By Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
“It is our feelings and desires that tell us who we really are.” These words summarize the foundational assumption of the gay and transgender movement.
According to this philosophy, if a woman (like Chastity Bono) says she feels like a man inside, then she must be a man, and we must begin to address her as “he.” Similarly, if a man feels homosexually attracted, then he must be gay. Destiny has simply created such people to be different, and we must celebrate that differentness and never question it.
But there is a different worldview, supported by millennia of tradition as well as decades of clinical observation, that paints a very different picture.
Our Bodies Tell Us Who We Are
Following in a long-established--and never scientifically disproven--psychodynamic tradition, reparative therapists see homosexuality as a defense against the trauma of same-sex attachment loss that occurred in early childhood.
According to this psychodynamic tradition, the man with same-sex attraction (SSA) has failed to fully identify with his own gender, so he romanticizes what he lacks--he falls in love with the masculinity of another man. But this does not mean homosexuality reflects his true nature, for a man’s body was designed for the opposite sex. It was not designed for oral or-- more particularly, anal intercourse, which is destructive to his anatomy.
Nor was this man designed for marriage with another man, which would mean that his children would be permanently and intentionally motherless.
For the vast majority of males, the normal, early gender-development process would have caused this masculinity to be internalized within himself, not eroticized and sought outside himself in another man.
A well-known psychologist, Daryl Bem, believes that the man with SSA “eroticizes what was exotic” (i.e., what felt exciting and unfamiliar to him) during his boyhood. But Bem (who is a gay man himself), thinks it is perfectly normal for a boy’s own gender to feel mysterious, unfamiliar, and “exotic” --something he cannot fully claim for himself. He considers homosexuality a non-problematic adaptation for this boy as he grows into adulthood.
But the men in reparative therapy don’t want to eroticize males; they want to “de-mystify” males and maleness--making them no longer “exotic”--and to have relationships with men characterized by mutuality and authenticity, not mystery and eroticism. They believe their biological design makes this point clear: that and men were designed to be comfortable with, and fully grounded in, their own maleness, and that they were created to partner with the opposite sex.
Empirical research supports this worldview, for men and women who are homosexually oriented report a much higher level of psychological distress and maladaptive behaviors, and this higher level of distress does not diminish in notably “gay-friendly” countries such as The Netherlands. This finding has long been known, but little discussed, in the scientific community.
Growing Into A Heterosexual Identity
The men in reparative therapy must typically struggle with strong unmet needs for male affection, understanding, and affirmation. They begin to learn new adaptive skills to recognize these same-sex attractions as "signals," and they know that when these unwanted, deeply disturbing homosexual impulses occur, this is an internal indicator that “something in my life is out of balance.”
The reparative-therapy client understands that his unwanted attraction is not really about “that other guy,” but more a statement about himself. He understands that the attraction is not primarily about sex, but traces back to his feelings about himself as he relates to others. Same-sex temptation is a warning that he has compromised his healthy self-needs --most often, through a lack of authentic relational engagement. By authentic engagement, we mean consistently relating to other men in the assertive stance; freeing themselves of a posture of shame and hiding; maintaining deeply affirming relationships with close male friends; and not allowing themselves to be disempowered or “drained” in relationships with women.
One man, at the very end of his therapy, said, "Thank you, homosexuality. You have forced me to look at deeper issues I tried to avoid." Similarly, psychotherapist Richard Cohen, when asked by a T.V. interviewer if he had any further same-sex temptations, answered, “Yes, I do-- when I am not taking care of myself."
Here is what a former client says he learned in therapy:
“Therapy has helped me to connect more with men as brothers to be trusted. For most of my adult life, I only felt fearful of and alienated around men - especially men of my own age group. I never felt I belonged to their circle and always feared their rejection.
The general pattern these last few years has tended to be the opposite: I feel connected to most men and at ease in their company, and if and when I feel self-conscious and fearful, I challenge myself to surrender my fears, so that I can reconnect with both my inner man and the men around me.
I’ve becoming more emotionally assertive in situations where formerly I'd be controlled by shame, and in due course, I have developed an unprecedented level of authenticity with others, especially men. I am much better able to read the emotions I am feeling in my body, and I have more access to my overall emotional experiences.
If one thing angers me in life it is this: when gay apologists claim that to reject a 'gay identity' is to be in denial of my true self. My personal experience tells me the opposite! My therapy has helped bring about in me more self-acceptance, peace and feeling accepted by men, more than was ever conceivably the case in the years since puberty started. When I feel masculine within, I have no emotional need to draw on the men ‘out there’ who are external to me. This is because I feel at one with them. If, however, I don't deal with my shame, then my masculinity becomes ‘covered over’ and my heart then gravitates to symbols of masculinity found outside myself. I then feel disconnected from myself, others - particularly men -- and from God.
I have abandoned most of the suspicion and discomfort of women I carried around for all my adult life. I see more of the beauty of the opposite sex now than I ever did previously.
Were these changes an ‘accident,’ unconnected to my therapy? I think not. Was my therapy 'dangerous', as some critics with an ideological axe to grind try to claim? Well, if growing in self-acceptance, and feeling now that I belong around men is 'dangerous,’ then I want more of it!!!!!!
The extent to which my therapy has reaped, and is still reaping results depends largely on how much I challenge myself to continue to implement what I have learned.”
Coming Back Home
The Judeo-Christian concept of humanity and traditional psychodynamic psychology share the same understanding: the concept that human nature is supposed to “function according to its design.” Traditional psychology and the Judeo-Christian worldview both envision humankind as part of a universal heterosexual natural order, where some people will always struggle with SSA, but SSA is not intrinsic to who they are. In fact, many such men will heed the call to “come back home” to their true nature--the nature made plain to them by their biological design.