by Dan Flanders*
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-- Definition: Attraction or erotic feelings or thoughts about members of the same sex. Usually not accompanied by the same types of thoughts or feelings for the opposite sex.
-- Its prevalence in the world and in the Church: It has been estimated that SSA is just as prevalent in the Church as it is in the world, although those in the Church are less likely to have acted upon their feelings.
-- Until recently very little has been known about the roots of SSA.
-- Even today, there are various theories, and perhaps each of those theories apply in some way to different individuals.
-- Elder Oaks indicated that some may have a genetic predisposition to SSA, just as some people have a predisposition to alcoholism.
-- Most psychologists today do not consider SSA to be a disorder. Therefore most Latter-day Saints who seek professional help have difficulty finding someone who shares our values and beliefs. Most psychologists will try to convince those struggling with SSA that they must learn to accept who they are rather than to help them find healing. Because of the predisposition to this approach, few psychologists are even aware of those techniques that are available to assist those with SSA to find healing.
-- While there is no one pattern for how SSA is developed, there seem to be some common elements that appear in a great number of men and women. Because my experience relates primarily to men with SSA, most of my discussion will surround common experiences with men.However, it is well to note that it is estimated by some that SSA is nearly as prevalent, or as prevalent in women as it is in men. Many women who struggle with SSA have been sexually abused by men and may also not have had a healthy relationship with their fathers.
-- When a child is born, he or she bonds initially with his mother. He feels like he is part of the mother and cannot bear for mother to be out of sight. As he grows, he begins to realize that he is separate from his mother. A boy has another transition to go through, he must recognize that he is not only separate from his mother, he must recognize that he is different from his mother. If his father is not present or not involved with the child, the boy may not make this second transition properly. Usually another male will come along and the boy will identify with that male. But in some instances, either no one comes along during the critical years or the male who does is so abusive or passive that the child rejects him and his masculinity. When this happens, the child does not develop his gender identity.
-- Not all boys with gender identity problems develop SSA; in fact, one local psychologist believes that most men with gender-identity problems are involved with opposite-sex acting out rather than same-sex attraction. This would indicate that the problem of lack of male bonding with fathers is even larger than the SSA problem. The key to becoming SSA seems to be whether the child, at a very young age, rejected men and their masculinity.
-- It may be easier to describe some of the common elements that SSA men have as these elements provide some good clues of how they developed their SSA feelings.
* A lack of gender identity (i.e. they do not feel like men, not that they feel like women, perhaps more like boys than men.)
* This feeling was often reinforced by their peers when growing up. They may have been called sissy, or worse yet, queer or fag. They are often smaller or less athletic.
* Typically they are not interested in sports activities.
* They were usually sensitive children and had a strong sense of right and wrong.
* They often have an interest in the arts and music. Every person has a masculine and feminine side. As we grow and develop throughout our lives, all of us tend to develop characteristics on the opposite side of our personality. Men with SSA, however, have developed their feminine side more than their masculine side.
* More often than not, they did not have a warm relationship with their fathers. At best they felt ignored or abandoned. In the worst case, they may have been abused by their fathers. There are two types of father figures that are common with SSA men: those who were "shadow fathers," never around, possibly because they were busy with Church assignments or work, or because they were passive. The second is highly abusive fathers.
(Interestingly, men who suffer with other addictions report very similar relationships with their fathers. Again, the difference seems to be that SSAed men rejected their fathers and/or other male role models and the masculinity that went with them.)
* Many men with SSA were sexually abused as a child, often before the age of accountability and may have developed a preoccupation with sexual things before the age of eight.
* Men with SSA are typically non-assertive. They do not make their needs known but sit back and wait for others to meet their needs. When their needs are not met, they often become depressed and feel lonely yet their behavior sends out messages to others that they prefer to be alone. They often feel unloved and unlovable.
* They may think that they are somehow defective. That it would have been better if they had not been born. There is a constant struggle going on within them between their feelings and their values. They don't feel like they fit into the Church and they can't seem to change their feelings. They often want to give up on life and are potential candidates for suicide. They are miserable in the Church because they feel unworthy yet if they follow their feelings they are miserable living the gay lifestyle. They feel doomed to a life of misery no matter what path they take. For this reason, I feel that those who, despite these challenges hold onto their testimonies of the Gospel, are very strong spirits.
* They feel attracted to the very characteristics that they have rejected or which they feel they do not have. Prior to puberty, this is a normal developmental process. However, as they enter puberty, these feelings get short-circuited with their sexual feelings, and particularly if they have been sexually abused, they can begin to have sexual feelings for other boys or men.
This is difficult to answer with a one word answer.
-- Yes, it is a choice in that the child chose to reject masculinity or made the other choices that led to the development of these feelings. This happened long before the age of accountability and without any way of knowing the consequences of those choices.
-- No, the child did not choose to have homosexual feelings. Every person I have talked with who is SSA has said that they did not choose to feel the way they do. They feel cursed with this. Almost like it is a punishment. They often feel that God should take this feeling away, since they didn't choose it, or else, since God gave them this feeling, He must have intended for them to act on it.
-- Just as a person did not choose to have these feelings, they cannot choose to stop having these feelings.
-- The decision of how to act given these feelings, is a choice.
-- Gay vs. SSA: Generally the term "Gay" implies living a particular lifestyle while SSA denotes the feelings of attraction to other men rather than a lifestyle. For this reason, many men with SSA prefer the term SSA to the word Gay.
-- Isolation from others of the same gender, often called defensive detachment. These men desperately want associations with those of the same gender but are afraid that they will be judged to be inferior or that they will be rejected. For this reason, they are slow to allow other men into their lives and give the impression that they are not interested in doing things with other men. Therefore even if they are extroverted, they will give the illusion of being introverts.
-- Loneliness and depression. The isolation frequently results in a general feeling of loneliness. The thought of going through life being lonely is very depressing, often causing them to think of suicide or of escaping into the world of the gay lifestyle.
-- Lack of interest in dating. Often attributed to shyness. While these men do not necessarily isolate themselves from those of the opposite gender, in terms of friendships, they are not physically attracted to women and generally have little romantic interest in them.
-- Sexual acting out ranging from pornography, to masturbation, to sexual activities with peers. This may initially be out of curiosity but their SSA feelings often lead to addictive behaviors in one or more of these areas. This increases the feelings of shame and causes them to feel even more unworthy and unlovable.
-- A focus in one area of their life to try to be a success and to try to gain recognition/acceptance. This may be academics, drama, music or the arts.
-- Drawing away from Church peers and developing friendships with those living another lifestyle.
For the most part, spreading SSA to others should not be a concern. It is not contagious. On the other hand, some individuals with SSA may become predators and may be able to convince others of their peers to engage in sexual behavior with them. This is not likely to cause the other individual to develop SSA though such behavior is a serious concern. Another concern is that someone with SSA feelings who has not acted upon those feelings may be lured into an inappropriate lifestyle.
Over the years there has been a concern that if we talk about a problem, we will create the very problem we are talking about. Talking about SSA will not create the problem. What it may do, is help someone who is struggling with this problem to realize that this is what they are dealing with. If handled correctly, it could lead them to find help. If handled inappropriately, it could cause them to become more secretive and feel even more unworthy.
We do not speak of curing SSA. Rather we speak of healing. There is usually much psychological trauma related to having SSA feelings. Appropriate assistance can help an individual with SSA to find healing in his relationships with other men and with God.
As he begins to find healthy ways to bond with men, the mystique of masculinity will begin to leave and he will begin to realize that he is much more like other men than he is unlike them. As he begins to recognize that he is a man, his sexual feelings towards men will diminish and his feelings towards women will increase.
Joseph Nicolosi explains that a person is not attracted to those he is like, rather to those he is not like. As a man discovers his masculinity, his attraction to women will increase. This may take a long time or a relatively short time, depending upon whether the individual has acted upon his feelings and how old he is. Generally the younger he is, the more success he will have in finding healing. Also, the more support he has, the greater will be the healing.
Yes, many sources of help are available. There are many books available to therapists, persons struggling with SSA, and friends, family members, or Church leaders of persons struggling with SSA.
There is an international organization called Evergreen, comprised of Church members and others seeking to help each other overcome the destructive influences of SSA. Their phone number is (800)391-1000 [?], and they offer online information at http://members.aol.com/Evergrn999. There is also an e-mail support group called Disciples2. Their homepage is at http://members.aol.com/Disciples2.
President R. will be talking about the Church's teachings about how we should act in relationship to these individuals, however, I would like to make a couple of comments.
First, we should remember the example of the Savior in dealing with those who were afflicted or who were struggling in sin. He did not shun them or make light of them. He spent time with them socially (not just His Twelve), he dined with them (consider the publicans and sinners), He visited their homes (remember Zacheus), He did not condemn them (the woman caught in adultery), He went to them (the sick man at the pool of Bethesda and the lepers). He reached out to them and made them a part of His life. In a parable, He taught that after the ninety and nine...
[TEXT MISSING?] carried him home.
Second, we need to understand the deep need these men and women have to feel loved and to feel the warm touch of another person. Men with SSA feelings often were either deprived of affection as a child altogether or the touch they received was abusive. They long to be held and given a non-sexual hug. My experience with SSA men has shown overwhelmingly that they desire to be hugged almost more than any other single thing. (I would also note that many men recovering from other addictions feel the same way.) Somehow a hug communicates in a very deep and meaningful way that they are worth something, that they are loved. We should be aware of this need and do all we can to help them find love and affection in appropriate ways so that they will not be tempted to search out inappropriate ways to meet their legitimate needs.
*Pseudonym. Talk given at the leadership session of stake conference in the Cincinnati Ohio North Stake on February 14, 1998. The author gives permission for this talk to be copied and share with others but requires that permission be requested before including it in a publication.