What’s Love Got To Do With It?
DUE TO HOMOPHOBIA AND THE STILL FIERCE DEMAND OF HETEROSEXISM TO CONFORM, WHAT HAS BEEN COMPROMISED IS A DEEPER MEANING OF THE GAY PERSONALITY ROOTED IN A SOULFUL CONNECTION TO AN INNER FELT EXPERIENCE OF THE INHERENT RIGHT OF ALL GAY PEOPLE TO FEEL WORTHY AND LOVABLE.
“I always thought I had to be in a relationship and have someone to love to be whole and feel good about myself. I had such low self-esteem and was so self-loathing, I was constantly looking for the right boyfriend to fulfill this need to feel lovable.”
So many times I’ve heard similar stories from other gay men, including men who have been in long-term relationships where sex has died out between them, where emotions and needs aren’t expressed healthily, and where lives are lived out together with an unspoken agreement that these things just won’t be talked about.
That divine spark of homosexual desire we feel early on is part of what drives gay men to desire emotionally intimate relationships. To heed the call of Homosexual Eros starts with coming out to one’s self, an important step towards differentiation. This also leads to wanting relatedness and intimacy with other gay people to understandably have this core essence of same sex love mirrored and validated. Yet because of homophobia and the still fierce demand of heterosexism to conform, what has been compromised is a deeper meaning of the gay personality rooted in a soulful connection to an inner felt experience of the inherent right of all gay people to feel worthy and lovable. Without this experiential understanding, gay men often enter into romantic relationships without knowing the reason for an often present ambivalence about getting close to another man, while often imitating all that they have known or seen about intimacy and love based on their heterosexual families, culture and the media.
MOLDED TO BE HETEROSEXUAL
We all have a basic need for autonomy and for connectedness with others.
Part of healthy development is called the differentiation of self, which includes having an authentic self where one is able to hold onto one’s self in the presence of others. Rather than a nurtured inner connection to the erotic fire of same sex love that would develop the ability to hold onto one’s self, gay people are forced early on to present a false self.
Essentially molded to be heterosexual, the budding gay child learns to hide his real feelings about the boy across the room that he has a dreamy crush on. This fantasy, if validated would embolden an authentic gay self, but instead is experienced as shameful and bad. He learns from family, society, religion that he cannot reveal who he really is and he concludes he won’t be loved if he lets anyone know this strongly guarded secret.
What a horrific bind that constitutes part of the trauma of growing up gay – “if I let anyone know the feelings I’m really having for another boy, I might risk losing what sense of attachment and security I have.” This sets up a strongly held belief carried into adulthood – that it is not safe to be vulnerable with others, especially other men that I have strong feelings for. Males in general are taught to hide their feelings because expressing feelings makes them too sensitive, fearfully making them the dreaded sissy.
Adding in the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, gay boys have a profound deficit of relational experiences where authentic feelings can be openly expressed and honored.
THE COSTLINESS OF BEING AUTHENTIC
How can a healthy emotional self develop into a differentiated gay individual who can also be close to another man when the trauma of a gay man’s childhood includes the contaminant of powerful toxic shame for desiring love and intimacy?
”I had just moved to San Francisco. It was hard to establish new friendships and I worked constantly. When my boyfriend came along I latched on. I decided a relationship at any costs was better than having nothing. I desperately wanted to be loved. Having someone was better than living alone. I was also caught up in a completely heterosexual way with the fantasy of all the love stories- you fall in love, stay with him the rest of your life and live happily ever after. For six years with very harmful dynamics between us, I clung blindly to the idea that if I was nice and caring this person would love me and want to be with me.”
Growing up in his family, this gay man’s experience of relationships included a mother that held everything in and never communicated. She was clinically depressed and as so often happens with young gay boys, he became his mother’s emotional support, confidant and caregiver. His father was a strong authority figure who steamrolled over everyone in a tyrannical way. He learned to acquiesce to his father’s expectations to avoid his scary angry outbursts. Severe bullying at school further reinforced the costliness of being authentic, emotionally open and available for intimacy and love.
And yet, successful healthy relationships that are truly intimate asks each partner to be transparent, to make it safe to express all feelings and needs, and to relate with honesty about the difficulties and the joys of being together.
Truly intimate successful healthy relationships asks each partner to be transparent, to make it safe to express all feelings and needs, and to relate with honesty about the difficulties and the joys of being together.
THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP
Without mentoring that teaches gay men how to handle a whole range of feelings, we can see the intricate and complex factors that come into play for gay men in relationships. Unless these early childhood traumas and influences are empathically understood and addressed, these intolerable homophobicly rooted wounds get played out over and over in relationships. This can look like the man who jumps from relationship to relationship when the intimacy gets too scary. It can look like the couple that doesn’t discuss and engage in the intimate relating that would keep sex alive, settling instead for an undiscussed open relationship yielding secrets, jealousy, and eventual resignation and separate bedrooms. This can explain how two men can be together for years not feeling fulfilled within themselves or with each other but are afraid and unable to let go of an unsatisfactory relationship – saying “I love you” every day while the promise of meaningful alive intimacy has long been gone.
”I’ve started to look at myself, asking myself what it means to be a gay man, looking at how I’ve been affected by homophobia and toxic shame. I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to be in another unhealthy relationship by trying to be honest with myself and risking the anxiety of practicing telling my new boyfriend what I feel. This relationship has opened up my eyes to see what real intimacy is – to communicate openly and not fear the content of what I need to say or what he needs to say. I’m learning to flex my emotional muscle by expressing anger and other feelings, supporting a deepened relating between us. I’ve never been able to do that. And, I found that the person I always need to give the most to, to pay the most attention to – is me.”
By beginning to look within at the true reasons for the difficulty in having loving relationships, this gay man has begun to see that the most important relationship is with himself. The projection of the perfect lover that he has put onto his boyfriend, is now seen as an invitation to also go inside where there is an inner gay lover, so early on demonized and pushed into a secret hidden place in his heart. He can now imagine this inner lover calling him into a healing relationship in the psyche, fostering a more integrated gay self and giving him a new vision on how to relate intimately with another gay man.
Published on: The Fight Magazine
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© 2016 Thomas Mondragon