Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sexual Disorientation: Am I Gay, Bisexual, Straight or Somewhere in Between?

So many men who read Straight Guise tell me that my discussions of straight men who have sex with men ( SMSMs) confuses them because before coming out, gay and bisexual men are often in denial and convince themselves that they are 100% straight.

I even receive e-mails, some of them hostile, from gay men who accuse me of keeping gay and bisexual men closeted by citing the ways in which men might still be straight and have sex with men.

They often write, in effect, “If I had read Straight Guise during the years I was in denial and lying to myself, I’d have felt comfort in thinking I was straight and gone on leading an inauthentic heterosexual life.”

For them, staying closeted was fraught with lying to themselves that they were essentially straight, with simply a “kinky” side or that their sexual interests were just that—sexual—and not about their identity. They now have great remorse over the lost years when they could have lived as openly gay men. The trauma of staying closeted was so painful that it strikes a nerve to learn that it’s possible to go through all that and still be straight.

I understand their strong reactions: The trauma of suppressing their identity is so profound that reading Straight Guise can prompt symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, reminding them of their horrible experiences of being closeted and of all the deprogramming it took them to understand they were truly gay.

To me, that all makes perfect sense: I, too, had to go through the very same coming out and deprogramming process as a gay man during my coming out years!

No doubt, the experiences I address in Straight Guise parallel the experiences that every gay man—and some bisexual men--can relate to. Secrecy, shame, hiding, lying, self-hate and self-blame are the very things straight men who have sex with men present in the therapy room.

Differences Between Gay, Bisexual and Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men

There are major differences between SMSMs and gay and bisexual men. Straight men who admit and come out as having sex with other men are usually not anti-gay or homophobic. They do not tell their therapists or people they trust, “I hate fags!” In fact, they usually have gay friends, support and affirm lesbians and gays they know and the gay civil rights movement in general.. They’ve often have read books on coming-out process to see if they are going through that process themselves and to understand what it is to live as a gay man.

Whatever shame and self-hatred these SMSMs are coping with does not arise from homophobia, but from their acting on impulses that are incongruent with their heterosexual orientation.

In other words, they are experiencing something like an addiction, a mood disorder, a chemical disorder or some other compulsion that causes them to go against their own will, repeatedly, and is interfering with their life. They cannot accept it, not out of denial regarding their true identity, but because it is not their true nature the way it would be if one were truly gay or bisexual.

True, some SMSMs are anti-gay and homophobic, straining their masculine muscles to ward off any trait that may appear gay or effeminate. This, too, parallels the dynamic gay men display who resist their homosexual identity and so “protest too much” to attempt to disown that there is anything gay about them. But these are not the SMSM’s who seek treatment and who I write about on the Straight Guise website and blog.

Another difference is that gay and bisexual men recall having sexual interests and crushes on other males during their childhoods, teen years and even in college. Heterosexual men who have sex with men do not have these type of memories. They might have memories of having sexual experiences with other males—some of which are a result of sexual abuse—but it is not erotic for them as is their recall of interest in females once they hit puberty. For them they have always been sexually and romantically interested and aroused by women. Their sexual behavior with other men is episodic, situational, spontaneous and momentary. For gay and bisexual men, the sexual desire is enduring and is connected to a romantic, affectional and psychological desire to connect with another man.

How do I know if I’m one of the SMSMs,
or if I’m truly gay or bisexual and in the closet?

I can’t know for sure what is true or right for you. Only you will discover that as you read and experience things related to sexuality. But I can tell you some things that I’ve learned from my 24 years of treating men and their sexuality issues:

1. Gay men enter the coming out process and recognize their identity not
when they have sex with other men but when they fall in love with other men. Men
can rationalize that their sexual behavior is a bit “kinky” or different but
when he begins to feel romantic desire for another male—in addition to sexual
desire--he then has to consider it is more than just about sex.

2. For
closeted gay men their depression and anxiety arise from being out of integrity
within themselves and from living an inauthentic life related to their identity.
This “out of integrity” dynamic is also true of SMSMs—their behavior goes
against their true orientation—but it is not related to their identity. SMSMs do
not feel compelled to--nor desire to--have a romantic relationship with another

3. No matter how much they read about or investigate the gay
culture, it never feels like a true fit for them. SMSM’s feel a desire only for
the sexual acts with other men. Typically, gay and bisexual men will say they
enjoyed the other guy and whatever they did with him, while the SMSMs enjoy the
sex alone. The other man is irrelevant.

Of course, gay and bisexual men
also have encounters that are only about sex, where the other man is
irrelevant—an insignificant other. It’s also common for heterosexual
men to have sex with women just “to get their rocks off.” The woman is

But for these gay, bisexual and straight men, that is not always true or
the norm. They will have periods of genuine romantic interest in the person they
hook up with. However, SMSMs never feel any interest in the other male as a
person--only for the sexual act between them. The encounter is strictly sexual, often involving a heightened sexualization of
a certain act, fetish, sexual scene or part of the body.

4. If a man
having sex with other men is authentically gay, his identity will eventually
surface, whether or not he wants it to. When a gay or bisexual man calls me for
therapy and wants to stay closeted and remove any shame or guilt they have about
their homosexuality, I always warn him that the more he talks about his
homosexuality, the harder it will be to keep himself closeted. Ultimately, his coming out process will get activated. He will want to come out and
won’t be able to hold back his identity.

It is reductionistic to assume that having sex with the same gender, in and of itself, makes someone gay or bisexual. That seems to be the worst form of homophobia, contributing to the myth—seized on by reparative therapists and others heterosexists—who define homosexuality as merely sexual behavior.

Being gay or bisexual entails much more than just sex. If a gay or bisexual man never engaged in sexual behavior for the rest of his life, he would still be gay, because that is his identity, not a description of how he behaves.