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Updated: May 4

 From the outset, it must be recognized that there are many routes that lead into homosexuality. Male children do not grow well when they do not have a loving father with whom to identify. Absent or unacceptable fathers do not provide the needed father-son affectional bond.

The constellation of antecedent variables is probably different for each male who identifies himself as gay. It is important to remember that fathers or mothers are not invariably culpable when their children grow to become drawn erotically to others of their own gender. Mothers are often left to raise their male children alone for reasons beyond their control. No-fault divorce has increased greatly the extent of fatherless homes. Fathers can be unavailable for various reasons. They can be ill, incapacitated, or die. They could be away in the military or incarcerated for long periods. Relational estrangement resulting from the death of a male infant's mother will likely damage the relationship he could subsequently have developed with his father. Either father or son can reject the other.

Shortly after beginning college, I encountered Irving Bieber’s text, Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study, published in 1962This study compared the family relationships of 106 male homosexuals with 100 male heterosexuals, all of whom were receiving psychoanalytic care. Perhaps its most important finding was that the homosexual men’s fathers were found to be remote and/or hostile and abusive, while their mothers were overly close and controlling. Excessive maternal anxiety about their young sons being injured was believed to interfere with their son’s development of assertiveness and thus encourage feelings of inadequacy or self-contempt.

Boys who are estranged from or who reject their fathers will likely become more closely identified with their mothers. Strong or exclusive identification with their mothers and the female role discourages boys’ development of the identity-securing relational bond these children should have with their fathers. An affectionate bond between a male child and his father is critical for the internalization of a normal, male sex-role identification. From their assessments of family relationships, Bieber clearly emphasized: “We have come to the conclusion that a constructive, supportive, warmly related father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son.”[1] (emphasis original)

In their book, Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality, co-editors Peter Sprigg and Timothy Dailey referred to numerous studies which have supported the findings of psychiatrist Irving Bieber and his associates. They included an important assertion by psychiatrist, Daniel Brown. Following his careful overview of previous research, over forty years ago, Brown wrote: “In summary, then, it would seem that the family pattern involving a combination of a dominating, overly intimate mother plus a detached, hostile or weak father is beyond doubt related to the development of homosexuality.”[2] 

Sigmund Freud saw homosexuality as evidencing “a certain arrest of sexual development.” Gay author, Mark Thompson’s, assessment echoed this important concept. Referring to deficiencies in the father/son relationship, he wrote: “Somewhere inside every gay man there's a wounded boy who stopped growing. Who simply gave up and shut down. He was not seen for who he really was, as pernicious an abuse as any devised.”[3] 

Despite the solid evidence supporting the importance of the father-son relationship, this point was unfortunately overshadowed by the psychoanalysts’ preconceived belief that “a homosexual adaptation is the result of hidden but incapacitating fears of the opposite sex.”[4] (emphasis added) This hugely mistaken belief about the psychodynamics of preferential same-sex sexuality has contributed to therapists pursuing erroneous therapeutic goals for many years. Fear of sex with women is not at the heart of gay men’s struggle.

A second area of major concern has been peer relationships, interactions male children have with others of their own gender. Boys raised in fatherless homes or those who had been abused by their fathers would be handicapped as they engaged with other boys. Also, male children who identify more closely with their mothers tend to socialize with girls rather than boys and to avoid the rough and tumble team sports and physical competitions to which boys are typically drawn. Being timid and perhaps fearful of injury is likely to invite aggression from other children. A boy’s fear and sense of inadequacy can be made worse by the derisive reactions of other boys. This would encourage insecure children to withdraw further. Thus, they would be deprived of important, empathic interactions which peer groups provide. The ‘esprit de corps’ of boyhood gang-life would be missed. Bieber noted that such loss would “only accentuate the feeling of difference and alienation.”[5] It was renowned homosexual psychiatrist, Harry Stack Sullivan, who brought attention to the importance of early chum relationships. He saw them as “prognostically favorable, … an important counter influence against the development of a permanent homosexual adaptation.”[6]

A far-reaching insight came from Harvard psychologist, Jerome Kagan. He defined a very important psychosocial dynamic. He explained that individuals sense an enduring imperative to gain skills and attributes particularly relative to their gender. Men and women are pressed to bring themselves, their being, psychologically and behaviorally, into line with attributes commonly pertaining to their gender. He said that while the strength of many basic needs such as hunger, thirst, and sexuality is diminished for a time with their attainment or expression, this is generally not the case with the need to possess and express aspects of one’s gender role. He stated: “The performance of masculine acts does not weaken or destroy temporarily the desire to continue such behavior. … The significance of a sex role standard rests with its governing influence on the initiation of a broad band of behaviors.”[7] 

For whatever reason, failure of a male child to identify with his father has serious consequences, for, as summarized by Kagan, “ is possible that a weak identification with the same sex parent may prevent the child from developing the confidence to master many sex-appropriate skills.”[8] While activists minimize and play down the idea that adverse family relationships (with and without culpability) play a major role in the development of homosexuality, there is too much information to believe otherwise. 


I refer now to a few reports from prominent men, notable individuals self-identified as homosexual, who have written autobiographically about family relationships and particularly their feelings about their fathers. There are important parallels in the points they emphasize regarding their early years and their relationships with parents and peers.

Nobel laureate, André Gide, wrote “…my father was taken up preparing his lectures at the faculty of law and gave very little of his time to me.”[9] Gide spent much of his childhood and youth under the extensive influence of his mother and grandmother. 

Gay scientist, Simon LeVay, was reported as having found a “gay gene.” He related, “I definitely see things that went along with being gay: not liking rough sports, preferring reading, being very close with my mother. ...I always hated my father.” 

John Reid, author of “The Best Little Boy In The World,” complained concerning his childhood, that he was not allowed to share in his father’s manual work, like painting or sawing. He had no male playmates within miles and groused that his mother “lets me set the table.”[10]

In his autobiography, Olympic diving champion, Greg Louganis, compared his diving coach with his authoritarian adoptive father. “John was a very soft-spoken family man. I was impressed with the way he went camping and hiking with his sons. I envied John's sons, because he was the kind of father I wanted. They spent a lot of time doing the things fathers and sons do together. My father always made me feel like I was putting him out, that I was a bother, that he’d rather be doing other things than spending time with me.”[11]

Louganis also described a time his father was angry when he failed to practice a particular dive for his coach. He had felt unprepared to execute it safely. His father subsequently demanded that he practice the dive at their unheated home pool on an improper, unregulated springboard, and without his coach being present. In response to his reticence, Greg wrote that his father “took off his belt and told me not to talk back. There was only one way to do things--the logical way, his way. I can't remember if he hit me with the belt then or waited until I had my suit on, but he hit me across my backside and legs until it burned. That I can't forget. I didn't want to give my father the satisfaction of seeing me cry, so I held it in.”[12]

  Football hero, David Kopay, was terrorized by his elder brother and feared his father’s violent temper throughout his youth. “My memories of dad are chiefly of an aloof figure who was either silent or violently angry. He never called me by my first name, he never called me 'son.' Even now he just says 'hello' to me on the phone, no name. … I was frightened of Uncle Johnny Berry at first. He was the only man who ever hugged or kissed me.”[13]

Actor, Alan Cumming, was terrified of his father’s maniacal rage, certain he would die at his hands. “This day was the first time I truly believed I was going to die. I looked into my father's eyes, and I could see that in the next few moments, I might leave the planet. I was used to rage, I was used to volatility and violence, but here was something else that transcended all that I had encountered with him before.”[14]

Poet and Nobel laureate, Stephen Spender, described his father as constantly melodramatic. It both confused and embarrassed him. “My father's habit of mind created a kind of barrier between him and us, which asserted itself even in the most genuine situations.”[15] Stephen’s son, Matthew, wrote, “Stephen hated his father whom he believed was a failure.”[16]  Spender thought his father "was a fool, and that she [his mother] had a touch of genius." He wrote of being relieved when his father died. 

Spender wrote a poem entitled “My Parents,” wherein he criticized them for not allowing him to be exposed to and become a part of a gang, like the roughs whom he “feared more than tigers…and their knees on my arms. …for they had muscles like iron. They were lithe, they sprang out behind hedges…”[17]

Among younger students at a boarding school, Spender  was punished for having eaten more than the allotted one-quarter slice of breakfast bread. The older boys complained because their share had been eaten. Punishment of the youngsters was left to the older boys. Spender recalled, “I did not observe what happened to the others, because several boys sat on me. They tied some rope, which they had found, round my hands and feet, and then pulled in different directions. After this I was flung down a hole at the back of the platform of the school dining room, called the Kipper Hole, because heads of kippers were thrown there.”[18] Obviously upset, but finally making it to his piano lesson, he was comforted and embraced by his piano teacher, the choir master, Greatorex.  Under his teacher’s brisk demeanor was sensitivity, warmth, and kindness. Spender remembered, “I used to stare at his domed bald head with the clusters of hair on each side and at the back, and pray that when I grew up I would be bald. For the child unquestioningly attributes beauty to whom he loves. Thus Greaterorex seemed to me one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen.”[19] 

  Gay author, Mark Thompson, wrote of a friend whom he had met in Europe. “Both of us, it seemed, had been failed by our fathers. In my case, it was the failure of neglect. But Gary had been outright rejected by his dad to the point of having been regularly beaten for imagined sins. Neither of us had been properly seen and reflected back to ourselves by the primary men in our lives. As a consequence, both Gary and I suffered a damaged self-image. While there had been no mirror held up for me, the mirror of masculinity made available to Gary was deeply marred, even shattered.... We were wanting our manhood...”[20]

Famed gay author, Douglas Sedownick, wrote, “Pillars of gay literary and activist society, such as Stephen Corbin and Michael Callen, were, in their final moments, reduced to tears at the way in which the love from father (or father surrogates) seemed so out of reach. ‘Were we looking for our fathers through so much sex?’ Callen once asked an observer as he approached death.”[21]  

  Not having the blessing of chums, New York columnist, Merle Miller, bravely came out in 1971 and shared details of his personal struggle. In his text, On Being Different, What It Means To Be a Homosexual, he wrote, “I was four years old when I started school. …But butch haircut or not, some boys in the third grade took one look at me and said ‘Hey look at the sissy,’ and they started laughing. It seemed to me now that I heard that word at least once five days a week for the next thirteen years, until I skipped town and went to the university. Sissy and all the other words---pansy, fairy, nance, fruit, fruitcake, and less printable epitaphs. I did not encounter the word faggot until I got to Manhattan. I'll tell you this, though. It's not true, that saying about sticks and stones; it's words that break your bones.”[22]

  In his insightful and influential text, Virtually Normal, famed gay activist and commentator, Andrew Sullivan, wrote: “Like many homosexuals, I have spent some time looking back and trying to decipher what might have caused my apparent aberration. One explanation does make some sort of sense. I had a very close relationship with my mother and a somewhat distant one with my father.”[23]

As noted, I, myself, was physically and emotionally abused by my father and firmly determined I never wanted to be like him. I remember standing at the head of our basement stairs, hearing the razor strap landing on my sweet sister and knowing that I would be called down next. Both my hands would be gripped in his one hand while he vented his ire with the other. 

The list could go on and on. As I professionally worked with many gay men, I found that when a client would present homosexuality as his primary concern, the same litany of complaints would almost invariably be shared.

Family problems in the backgrounds of those who become gay is not a perspective gay activists want others to understand. It does not fit with the “born gay, can’t change” message. Thompson supported the point: “The gay pride movement has worked hard at rebuking bad fathers: from the sins of the patriarchy to the deficiencies of personal dads who didn't provide the nurturing we needed. Those bad fathers live within us still, but we’re too shielded against all the rage and pain that poor parenting wrecked to see it. We look for this lost love in others who are similarly wounded and therefore are just as blind, only to wonder why it so often doesn't work out.” (emphasis added) [24]  “…If my search for the meaning of masculinity has taught me anything, it is this: we queer men must father ourselves.”[25]

Some have experienced a beneficial connection or reconnection with their father. William Aaron, Author of Straight: A Heterosexual Talks About His Homosexual Past, was charmed by both his highly capable mother and Charlotte Frederick, his worldly and wickedly wonderful piano teacher. He adored his vibrant devoted mother, while avoiding his father whom he described as “absent, disappointing, inept, and diffident.”[26] “…during adolescence I scorned him as a fool.”[27] Active in the gay lifestyle for years, he wrote, “I had been a full-fledged, full time, deeply committed homosexual who had “done everything” many times without any hope of the situation changing.” [28]

Fortunately for “Willie,” he learned to know and love his father. “…I found myself actually working with my father, in close proximity day after day. We worked well together. One morning when things were going especially well and my father and I were functioning together like a well-oiled machine, the thought came: This is doing things with dad. This is what other boys experienced in childhood and I missed. And, having missed it, this is part of the reason I went off track.”[29] (emphasis original)

I, too, remember a bonding time with my dad. We were laboring together, clearing brush from an area in the country where dad had an acreage with a cabin. I must have been nearly a high school senior. Dad was older and needed to rest frequently. At these times we would lie in the grass and he would roll two cigarettes with his Velvet tobacco and Zippo rolling papers. We smoked together for a short respite and then returned to our chore. Those few moments constituted our time of positive father-son togetherness.

Richard Green, psychiatrist and noted sex researcher, studied fluidity of children’s sexual orientation. In his text, The Sissy Boy Syndrome and the Development of Homosexuality, Green briefly introduced “Richard,” one of the subjects of his study. “In early childhood, Richard cross-dressed, role played as a female, had primarily female friends, and did not want to have a penis. By late childhood, he was engaged in sports and relating comfortably to boys. Possibly his shift in core identity and gender role behaviors is explained by his mother's strong preference for a boy, her early discouragement of his ‘feminine’ behavior and his father's progressively improved relationship with him. In young adulthood, Richard is actively heterosexual.”[30] Richard’s mother reported that when he was very young, Richard had “a rather exclusive hold on me, and he just can't tolerate it if I pay any attention to his sister or any other child.” Richard began spending more time with boys and with his father. He also engaged in team sports. He lived with his father after his parent’s divorce. He envisioned himself becoming married to a woman.

Psychiatrist, John Bowlby, drew attention to the importance of affectional bonds between infants and young children and their caregivers. Serious damage can occur either from the child’s never having the benefit of his same-sex parent in his life, or the disruption of affectional bonds once established.

I hasten to again emphasize that there may or may not be culpability in the evolution of estrangement between male children and their fathers, peers, or the male role. I see the estrangement of homosexuals as an adjustment to relational trauma and disordered socialization. Failure to have their sense of gender validated by their same sex parent or significant others leaves boys with an incessant, gnawing hunger. They remain pressed to have that gender-specific need met, that connection and oneness with father and fellowmen that would validate their sense of worthy, competent maleness. Richard Green described those boys who became homosexually inclined as “male-affect starved.” They are craving the love and affirmation of a father and friends, that which they should have experienced through normal stages of socialization. Same-sex sexuality must evolve primarily as a way to internalize attributes of masculinity not secured from their fathers and/or peers while growing up. 

While gay men use same-sex sexuality to bridge the difference between their perceived lack of masculinity and others whom they idolize, this symbolic connection is transient and evanescent, an addictive mirage of the loving bonds that are truly legitimate and needed. A mix of ignorance regarding psychodynamics undergirding the same-sex attraction supports heterosexuals’ homophobia. Unfortunately, that error is compounded by gay activists’ maintaining their access to sex with others of their gender by convincing the public that gay is genetically based, good, and unmodifiable. If change is perceived as impossible, they have no responsibility to seek alternative ways of being. I firmly believe options for establishing a healing rapprochement between securely identified men and their needful brothers is possible, even easily so, if correct measures are taken. Outlining these steps is fodder for a future blog.

[1] Bieber, I., Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study, 1962, p. 311.

[2] Sprig, P., Dailey, T., (Eds.) Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality, 2004, p. 26.

[3] Thompson, M., Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self, 1997, p. 8.

[4] Bieber, I., Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study, 1962, p.303.

[5] Ibid, p.317.

[6] Ibid, p. 8

[7] Kagan, J., “Acquisition and Significance of Sex Typing and Sex Role Identity,” Review of Child Development Research, Vol I, Hoffman, M. L. and Hoffman, L. W., (Eds.) Russell Sage Foundation, 1964, pp.137-163.

[8] Ibid, p. 148.

[9] Gide, A., If It Die…An Autobiography, 1935, p. 8.

[10] Reid, John, The Best Little Boy in the World, 1981, p. 4.

[11] Louganis, L., Breaking the Surface, 1995, p. 21.

[12] Ibid, P. 23-24.

[13] Kopay, D., The David Kopay Story, 1977, pp. 33-35.

[14] Cumming, A., Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir, 1965, . 37.

[15] Spender, S., World Within World, 1951, p. 8.

[16] Spender, M., A House In St. John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents, 2015, p. 10.

[18]  Ibid, p. 363-364.

[19]  Ibid, p. 364.

[20]  Thompson, M., Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self, 1997, p. 152.

  [21] Sadownick, D., Sex Between Men,  1996, p. 162.

[22] Miller, M., On Being Different: What It Means To Be a Homosexual, 1971, p. 16-17.

[23] Sullivan, A., Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, 1996, p.9.

[24] Thompson, M., Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self, 1997, p. 98.

[25] Ibid, p. 236.

[26] Aaron, W., Straight: A Heterosexual Talks About His Homosexual Past, 1972, p. 20.

[27] Ibid, p. 29.

[28] Ibid, P.213.

[29] Ibid, p. 21.

[30] Green, R., The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality, 1987, p.218.

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