Monday, August 23, 2010

The Psychology of the Closeted Individual and Coming Out – 2007 - by Jack Drescher, M.D.

Many LGB individuals report developmental histories with difficulty acknowledging their homosexuality, either to themselves or to others. This is because, starting in childhood, LGB individuals are often subjected to antihomosexual attitudes, not only from strangers, but also from their own families and communities (Drescher, Stein and Byne, 2005). The childhood need to hide may persist into adulthood, leading many LGB individuals to conceal important aspects of themselves. There are a range of homosexual identities that describe an individual’s awareness and acceptance of same-sex attractions. Closeted individuals cannot acknowledge homoerotic feelings, attractions and fantasies to themselves. They cannot or will not integrate homosexuality into their public personae and these feelings must be dissociated out of
conscious awareness.

If and when same-sex feelings and attractions are no longer completely dissociated, an individual becomes homosexually self-aware. Such individuals may acknowledge some aspect of their homosexuality to themselves. However, accepting the feelings is not a pre-determined outcome. A religious, homosexually self-aware woman may choose to remain celibate rather than integrate her religious and sexual identities.

When someone is consciously prepared to accept a homosexual identity and reveal it to others, they may often call themselves lesbian, gay, or bisexual. To be LGB, in contrast to being homosexually selfaware, is to claim a normative identity and usually requires some measure of self-acceptance.

A fourth homosexual identity is the non-gay-identified individual. This person has experienced homosexual self-awareness, may have acted on their feelings and may have even once identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. However, such individuals find it difficult, if not impossible, to naturalize same-sex feelings and attractions, may reject them, and may even seek to change their sexual orientation (Shidlo, Schroeder & Drescher, 2001; Drescher & Zucker, 2006).

All of these homosexual identities are based on self-definition. They are not mutually exclusive; there is often overlap between and differing motivations within them. Consequently, when individuals become homosexually self-aware, there is a wide range of psychosocially constructed attitudes and responses they may develop toward their own homosexuality. For example, a homosexually self-aware woman may initially identify herself as lesbian, but then regret that decision and return to her earlier practices of hiding. Another may choose a non-gay identity, attempt a “sexual conversion” therapy, but then later decide to accept her homosexual feelings and come out.

Sullivan’s (1956) theories of dissociation elaborate how a sexual identity can be separated from the rest of one’s persona. For example, selective inattention is a common, nonpathological process, akin to tuning out the background noise on a busy street. In more intense dissociative mechanisms, double lives are lived yet not acknowledged. One sees clinical presentations of closeted gay people lying somewhere between selective inattention, most commonly seen in the case of homosexually self-aware patients thinking about “the possibility” that they might be gay, to more severe dissociation –in which any hint of same-sex feelings resides out of conscious awareness. More severe forms of dissociation are commonly observed in homosexually selfaware married men who cannot permit themselves the thought of coming out (Drescher, 2006).

To hide significant aspects of the self, or vigilantly separate from each other, can be painful. Constant hiding creates difficulties in accurately assessing other people’s perceptions of oneself as well as recognizing one’s own strengths. Dissociation’s impact on self-esteem can also make it difficult to feel one’s actual accomplishments as reflections of one’s own abilities. Transparency, invisibility, losing one’s voice, being an outsider, etc. are some of the terms used to describe the subjective experience of dissociative detachment (Drescher, 1998).

Some gay men, before coming out, were either gay-baiters or gay-bashers. To maintain a psychological distance from their own homoerotic feelings, they also exhibit dissociative tendencies. Attacking those perceived to be gay can serve several functions. One penile plethysmography study indicated that men with strong antihomosexual beliefs actually had significant homosexual arousal patterns (Adams, 1996). Interpersonally, strong antihomosexual feelings may represent an effort to control perceptions of a gay-basher’s own sexual identity. If they attack gay people, others will not think of them as gay.

Jack Drescher, MD,
is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City.

Dr. Drescher is a leader in his profession. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and served as a Consultant to APA’s Committee on Public Affairs. He is a member of the DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. He is a past Chair (2000-2006) of APA’s Committee on GLB Issues and a Past President of APA’s New York County Branch. He is currently the Co-Editor of AppleSource, the newsletter of the NYC DB of the APA. He is President-Elect of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, and a Past Trustee of both the Accreditation Council for Psychoanalytic Education and the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry. He is a member of numerous distinguished psychiatric, medical and scientific organizations, including The American College of Psychiatrists and the New York Academy of Medicine.

Dr. Drescher is a teacher and educator. He is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College, and Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University's Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.

Dr. Drescher is an independent scholar. He is Author of Psychoanalytic Therapy and the Gay Man (The Analytic Press) and has edited twenty books dealing with gender, sexuality and the health and mental health of LGBT communities. He is Emeritus Editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health. He has authored and co-authored numerous professional articles and book chapters, and is the senior author of “Homosexuality, Gay and Lesbian Identities, and Homosexual Behavior” in both the 8th (2005) and 9th (2009) editions of Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry.

Left Wing: When Gay Bashers Are Gay, Why Do People Just Mock and Turn Away? By Eve Conant, May 6, 2010 – Newsweek
The Pope Is Not Gay - Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Dish – The Atlantic
Vatican Asking For Male Prostitutes - “Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.”
Though you drive Nature out with a pitchfork, she will still find her way back.
Gay marriage - “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.” Judge Vaughn Walker
California decision pulls mask off fears, prejudice
by Ron Eachus – August 10, 2010 - Statesman
Prop 8 trial witness: Being gay not a choice - Psychologist testifies in case challenging California’s gay marriage ban – AP - January 22, 2010 – - and related links:
Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional as lacking rational basis
Nan Hunter - Professor, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC - hunter of justice
Gay Marriage Ruling A Matter of Simple Justice
by Geoffrey R. Stone - law professor at the University of Chicago - Chicago Tribune,0,2223308.story
On Prop 8, it's the evidence, stupid - By Lisa Bloom – - and related links:
Gay Marriage -> Restores “Hope of Love” To Children In Early Childhood
Gay marriage - Sexual orientation is less about sex and more about love,
being one with another human being - Attachment Theory - LOVE & RELIGION
Gay Marriage - Galileo Condemned As A Heretic - Misinterpretations of The Bible
Homosexuality? Natural Law? Benedict XVI? ->Kids Are Being Hurt!!!
Gramick: Equality is a Catholic value - by David Taffet – Dallas Voice
The Quality Of Lasting Homosexual Relationships - Deserve Respect
Roman Catholic -->Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Vienna
"No sensible person can imagine that the sexes differ in matters of love as they do in matters of clothing. The intelligent lover of beauty will be attracted to beauty in whichever gender he finds it." Plutarch

“Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well considered and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit.”
Erik Erikson


deborlikowski said...

I know you well, and you are and always will be my dear friend. It saddens me to know you have gone through so much grief and distress. Throughout the years you have been in my thoughts and prayers. What is wrong with acceptance and love? Who has the right to judge? God is love. The catholic church needs to move forward with the times and use common sense to promote love and acceptance -not rejection. You needed support from the one place who should have given it to you and they did not. They made you feel something was wrong with you for coming out and that is cruel. Keep moving forward with your crusade of justice. Do this for the children who need you. Don't let them cause stress - just see light within from God and you will be alright. With love, Deb Orlikowski Reno, Nevada

Fr. Marty Kurylowicz said...


Is that really you?

Yes, you do know me well and I you.

What a most pleasant delight to hear from you.


PS. I will have tell Tom