How Much and What kind of Change can be Experienced?
Written By: Ben Newman
The answers are very individual, depending on where we started, how actively we have worked at change, and how long it has been since we began the process.
When we talk about change, we are talking about change in sexual identity, change in sexual behavior, and change in sexual desire, but also, at a deeper level, change in our spiritual, emotional and social lives.
When people ask, "Are you saying you are no longer attracted to men?" most of us would answer:
"Attracted, yes, but not sexually. We no longer desire to have sex with other men. Our desires have changed. What we find attractive or appealing is masculinity itself, in ourselves and other men. What we desire -- and now have in our lives -- is brotherhood with other men. We don't want to be involved with them sexually or romantically. In fact, that kind of relationship would subvert the good, healthy, fulfilling brotherhood that we now enjoy instead."
When people ask, "So are you sexually attracted to women now?" most of us would answer:
"Yes, much more so than we used to be. It's usually a particular attraction to a particular woman, but we do relate to women now in a much more opposite-sex, man-to-woman, heterosexual way. We find now that this kind of relating affirms our masculinity, where it used to feel like it would engulf us in the feminine."
Paul contrasts his experience with a former male lover to his experience with his fiance now:
"I recognize now, although I couldn't see it when I was living homosexually, that my homosexual relationships always had a huge piece missing. I didn't feel whole or complete with men. I was always lacking, wanting something more from them than they could give me. With my fiance now, the best way to describe how I feel about our relationship is that we 'fit.' Physically, emotionally, spiritually, she fits. She complements the areas why I'm lacking, and I complement her, like a lock and key. And as I grow to love her more, my desire for her physically just keeps increasing. It's easy to see myself as both a companion and lover to her for the rest of my life.
"That's completely different from my former relationship with my boyfriend Jim. As I grew to love him more, I grew to desire him (sexually) less. I now know why: I started to love him normally, as a brother, instead of as a lover. I had a tremendous, growing love for him. I adored him. I still do. He's one of the most loving, caring, humble men I have ever met. But our relationship was changing to one where we were companions, not lovers. And that is absolutely consistent with what I saw in other relationships. After awhile, they would become great friends but stop having sex with each other. They would start to go outside the relationship for sex. In 12 years in the gay world, I never met a gay couple that was entirely monogamous. One in the couple has always gone outside the relationship for sex, if not both. Always."
Most of us found that we began to experience profound change once we took the focus off of our sexual orientation and placed it instead on healing with other men (especially our fathers and peers), within ourselves, and with G-d. As we grew into a more "healed," more mature masculinity, romantic interest in the opposite sex usually began to emerge indirectly, almost as a byproduct of strengthening our identities as men.
"When I think carefully about the therapeutic work I did in those years, I see clearly that it wasn't about switching the gender of my sexual preference. It was about escaping the bondage of some deeper problems - anxiety, shame and fear. For most of my life, I had been overwhelmed by anxiety when I was in the presence of strong and intelligent men. I had been oppressed by intense shame because I felt my body was so inadequate. And I had been crippled by a fear of exposing my deepest emotions.
"The work I did in those years was to make choices that gradually freed me from the bondage of these deeper problems. Tremendous rewards followed - fulfilling friendships with other men, better health and greater confidence with my body and emotional freedom and power. Yes, my sexual orientation changed too. But in my life today, heterosexuality is like salt in the cookie dough - it's an important element, but it's not the main ingredient. You see, my struggle hasn't really been about going 'straight.' It has been about getting free."
Here are some of the areas where many of us have experienced the most change:
1. From turmoil to peace, and from darkness into light.
This is perhaps where most of us feel the most significant change in our lives. We are no longer torn apart by conflicting desires and values, sexual obsession and/or unrequited longing for male affirmation and affection. We no longer feel lost in spiritual darkness, plagued by thoughts of self-destruction. We are at peace.
2. From shame and self-hate to self-acceptance and self-nurturing.
Another profound area of change. We have come to love and accept ourselves as we are, free of shame and free of fear that others would reject us if they knew our secrets.
3. From repression to fulfillment. From isolation and secrecy to rich friendships full of honest disclosure and mutual support. From lust to brotherly love.
Instead of repressing our feelings, or indulging them in self-destructive ways, we have learned to fulfill them in healthy, self-nurturing ways that create a brotherly bond with other men. Now, instead of lusting after men as sexual partners, we identify with them as brothers.
All of us report that we have never had so many good friendships, and certainly not with other heterosexual men with whom we feel connected as equals and with whom we can be our true selves in complete honesty. These are the healthiest friendships of our lives.
4. From rebellion against G-d to love for him and joyful submission to his Divine will.
To no longer be fighting against G-d, but to seek him out as a trusted friend and companion who we know wants us to experience real, lasting joy has brought much greater peace into our lives!
5. From fear and rejection of heterosexual men ("heterophobia") to identification with them literally as our fellow men.
Rather than always panicking at being with heterosexual men, we typically now can be in the company of men, with a sense of peace, wholeness and joy, and we look forward to their company. We feel much more bonded, connected and affirmed as men.
6. From a feeling of being genderless or never being "man enough" to a sense of pride, joy and wholeness in our manhood.
7. From distressful sexual behavior or desires, sometimes even obsessively or addictively, to a healthy "sexual sobriety" that brings peace and an enhanced spiritual and emotional life.
We are not "white knuckling" abstinence from homosexual desires. We have withdrawn from the lust and done the underlying personal work so that doing so has brought peace and wholeness.
8. From disconnection from our feelings and escape into fantasy to understanding and embracing our feelings and the competence to deal with them in nurturing ways.
9. From identity as a gay or bisexual to identity as a child of God.
Our sexuality no longer defines our identity; rather, for most of us, it is our spirituality, complemented by our strong gender identity as men like other heterosexual men, that most strongly establishes our sense of identity now.
10. From identifying with women as our sisters to recognizing them as sexual beings and the true opposite sex from us, then developing romantic interest in and even sexual fulfillment with particular women.
Admittedly, none of us has become a womanizing playboy. (But neither would we want to. What merit would there be in simply trading one obsession for another?) But the more healed we have become as men, the more we have found romantic interest in women beginning to grow.
Usually, each of us experienced this as attraction to just one particular woman, not to women generally. That is just fine with us - even preferable! Our desire for wife and family can be fulfilled perfectly well if our heterosexuality is experienced and expressed with just one woman. (We've also learned that this trait can be very appealing to our wives and girlfriends!)
Does this mean none of us will ever again have a homosexual thought? That we will never feel tempted by past memories? Not necessarily. But that doesn't mean we haven't changed - only that we are still human. When some of us do have moments where we feel the pull of homosexuality, we know it is a symptom of not taking care of our emotional and spiritual lives, of feeling disconnected from our brothers, from G-d and from our own sense of inner strength and manhood. We nurture our bonds with good men, we reach out to G-d, we reconnect with our masculine power, and the lust is quickly replaced by spiritual love.
To quote the author Richard Bach: "Here is a test to see if your [work] in life is finished: If you're alive, it isn't."
And so, the journey continues. The difference is, now it is a journey of peace, light, self-acceptance and self-nurturing, fulfillment, brotherly love, heterosexual family life, and love of God.