“Am I Gay?” – 3 Words that can Terrorize Men
“Am I Gay?”, who says words don’t have power?
Those 3 small words placed in that particular order have caused a tremendous amount of pain for many men. It is no surprise that one of the most visited pages on my website is the one focused on the topic of sexual orientation confusion.
Let’s try to unpack this often under-reported and talked about mental health topic.
Sexual Orientation Confusion
Sexual orientation confusion is drastically different than sexual orientation. The key word is confusion. There is of course nothing wrong with whatever sexual orientation one is. Sexual orientation confusion is the idea of never feeling settled in one’s sexual orientation. The experience may begin as a mild doubt which slowly grows stronger to the point that the individual may begin to feel paralyzed about not knowing for sure what their sexual orientation actually is.
An outwardly facing heterosexual man struggling with sexual orientation confusion will begin to feel like a fraud and he will be looking for signs to either prove or disapprove whatever he is gay or straight. At its most extreme it can morph into a form of pure OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) commonly referred to as HOCD (Homosexual OCD).
Impact of Sexual Orientation Confusion
Men struggling with sexual orientation confusion may experience some of the following:
- Isolation & loneliness (relationships become difficult if not impossible)
- Sex & Porn addiction
- Extreme anxiety around gay or effeminate men
- Avoidance of close relationships with male friends
- Anxiety around participating in stereotypical masculine behaviours (i.e. sports, guys weekends, etc.)
- Sexual dysfunction
- Concern over appearing gay (i.e. dress, mannerism, etc.)
- May have experienced childhood trauma (i.e. sexual abuse, physical abuse)
I’m Bi-Sexual, doesn’t that solve it?
The issue with sexual orientation confusion is feeling doubt and uncertainty around one’s sexual orientation. Deciding that one is bi-sexual may relieve some anxiety at the onset but then the confusion on whether one is actually bi or not will set in and you’ll be back to square one.
John Bradshaw, wrote an important book in the late 1980’s titled, Healing the Shame that Binds You where he coined the term toxic shame. Many men embody or feel a tremendous amount of shame (toxic shame) about themselves. They often feel a deep shame around themselves as men and their sense of their own masculinity. I offer refer to this as the wounded masculinity. These men could have experienced trauma as children or being raised by deeply absent fathers. The shame transforms itself into a series of internal faulty beliefs about the men being not good enough, inadequate and fundamentally unlovable. This is generally what triggers sexual orientation confusion. Once a man loses access to his genuine power (which is what these shame based beliefs do) he will start to internalize an effeminized belief about himself. He will start to believe that maybe he is not fundamentally man enough. Once that belief takes hold it then so does his sexual orientation confusion.
Treating Sexual Orientation Confusion
Anyone struggling with sexual orientation confusion just wants the answer to one simple question. Am I straight or gay? Treatment must begin with throwing that question out the window. A man can spend years in therapy going back and forth and never solving anything. He must first deal with all the shame that will have triggered the sexual orientation confusion. As he moves through the shame he will begin to feel more powerful. As his (genuine) power increases his authentic sexual orientation will emerge and he will be surprised that he had wasted so much energy being confused about something that now seems so clear.
Eric Pierni, Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) | Founder of Men Therapy Toronto | Counselling Services for Men specializing in therapy and psychotherapy for men in Toronto, Ontario (GTA). Offices are located in the midtown (Yonge & Eglinton) area of Toronto.