23 May Homosexual But Not Gay via Psychology Today
It’s complicated. But not as complicated as you think.
I’ve featured writings by Dr. Joe Kort, a therapist and author specializing in sex and relationships (both gay and straight), here before. I’m never surprised to find his name turn up when I’m googling for additional readings about gay stuff. He has a great ability to speak declaratively about things he knows and has experienced, and also to demur when his experience doesn’t afford him any insight into a particular topic. That’s rare for an internet voice (even my own!) so he’s always worth a second read.
This is an article he wrote for Psychology Today back in April of 2016 that talks about the discrepancies between being biologically homosexual versus being culturally ‘gay.’ These terms are conflated without thought in modern language, though I believe they do describe distinct ideas. See what you think:
Can Someone Be Homosexual and Not Gay?
Words are powerful.
They come with a truckload of baggage from the thousands of times we have heard and used them in various settings and cultural contexts. So when we therapists are confronted with male clients, often married ones, who come to us with deep conflicts about their sexual attraction to other men, we often find that they are willing to use the word “homosexual,” but eschew the “gay” label.
Why? Because “gay” implies an embracing of the gay lifestyle — gay bars, gay pride parades, perhaps multiple sex partners or even anonymous sex. Such clients often are in committed relationships with their wives, are fathers, and are members of a religion that labels same-sex attraction, especially if acted upon, as sin. Unfortunately, much of our nation’s politics have long exacerbated the problem, as well, shaming and vilifying homosexuality, leading legions of men struggling with sexual identity to internalize their homophobia.
For example, gay men in the Mormon faith are in moral conflict. Their only option if they want to remain active and “worthy” (meaning they can participate in Mormon rituals) is to stay celibate or enter a mixed-orientation marriage (which the church no longer officially recommends).
How, then, should we seek to help these men who are mired in such internal conflict, whose religious or cultural identity trumps their sexual identity? During the’90s I became a “gay-affirmative therapist.” That is, I pressured men—even religious men like this—to come out of the closet. I warned them of the pitfalls of keeping their sexual orientation secret: a life of increased depression, pursuing a secret life in the gay underground with the danger of being caught, how attempting to suppress urges can often cause them to become even more obsessed with them. However, by doing so I eventually realized that by pushing them to come out, I wasn’t helping them. Being a gay man, I was trying to bring them to where I was at. But as my experience with such men grew, I realized that there is nothing wrong with them choosing to live in a way that doesn’t bring chaos into their family life. These men often tell me that coming out would result in them leading a life of depression, not staying in the closet. I still make them aware of the research that addresses the chance of depression and the dangers listed above, and often advise them to tell their wives, but most find that the risk is too high.
Some of these men are in the early stages of coming out. During this time a man doesn’t see himself as gay, only homosexual. The term gay is too affirmative, and they are not ready to accept it. I warn them that if they choose to stay in the closet and get married, over time their sexual orientation will continue evolving and the coming-out process will move to the acceptance stage, making it more of a struggle to keep a heterosexual life going.
I have treated many men who are Mormon, Orthodox Jews, Catholic and other religions that think of homosexuality as pathology. I have helped some to come out, and some have had to leave their religious affiliations either because they were kicked out or the pressure to go back into the closet was too strong, bordering on emotional abuse. This is a very difficult and traumatizing road for them. They often do lose their families, and become cut off and alienated. Therapy, then, becomes about helping them grieve the loss, and starting to build a new life, living in integrity within themselves. Their pain is excruciating, but I honor their bravery in risking losing everything to ensure they have a quality life as a gay man.
They may need, from time to time, to seek further therapy, but with the right therapist, one who has thoroughly understood the dangers of such practices of “reparative therapy” in which the therapist seeks to change the client’s sexual identity from gay to straight. Now outlawed in some states as well as condemned by most national mental health organizations and accrediting bodies, it has an abysmal record: 100 percent recidivism and too many suicides.
Because the labels “homosexual” or “gay” carry such a stigma, some of these men seek help for their “sex addiction” and see their homosexuality as an acting out of same sex urges. Some therapists make the mistake of diagnosing them with sexual addiction, because either the client or the therapist considers the term to be more acceptable. They push the client into the sex addiction model, which all too often treats men who struggle with “unwanted same sex attractions” as pathology rather than understanding from a sexual health perspective that they might be dealing with an unwanted sexual identity or are simply sexually fluid—neither of which are pathological. Being homosexual, gay, or having same-sex attraction is not sex addiction, and should never be treated as such. This puts the client at odds with their sexual orientation and only makes things worse.
I warn these men about any therapist who would try to change their sexual orientation or label it as an addiction, and to tell their therapist up front that they are not interested in either of these directions. If the therapist is unwilling to honor that request, then ask for a referral to another therapist.
Hetero-Emotional and Homosexual
The truth is that many men with “same-sex attractions” are successfully walking the narrow path between internal cultural and religious identification, and have good marriages. I think of them as being hetero-emotional homosexuals. Though they know they are sexually attracted to men, they are emotionally drawn to women. They fall in love with their wives, and because of that, the expression of love through intimacy allows them to have great sex and intimacy with their spouse.
Their fantasy and masturbatory life is geared toward men, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have sex with their wives. Some people may label them as bisexual, but they are not because they not attracted to women sexually. They are attracted to one woman, their wife.
I especially like Kort’s delineation of a man’s ability to be sexually fixated on men, but emotionally committed to a woman. I think these kinds of gray areas almost never get the kind of attention they deserve, but are still very real and very important to the people who experience them.
Note: If you happen to venture into the comments at the end of Dr. Kort’s PT post, be aware that the bulk of them are from noted “ex-gay” and current conversion therapy monster David Pickup. If you’re unfamiliar with him, a quick googling will tell you everything you need to know (I’m not here to do any publicity or SEO work for him). His gentle rebranding of ultra-damaging (and illegal) conversion therapy into “reparative therapy” has proven to be frighteningly successful in Texas, and that’s due in no small part to the amount of time Pickup clearly has to spend trolling internet comment boards.
You can find Dr. Kort’s book, Is My Husband Gay, Straight or Bi?: A Guide for Women Concerned About Their Men on Amazon.