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
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
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
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,
guilty, eager for punishment, and
eager for acceptance.