Many therapists continue to treat homosexuality as a psychological problem and report success in helping persons who find themselves homosexual and wish to become heterosexual. For example, such therapists and doctors as Elizabeth Moberly, Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg, Charles Socarides, Rick Fitzgibbons, George Reekers, Jeffrey Keefe, OFM, Conv., Jeffrey Satinover, and Joseph Nicolosi. In this part of my paper on other theories put forward to explain the causes of homosexuality, I will draw from van den Aardweg, The Battle for Homosexuality: A Guide for (Self-) Therapy for Homosexuality, Ignatius Press, 1997, pp. 25-50; 51-57 (part II of the book contains practical rules for self-therapy), as well as (very briefly in this part) Fitzgibbons, Appendix 1: “The Origins and Healing of Homosexual Attractions and Behaviors,” in John F. Harvey, OSFS, The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful, Ignatius Press, 1997, pp. 307-343 (especially 307-324); Santinover, “The Biological Truth about Homosexuality;” and Nicolosi, “The Gay Deception.” Both of these last two essays are found in Same-Sex Attraction: A Parent’s Guide, John F. Harvey, OSFS and Gerard V. Bradley (eds.), St. Augustine’s Press, 2003, pp. 9-24 and pp. 25-32, respectively. I begin with the latter two essays by Nicolosi and Satinover.
Nicolosi writes, “The person who accepts the gay label in adulthood has typically spent much of his childhood emotionally disconnected from people, particularly his male peers and his father. He also was likely to assume a false, rigid ‘good little boy’ role within the family” (p. 28). Continuing, he notes that, “The pre-homosexual boy is detached, not only from father and other boys, but from maleness and his own male body, including the first symbol of masculinity, his own penis…Homosexual behavior is the search for the lost masculine self” (p. 29). Finally, he says, “By the early teenage years, unconscious drives to fill this emotional vacuum – to want to connect with his maleness – are felt as homoerotic desires. The next stage will be entry into the gay world” (p. 29). [Note: For Nicolosi, “homosexual” and “gay” are not identical terms. “A ‘homosexual’ is anyone who experiences a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex.” “‘Gay’,” however, “is a self identity chosen by some homosexuals” and identified with “the idea that homosexual behavior is as normal and natural as heterosexual behavior,” p. 25].
Satinover picks up this same theme of the importance of non-genetic factors such as family and childhood trauma in arguing (see pp. 11-14) that, “hard science is far from providing an explanation of homosexuality, let alone one that reduces it to genetic determinism” (p. 14). One’s character traits, he writes, “are in part innate but are subject to modification by experience and choice” (p. 15).
According to Satinover, also an important determinant of “at least certain behavioral predispositions is the hormonal environment [of the developing baby]. Thus, some proportion of what appears to be genetic in homosexual behavior may actually be a nongenetic intrauterine effect on the parts of the brain that influence sexual behavior” (p. 20). As we will see, van den Aardweg seems to reject this idea.
Critical too, in the development of homosexuality, he concludes, is the “family environment” (p. 20). By this he means that in the lives of their homosexual patients, psychoanalysts found “there was usually often an emotional mismatch between the child and the same-sex parent (such as a father who subtly or overtly rejects a son who has many ‘feminine’ traits); or an emotional mismatch between the child and the opposite sex parent; or sexual abuse of a child by either the same sex or opposite sex parent; and most often the rejection of a child by same-sex peers” (p. 20). Thus, what he calls “psychic trauma” can contribute to homosexuality, and these can be of two kinds.
The first is the trauma “caused by the child’s subjective experience of the same-sex parent’s lack of availability, rejection, or even harsh verbal, physical, or sexual attack…This may give rise to the child’s profound longing for love from that parent, a longing that he or she will likely enact in later relations with peers of the same sex. This longing may also become sexualized…” (p. 22).
The second is the trauma “caused by the child’s subjective experience of the opposite-sex parent’s lack of availability, rejection, or even harsh verbal, physical, or sexual attack. This may give rise to the child’s fear of that parent, which will likely show itself later as a heightened wariness and avoidance of opposite-sex relations” (p. 23).
He cautions that these traumas, although common, are not universally found in the childhoods of homosexuals. “And in many cases other, less typical traumas are present.” This fact, Satinover argues, reflects “the inherent complexity of homosexuality, a complexity stemming from the interactive or multiple genetic, intrauterine, environmental, family, social, psychological, and habitual influences on the course of development” (p. 23).
When we approach the work of van den Aardweg, we see that he too concludes that, “The overall evidence in the biological field points to nonphysiological, nonbiological causation” (p. 25). That is, this evidence points to “psychological childhood factors” (p. 33).
In analyzing the childhoods of homosexuals, it becomes clear, he states, that “many effeminate homosexuals lived with too great a dependency on their mother [which can take various forms] in the absence of a father, physically or psychologically (e.g., a weak man dominated by his wife or one who did not play much of the father role toward the boy)” (p. 34).
Moreover, “the study of homosexuality shows the importance of parents’ having healthy notions and habits with regard to masculinity and femininity. In the majority of cases, however, it is the combination of the attitudes of both parents that prepares the ground for a homosexual development…” (p. 37). Although the majority of pre-homosexual boys have feminine traits (and pre-homosexual girls have masculine traits) this “femininity” or “masculinity” does not seal their fate. What is crucial, according to van den Aardweg, is “the child’s self-perception as masculine or feminine…,” not in early childhood, but in the preadolescent and adolescent stages (p. 38).
Note, however, that van den Aardweg is aware that not all homosexuals had poor relationships with the same-sex parent. These “atypical cases” of homosexuality do involve, nonetheless, either husband/fathers or wives/mothers e.g. denigrating either the male or female sex so that the son or daughter develops a negative attitude towards his or her own masculinity or femininity (see pp. 38-40; see also Fitzgibbons, pp. 315-317).
Still, “It must be remembered,” van den Aardweg cautions, “that parental and educational factors are preparatory, predisposing, but not decisive. The ultimate cause of homosexuality in men is not, for instance, a pathological mother attachment nor rejection by the father, no matter how often evidence of such situations is found [and it is quite often] in the analysis of the afflicted person’s youth years” (p. 41).
“The strongest association,” he claims, is that found between “homosexuality and ‘peer relationships.’” It is the “prime suspect” in the explanation of homosexuality. For these relationships influence “the teenager’s self-view as to his masculinity or her femininity” (p. 41). Feeling less masculine or feminine than others is, as van den Aardweg states, “the specific inferiority complex of homosexually oriented people” (p. 43). These feelings are often brought on by negative experiences with one’s peers (see also Fitzgibbons, pp. 309-312).
“[P]rehomosexuals not only feel ‘different’ – which translates into ‘inferior’ – but also often do have a less boyish (girlish), less manly (womanly) demeanor than their same-sex peers and have less gender-typical interests. They have atypical habits, or personality traits, as a result of their upbringing and parental relationships. It has been shown over and over again that a lack of masculine traits in childhood and adolescence…is the first and foremost fact that is associated with male homosexuality” (p. 43).
The young person asks: Do I belong with my same-sex peer group? “Comparison of himself with the others determines his self-image with regard to gender characteristics more than anything else,” says van den Aardweg (p. 44).
To complete this picture of predisposing factors for a gender inferiority complex, self-comparison with same-sex siblings may play an important role, as can the seeing of oneself as physically ugly (p. 47).
“The decisive factor for [the development of] homosexuality is the fantasy. And fantasy is shaped by self-image, the view of others – with regard to one’s gender qualities…” (p. 48). “Feeling less masculine or feminine as compared to same-sex peers is tantamount to the feeling of not belonging…’Not belonging,’ inferiority feelings, and loneliness interconnect” (p. 48; see also Fitzgibbons, pp. 312-315 on weak masculine identity). But how do these feelings lead to homosexual desires? Van den Aardweg says they do so this way. The child and the adolescent automatically react to these feelings with “self-pity or self-dramatization. They inwardly perceive themselves as pathetic, pitiable, poor creatures” (p. 48).
Eventually this emotional state of self-pity becomes neurotic; one becomes addicted to it…The ‘complex’ is…fed by a lasting self-pity, by an inner complaining about oneself” (p. 49).
Finally, says van den Aardweg, “For the adolescent who feels inferior, admiration of idealized same-sex types produces eroticization…The need to be affirmed by an idol whose body and appearance are so highly admired, sometimes with desperate jealousy, may become a desire to be caressed and cherished by him or her, leading to erotic reveries” (p. 56). This eroticization becomes irresistible in some individuals because of his or her “deep feelings of inferiority in relation to [the adolescent’s] same-sex peers, his feelings of ‘not belonging,’ and his self-pity” (p. 57).
See also on the causes and treatments of sex-sex attraction disorder the excellent 2004 Statement of the Catholic Medical Association, Homosexuality and Hope, available at: http://www.cathmed.org/publications/homosexuality.html.
*This is part two of a much longer paper on the causes of and cures for homosexuality originally given as a talk at S. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in Pontiac, MI on April 17, 2004 for the Detroit chapter of the Catholic Medical Association’s Bioethics Seminar Series.
Homosexuality: Causes and Cures
Mark S. Latkovic, STD
Professor of Moral Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI
Bioethics Seminar Series
St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital
April 17, 2004
If Not Chosen, then What?
Describing Other Theories on the Causes of Homosexuality