Understanding SSA As A ‘Signal’
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
Several media stories recently have promoted the message that no one ever transitions out of same-sex attractions (SSA). As proof, reporters cite the words of prominent ex-gay ministry leaders. These leaders--who consider themselves profoundly changed--nevertheless admit to the media that they sometimes struggle, even today, with unwanted temptation.
People who oppose our message--particularly, many reporters--seized upon the ministry leaders' message, which was subtle, ambiguous and requiring nuanced consideration, and reduced it to a more attractive (to them) idea that was "short and dumb" but missed the truth of the matter.
As the truism goes, "For every complex question there is one simple answer--and it is usually wrong." "See?" the media stories seemed to say. "No one ever changes."
Here, instead, is the nuanced message.
The early Christian ex-gay movement portrayed the overcoming of homosexuality in absolute terms--offering a nice, clean picture of complete transition: With sufficient prayer, faith, and support, a person was said to have overcome SSA once and for all. Once a person repented, if his faith was sufficient, he would enjoy full restoration to heterosexuality.
The result of that overly optimistic view was an angry backlash by another, newly emerging celebrity--the man who once thought he was ex-gay, but now says he is happily gay once again--and wishes he had never tried to change. These "EX-EX-gays" have gone to the media with a story that is very appealing to many ears--the message of absolute sexual liberation.
It was out of concern about this angry backlash that ex-gay ministries have now become very cautious in delivering their message of hope. But they seem to be telling the struggler that he must be prepared to face unending trials. This is not an appealing message to the confused young man who is trying to decide whether to go ahead and tackle the change process, or "just give it up and be gay."
This bleak message also appears to support the pro-gay claim that homosexuality is fixed and intrinsic for some people. It gives "comfort to the enemy" and to his insistence that although behavioral change may be possible, beneath it all, "Gay is who you really are--it's your true nature."
Perhaps we should look at the big picture behind these opposing claims.
A Psychological Solution To An Either-Or Predicament
A solution to this "complex question demanding a simple answer" can be found in the psychological understanding of homosexuality. Following in a long-established--and never disproven--psychodynamic tradition, reparative therapists see SSA as a symbolic defense against the trauma of attachment loss.
Having failed to fully identify with his own gender, the man with SSA romanticizes what he lacks--falling in love with something "out there" that a normal developmental process would have caused to be internalized, not eroticized. (As one gay-activist psychologist, Daryl Bem, aptly explained, the man with SSA "eroticizes what was exotic" in childhood. Bem, though, thinks it is perfectly normal for one's own gender to feel mysterious and "exotic.")
Men in reparative therapy disagree; they want to "de-mystify" males and maleness--making them no longer "exotic"--and to have relationships with men characterized by mutuality and authenticity. They believe their biological design makes it clear that humanity was created to partner with the opposite sex.
Nevertheless, these men still have strong unmet needs for male affection, understanding, and affirmation. Utilizing their new adaptive skills to recognize same-sex attractions as "signals," they know that when homosexual impulses recur, this is an internal indicator that "Something in my life is out of balance."
The client now knows his unwanted attraction is not about "that other guy," but about himself. He understands that it is not about sex, but about his present feelings about himself as he relates to others. The recurrence of 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 shame; 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 TV 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 both 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 that human nature is supposed to "function according to its design." Both envision mankind as part of a universal heterosexual natural order, where some people struggle with SSA, but it is not intrinsic to their designed nature.
This "signal" view of SSA acknowledges the ongoing nature of the change process, and contradicts the "intrinsically gay" claim. Thus, we see the occasional reemergence of the homosexual impulse not as proof of the truth of gay anthropology, but a call to come back home again to one's authentic self. Looking at the issue from this "signal" perspective, we see that a gay worldview--both as a personal and political force--is not vindicated, but disempowered.