdrawing behavior. Most gay men would deny this original erotic attachment to their fathers. This is apparently a natural aversion response children, straight and gay, have to incest. Rejection by the father is very confusing to a young gay child.
Gay sons have been accused throughout history as being mama's boys. Society shifts as much blame on the mother as on the father for raising a gay son. The mothers of gay sons are viewed as dominating, doting and castrating women. Popular belief has it that these women squelch the masculinity out of these boys so much that they do not know how to behave as men. It is also believed that gay men are afraid of women as a result of the behavior of their mothers.
Any way one looks at it, the mothers of gay sons are condemned by society, as much as, the fathers. It is no wonder that parents of gay sons feel a tremendous amount of shame when they discover that their child is gay. They are very much aware of how society will view them as parents. In many instances, they feel shame and anger over the child's admission of being gay which they direct to the child. Often they feel as failures having let their child and family down and that they have caused this to happen in some way.
If it were true that gay men had such oppressive mothers, they would probably not be able to handle relationships with women of any kind because of having projected the bad part of their mothers onto them. However, many gay men are able to seek out and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships with women. As a result, gay men have long been fervent supporters of women's rights. In a survey of 312 homosexual men three quarters of them had at least 1 heterosexual experience since puberty and 98 of those men were either married or living with a female lover for three months or longer (McWhirter & Mattison, 1984, p. 270).
In reality, the mother becomes the only ally the child has when the father rejects him. A mother may or may not be able to sense the child's latent homosexuality, but she can clearly recognize when the father is rejecting or hostile to the child. For these reasons, the mother may find herself defending the gay child in front of the father more often than she might with the other heterosexual children in the family. It is only common sense that if the child has been rejected by the father, he would seek out his mother for the attention he could not receive from his father. In many cases, it is actually the mother who requests that the son not tell the father. Although this may appear on the surface as a manipulation of the mother to distance the father from the son, in reality, the mother has been witness to the hostility of the father and in most cases is probably trying to protect the son from further assault and harm from the father.
If environmental causes are paramount for the creation of a gay child, then we would expect to see evidence of such a belief by a high rate of homosexuality in the other children who are growing up in the same environment. This has not turned out to be the case. Out of a study of 312 gay men, only two and a half percent of the siblings were known to be gay (McWhirter & Mattison, 1984, p. 182). That is one half to one quarter of the estimated percentage of gay people in the general population, which is estimated to be somewhere between 7% and 10% of the population. Such widely held beliefs beg the question, if environment is the cause, why are all of the children within this type of family not gay? Such a question seems to expose the unreasonableness of these archaic beliefs.
These kinds of experiences can be very damaging to a developing gay boy. As the child grows up and develops into an adult, the models he has had for relationships have been fraught with hostility, rejection and shame. The child now leaves the home, and hopefully at some point acknowledges his homosexuality and may desire to enter into a relationship with another man.
In conclusion, the hostility of the father and the protection of the mother are the result of the parents' reactions to the child's latent homosexuality rather than the cause of the child's gay orientation. It is the dysfunctional family constellation that pathologizes his future love relationships. However, a gay man who has experienced a tumultuous childhood, can overcome his liabilities of the past and enjoy a rich, fulfilling and healthy love relationship as can any human being. The only choice these individuals face is not in their orientation but whether or not to be honest.
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Clark, D. (1978). Loving someone gay. New York: New American Library.
Isay, R. (1989). Being homosexual: Gay men and their development. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Lewes, K. (1988). The psychoanalytic theory of male homosexuality. New York: Simon and Schuster.
McWhirter, D. & Mattison, A. (1984). The male couple. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Beebe, J. (1993, March). The individuation of homosexuality. Unpublished lecture, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria, CA.