Why do we gay people send such a seismic rumble through society, religion, and our families? Certainly in such a sexually permissive world as ours, one more variation on a sexual theme shouldn’t be grounds for concern. So why does being gay cause such negative reactions?
Deviation from gender conformity is the surface source of homophobia in the norm. The femininity in gay men and the masculinity in lesbians challenge the norm’s strict gender compliance. But at a deeper level, it is neither gender variation nor even divergent sexual behavior that actually alarms the norm. The reason the norm finds gay people so threatening, even terrifying, is that we have explored our unconscious—in order to establish our identity. We gay people have wrenched our identity out of the unconscious by defying the culture’s prohibition against self-reflection. This is the heart of the coming out process. It is an act of rebellion. Yet what really scares the norm is that when we go into the unconscious to retrieve our orientation we might just find out more of what’s in there: we might just catch a glimpse of other secrets and realities buried there—horrible and wondrous. And all of these secrets, the secrets of the truth of childhood trauma, the truth of troubled parents, the truth of unconscious parenting, and the truth of humanity’s real beauty and potential, are the very things that can—and will, if we let them grow—topple the norm’s troubled house of cards. And this goes far beyond sexual orientation.
Yet the reason the norm hates gay people is that we fail to take our greater opportunity seriously. So rarely do we gay people summon the courage to tell the truth in any significant way beyond coming out, and instead squander our lives in dissipating addictions, conforming depression with partners—and nowadays even marriage with children. So often gay people hope to pass as “normal” just like everybody else. In fact, few gay people even grasp our potent capacity—or if we do, we fear it ourselves.
This is a source of bitter disillusionment among our straight brothers and sisters, because at the deepest level they want to grow too. They yearn for it, and they know we’ve already taken the first step—but have given up. When we gay people come out and then become conventional we declare ourselves failed leaders. When gay people simply couple up to lead comfortable bourgeois lives with two incomes and houses in the country, or misuse freedom in nightly drinking, drugging, and sexual carousing, we fail the world.
In fairness, we gay people, in our own particular way, have been psychically brutalized by the rejection of family and society. This is not easily overcome, and is much more easily internalized. We can’t underestimate this trauma and its profound effect. This explains why we act out in so many self-destructive ways. To know the pain of the past and integrate its torture is terrible work. Yet, not to get beyond our pain and instead simply to act out our traumas or sink into conformity, depression, addiction, and conventional living destroys our gift as outsiders and truth seekers. And we deceive ourselves when we call criticism of our bad behavior homophobia.
The norm may fear us and even hate us, but we can help to redeem them—and us all. Everyone can use a gay person’s cathartic process of coming out as a paradigm for the profound change required of humanity if we are to survive. We need to come out of our psychic sleep and change our orientation: not our sexual orientation but our orientation to life itself.