The Classic Triadic Relationship
Repeatedly, researchers have found the classic triadic (three-way) relationship in the family backgrounds of homosexual men. In this situation, the mother often has a poor or limited relationship with her husband, so she shifts her emotional needs to her son. The father is usually nonexpressive and detached and often is critical as well. So in the triadic family pattern we have the detached father, the overinvolved mother, and the temperamentally sensitive, emotionally attuned boy who fills in for the father where the father falls short.
The close emotional bond is between mother and son. She feels bad for her son: “I’m his only safe haven, and everyone else makes fun of him. His peers reject him; his father seems to have forgotten him; so I’m the only one who understands and accepts him exactly as he is.” That last is the killer phrase: “as he is.” It is as if “who the boy is” could include his androgynous fantasies, fear of other males, rejection of his own body, and discomfort with his masculine nature.
At this point, education is necessary. Mothers need to understand that they can actively discourage distortion about gender without rejecting the boy himself. In fact, it is not a matter of rejection at all, but instead of offering adult guidance to prepare the boy for life in a gendered world — the world to which his anatomy has destined him — and of refusing to participate in his distortions about males and masculinity.
On the other hand, many of the mothers who come to our counselling office are very concerned about their sons’ poor gender esteem or effeminacy, and they want to help them reach normal gender maturity, no matter how challenging that work may become. They intuitively understand the problem their sons are having, and they are at a loss to know how to help their child and to enlist their husbands in the process. They are grateful for whatever direction and advice I am able to provide for them.
A few mothers (particularly, narcissistic mothers) establish a relationship with such a profound blurring of boundaries that the boy is not able to clarify his own individual identity. Mothers who create such an intimate, symbiotic relationship will allow nothing to interrupt the mother-son bond. The longer the profound symbiotic relationship continues, the more feminine the boy. Of course, a mother who is upset by a boy’s normal, rowdy behavior — and who reacts by encouraging him to be more passive and dependent (even though the boy’s real need is for independence) — is putting her own needs before those of her son.
The authors of Someone I Love Is Gay describe this maternal pattern:
Sometimes the relationship is so close that it becomes unhealthy, even bordering on a state of “emotional adultery.” Typically, the son is his mother’s confidante. She talks about her marital problems with him, rather than working them out with her husband. She looks to her son for emotional support and comfort when things go wrong.
In some cases, the mother’s behavior crosses the line into sensuality… Single mothers and women with abusive or emotionally distant husbands are particularly vulnerable to becoming overly dependent on their son.
In some rare cases, mothers of homosexual boys wanted to be men themselves, and they sabotaged their sons’ masculinity by putting themselves in competition with them.
All in all, there is considerable research showing that families of gender-disturbed boys tend to be in turmoil. One study of 610 Gender Identity Disorder (GID) boys found a high level of family conflicts. Many clinicians have observed a higher rate of parental divorce, separation, and marital unhappiness in their homosexual clients’ families, and many parents of GID children had undergone counseling before their child’s gender-identity disorder came to clinical attention.
Psychologist Gregory Dickson points out a paradox regarding the intense mother-son relationship. The gender-conflicted boy usually feels an ongoing need for mothering, but because the mother-son relationship represents a barrier between himself and the male world, the boy feels both angry and appreciative toward her. He also feels both misunderstood and most understood by her. His mother knows him very deeply on one level, but there is another level where she can never go and which she has not fully acknowledged as an integral part of who he is as a male. So there results a paradoxical love-hate, approach-avoidance conflict.
Hasn’t This Research About Parenting influences Been Disproved?
In spite of what you hear from gay activists, no literature disproves the classical theories describing the way homosexuality develops. In fact, a 1996 book, Freud Scientifically Reappraised: Testing the Theories and Therapy, evaluated the prominent psychoanalytic theories in the light of the data now available through modern research. The authors did find conflicting results on the maternal relationship, but the research on fathers was clear:
The reports concerning the male homosexual’s view of his father are overwhelmingly supportive of Freud’s hypothesis. With only a few exceptions, the male homosexual declares that father has been a negative influence in his life…
There is not a single even moderately well-controlled study that we have been able to locate in which male homosexuals refer to father positively or affectionately. On the contrary, they consistently regard him as an antagonist. He easily fills the unusually intense, competitive Oedipal role Freud ascribed to him.
It is important to emphasize here that the overinvolved mother is used repeatedly by us here in this book as the example of the mother of a gender-confused boy. Because the deeply involved mother is almost always the type to bring a child in for consultation — and to actively work for change — she is the type of mother we have used to illustrate case scenarios. Indeed, the intimately involved mother is most likely to unwittingly encourage a son’s gender nonconformity. But not all mothers are overinvolved. In fact, among adult homosexual clients, a smaller percentage of their mothers were actually disengaged.
This observation fits in with the findings of Freud Scientifically Reappraised, in which the researchers analyzed the available studies and found that there is some inconsistency in findings about mothers. But — as those researchers agree — the one virtually unchanging variable is the poor relationship with fathers.
Quite a wake-up call, we would say, for fathers who hope for heterosexuality for their sons!
Nicolosi, J., Nicolosi, L. (2002). A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press