He came to see me as a middle-aged man. He was suffering from social anxiety. As we worked through his fear of connecting with others, a significant, unidentified issue emerged - he was conflicted about his sexual identity.
My patient had never dated, nor established a meaningful, intimate relationship. His social anxiety was broader than the issue of meeting new friends. Rather, he cautiously disclosed that he never had shown an interest in associating with women. He was not sexually attracted to them and chose to avoid intimate encounters with females.
As the words of aversion to female relationships flowed out of his mouth, he became aware, for the first time, that his true identity was characterized by an affinity to men. Although he felt troubled and guilt-ridden by viewing it, male pornography excited him. This had been the case since early adolescence.
Social anxiety was a cover for a more deep-seeded dilemma. The anguish born out of my patient's transparency was evident in his expressions and demeanor. His energy was permeated with a host of feelings including shame, confusion, a desire to retreat into denial and sadness. He wondered how he could get through four decades of his life without acknowledging the truth that he was gay. However, as I expressed to him, denial is a powerful tool that had served to keep his real self in check. For most people, denial serves to immunize one against the reality of their true identity until they are tired of self-deception.
Now was my patient's time to come to terms with his true self. This meant that he would have to rethink old ways of viewing the world as he knew it. His brother would constantly make derogatory comments about gays, and my patient began to wonder about the irony and immaturity of such behavior. His sister was an alcoholic, and his parents were too detached to be concerned about his image or lifestyle.
This gentleman remembered telling a priest during confession about his erotic feelings toward men. He was granted forgiveness for his sinful thoughts and was told to find himself a nice young lady. The burden of other people's feelings came crashing down. What would his parent's think if they knew about his sexual orientation? What about his Catholic church that looked down on same-sex relationships?
It is one thing to know who you are and another thing to validate it. When I explored various scenarios that would engage my patient into the gay community, he appeared frozen. I knew what he was thinking. "If I attend gay-related activities and develop friendships among gays and lesbians, it affirms what I already know to be true. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that." His real anxiety was not about developing social relationships, but about pursuing those contacts that cemented his sexual identity. It was the doing of it that would forever derail his denial. He could no longer hide behind his confusion, but would be left to accept an identity that seemed strangely unfamiliar to him.
For the first time, this patient had admitted that he was not comfortable in his own skin. Can you imagine what that must be like? To feel the total weight of betrayal by negative religious sanctions? To feel thwarted from experiencing the truth about the nature of one's being?
As a therapist, it was my role to guide him toward being authentic, wherever that might lead. It was my responsibility to help him learn to make meaningful choices based upon his true self. It was a lonely, long journey as my patient strived to re-create his life based upon integrity and authenticity. Over time, in my counseling practice, I've personally witnessed the anguish and suffering experienced by patients as they explored the nature of their sexual orientation. I have also observed the courage that many patients have demonstrated in the process emerging from their silence about the narrative of sexual conflict and identity.
Although there is insufficient evidence to support its usefulness, many counselors and clergy continue to espouse reparative therapy for gay clients. These misguided providers continue to falsely believe that gays have a choice regarding the very nature of who they are. This is wishful thinking. Counselors, who many times attempt to disguise their intentions, subscribe to the archaic notion that sexual orientation is a learned process rather than a life-long identity. Reparative therapists view the gay individual as deviant and disordered and in need of transformation. Often, counselors who conduct reparative therapy for gays look for deep-seeded traumas as the causative factor in the "identity conflict" of those they serve. Counselors and clergy who insist on touting reparative therapy for gays have constructed an elaborate system of bias regarding homosexuality. They carry these distorted notions into treatment with gays and negatively impact the self-worth and integrity of those they counsel. Their insistence in curing gays by stripping them of their fragile self-identity creates a climate of self-doubt and defectiveness among those who seek help.
Personal bias and religious beliefs are at the core of those who betray the gay community. Many in the religious community are unable to reconcile their beliefs with experience and are reluctant to accept those who are gay. Unfortunately, this fact plays a role in why many gays reject their faith or live in a constant state of religious conflict. Ironically, it was Jesus who admonished the religious establishment that the law of love took precedence over the letter of the law. Jesus denounced the injustice, corruption, hypocrisy and exclusiveness demonstrated by many of the religious elite.
It is the role of the clergy and professional counselors to lead people to their authentic self. We must not fix that which is not broken, but help gays explore that which is in need of healing. This calls for encouragement, affirmation and guidance. Those in the gay community have the right to define themselves in a way that fits their true self. We counselors have an obligation to help all people who seek our assistance to explore and discover their authentic nature. Anything less is betrayal.