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surv1v1ng

psychotherapy

by JAMES COLEMAN

Through such actions as the disruption of last

summer's American Psychiatric Association convention,

the Gay Liberation movement has focussed attention

on psychiatrists' treatment of homosexuality. Some

writers have criticized Freudian and neo-Freudian the–

ories of homosexuality; others have exposed barbaric

clinical practices such as the use of electroshock "ther–

apy." Little has been written, however, about the ex–

perience of psychotherapy itself.

My own experiences were not dramatic: I never had

shock treatment, I never encountered the gay analogue

of the hair-raisingly male-chauvinist statements

reported by some Women's Liberation activists who

have had psychotherapy.

My therapists-there were three over the years–

were all intelligent, somewhat sensitive men. I cannot

even claim that they tried to convince me that homo–

sexuality was an illness: product of an orthodox up–

bringing, I was convinced before I ever consulted

them. All I can claim is that their treatment contributed

nothing to my awareness of myself and even retarded

it; that this was connected to their view of homo–

sexuality as an illness; that my self-understanding

eventually grew from quite different sources.

I first applied the term "homosexual" to

myself when I was fourteen. If I wasn't then an irreversible

homosexual, I was fast becoming one: almost all my

sexual feelings were toward males, virtually none toward

females. I sought psychotherapy when I was seventeen,

basically because I desperately desired to be

heterosexual. I was in therapy in my last year in

high school and for four years in college. Nothing

changed-though I did gain insight into various personal

and especially family relationships. For two

years after college I was a teacher-then I was fired

for a homosexual affair with a student. Beginning

graduate school, I also began therapy again, and

continued for five years on a once- and twice-weekly basis.

In my teens I tried actively not to be homo-

sexual. Even when I stopped trying, at 22, I didn't accept

being gay-1 merely decided to express it

until some–

thing changed,

because I realized that in trying not to

love men, I was losing the ability to love at all.

Not until I was 25 did I begin to see homosexuality

54

as something that shouldn't be despised, and not

until I was 28-less than two years ago-did I "come out"

in the sense of beginning to live openly as a homosexual.

Only then, moreover, did I actively step into gay

life and begin to meet other gay people. During those

fourteen years, from

14

to 28, I had almost no sexual

contacts and was, naturally, unhappy, frustrated, and

confused. If my entry into gay life seems unusually

late, I am convinced this isn't so: while manning a Gay

Liberation telephone earlier this year, I talked to many

more like myself.

During those fourteen years af waste and ur:meces–

sary grief, my psychotherapists exposed none of what was

really wrong. Please note: this means, what I now

believe was really wrong. Biased, yes-but true in my

experience; I will stand on my judgment and on that

standard so regularly invoked by psychotherapists them–

selves, success. In my opinion, I am healthier now.

I was not the happy homosexual who doesn't enter

Dr. Socarides' office (and doesn't enter his statistics).

There I was-in my teens, guilty about masturbation

(my only form of sexual expression) and about homo–

sexuality; occasionally thinking of suicide; drawn into

passionate friendships with "straight" males and either

guilty about the sexual element or blind to it; in–

frequently but persistently revealing the truth to certain

friends (but only in conversation) and sometimes, very

infrequently, making tentative sexual advances..:..usu-

ally rejected. In later years, fewer self-revelations (I

had control of myself now, achieved with the aid of

my psychotherapists: my new rule, the self-isolating

rule of every "closet queen," was that I never told any–

one unless it was necessary) and more frequent advances.

In therapy, I looked for the factors which had

caused my homosexuality. It did not occur to me that

no one asked what caused heterosexuality, or that the

two questions stood on a par. None of my psycho–

therapists ever pointed this out. When discussing my

urge to self-revelation, my therapists and I explored

the dynamics of this "Dostoevskian" manifestation–

guilt, eagerness for punishment combined with eager–

ness for acceptance, etc. All this, I must make clear,

was true-1

was

guilty, eager for punishment, and

eager for acceptance.

motive