Male homosexuality is a developmental problem that is almost always the result of problems in family relations, particularly between father and son.1 This article examines family dynamics as one of many root causes of homosexuality. But the reality is that homosexuality is brought about by a multitude of root causes. It is simplistic thinking to attribute undue significance to any single factor.
The following pages reveal what can typically happen in specific stages of a male’s life leading him to identify, or be labeled by others, as a homosexual. But keep in mind the following factors that can have extreme implications on determining one’s sense of gender identity:
- Sexual violation or experimentation with men or boys
- Negative spiritual influences
- Peer labeling, harassment or alienation
- Fear of — or an inability to relate to — the opposite sex
Birth to 18 months
In the initial stage of life, the child receives foundational security from the one closest — namely, his mother. The infant acutely senses the emotional atmosphere from such cues as voice tone. Touch is also an important source of information for infants. The warmth and pressure from contact with the mother’s body carries a message to young babies of security in moments of stress.2 Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel state, “Ideally, an infant’s first year or two of life is spent developing a deep, secure bond of love with the mother that leads to a healthy sense of personal identity. Psychologist Erik Erikson calls this the development of ‘basic trust’ … ”3
If the child does not obtain basic trust with the mother, he becomes vulnerable to a multitude of problems. Lacking that trust is not the cause of homosexuality by any means; it simply opens the door for a child’s vulnerability in a number of subsequent developmental stages, including the creation of his sexual identity.
18 months to 5 years
Between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, a boy needs to receive gender affirmation both verbally and physically. His perception of his sexual identity will come from the primary people in his life — again, his parents.
Beginning around 18 months, the child begins to tell the difference between male and female. The boy will notice he is different from his mother, and his body is like his father’s. The father becomes more significant and the boy wants to reach out to him, to connect with him. This sense of being a boy is called gender identity. After gender identity is formed, then gender stability develops.4 If the basic trust with mom has been established, it means that he is familiar with her. Now he wants to branch out to the father because he’s interesting. This is what Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality, calls the “separation individuation phase.”5
“If the father is warm and receptive, then the son can make this transition,” says Nicolosi. “He can dis-identify with the mother and connect with the father to fulfill his natural masculine strivings and establish a secure sense of gender identity. But if the father is cold, distant, disinterested, critical or rejecting — according to the boy’s perception — the boy will experience a hurt and rejection, which is what we call a ‘narcissistic hurt.’ That is why narcissism — a preoccupation with the self — is a large part of the male homosexual condition.”6
When a child yearns to connect with someone who is unwilling or unable, the wounds can scar him for life. Both mother and father, as a “parental team,” must assist the boy in this transitional phase. You can see how the triangle of the classic triadic relationship can so easily become distorted when parents respond inappropriately at different stages in their son’s life.
Back to the basics
If the mother, for example, is not affirming the husband’s role in the family by her words and actions, the baby boy — even in this early stage of his life — will pick up on that and his view of men, maleness and masculinity will become devalued.
The father’s acceptance of his son as a young male is critical. One man in the midst of walking away from homosexuality said, “My father never hugged me or touched me. I had no physical connection with him.” Again, the primary cause of homosexuality is not the absence of a father figure, but the boy’s hurtful experience with his father.7
During the gender affirmation stage, many things may have contributed to this lack of bonding. Perhaps the father felt left out of the mother/son relationship and withdrew from the son. Perhaps his work left him physically absent from the household. Maybe the dad felt incapable of connecting with his son who lacked similar interests and emotions. Maybe the mother devalued his worth as a man, and he felt awkward being a male role model to his son. Many factors contribute to a lack of connection between father and son in the critical separation individuation phase.8
Also remember that perception holds a faulty grasp on reality. What the son perceives may be far from his parents’ intentions, but because it is the only thing he knows to be true, it will shape who he becomes.
5 to 12 years
School enters the scene, and a whole new world of relating to peers comes into play. At this time, same-sex peer relationships become very important, often involving intense emotions. These friendships play a vital role in the development of a secure gender and sexual identity. (Remember the “cootie-stage” when boys and girls stay far away from one another?) Nicolosi emphasizes that “an attachment to the same sex is not wrong; indeed it is precisely the right thing for meeting same-sex deficits. What is improper is eroticizing these friendships.”9
Peer relationships in grade school can be either intimidating or wonderfully affirming experiences. Many homosexual men commonly recall painful memories with peers during this period. What the boy has interpreted as his gender identity will carry over to the school grounds and be reinforced by his peers. Dr. Barb Durso observes that, at this time, “most children develop stereotypic behaviors appropriate to their gender identity. Thus girls sometimes refuse to wear pants because ‘only boys wear pants.’ This can happen even if the girl has a mother and other female role models that wear pants. Conversely, boys may become intensely interested in playing ‘army.’”10 But if he is already estranged from his father, he will likely feel alienated from the boys in his class and will have an unstable sense of gender identity. Verbal taunting may occur only to solidify his sense of masculine inferiority.
Rather than face the humiliation sure to come from boys playing sports and other games together, he may retreat to solitary pursuits. Social isolation and loneliness during this time are often experienced by homosexuals as adults. Again, his personality temperament will play a key role in how he responds to his circumstances.
It is this period, from 5 to 12 years, that Sigmund Freud termed the “latency period.” Many gay activists say that young boys who emotionally estrange themselves from their fathers and carry this to their peers are already homosexual. Nicolosi says, “We would rather call them ‘pre-homosexual.’ In other words, if we do nothing, they will become homosexual.”11 “The pre-homosexual boy has typically experienced a hurt and disappointment in his relationship with his father. This hurt may be the result of active abuse or simply passive neglect.”12 Failure to have this hurt dealt with appropriately leads to vulnerability at later developmental stages.
Much cross-gender behavior, or gender nonconformity, can be observed during this time. Nicolosi emphasizes the development of a boy’s “false self.” “The false self is part of this good little boy,” he explains. “Such pre-homosexual boys are very polite, responsible, clean, neat, sensitive to other people, especially their mothers’ needs, aware of what other people expect of them and tend to deny their own needs and wants and would rather make other people happy. … It is like a false role. And that is why when men finally come out of the closet, they can act up and become bad little boys. … Homosexual behavior is a way of being bad.”13
As Nicolosi states, boys are not homosexual at this point; they simply show tendencies to become homosexual. Part of being the “good little boy” is an alienation from his own developing masculine body. What is happening in these boys is a distinct disconnection from their bodies. “His male body is alienated from him. And there is an excessive shyness and modesty because he does not have the natural connection with his body,” Nicolosi explains.14
12 years to adulthood
Puberty can be a point of revelation for a young boy. As Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel put it: “Most people from a lesbian or gay background feel different or may even be labeled ‘queer’ from an early age. But the full significance of these labels hit, usually in the junior high years, when the first strong rushes of sexual attraction come surging up — and turn out to be surging in the wrong direction.” 15
With the deluge of gay-affirmative messages being forced upon teens in public education, Dr. Uriel Meshoulam warns against a young boy embracing a “gay” label. “As a psychologist, all too often I see people in therapy, sexually conflicted and confused, have their plight compounded by social pressures. … Well-intentioned affirming messages, such as ‘be true to your real self,’ imply a fixed, ‘true’ and probably inborn sexual orientation. This powerful truism, more often than not, makes young teenagers feel that they need to quickly make up their minds as to ‘who they really are.’”16
When hormones enter the world of a boy with a healthy gender identity, he will look around and see that girls possess a kind of mystery about them; something that makes him curious and attracted to them. In other words, a healthy sexuality searches for the opposite gender or ‘other,’ which complements and completes one’s own gender. And so the teen heterosexual boy will pursue girls to fulfill that curiosity, to discover the unknown.
During this stage of development, boys tend to withdraw from the family circle at home and may be critical of parents and siblings. They are worried about aspects of self — especially that others won’t like them. Self-absorption is the hallmark of this age. They are sensitive to criticism and keenly perceptive of the emotions of others. Teen boys needing privacy often secede from the family and become moody and uncommunicative.17
But the pre-homosexual has already been disconnected from his father, friends and his sexuality by this point in his life. His own masculinity is a mystery to him. It’s like the teen boy who, due to masculine inadequacies, is most drawn to females to feel comfortable, safe and unthreatened. The world of boys and men is completely foreign. Getting there feels like crossing a great canyon. So while heterosexuals find females intriguing and in possession of something they do not have, so it is that pre-homosexual boys find members of the same sex intriguing.
During this “erotic transactional phase,” as termed by Dr. Nicolosi, all the psychological and identification issues that have been established now set the direction for sexual energy. “Homosexual behavior is really a symbolic attempt to become familiar with their own bodies through other male bodies,” he says.18
As one man overcoming homosexuality said, “Friends were heroes to me, and I wanted to get connected and closer because I felt empowered. … It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that it got to be a sexual kind of thing.”19
Even though homosexuality is becoming more socially acceptable and even promoted as an attractive and preferable way of life now more than ever before, most boys in junior high and high school do not want to be gay. Most hope what they feel is a “passing phase.” Many keep their confusing desires to themselves. Christians are told to simply “pray about it.” Some try dating the opposite sex to remedy their desires. But none of this helps those who are struggling because their feelings and attractions are not being explained to them.20 They are left confused, and many will come to their own conclusion that they must be homosexual. The words “homo,” “queer” and “fag” sting just as badly as they did when they first heard them. With an even lower self-esteem, they plunge ahead to their futures, trying to accept that they must be gay and, as such, might as well fulfill the desire and act out in homosexual behavior.
College and beyond
The last step in the development of a homosexual identity usually comes in the years after high school, when all kinds of options become available. Leaving the constraints and influences of home and church, a young man will often discover a world eager to usher him into the homosexual community.21 With the availability of gay bars, gyms, beaches, even the Internet, numerous opportunities beckon a confused young man to be sought out or to seek out relationships with men.
Some choose to openly “come out” while others secretly “act out.” In either case, the homosexual who hasn’t been told the truth that his homosexuality is changeable, unknowingly becomes trapped. The seeming acceptance and rush of excitement that may seem fulfilling at the time, ends up leaving him empty and hopeless.
Clearly there is some overlap in the stages that have been laid out. Ages are not exact in every child and neither are the activities, thoughts or feelings described in each. Some may be acting out their homosexual desires very early in life. Others wait until their late teen or early adult years to engage in homosexual behavior.
1. Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1991), 25.
2. Marc H. Bornstein and Helen G. Bornstein, “Infancy,” Child and Family Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, www.ecdgroup.com/guestdoc/infancy.html.
3. Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel, Coming Out of Homosexuality (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 44.
4. Barb Durso, M.D., “Gender Identity,” Your Child’s Development, September 2000, www.keepkidshealthy.com.
5. Josehp Nicolosi, Ph.D., “The Condition of Male Homosexuality,” speech presented at the Love Won Out conference, Dallas, TX, May 6, 2000.
7. Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, 34.
8. Ibid., 40.
9. Nicolosi, “The Condition of Male Homosexuality.”
10. Durso, www.keepkidshealthy.com.
11. Nicolosi, “The Condition of Male Homosexuality.”
12. Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, 57.
13. Ibid., 237-264.
14. Nicolosi, “The Condition of Male Homosexuality.”
15. Davies and Rentzel, 52.
16. Uriel Meshoulam, Ph.D., “Is it OK to tell a teen, be true to your real self?,” Boston Globe, February 28, 1999, C6.
17. Loretta Haroian, Ph.D., “Child Sexual Development,” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, vol. 3, February 1, 2000, www.ejhs.org.
18. Nicolosi, “The Condition of Male Homosexuality.”
19. The Map: Interactive CD & Journal (Portland, OR: The Portland Fellowship, 2000).
20. Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, 69.
21. Davies and Rentzel, 52.
Excerpted from the booklet The Truth Comes Out: The Roots and Causes of Male Homosexuality, published by Focus on the Family. Copyright © 2001 Focus on the Family.