The Trauma of Growing Up Gay, Part I

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I came across a fascinating article I POZ magazine that got me to thinking about my early life as a gay man. The article is, Trauma and HIV: A Call for Intersectional Approaches by Charles Stephens and Naina Khanna.

Much of what the authors write about does not apply to me. I do not have HIV. I do not feel, as a white man raised in the middle class in the USA, that I have a depth of understanding about how race, class, and socioeconomic status impact an LGBT person’s life. 

I do feel as a gay man, particularly when I first became aware of my sexual orientation at fourteen years of age in 1971, that I was oppressed and traumatized by how homosexuality was seen and treated at that time.

The article, quoting a paper from SAMHSA, describes trauma:

“individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

The way homosexuality was seen and written about in 1971, as I set about with quiet desperation to find answers, was nothing short of criminal. There was very little information available to me. But there was one book, which I found in my father’s library, that influenced me greatly. The most traumatic thing I read or learned was from a book, very popular at the time, titled, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) by U.S. physician David Reuben. The book, published in 1969, with its bright yellow cover, was almost hidden in my father’s library on a high shelf near a very large hardback book with a deep burgundy cover titled, Male Homosexuality. Male Homosexuality was a thick, clinical book written in a complex and scientific language, that at 14 years of age, I could not understand. But, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, was of the moment. It was new and fresh and spoke to the honesty about sexuality that was emerging.

What I read in, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, made me frightened and depressed. I tried to kill myself with an overdose of Darvon taken from my parent’s medicine cabinet. It painted a picture of meeting men in parks and public bathrooms for sex. It painted a picture of a life of pathology and sickness called homosexuality. It was not the life I wanted.

I believe Ruben’s book caused me trauma that I am still unraveling. It painted such a vivid, powerful picture of the ‘sickness’ of the homosexual world that got set in my mind just as I was learning about my attraction to men.

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