What is Gender Disruption?

Summary: The issues underlying male same-sex attraction often include disruptions in relationships with males and in the sense of one’s own maleness, disruptions in relationships with females, and distorted perspectives of gender.

The word “disruption” refers to breaking something apart, throwing it into disorder or turmoil, destroying unity or wholeness, and stopping or preventing something from continuing. This perfectly describes the gender-related life experiences of so many same-sex attraction men we’ve worked with—their sense of their own maleness, their relationships with other males, and their relationships with the opposite sex have been disrupted in quite a variety of ways.

Consider the first component of gender wholeness—masculine sufficiency or feeling complete with your own gender. We have observed that most men with same-sex attraction have experienced a lack of fulfillment of their two core masculinity needs: to feel congruent with their own gender (gender congruity) and to have adequate friendships with other males (same-sex affiliation).

Gender incongruity

Gender congruity can be disrupted in several ways. Some boys develop gender shame, or shame about being male and being masculine. This can be caused by families in which males and masculinity are not valued, not wanted, or are held in contempt. It can also be caused when a boy is humiliated in ways that attack his sense of masculinity.

This sense of shame about maleness can conflict with the inescapable reality of the boy’s maleness and with his natural strivings to be masculine, creating painful gender double binds. A double bind is a situation in which there is no good way out—where there is pain or trouble no matter what you do. Boys caught in gender double binds have to be male but feel it’s bad for them to be male. Or, they feel the need to be masculine but they can’t seem to do it “right.” Or, they try to become manly but are discouraged from doing so.

Gender congruity can also be disrupted if a boy develops expectations about what a man is supposed to be like but doesn’t believe he can measure up to those expectations. These are called gender imperatives and they often have to do with masculine body and personality traits. Many boys become fixated or obsessed with these traits, which may be different for every boy who experiences them. They tend to believe that these imperatives are necessary in order to be truly masculine or to be considered attractive, desirable, good, valuable, loveable, or complete as a man.

We have observed gender shame, gender double binds, and gender imperatives in the vast majority of the men with unwanted same-sex attraction with whom we’ve worked.

Same-sex disaffiliation

The need for same-sex affiliation can be disrupted by painful, frightening, or alienating experiences with other males that lead boys to pull away from their father, brother, peers, or other males. This can break or prevent normal affiliations and create a state of “disaffiliation.” Many boys then unconsciously put up a wall of detachment between themselves and other males to protect from further wounding, which in effect blocks healing and the re-establishment of a bond. But since bonding and friendship with others of their own sex is a natural need, an urgent longing for male closeness can develop.

Unhealthy relationships with females

The second major component of gender wholeness—having a healthy sense of connection with the opposite sex—can be disrupted by unhealthy experiences with females during childhood and adolescence. Females may overwhelm a boy with their attention, smothering him with too much love or concern. They may control, dominate, and overprotect him, leaving him feeling emasculated and incapable. They may over–connect with the boy and use him as a confidant, perhaps pulling him into their problems with other males, including conflicts with his own father, grandfather, or brother.

Some boys who have had such experiences develop unhealthy relationships with women in adulthood in which they either push them too far away—becoming oppositional or avoidant—or cling too closely to them—becoming enmeshed or over-familiar.

Gender distortion

Unhealthy childhood relationships with females—and their consequential relational responses—can distort a man’s view of the female gender causing him to see females in overly negative or exaggeratedly positive terms. And such relationships can affect how a boy comes to see himself in relation to women, causing him to feel weak, undesirable, vulnerable, or incapable of handling the demands of an opposite-sex relationship—or perhaps to feel superior and better than women.

Unhealthy childhood relationships with females can also damage a boy’s sense of masculinity by causing him to develop a strong identification with females. Some boys may even begin to feel like a woman on a subtle or blatant level. Identification with females, together with over-familiarity with women, can blur a boy’s perception of the contrast between males and females, disrupting his sense of genderedness.

The cumulative effect of unhealthy relationships with females and resulting gender distortion can be a profound disruption of a growing boy’s perception of the opposite sex as complementary to his masculinity and of himself, as a male, being complementary to the femininity of a girl. Under these conditions, females tend to be unattractive as romantic and sexual partners. We have observed this situation among the majority of those with whom we have worked.