It is a politically sensitive debate, but in the light of solid scientific findings, it is necessary to have the courage to address such matters. Childhood trauma has been linked in several research studies with sexual addiction/compulsion due to the dissociative state it produces sadomasochism, prostitution and homosexuality.
Many gay people resent this finding (understandably so) and fear it will encourage right-wing religious fundamentalists absurdly to declare homosexuality an ‘illness’ that needs to be ‘cured.’
However, assuming the scientific studies are valid, need we fall into a deep pit of despair, never to re-emerge? I think not.
Here’s an analogy which is meant to be neither flippant nor frivolous: suppose I am walking down the street and someone hits me, very hard, on the head with a hammer. I lapse into a coma and am taken to hospital. On coming out of my coma, I find I am fully recovered, and, although, prior to my accident, being unable competently to draw a stick man, now find I am an artistic genius, able to create paintings which sell for millions of pounds (similar things do and HAVE happened as the result of brain injury – extremely rarely). Should I be ashamed of my artistic talents?
Clearly not. Why? It was not my fault I suffered head trauma. Nor is the result (my painting ability) to my disliking. I would not regard it as a symptom of my trauma in need of curing. Quite the contrary, as it happens.
Similarly, if I suffer childhood trauma which contributes to me becoming gay, the same argument applies.
A study at Otago University in New Zealand with 13,000 participants (98.3% heterosexual. 0.8% homosexual, 0.6% bisexual, 0.3% ‘other’) conducted in 1992 found that those who had suffered severe childhood trauma such as violence and sexual assault were statistically very significantly more likely to be in the non-heterosexual group.
It is also detailed in an academic paper by Schwartz entitled ‘Hypersexuality Secondary to Childhood Trauma and Dissociation’ and another by Colin Ross entitled, ‘Sexual Orientation Conflict and Dissociative Disorders’, that childhood trauma is far more common in gay people than their straight peers.
A study conducted by Reich and Zanarini (2008) involving the interviewing of 362 psychiatric inpatients (290 of whom were suffering from borderline personality disorder; the remaining 72 were included in the study for comparison purposes and had personality disorders other than BPD).
All of the 362 participants in the study were given interviews in which they were asked about their sexual orientation and the gender of their intimate partners.
RESULTS OF THE INTERVIEWS :
1) Those individuals suffering from BPD were significantly more likely than individuals from the comparison group to identify as having a homosexual or bisexual sexual orientation.
2) Those individuals suffering from BPD were significantly more likely than individuals from the comparison group to report having same-sex relationships.
(The above results were not significantly different in relation to whether the interviewee was male or female).
In another study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it was found that from a sample of 80 individuals (nineteen of whom were male and sixty-one female) who had been diagnosed with BPD :
- 21 % were homosexual (this percentage breaks down to 53℅ of the men with BPD and 11% of the women with BPD – quite a gender difference!)
- 5 ℅ were bisexual
- 11℅ were diagnosed as having a paraphilia
According to this study :
Men diagnosed with BPD are TEN TIMES more likely to be homosexual than are men randomly selected from the general population.
Women diagnosed with BPD are SIX TIMES more likely to be homosexual than are women randomly selected from the general population.
In his book, The Velvet Rage, Alan Downs, PhD, examines the reasons that might explain why gay men are far more prone than straight men to suffer from mental health conditions, including depression, sex addiction, alcohol and drug dependence, as well as being at elevated risk of committing suicide.
In doing so, he suggests that the emotional pain of growing up gay in a predominantly heterosexual world, especially if it encompasses feelings of shame and invalidation, significantly contribute to the development of mental health problems.
Changes In Society Regarding Expressions Of Sexual And Gender Identity
It has also been theorized that BPD is more common amongst gay people than amongst the general population because there is now far more choice relating to how one expresses one’s sexual and gender identity as social structures of the past which restricted one’s expression of sexual and gender identity are disappearing thus providing individuals with far more choice regarding their sexual and gender identity as well as their sexual behaviour, potentially leading to extreme confusion in the minds of adolescents as to how to express themselves with regard to these issues. In some cases, when such confusion over identity is intense, the individual may develop ego defences (or symptoms) which contribute in part or in whole to a diagnosis of BPD. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of BPD is confusion about one’s identity.
Of course, identity issues relating to the factors considered above are far less likely to lead to a diagnosis of BPD if the individual affected has experienced a stable and relatively trauma-free childhood. However, for those who have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma, identity issues such as those referred to above may combine with other factors leading to a diagnosis of this very serious psychiatric condition.
Effects Of Homophobia In Schools?
When I was about fifteen, I drew a heart in a notebook I kept on my desk in my bedroom and, within the heart, wrote ‘ I love…’
followed by the name of a boy in my year at school (complete with drawing of an arrow piercing the heart, and, for good measure, a few dollops of blood seeping from the wound – yes, I know!)
Of course, I always kept the notebook shut and in a drawer, to keep it safe from prying eyes (as I naively believed at the time), concealed by other books, innocuous books placed on top of it.
Some weeks later, I arrived home from school (still never having even
spoken to the boy – I was mysteriously struck dumb whenever in his presence), and, as was my habit, beat a hasty retreat to the solitude of my bedroom (to avoid having to interact with my stepmother who despised me).
Imagine my horror when I saw on my bed the notebook which I always so carefully kept concealed! And worse, oh, so much worse, open at the ‘incriminating’ page.
This was, of course, my stepmother’s handiwork (nobody else had been in the house all day) calculated to cause me maximum shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Well, It worked (and then some).
To make the matter even more sinister and insidious, she never mentioned it – nor, of course, did I. (Preferring, instead, to skulk around the house looking sheepish).
Her communication of the hatred she felt for me, epitomized by this both shameful and shaming, incident, continued in its usual vein – tacitly, implicitly and by insinuation – making it impossible for me, as a callow young teenager, directly to identify or effectively defend myself against.
Indeed, if I attempted to, I would be accused of paranoia (this is a well known psychological technique known as gaslighting which undermines the victim’s sense of reality and can, when chronically sustained, eventually induce psychosis).
As teenagers we long to be accepted as part of the group, and, whilst things are much better than they were three decades ago when I myself was a teenager, teenagers today still, sadly, experience homophobia.
Needless to say, this discrimination, leading to exclusion from the group, can be very traumatic, particularly as being singled out due to something as sensitive as one’s sexuality can be especially devastating (teenagers are, after all, at a stage in their lives when they are especially self-conscious and in need of acceptance).
Homophobic Bullying Leading To Mental Suffering :
A recent study carried out by Benigui found that young people who experience homophobia, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying and verbal attacks, have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol flowing in their bloodstreams and are at increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.
And, most concerningly, they are fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than the average person their age.
Internalization Of Anti-Gay Attitudes :
It is likely that one of the main reasons for these findings is the fact that these victimized young people internalize the negative views others express towards them. This can result in the young person becoming what is technically known as an ego-dystonic homosexual (i.e. his/her homosexuality causes him/her mental distress).
However, the study also found that the young person could develop resilience against the negative effects of homophobia if :
– s/he had good emotional support from friends
– good emotional support from family
The main conclusion drawn from the study was that much work still needs to be done to increase acceptance of, and respect for, diversity in the home, at schools and in the community in general, notwithstanding the significant advances made over recent decades.
Reich, D. B., & Zanarini, M. C. (2008). Sexual orientation and relationship choice in borderline personality disorder over ten years of prospective follow-up. Journal of Personality Disorders, 22(6), 564–572. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2008.22.6.564
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).