The Compassionate Answer
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi is Executive Director of the National Association tot the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and Clinical Director of Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California. An expert in "reparative therapy," a treatment for homosexuality, he was interviewed by Lesley Payne.
What do you believe are the factors that contribute to homosexuality?
Nicolosi: To understand the cause of homosexuality, we have to begin by understanding that homosexuality is really a symptom, a result, of a gender-identity disorder. In other words, the boy did not sufficiently develop a masculine identification or the girl did not develop a sufficient feminine identification. This seems to hold out for the vast majority or homosexuals. With regard to formation of a masculine identification, in order for the boy to develop a solid sense of his own masculinity, he needs to first establish a bonding or an identification with the father. The father-son relationship is absolutely critical in the boy's sense of his own masculinity. We have to remember that boys and girls are first identified with the mother in their earlier years, but the boy has to dis-identify with his mother and make the bonding identification connection with the father.
We're talking about 2 1/2 years old. This is what they call the gender-identity phase. It's the time when children begin to realize that the world is divided between males and females and that he or she is pressured into identifying with one or the other. If the father is cold, distant, aloof, detached or critical, that doesn't happen properly.
Can parents prevent a child from becoming a homosexual?
The concern I have developed over the whole question of preventing homosexuality in children comes from the years of clinical work with homosexual men who desire to change. So, essentially, I'm working backwards, dealing with adults and understanding the critical events in their childhood that con-tributed to their homosexuality. So. prevention is really guarding against those particular factors that create the homosexual adult.
To begin, I would say that I think home-schooled children have a particular vulnerability for a number of reasons. The primary reason, especially for the boy (and I'll be focusing primarily on boys), is that it isolates him from his peers. I think that's a very important factor in the development of his masculine identification and his heterosexual development. In fact, I'm working right now with a number of parents who are concerned about symptoms what we call pre-homosexual symptoms or gender-identity confusion and a number of these parents are home-schooling these children. The problem that they all complain about is that their son does not have access to boys his age and can-not participate in the kinds of ordinary activ-ities of boys, like sports and sleepovers and just getting together and playing. I think that's a critical factor.
From my work with adult homosexuals, what we see repeatedly in their childhood is the fact that they were isolated from other boys. They did not have close male friends. That's a very important factor. Parents who home-school will often complain that they have to chauffeur their kid all over town just so he can play with a boy for a couple of hours.
They have to make appointments and drive and it's a lot of work, whereas going to school, there's already a built-in social net-work. . I think that the burden of responsibility, unfortunately, falls on the parents of chil-dren who are home-schooling to provide opportunities tot their children to have peer interactions. That's very important. I'm not saying that home-schooling produces homosexuals. I am saying that parents who home-school have an additional burden of being concerned about these issues.
You have to look at the variables. One of the things we see over and over in the history of homosexual men is the tendency to feel left out of the other boys, to always feel that they were not included, that they were not good enough. This is a fundamental theme in the lives of homosexuals.
What are the signs of the pre-homosexual condition?
One of the signs of the pre-homosexual condition is characterized by a confusion of gender identity, which is to say the boy will exhibit certain behaviors like what we call the "sissy-boy syndrome," which is UCLA psychology researcher Richard Green's term--he wrote a book by that name. Basically--and other researchers have supported this--this is a boy who shies away from physical activity, tends to stay with girls. tends to stay close to his mother, grandmother or sisters. When he's very young he will actually say he doesn't want to be a boy and that he wants to be a girl. They will sometimes engage in dress-up or playing with makeup. Now, we have to warn parents that a certain amount of this is kind of normal curiosity. So we don't have to panic as soon as we see the slightest sign. But we have to look at an over-all picture of a boy who systematically either ignores, denies or minimizes his masculinity.
Typically, these boys stay home more. they stay in the kitchen more, they like theater, acting and music, they're into fantasy--fantasy is a very big part of their life, and they tend to identify with female characters on television. Like, usually in the Disney productions, they tend to identify with Sleeping Beauty or the mermaid or whatever the feminine character is....
If people were to ask me what is the one characteristic that identifies the pre-homosexual boy, I would say it's a boy who is not connected to his father, who avoids his father, who minimizes his father, who does not really go out and seek out his father's attention.
My experience with home-schoolers is that the fathers are more involved with their kids than typical families and the fathers are what I would consider more masculine, where they are clearly the head of the family and they go to Catholic men 's meetings, etc.
Let me say this generally speaking, more conservative and orthodox people--not only Catholics, but any religion politically, religiously and socially conservative people--tend to be more clear about gender difference. This is to say, the men are the men and the women are the women. Whereas, the more politically/socially/religiously liberal people tend to blur gender distinctions.
Furthermore, the decision to home-school, which is a major decision, is usually made by parents who are more concerned. Home-schooling is such an unpopular decision that, for the decision to be made, it usually means that the mother and father are very committed to the children. Already, that tells me that this is going to be a father who is more involved in his children's lives.
In a large family is there a different dynamic? In some home-schooling families I know there are five boys or nine boys.
When we're talking about the important variables [which] determine a boy's masculine identification, one of the important factors is a relationship with his older brother. If he has a loving, supportive, encouraging, positive relationship with his older brother, that's a very good sign. Whereas, if it's a feared, hostile relationship with the older brother, then that is not a good sign. If the younger boy shies away from his older brothers or feels intimidated by them or is constantly being beaten up by his older brothers, that's also another important variable. Freud said 90 years ago that if a homosexual has an older brother, it's a feared, hostile relationship with the older brother, and I have seen this to be true time and time again.
Many people have a family member or neighbor who is homosexual. What do you tell the kids about that? I don't want my kids to be un-Christian, but I don't want them to think it's normal.
Basically, we should educate our children to see that the homosexual is a person with a problem. We have to respect this person. We don't want to contribute to their unhappiness by rejecting them or making them feel bad about themselves. We have to always be Christian and tolerant of the person. But while we are loving to the person, it does not mean we have to accept or approve of their homosexuality. Tell the kids that homosexuality is really a psychological problem and that many of them, if they really work hard at it, can overcome their homosexuality, get married and have families. This is basically what we want to teach our kids.
What treatment do you recommend for a "pre-homosexual" condition?
Number one, what you do is you let the child know very specifically that effeminate behavior is unacceptable. That seems very obvious, but you would be surprised how many parents don't like their sons sissy behavior but do not comment on it, because they're either intimidated or they're fearful, or they don't want to hurt the boy's feelings, or they hope it's just a phase that will go away. The child interprets their silence as approval. This is one of the big discoveries that Richard Green found, that parents will not correct an effeminate boy.
Anyway, the first thing you do is you discourage effeminate behavior. The second thing is you get the mother to perhaps back off, to not be so emotionally tied to the boy. The father has to get much more involved. Any male in the boy's life has to become involved. All significant males in this boy's life have to work together to support and encourage and reinforce his masculine identification. The message has to be: "You're lucky to be a boy. Being a boy is fun. Being a boy is special." You really have to play that up. You have to really make him feel special to be a boy. It may be sexist, but that's what we need to do....
One of the things I find is that when these mothers call me up--and it's usually the mothers who call--they have an intuitive sense that there's something wrong. That's a good starting point. When parents call me because they are concerned, the first thing I do is an evaluation to determine whether the parents' fears are well-founded. If so, then I basically work with the parents. I really don't work with the child. I coach the parents in doing the right thing. If they're motivated, they can turn this around. If the parents are willing to work together as a team, they can produce very good results. And the younger the child, the faster the change. I once worked with the parents of a 3 1/2 year old boy who wanted to be a girl. We were able to bring about a radical change that everybody noticed-- uncles and aunts and everybody--in about three weeks.
For more information contact NARTH at 16633 Ventura Blvd. Suite 1340. Encino, CA 91436, (818) 7894440. Their website is at www.narth.com. NARTH has a list of member psychotherapists throughout the country who treat homosexuality as a disorder.
From San Francisco Faith: The Bay Areas Lay Catholic Newspaper. Vol. 2 No. 7, July-August 1998.
"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible