SIDNEY H. PHILLIPS, MD, is a training and supervising analyst of the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis; Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine.
Oedipal Stage in Homosexual Boys
Dr. Phillips notes Richard Isay, MD.
“… offered a major theoretical advance for reconsidering the development of gay men he proposed a developmental pathway specific to homosexual men that entailed an early homosexual orientation. He reported that gay men experienced homoerotic fantasies from at least age four or five years, a finding that is replicated in this study. He noted that this period of development is “analogous to the oedipal stage in heterosexual boys, except that the primary object of homosexual boys is their fathers” (Becoming Gay, The Journey to Self-Acceptance, 1989, p. 29).
A major stage of psychological development in early childhood is when in the mind of a heterosexual boy growing up, he wants his mother all to himself and resents having to share her with his father. In this child’s mind he has no concept of marriage or relationships. It is difficult to explain to this boy at this young age that his mother is married to his father. Hearing that he cannot have his mother all to himself, in the mind of this child, he will be upset. To give this boy hope for the future he will be told another fact of life, which is when he grows up he can find someone like his mother and he can marry her. This stage of psychological development is resolved successfully, if the boy learns to master his anger towards his father and his fear that his father will retaliate against him.
Unrequited Love Affairs
This same stage of psychological development in early childhood is true for the boy who grows up to be gay. The only difference is that this boy will want to have his father all to himself and resent having to share him with his mother. However, because of the strong social influence of antigay social and religious norms prevents this stage from being resolved successfully for many boys who grow up to be gay. A successful resolution of this stage for a boy who grows to be gay is the reverse of a heterosexual boy, which is that this boy has to learn to master his anger for and fear of his mother. Sidney Phillips, M.D. explains that this is the “necessary developmental framework” that when it is not resolved successful gives insights into why many homosexual adolescence boys have these “unrequited love affairs,” as explained in Part 2 of 10 of this series. These homosexual adolescent boys are attempting to rework a version of what was not successfully resolved with their fathers growing up (Scott J. Goldsmith, 2001, Oedipus or Orestes? Homosexual men, their mothers, and other women revisited. J.Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 49:1269-1287).
He falls in love with a heterosexual adolescent boy as a displacement of his childhood love affair with his (heterosexual) father. Accordingly, it was of such vital importance to the homosexual adolescent boys in these affairs that the heterosexual boys returned their passionate love in depth even though it never encompassed a manifestly erotic dimension. An essential feature of these friendships for the homosexual boy was that they were deeply felt on both sides: The love was mutual even if the erotic attraction was not. These friendships were clearly an effort by the homosexual boy, in this adolescent version of this oedipal drama, to heal and repair the effects of the paternal withdrawal and /or repulsion during the original oedipal passions so poignantly described by Isay.Basks in the Warmth of Another Male's LoveEven though ultimately not an erotic triumph, since in the dénouement the heterosexual boy always gets his girl, the homosexual boy –perhaps for the first and formative time in his life –basks in the warmth of another male’s love. Now we can understand how and why the erotic boundary is so carefully constructed and maintained in these affairs: It is an obvious repletion of the incest taboo but surely also an effort to avoid the erotic triggers to the original paternal retreat. It is not merely a repetition of the wish for the “full” oedipal triumph, though surely it is this, too. But it is also an expression of the homosexual boy’s deepest wish that someday, somehow, someone can love him wholly and completely without having to step lightly around the erotic perimeter (Sidney H. Phillips, M.D., 2002, The Overstimulation of Everyday Life: II Male Homosexuality, Countertransference, and Psychoanalytic Treatment. Ann Psychoanal 30:131-45, p. 133).