Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Intimacy - Growing Up Gay. . . . part 2

Posted: 18 Mar 2014 05:25 AM PDT
Gay Relationships: "Intimacy Freak-Out - Growing Up Gay" continued from yesterday )

The ability to be intimate requires positive self-esteem and a solid “sense of self.” 
Growing up in a homophobic society, gay men internalize an onslaught of negative messages from many different sources that denigrate our identities.
As such, most of us grew up feeling different, inadequate, defective, and anchored with shame. We may still even feel that way now. Internalized homophobia settled in and the idea of having a genuinely intimate relationship with another man became very triggering of that shame that was instilled.

Nonetheless, many of us eventually ventured out to explore our sexualities with other men and sex became a way to establish a sense of connection. Navigating into relationships, some men who were successfully able to negotiate the coming-out process were able to replace sexual conquest as a means for connection with men with needs for more relational depth and substance (emotional intimacy).

For others not quite comfortable with the idea of emotional closeness with another man, fleeting and superficial sexual involvements may remain the objective to meet their needs and keep themselves safe from getting in “too deep” (and there’s nothing wrong with that considering that one is honest with himself and his partner and that he genuinely is not looking for more than just sex as opposed to it being a defense against getting close). While still others desire true intimacy in their relationships, yet remain blocked by their fears. These are just a few of the many scenarios that exist.

Socialization as males in our society teaches us that we are expected to be strong, independent, self-reliant, and emotionally self-sufficient---at all costs. These traits don’t always mesh so well in intimate relationships which require vulnerability, exposure, and some degree of dependency.

In addition to overcoming the traditional male gender role programming that limits true intimacy potential in relationships, gay men have the added burden of conquering internalized homophobia and its psychological consequences in achieving the capacity for intimacy in their lives. An unfair and challenging de-programming process it is, but that’s why we gay men are so resilient with our experiences in dealing with adversity!

As one can see, man-to-man relationships are fertile grounds for potential problems with intimacy. Below are two interesting quotes from the book “Couple Therapy With Gay Men” by Greenan & Tunnell that are relevant to our discussion here:

“As males, gay men have been exposed to the same gender acculturation that all males receive: Men should be strong and not show their feelings. But, for straight men, male-female relationships are one of the few culturally sanctioned contexts where a man might reveal the full range of his feelings without censure or shame.

"In heterosexual romantic relationships it is permissible for a man to let down his guard, show his feelings, and not be judged weak. This is not to say that considerable numbers of straight men do not find intimacy difficult, since adult emotional intimacy violates their earlier years of male gender acculturation. But part of gender acculturation is the male’s expectation that females will be more tolerant, accepting, and encouraging of his shortcomings and self-doubts, given their supposedly stronger interest in mutuality and connection.” (p. 38).

“Intimacy with another man can provoke a man to feel unmasculine and worthless, whereas distance may render him lonely and depressed. For such men, sexual orientation is experienced as a perpetual double bind, permitting no comfortable solution and causing havoc in their couple relationships.” (p.27).

Put two men together who have been conditioned with the same gender role socialization and expectations, coupled with potential sexual-identity struggles, and that lays the foundation for the possibility in their relationship for excessive competition, pursuer-distancer “dances”, and discomfort with tenderness and emotional abandon with each other.

Whether you’re a single or coupled gay man, how comfortable are you with the idea of “letting yourself go” completely with another man? If there’s the slightest hint of uneasiness, you could be missing out on one of the greatest feelings and experiences life has to offer.

What’s holding you back? What consequences do you essentially suffer as a result? Do you derive any potential benefits or gains out of having these blocks? Are you willing to do the hard work and to take the risks involved in facing your fears and resistance?

This article has covered a lot of theory surrounding intimacy as it pertains to love relationships between men. In tomorrow's part 3 of this article series, the “how-to’s” of enhancing intimacy will be addressed. Common fears of intimacy will be examined and practical suggestions for strengthening your comfort with intimacy and bridging more connection with your partner will be offered.

In the interim, explore the role that intimacy plays in your relationships. How much “intimacy freak-out” exists in your life? Do some journaling surrounding the areas of childhood experiences, internalized homophobia, male gender role socialization, emotional blocks, and self-esteem and their association with your development as a gay man and your current capacity for intimacy.

Finally, recognize the gifts that true intimacy can bring to your life and begin thinking about ways you might be able to “get out of your own way” to invite more intimacy into your world if you choose.

*References: Crowell, Al (1995). I’d Rather Be Married: Finding Your Future Spouse. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Greenan, David E. & Tunnell, Gil (2003). Couple Therapy With Gay Men. New York, NY: The Guilford Press

(Continued Tomorrow - Part 3 - Enhancing Intimacy In Your Life )

© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach

Thanks to Brian and to Michael@gaytwogether.com

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