Letters to a friend #2: Internalized homophobia and gay men
posted: Aug. 16, 2021.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, many many years ago, before my graduation and subsequent move to beautiful California, I met a colleague who would later become a significant influence in my formation as a psychologist, as a couples therapist, and as a gay man. We met online. His name was Rick. He was my senior by a few decades and had practiced psychotherapy for many decades. Toward the end of his clinical career, he enjoyed the back-and-forth email conversation with someone as green as I was.
Rick and I were as different as one can imagine. He was married with children and grandchildren, while I, myself, was still working to formulate my identity as a gay man. He was at the tail end of his career, while I was only starting mine. He was possibly a bi-sexual man who decided to dedicate himself whole-heartedly to the woman he loved and his family, leaving behind several untraveled paths of shared romance with men. I was out and proud, intending to live my truth to the fullest.
Nevertheless, we shared one love. We both adored our work. Working with gay men and same-sex couples in my own Los Angeles psychotherapy clinic was my dream come true. Rick was as passionate about his clinical work as myself and we shared our experiences with zest and excitement. If my focus was predominantly couples therapy, Rick preferred individual work. In the following letter, we chat about one of his clients. No identified information was shared, but the clinical essence of the case was the basis of the following conversation:
“Your client sounds very interesting. It seems like there are a multitude of layers that cover his core desire for love and connection with a man. I am talking about the cultural, stereotypical aspects of it. His perception of the "gay community" is probably distorted since he only saw the raw and sexual aspect of it, and perhaps feels its inability to satisfy his deeper emotional needs for true connection.
I would not touch the cultural aspect just yet, and start with exploring his fantasy of the relationship he would like to have with a man. What is this man like? Are there any aspects of looks, body, personality, hobbies, entertainment preferences, or values that would be of importance? In addition to what your client wants, I would be listening to what he does not want, and what he omits.
Then I would explore his vision of the perfect relationship. What does he want in a relationship with a man? What is important to him? I think this will move him from the superficial aspects of "I don't want my partner to be part of the gay scene" to "This is the partner and the relationship that I want."
I am suspecting that the injury to masculinity might be present. It is somewhat an intrinsic part of male-to-male attraction in our culture, unfortunately. This also comes with a healthy dose of internalized homophobia. It is something I would also take note of, since evidence of it is very likely to come out in the phrasing and choice of words, if not in the blunt content.
The gay community is as diverse as the black community, for example. We have a little bit of everything. As much as I personally love the nightlife, there are plenty of gay men who much prefer sports and the outdoors. There is no limit to what he can have. The only limitations we have are self-imposed.
In terms of my own relationships…well, I mentioned that I found my balance and am ready for a new adventure. I met a guy, Matthew, and he surprised me in many ways. Matthew is 26, 5’10, with full-buzzed dark red hair, green-blue beautiful eyes, long blond eyelashes, sweet rose lips, fair skin, a youthful body, and an adorable smile.
We met online, and I invited him to join our Thanksgiving get-together. He came, and we clicked almost instantly. He stayed the night with me and Greg, and although Matthew was open to enjoying both of us, Greg felt like my connection with him was stronger and he let us play, mostly watching, and then falling asleep. I was happy to have Matthew all for myself. Our sexual energies blended in a powerful mix of desire, and we barely slept that night. We could not get enough of each other. It was intoxicating.
This was Thursday. We met again on Sat – Greg and I were invited for a movie screening at my friend’s house. I invited Matthew and a couple of my other friends. Matt stayed the night with me. As exhausted as I was by the dawn, I also felt a profound sense of peace. Quiet happiness. Two men in my life, as different as can be. New territory. New Relationship rules. What’s next?