From the coffee shop to the research lab, people have been trying to figure out why men are gay. Are people born gay or do feelings develop over time? It's still a mystery, but that doesn't stop researchers and laymen alike from asking if our environments are to blame, as if being gay is an affliction that needs to be solved like a cycle of poverty.
Some psychs and ex-gay therapy groups often throw in the claim that gay men long for other men out of a subconscious need to connect with an absent or lacking father. According to theories, this "father hunger" is so strong that gay men deny their "natural" attractions and head toward the boy's room.
I'm no psychologist, but the idea of father hunger sounds plausible given the number of subconscious actions we take based on environmental influences. Thus like other cognitive imbalances (if you can call them that), same-sex attraction can be cured through therapy, right? Let me answer before I'm misquoted (again) by anti-gay groups: Not a chance!
What's Not Being Said
Theories about your sexuality and underlining urges to have a relationship with your father neglect to mention one key component. That is, straight men also have daddy issues that affect their lives well into adulthood.
Straightguise.com writes of the work of author, psychotherapist and relationship expert Terrance Real. Real shaped a model of therapy called Relational Empowerment Therapy(RET). The RET model suggests that when men embrace their innate ability to give and receive intimacy, they are better able to care for themselves and their partners.
Real's work focuses mainly on male-female relationships, but his study of straight men and father issues is key to knocking back claims that fatherless environments (both literal and figurative) breed gay men.
Take what Straightguise.com writes about Real's narrative book I Don't Want To Talk About It: "It illustrates that straight men have problems with their fathers similar to those that gay men face. In other words, the father issues gay men face have little to do with being gay, but everything to do with growing up males without appropriate father figures."
In I Don't Want To Talk About It, Read recounts the tale of a boy named Josh and his relationship with his father:
"Before the big competition, Josh confesses to his father that he's frightened of losing. In an excruciating scene, the father repeatedly reassures his son that he's the 'champ,' that 'it's the other boys who need to be afraid of you.' Josh repeats his plea and his well-meaning father keeps missing the point. It is painfully clear that the boy needs his father to tell him that he will be loved whether he wins or loses."
Just writing this excerpt brings up issues that I've had with my father my entire life. In many instances I sought comfort and acceptance in the midst of absence. Unlike some gay men, I came out to him as retaliation. Take that, I thought, as I blurted it out to his dumbfounded face.
At the time you couldn't drag me from the mountain top, but years since have shown me that my triumph wasn't much of a victory. All it did was perpetuate existing issues. I associated coming out with anger and rejection. I saw hetero men through the eyes of my father and other gay men through the eyes of myself: perpetrator versus victim.
In essence, my emotionally and often physically missing and homophobic daddy made me not want to be gay more than find a boy's hand to hold. It was only when I got older and moved past the need for his acceptance that this came into my awareness.
Terrance Real supports what I felt most of my childhood. Boys want "affection," Real says, not "masculinity" regardless of sexuality.
Masculine Need Over Intimate Wants
Despite longings for closer relationships with fathers, sex role theorist Michael Kimmel points out that men (yes that's you too, gay!) often demonstrate masculinity by adopting traditional ideas of what it means to be a man. Straight men and some closeted gay men will try to prove that they are masculine and thus not gay by overcompensating and attempting to sleep with women—society's ultimate proof of manhood.
Essentially what Kimmel is saying is that ideas of masculinity drive men to be homophobic. The straight man chooses hyper-masculine behavior to reject any idea that he is gay and gay men may sleep with women as a rejection of their sexuality. No wonder so many gay men continue to carry around buckets of internalized homophobia, which manifests as either a blatant refusal of sexuality (DL anyone!) or strong feelings against any form of feminism in other men.
Possibly, fathers are victims of environment, too. In his article titled "Gay Men and Their Fathers: Hurt and Healing" on PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Michael C. LaSala, LCSW reveals that "it is perhaps humiliating for a father to have a son who engages in sex acts that are considered by many to be so disgusting and degrading that their very mention is used by men to insult each other."
"Nevertheless, LaSala says, "it is important to recognize that father-son antagonism could be particularly wounding for a gay man."
To complicate things further there are opposing views that say men are sexually attracted to their fathers as young boys and the father distances himself because he is conditioned to fear homosexuality. These views by psychologist Richard Isay, LaSala notes, recognize how homophobia strains father-son relationships, but fall short of blaming dads for gay sons.
Healing Father-Son Relationships
My personal journey to healing my sordid dad-son relationship isn't a happy tale. Years of silence and self-acceptance (perhaps on both our parts) has led to peace in my eyes. However, when I reflect on my relationship with my father there are few moments where I connect same-sex attractions to seeking his approval or to conforming to social norms. If anything, my childhood environment urged me to go in the other direction, away from my gay feelings. Still, I cannot deny that my relationship with my father has had a profound effect on my development as a man.
Many lessons about the dynamics of gender I learned on own or by falsely imitating the dynamics in my family. Perhaps my father removed his role in my life as a homophobic response, as Isay suggests. Perhaps he was just a rotten dad for other reasons that had little to do with me or my sexuality. Only he can tell (comments are open, pops!).
Ultimately, however, for as many studies that seek the holy grail of homosexuality, there are as many of us self-accepting gays who feel strongly that although there were environmental influences, the outcome of who we truly are is the same.