by Warren Throckmorton, PhD
I have a friend named Jim, who many people would think of as gay, or at least bisexual. However, he doesn’t see himself that way. He is married but has been attracted to men for as long as he can remember. His wife is the only girl he has ever been with and he says, “She is still the only woman that turns me on.”
Although I am not Jim’s counselor, he and I often talk about matters of sexuality since I research and write in that arena and he lives it.
So since Jim is mainly attracted to guys, why isn’t he openly gay and why did he get married? For Jim, it is a primarily a matter of being true to his beliefs.
“I wrestled with the question of what my faith teaches, what do I believe, and no matter how many different ways I look at it, I cannot reconcile my sexual attractions with my faith,” he explained.
Ironically, his church and his religion did not always support his faith.
As an evangelical Christian, Jim looked to ministries designed to help him with his struggle. Although the groups were well-intentioned, he did not find much encouragement. Jim recalls,
A few years ago, when I was debating whether or not to “embrace” my homosexuality, I heard a radio broadcast from a ministry I trusted. I still highly respect them, even today. But I believe that they have blinders on, that allow them to see homosexuality in only one way. Anyway, I listened to the broadcast on homosexuality, complete with some very moving testimonies. And then the host came on and said, essentially, that homosexuality was a sickness, and Jesus Christ was in the business of healing. Well, I’ve been a Christian since 1971, have asked God to take my attractions to men away so many times I’ve lost count, and still struggle with it.
It was a moment of complete hopelessness.
Despite many prayers and counseling sessions, Jim still felt bothered by his feelings. The alternative point of view was not attractive: perhaps God was unable to change him.
As a means to find help, he explored the reasons he was attracted to guys. “It didn’t help much. I know what all the theories say and I have been through counseling about that but I still am attracted to certain guys.”
“The theories” Jim is referring to is the oft-cited viewpoint among social conservatives that being homosexual, at least for men, stems from a lack of early bonding with one’s father. To be sure, Jim’s dad fit the stereotype.
“My relationship with my dad was very poor. Frankly, he was quite abusive. But it was so bad, that I never had any desire to bond with him, or repair anything.”
Although Jim’s life matches up well with predictions based on the common view, he does not think he is attracted to men because of his poor relationship with his father. He explains, “My brother and sister also were abused. Neither of them struggles with homosexuality, as far as I am aware.”
His investigations about causes of homosexuality were not limited to himself or people with similar backgrounds. Jim says, “I cannot tell you how many gay men have told me that the whole possibility of becoming straight is nonsense to them. They have heard the various father-deficit theories, and none apply to them.”
However, he does not think he was born gay, either. He understands why people would think that since he has always been aware of liking guys.
“I don’t know why I have these feelings but it may have something to do with being awkward as a kid and never fitting in with other boys. That’s just one possibility.”
The real breakthrough came, however, when he put the why question aside, pursued a more open relationship with his wife and sought a different kind of help. Instead of focusing on why he had the feelings or what was wrong with him, his counselor helped him pursue living a valued life.
I began working with a counselor had lots of experience in helping people change behavior. He correctly pointed out that it’s not about “being cured” from homosexual attractions, but rather, it is about how I live. That major paradigm shift has been so helpful, I cannot begin to fully describe it. As we have explored issues, things have gotten better, but I still have very difficult moments. Does that mean God is unable to fix me? Hardly. What it means is that this life is difficult, and my difficulty is just different from, not worse than, the “average” next guy. That’s just the way it is.
Jim stated beautifully how I believe therapists should work with people who experience dissonance surrounding faith and homosexuality. Truth is, the research does not allow for certainty about why sexual attractions occur. Despite the media hype over research relating pre-natal factors to later sexual orientation, there are many contradictory findings. Research pointing to family factors offers a piece of the puzzle but does not apply universally to those are homosexually attracted. Because homosexual attractions may mean different things for different people, counselors should be extremely cautious with promises of change. Likewise, counselors uniformly inclined to promote gay acceptance should understand that devout people cannot switch their religious beliefs on and off any more than people can consciously change their sexuality.
And so, confusing feelings and all, Jim has discovered that sometimes it is best to pursue a valued life, rather than a perfect one.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College. He is the co-author, along with Mark Yarhouse of Regent University of the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework, a new paradigm for responding to sexual and religious conflicts. He maintains an active blog at www.wthrockmorton.com.