When Sex Isn’t Enough
Dale starts telling me about all the sex he has had over the course of his life-time from early adolescence up until now. Dale is a gay middle-aged man who is describing his relationship to sex, and “there has been a lot of it” he says, sheepishly and proudly at the same time.
As Dale talks he becomes tearful at times and angry at other times because over the past few months he has begun to have a different understanding of his sex drive that encompasses a connection to a new range of feelings, needs, traumas, and an unexpected vision of gay love, inherent in getting turned on.
Through this journey into his feeling, memories, and same-sex desire lies a deeper understanding about his sexuality and the meaning of being gay.
LABELED A SISSY
Like many young gay boys, Dale was aware of feeling different early on. He speaks of how he used to sneak looks at the cute boy in his classroom, how he imagined they would become special friends. But also, like many young gay boys, Dale quickly learned that these cute boys were not acceptable objects of desire for him to have let alone tell anyone about.
Being the noticeable protogay boy that he was, early on he was labeled a sissy, fag and an outcast. Dale describes being horribly bullied at school, teased and traumatized by his peers and schools. At home, his parents told him he was “special”, yet they were stone silent in regards to his obvious difference as the reason for being bullied. He felt all of this as a deep level as toxic shame whose core message is that he was defective and disgusting, and that ultimately he was unlovable. This also set him on the road to a lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety.
Gay people as children experience everything from overt traumas to the covert and deadly silence of non-regard and non-mirroring around their budding gay sensibilities. These are forms of emo-tional and sexual abuse for gay boys rooted in the narrow confines of the compulsory heterosexism that all children are subject to. Yet much of childhood development is driven by sexuality as a drive that too often gets mired in shame and confusion resulting in self-hatred and low self-esteem.
Dale tells me about beginning to play sexually with other boys around the age of 12 or 13. He smiles, remembering the excitement, playfulness, and joy of it all. Having sex, says Dale, was a place where he could fantasize – “where I could be whoever I wanted to be at that moment.” Later on, reveals Dale, those hot initial encounters lead to the fantasy about what it would be like to be dating this man, having him as his special buddy just as he fantasized as a young boy.
We can imagine that a Gay Spirit was calling him as a young boy through his awakening homosexual desire as he played with his childhood buddies.
When we have a gay-centered approach to the meaning of gay male erotic desire and love we can see that early on as a child, the young gay boy is in need of affirming and understanding parenting that would honor, encourage, and validate the transformational potential of having a gay personality. The powerful feeling of wanting to pursue homosexual desire takes on a different meaning besides just being horny, and now this inexplicably driven desire can be seen as sourced into the deepest core of the mind and psyche of a developing gay child and is continually stirred in adulthood whenever we see that hot man walk by or feel the wish for romance and love.
Yet for Dale his playful desires came with a horrific amount of shame, always resulting afterwards in a complete sanitizing scrub down in the shower to try and feel clean again. Pressured by compulsory heterosexism he dated girls, and hid behind religion. His homosexual desire had become a secret to be ashamed of. Yet in spite of this horrific shame, he found himself sneaking into the woods even when it was cold and raining, to find a place under a tree and have sex in the cold with his one special buddy.
Imagine what would have happened if he had been given the idea that the image of his special friend and that hot feeling he had in sex was also a way into an inner experience of himself as gay, where a hot inner Gay Soul Figure lives in his mind and heart, emboldening him to a connection with his innate goodness as a gay boy, rich with unimagined potential and possibility. His childhood bedtime stories should have been the homosexually driven myths of meaning of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Patrocles and Achilles. Imagine if he had been read Walt Whitman’s poems on the love of comrades and had their meaning explained to him. Imagine what it would have been like to hear the Sufi poems praising the love of a beautiful young man as an inner twin and as an evocation of the Divine Beloved.
When he finally came out at around age 23, he says he “opened Pandora’s box to his sexuality” discovering the bars and dance clubs, finding boys and turning tricks. “I didn’t think so much about who I was going home with as much as I wanted companionship.” Because he was so insecure and hungry for love, he wanted that special someone to make him feel good and whole even if it was for a couple hours.
Dale describes suddenly being in the company of a brotherhood of other gay men exploring sex in the bars and clubs. In the bathhouses, he says he didn’t have the same fear of rejection as in the outside world because “everyone was there for sex with other men.” This was the place where anything goes and his fantasies could be fulfilled. Dale also talks about having had sex in the parks and cruising areas, with a certain relish about the risk of getting caught. A lot of times, he says, “I was simply horny. So I went to the park to meet someone” and there he would masturbate or have sex with another man in the bushes. Because of his low self-esteem he admits that he engaged in unsafe sex, and now calls this a form of suicidal behavior. Desperately lonely, he says “I wanted to be cared about and loved, touched and acknowledged” and was willing to risk his health in the attempt to find this.
What has been missing in our understanding of the psychology of gay men, is that the search for sex has meaning that also needs to take us inward into the psyche to find the transpersonal meaning of being gay, and that without this awareness the hunt for the next hot guy leads to emptiness and disappointment. Without the under-standing of the powerful way in which psyche flourishes through the symbolic meaning of our outer lives, it is understandable that Dale would continually search for that next sexual encounter and the brief yet temporary good feeling it might offer. Yet no hot man can fill the void of an unfulfilled relationship to a lively inner lover soul companion found in the imagination and fantasy world. Without an understanding of psyche’s language of symbols through dreams, fantasy, and imagination, there is instead a deeply fractured relationship to the archetypal gay self, experienced as internalized homophobia, self-hatred, low self-esteem and emptiness.
Seeing the partner as the knight in shining armor only lasts so long, and then he is suddenly another guy who isn’t Mr. Perfect after all, so it must mean it’s time to move on and maybe the next guy will be the one.
Times where he felt loved, but too often dependent on how his part-ner was with him. Desperate for love, he acted out a lifelong pattern of pleasing the other in the attempt to get love in return, sourced early on in the visible and/or invisible rejection of his parents, fam-ily and social institutions and his attempts to feel loved. Intolerable feeling to bear, too often gay boys become the best little boys in the world as a compensation.
In relationships, this dynamic can continue as each partner tries to hide the painful memories of growing up gay and the resulting inability to trust and be vulnerable, while also attempting to hide the destructive toxic shame and hurt/rage related to the initial parental and societal wounds. Seeing the partner as the knight in shining armor only lasts so long, and then he is suddenly another guy who isn’t Mr. Perfect after all, so it must mean it’s time to move on and maybe the next guy will be the one. But what is happening is that the projection onto the partner as “The One” wears off, and those unacknowledged, unprocessed, undigested feelings and traumas in each partner come back replacing the good feelings that last only those first few months.
At the end of his last relationship Dale started exploring online dating sites, spending hours in the search for contact, too many times not connecting, leaving him unfulfilled. Dale describes how so many times after a hook-up he walked away not feeling good about himself because, as he states, he was now coming to understand that due to the abuse of bullying, heterosexism and neglectful parents, he was now abusing himself by searching for something out-side himself. He says he was looking for something in other men that he didn’t have in himself.
Dale sees that something new has been happening for him – he has been getting in touch with a whole host of long unfelt and unacknowledged feelings that have been relegated to the shadow and unconscious realms, including deep levels of hurt and rage about the abusive traumas and emotional psychological assaults to his gay selfhood that began early on.
With feelings that are new, raw, and often unfocused, he is developing a willingness to begin to look at the abuse he suffered as a child. He is beginning to realize now how those evenings at the bathhouse or at the park were driven by the erotic fire of homo-sexual love, yet tainted with the trauma of toxic shame, deep loneli-ness and horrific self-hatred.
Sometimes overwhelmed by this new awakening, he talks about getting in touch with anger shrouded in the severe depression and anxiety he has suffered, rooted in the undigested trauma he experienced growing up gay. Dale says that realizing the positive poten-tial of a healthy felt expression of his newly discovered anger has been especially difficult and scary.
He can begin to see that through expressing this and other feelings, he is in effect giving himself an experience of the powerful alchemical and transformative value of his gay feeling life as a reflection of an innate worthiness. He can begin to reclaim his true nature of being lovable because he is gay, from the inside out. “It feels good to finally just feel all this stuff and talk about it,” says Dale. He can now start to develop a relationship to his inner world, and admits he has never really learned how to be still and process his feelings. He now has the opportunity to be on a journey of ongoing gay-centered inner work.
Dale reveals that it is terrifying at times to be so open and honest, and admits he lives with the fear of plummeting into his lifelong struggle with depression. But, with a gay-centered vision, he can also now begin to imagine the gay soul figure inside him as the im-petus to face his demons, rather than the painful cycle of endlessly running away from his feelings into the arms of a stranger.
With a new understanding of his sexuality, he can imagine honoring the little gay boy inside himself who, as he states, always felt like the underdog. Now he sees that he was the underdog because of the entrenchment of internalized homophobia and traumas. He is in the process discovering the worthiness of this new journey of self-regard and self-relatedness that is not to be found when running away from himself to that next hot guy he meets for sex. Now when he feels horny and has the urge to have sex, instead of searching for an emotional fix for painful emptiness and the homophobic attack on his gay self, his sexual encounters with another man can become a way to relate to the erotic potential of gay love as the way to open up undiscovered possibilities in the gay mind and heart.
Published on: The Fight Magazine
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© 2016 Thomas Mondragon