Homosexual Behavior as Reparative Theatre
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
Reparative Therapy posits two fundamentally distinct self-states: The Assertive Self- State within which the client finds his true self, and the Shame Self-State within which he experiences his false self. In working on overcoming his gay porn addiction, the client comes to realize that in order to become sexually aroused, he must first leave his Assertive True Self and shift into a Shamed False Self. He does this without his awareness, but the eventual realization serves to expose the fantasy nature of the attraction, diminishing the grip of his addiction, as well as his homosexuality.
The Self-State distinction essential to Reparative theory finds theoretical support in the writings of Joyce McDougall. In her clinical studies, she confirms our understanding of homosexual enactment as a gender-based self-reparation.
Among the few contemporary psychoanalysts willing to study what were once called the perversions, Joyce McDougall has investigated the central role of theatre and role-playing in perverse forms of sexual activity, including homosexuality.
McDougall understands “sexual theatre” to be essential to perverse sexual behavior which is rooted in a symbolic attempt to resolve a personal identity conflict. In this regard she confirms the classic psychoanalytic understanding of perverse sexual activity as being rooted in identity confusion. Noting the repetitive-compulsive nature of these role enactments, McDougall found that while her patients complain about the constrained structure of these “erotic theatre pieces,” they could not abstain from their enactments: “…and have to do it again and again and again” (McDougall, 2000, p.182).
The compulsive/repetitive enactment of these rituals represents a symbolic attempt to resolve psychic conflict caused by a problematic parental message regarding the child’s sexuality. In the extreme case of transsexuals, for example, McDougall reports that her patients…“felt that at last they would be recognized by the mother and what she had always unconsciously desired for them” (McDougall, 2000, p.186). These “erotic scenarios” serve to safeguard the feeling of sexual identity but are a technique of psychic survival in that they preserve the feeling of subjective identity. As “compulsive neo-sexual inventions,” they represent the best possible solution that the child of the past was able to find in the face of contradictory parental communications regarding gender identity and sex role. “And they come to the child or the adolescent as revelation of what his or her sexuality is, along with the sometimes painful recognition that it is somehow different from that of others: there is no awareness of choice” (McDougall, 1986, p.21). Further, she saw these dramatic and compulsive enactments as ways of preserving the narcissistic self-image from disintegration: “Thus the act becomes a drug intended to disperse feelings of violence, as well as a threatened loss of ego boundaries, and a feeling of inner death. Meanwhile the partner and the sexual scenario become containers for dangerous parts of the individual. These will subsequently be mastered, in illusory fashion, by gaining erotic control over the other or through a game of mastery within the sexual scenario” (McDougall, 1986, p. 21).
McDougall, Joyce, Arnold Modell, and Phyllis Meadow (2000) “Sexuality Reconsidered: A Panel Discussion.” Modern Psychoanalysis, 25:181-189.
McDougall, Joyce, (1986) “Identifications, Neo-needs and Neo-sexualities,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 67:19-30.
Nicolosi, Joseph (2009), Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.