Patricia Redlich

Friday, January 22, 2010

Maybe I'm Gay

I'm a 34 year old man and feel I have spent a lot of my life thus far not really being present in myself, if that makes any sense. I have been studying and was in a long-term relationship and don't really know where my life has gone. I have a problem that I fear may consume me. My confidence has completely evaporated and the root cause of my distress may be my sexual orientation.

This is not a typical 'I can't accept myself because I'm gay' story. I was entirely happy in that long-term relationship with a woman which lasted four years. I did, however, realise that I was attracted to men, and that realisation strengthened in the last few years. But I do not want to have intercourse with a man or live with one. I think the attraction is more about liking the self-confidence I sense in other men.

I never had a strong male influence in my life and that has left me feeling as though I've missed something. I feel lonely, but not gay. I could accept myself if I felt I was gay. And I don't have a family who would disown me. The problem is that I don't feel comfortable being either gay or straight. I do know that I would love to be a good partner and even a father.

Does any of this make sense? How can I be attracted to men and women? Can I be confused about my sexual orientation at this late stage in my life? Or am I just deluding myself, failing to accept that I'm gay? I want to enjoy life and move forward but feel stuck, not knowing who I am. I feel I should make a decision, but am terrified that I might 'revert' back in later life and it would then all have been one big lie. How do I know who I am and learn to trust myself?

We're all attracted to both men and women. How could it be otherwise? We have male and female parents, friends, work colleagues, competitors. If women were not attracted to other women, drawn in by them, how could they learn about the female world? Forget the obvious issue of young girls needing a role model for femininity. Don't we like the look of clothes on another woman, and hope to copy?

Problems arise when we confuse attraction with sexual desire. And no, I don't mean intellectually. This isn't a war about words, or a philosophical debate about concepts. Loneliness in childhood can lead to confusion. If we badly need to be loved and held close, the ordinary everyday interest in anyone, male or female, can be so intense that it becomes confusing. Put simply, if a girl child had no parents to love her, she could get so involved with another woman in adult life, that the intensity was almost indistinguishable from sexual desire. Yet it's love and comfort she's seeking, trying to catch up on a lost childhood. Yes, she could also latch onto a father figure too, but that leads to different problems which we don't discuss right now. We're trying to tease out the question of sexual identity here.

Boys learn how to be men through identification with the men in their lives. That's how the psychologists would phrase it. The reality is that boys learn to be men by loving and admiring other boys and men. Just as girls learn to be women by loving and admiring other women. We do love our heroes. We hang onto their every word, copy their every gesture, soak up like sponges the way they walk, talk, and generally handle themselves.

If, as you say of yourself, you grow up without a relevant male adult in your life, there are two problems. You are unsure of yourself as a man. But more importantly, you are unfamiliar with the interest you feel in other men, indeed the love you feel for other men. Experiencing it in adulthood almost invariably becomes sexualised, even if only in our heads, as an anxious possibility, and hence makes us uncomfortable. Worse, it leads to confusion about sexual orientation.

I don't know if you're gay or straight. Certainly, on a scale of sexual orientation, it would be seen as significant that you don't feel sexual desire for other men. But you don't need to be a psychologist to know that we can refuse to acknowledge feelings we're not comfortable with.

On the other hand, you may be looking for a level of certainty which is simply not attainable. Perhaps you're too frightened by your thoughts. Like I said, we normally learn to handle love of the same sex while still children, before sexual awakening. So we're easy with our interest in other men, or other women. That interest doesn't fade with adulthood by the way. Women perhaps are more conscious of this fact. We look to other women to see how they handle the new levels of near- nudity, how they adapt to still being sexy at seventy, how they retain their sense of femininity after surgery for breast cancer, how they handle being mothers and lovers. Men must do this too.

I also believe we all bury elements of sexual interest - repress it, to use the technical term. We 'blind' ourselves to sexual interest in our best friend's wife, the teenage au-pair, or attractive members of the same sex. Things sexual are not simply black and white. Scratch the surface, and we're all ambivalent. We all have feelings which need to be banned.

Some men and women are simply gay. Some have a choice. And the majority have managed heterosexuality without much thought. You are vulnerable because of a somewhat empty childhood. You can see that. You are also blessed with a thoughtful brain. Reflection does leave us lost. It also leads to clarity. You have to hang in there in the interim, which takes courage. But then you have that, in spades.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design