Growing Up Secure in One’s Gender
In infancy, both boys and girls are emotionally attached to the mother. In psychodynamic language, mother is the first love object. She meets all her child’s primary needs. Girls can continue to develop in their feminine identification through the relationship with their mothers. On the other hand, a boy has an additional developmental task — to disidentify from his mother and identify with his father.
While learning language (“he and she,” “his and hers”), the child discovers that the world is divided into natural opposites of boys and girls, men and women. At this point, a little boy will not only begun to observe the difference, but also he must now decide where he himself fits in this gender-divided world. The girl has the easier task; her primary attachment is already to the mother, and thus she does not need to go through the additional developmental task of disidentifying from the person closest to her in the world — Mom — to identify with the father. But the boy is different: he must separate from the mother and grow in his differentness from his primary love object if he is ever to be a heterosexual man.
This may explain why there are fewer female homosexuals than there are male homosexuals. Some studies report a 2 to 1 ratio. Others say 5 to 1 or even 11 to 1. We do not really know for sure, except that it is clear that there are more male homosexuals than there are lesbians.
“The first order of business in being a man,” according to psychoanalyst Robert Stoller, “is don’t be a woman.”
In Search of Masculinity
Meanwhile, the boy’s father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son’s maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son — games that are decidedly different from those he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach the toddler how to pound a wooden peg into a hole in a pegboard, or he can take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help noticing that Dad has a male body, just like he has.
As a result, the son will learn more of what it means to be a male. And he will accept his body as a representation of his maleness. This, he will think, is the way boys — and men — are made. And it is the way I am made. I am a boy, and that means I have a penis. Psychologists call this process “incorporating masculinity into a sense of self” (or “masculine introjection”), and it is an essential part of growing up straight.
The penis is the essential symbol of masculinity — the unmistakable difference between male and female. This undeniable anatomical difference should be emphasized to the boy in therapy. As psychoanalyst Richard Green has noted, the effeminate boy (whom he bluntly calls the “sissy boy”) views his own penis as an alien, mysterious object. If he does not succeed in “owning” his own penis, he will grow into an adult who will find continuing fascination in the penises of other men.
The boy who makes the unconscious decision to detach himself from his own male body is well on his way to developing a homosexual orientation. Such a boy will sometimes be obviously effeminate, but more often he — like most prehomosexual boys — is what we call “gender-nonconforming.” That is, he will be somewhat different, with no close male buddies at that developmental stage when other boys are breaking away from close friendships with little girls (about age six to eleven) in order to develop a secure masculine identity. Such a boy also usually has a poor or distant relationship with his father.
Listen to the words of Richard Wyler, who sponsors an online support group for strugglers. Wyler has assembled the stories of a group of ex-gay men and published them on his dynamic and insightful website www.peoplecanchange.com . He describes their shared feeling of alienation from their own masculine natures:
Our fear and hurt at feeling rejected by the male world often led us to disassociate ourselves from the masculine — the very thing we desired most… Some of us began to distance ourselves from other males, male interests and masculinity by consciously or subconsciously taking on more feminine traits, interests or mannerisms. (We often saw this in the gay community as deliberate effeminacy and “camp,” where gays sometimes took it to such an extreme they even referred to each other as “she” or “girlfriend.”)
But where did that leave us, as males ourselves? It left us in a Never-Never Land of gender confusion, not fully masculine but not really feminine either. We had disassociated not just from individual men we feared would hurt us, but from the entire htereosexual male world. Some of us even detached from our very masculinity as something shameful and inferior. www.peoplecanchange.com
This means that homosexual men, as psychiatrist Charles Socarides explains, are still searching for the masculine sense of self that should have been established in early childhood and then solidified through adolescence. But the dynamics involved are completely unconscious. And this why Dr. Socarides uses psychoanalysis (and some of the tools of psychoanalysis, such as dream work) to help his adult homosexual patients understand and resolve their unconscious strivings.
Nicolosi, J., Nicolosi, L. (2002). A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press