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Dale's Web Pages

Childhood experiences of homosexual men

by Dale O'Leary; for NARTH


By Dale O'Leary

May 1998

for National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)

Table of Contents


For the ordinary boy, development takes a predictable course. He is born genetically male and discovers very early that human beings are divided into two groups male and female, and that he is male. He identifies with other males, particularly his father, and imitates male behavior. These behaviors are reinforced by adults and other children. He joins a peer group of other boys. Hormones in his body create changes in the brain which drive and reinforce male behavior patterns. He is sexually attracted to the other sex -- namely girls -- and will probably fantasize about sexual encounters and eventually engage in sexual acts with women. Leanne Payne, an expert on the healing of sexual brokenness, describes masculinity "not as a thing to be learned, but rather as a quality to be tasted and experienced." According to Payne, the masculine within the boy is called forth by the masculine without. (Payne 1985, p.11)

In some cases, however, normal development does not occur. He may experience rejection from his father or his peers or both. He may reject his father as role model. The boy may as a child express a desire to be a girl and imitate female behavior rather than male or he may know he is male but feel inadequately masculine. As puberty approaches his desire for the male may be transformed into a sexual attraction to other males, causing him fantasize about males rather than females and eventually leading him to engage in sexual behavior with males.

The following article will comparing the childhood experiences of those men who develop a complete masculine and heterosexual identification, with those who do not. 


In recent years scientists have discovered genetic errors which cause a number of diseases, including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. Some researchers have suggested that there may be a genetic cause for the failure to develop a complete heterosexual identification and homosexuality may simply be a human variant, like left-handedness. Media coverage of the issue has created the impression that the existence of a genetic cause for homosexuality has been proven, when, in point of fact, none of the studies conducted so far offer scientifically verifiable evidence that same-sex attraction in males is genetically determined.

Studies of homosexuality in identical (monozygotic) twins suggest that genetic determinism is highly unlikely, since if homosexuality were determined before birth one would expect that 100% of identical twins would be the same -- either both heterosexual or both homosexual.

Case histories of identical twins discordant for sexual preference suggest that other factors plays a significant role in the development of gender identity and sexual preference. For example, identical twin Frank, Jr. was born first and "badly mutilated" during the process. He was considered by his parents as "very ugly infant." Co-twin Paul had big eyes and was perceived as good-looking at birth. Strangers seeing them together commented, "Oh how nice! A boy and a girl." At three Paul contracted an infectious disease which required extensive medical attention. For two and a half years his mother drove him to a hospital in a distant city -- a two hour round trip -- while the father stayed home with Frank, Jr. Because of the medical problems, the father was reticent to engage in rough play with Paul.

At age 8 Paul was evaluated for feminine behavior, which included cross-dressing, doll play, female role play, and avoidance rough-and-tumble play. When asked to draw a person, Paul drew a female and Frank drew a male. In an interview with the therapist, the twins' mother commented on the impact on Paul of not being named after his father, "I can see, looking through Paul's eyes -- that he [Frank, Jr.] got Daddy's name because he's the one that Daddy liked." (Green 1974, p.206-207)

. In another case, identical twins Sam and Howard differed in weight at birth and that difference persisted into adulthood. As a result they could always be told apart. According to the report:

Psychological development diverged from early childhood. Sam's first memories were feeling insecure and vulnerable. He recalled that at age five, he had been envious of girls because they were taken care of by men when they grew up. Sam always felt closer to his mother than to his father, perceiving the latter as withdrawn and passive... Sam stayed home after school helping his mother with housework or playing hopscotch with neighborhood girls, while Howard remained outside with male peers. Although not effeminate, Sam was athletically awkward and temperamentally unassertive. The last to be chosen for team sports, frightened of rough-and-tumble activities, he had low status with other boys.

Sam was ashamed of his body. As early as age five, he recalled, he felt that his nipples were similar to his mother's. In later years, he felt that he had a feminine habitus, even though others perceived him to be masculine. During his boyhood and early adolescence Sam was labeled a "mama's boy" and "the twin who like to read" by causal acquaintances, peers and extended family...

Howard recalled feeling secure as a young child. He perceived his father as quiet in disposition but loving, gentle, and strong. He always felt closer to his father than to his mother and actively rebelled against her control...

Howard was the target of continual maternal disfavor because of his sloppiness, rowdiness, and poor performance as student. During boyhood and adolescence, he was a peer group leader, athletically graceful, and fiercely competitive at team sports. He responded to challenge with attack and usually emerged the victor in fights with other boys. Howard viewed his body with pride and never felt unmasculine or feminine. From about age eight, he was known as "the twin who liked sports."

Sam had homosexual fantasies and engaged in homosexual activity. Howard's fantasy life was heterosexual. He is married.(Friedman 1988, p. 28-29)

A landmark study of identical twins reared apart was conducted at the University of Minnesota.(Elke 1986) Fifty-five pairs were identified and brought to Minneapolis for a week of intensive psychological and medical testing. The study revealed amazing similarities in life choices between genetically identical children although they had been raised in different families, confirming the powerful influence of inherited characteristics on behavior. Two male pairs containing homosexuals were found and three female pairs. All three females pairs were discordant for homosexual behavior. In one set of the male twins, both were homosexual as adults, however, both also had a learning disability and a speech impediment with lisp as children. Both were as children considered hyperactive, emotionally labile and subject to episodes of anxiety and depression.

With the second male pair no unusual childhood difficulties were reported. One twin experimented sexually as an adolescent and became exclusively homosexual at age 19. The second engaged in a homosexual affair with an older man between ages 15 to 18 and then became heterosexual and married.

Children who are genetically identical are more likely to be treated similarly by their parents, however, the case histories show that significant differences in treatment can result in differences in outcome.

In a 1991 study, Bailey and Pillard compared identical, fraternal, non-twin and adopted brothers of adult homosexual men. They found that 52% of the identical twins, 22% of the fraternal twins, 11% of the adopted brothers, and 9.2% of the non-twin siblings were also homosexual. All these percentages are higher than the incidence of male homosexuality in the general population. The finding that fraternal twins were more than twice as likely as non-twin siblings to be homosexual suggests factors in the childhood experience plays a key part in the development of same-sex attraction,

Bailey and Pillard concluded, "These data are consistent with heritable variation in prenatal brain development or in some aspect of physical appearance, that, by way of differential parental treatment, leads to differences in sexual orientation." and that "one assumption of the heritability analysis presented above is that there are no major genes for homosexuality."(Bailey 1991) The "heritable variation" referred to might be a difference in sensitivity to maternal anxiety or differences in appearance.

Byne and Parsons in a review of "biologic theories" for human sexual orientation conclude "there is no evidence at present to substantiate a biological theory." They do not believe that any single theory explains all cases of homosexuality, but suggest that sexual orientation is shaped by an interaction between the environment and personality characteristics. Byne and Parsons suggest a hypothetical scenario to illustrate how inherited personality traits could influence the development of same-sex attraction, allow for differing parental input, and the reaction of the individual:

Two boys had absent fathers and overly protective mothers who disparaged sports. One of these boys enthusiastically participated in baseball and developed a heterosexual erotic orientation, while the other shunned baseball and developed a homosexual orientation. ...

Research into the heritability of personality variants suggest that some personality dimensions may be heritable, including novelty seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence. Applying these dimensions to the above scenario, one might predict that a boy who was high in novelty seeking, but low in harm avoidance and reward dependence, would be likely to disregard his mother's discouragement of baseball. On the other hand a boy who was low in novelty seeking, but high in harm avoidance and reward dependence, would be more likely to need the rewards of maternal approval, would be more likely to need the rewards of maternal approval, would be less likely to seek and encounter male role models outside the family, and would be more likely to avoid baseball for fear of being hurt. In the absence of encouragement from an accepting father or alternative male role model, such a boy would be likely to feel different from his male peers and as a consequence be subject to nonerotic experiences in childhood that may contribute to the subsequent emergence of homoerotic preferences. Such experiences could include those described by Friedman as being common in prehomosexual boys, including low masculine self-regard, isolation, scapegoating, and rejection by male peers, and older males including the father. (Byne, 1993)

In the above scenario, the personality traits would merely create a vulnerability; the determining factor would be the absence of an encouraging male role model. . Bieber, et al., whose landmark study of homosexual males will be discussed later rejected the genetic arguments on the grounds that in 27% of their cases homosexuality had been reversed:

Though reversibility is itself not a sufficient argument against the genetic hypothesis, there is so much evidence on the side of the nurture hypothesis and so little on the side of the nature hypothesis, that the reliance upon genetic or constitutional determinants to account for the homosexual adaptation is ill founded. (Bieber 1962, p.306)

Trauma and conflict

Psychologists offer a number of possible explanations of how homosexuality could develop. According to one interpretation of Freudian psychological theory, painful internal sensations or external situations produce traumas. The traumas may be acute, chronic, or cumulative. Some traumas produce psychological conflict. According to Dr. Robert Stoller, who specialized in study and treatment of sexual deviation, traumas may only cause change, "Conflict implies intrapsychic struggle to order to choose among possibilities." (Stoller, 1973) Dr. Ruth Barnhouse, who has written on identity and homosexuality, elaborates on Stoller's analysis:

It is conflict, not trauma, which produces an internal fork in the developmental road. The reason this is so important is that neuroses, including perversion of the sexual development, does not result simply from trauma, but from particular resolutions of conflict in this technical sense of that word. As a result of conflict the individual chooses, however primitively and unconsciously, one solution over another. (Barnhouse, p.117)

This process of trauma, leading to a conflict which produces a choice has been reported by a number of adult homosexual men who remember that after a traumatic childhood experience they made an inner "vow" that they would never be like their fathers.

Leanne Payne has seen instances where a boy has been deserted, harmed or frustrated by his father and responded with a childhood oath against his father, such as: "I will never, ever love him again"; "I vow never to be like him when I grow up"; 'This time he has gone too far. I will never again allow him to get to me"; or "He will never get the chance to hurt me again, I'm wiping him out of my world." In Payne's experience, when these men cut off their fathers by means of this oath, they "cut themselves off from their own masculinity." (Payne 1985, p.54)

Dr. Elizabeth Moberly, whose analysis of the origins of homosexuality and whose strategies for therapy have been embraced by support groups such as Homosexual Anonymous and reparative therapists, characterizes homosexuality as a "reparative drive":

From amidst a welter of details, one constant underlying principle suggests itself: that the homosexual -- whether man or woman -- has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same sex; and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit -- through the medium of same-sex, or 'homosexual', relationships.(Moberly, p. 3)

Moberly rejects determinist explanations: "No particular incident must inevitably disrupt the attachment to the same sex parent. But any of a wide variety of incidents may, in certain cases, happen to result in this particular form of psychological damage." The injury may be unintentional:

Whatever the particular incident may be, it is something that has been experienced as hurtful by the child, whether or not intended as hurtful by the parent. The parent may or may not be culpable, but in either case the child has genuinely been hurt. The difficulty arises when which a hurt is accompanied by an unwillingness to relate any longer to the love-source that has been experienced as hurtful. This implies an abiding defect in the child's relational capacity. The tragedy is that subsequent to this effect the behavior of the same-sex parent becomes irrelevant, since the child is no longer able to relate normally to him or her. Even if love is offered, it cannot be received. (Moberly, p 5.)

According to Moberly in some cases the injury and effect may not be evident, but in many cases both are clearly evident. Moberly holds that: "The homosexual condition is itself a deficit in the child's ability to relate to the parent of the same sex which is carried over to members of the same sex in general;" and that a "defensive detachment from the parent of the same sex also implies blocking of the normal identificatory process. This may in some instances, but by no means in all, be expressed in effeminacy in male homosexuals." This effeminacy, according to Moberly, is not a "genuine identification with the opposite sex, but rather disidentification from the same sex.(Moberly, p.8)  


The material in the section comes from several different sources:

1) Studies based adult homosexual adults recollections of childhood experiences;

2) Reports from therapists who treat adult homosexuals;

3) Biographical information from adult homosexuals;

4) Reports from therapists who treat childhood conditions which sometimes precede adult homosexuality, namely Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Chronic Juvenile Unmasculinity. (CJU.)

5) Longitudinal studies of children with GID -- tracking them from childhood into adulthood.

The link between GID and CJU. and adult homosexuality has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Estimates are that about 85% of homosexual male adults showed symptoms of GID and/or CJU. in childhood and that about 75% of the boys who show evidence of GID in childhood currently become homosexual adults.

The studies reviewed in this section were conducted by persons with very different attitudes toward homosexual behavior, but in spite of this the results are remarkably similar. Almost without exception adult male homosexuals' recall of their childhood experiences differs significantly from that of non-homosexuals. In particular, adult male homosexuals report unsatisfactory relationship with their fathers, problematic relationships with their mothers, gender identity pathology, and/or chronic, persistent childhood unmasculinity.


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Original Text from Dale's Disk — child1.rtf - April, 1999
Formatted to HTML 2000 10 23 — WHS