â€œWhat leads to this repression? We found that participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation and less susceptible to homophobia. Individuals whose sexual identity was at odds with their implicit sexual attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against homosexuals.â€
New York Times, 4/29/12
â€œHomophobic? Maybe Youâ€™re Gayâ€
Richard and William Ryan
Despite the provocative and unfortunate headline, this research is interesting in the broader sense of having fears and growing up in a controlling environment. The Ryans measured responses to homosexual and heterosexual images and attempted, through semantic association, to identify implicit sexual orientation. The results will lead to dinner table arguments and taunting over drinks at the bar throughout America, but it is more interesting to me in what it says about fear and repression in general and how parents raise their children.
The paragraph above, near the end of the article, is a big vote for acceptance, authenticity, compassion and an open mind in the home.
Repression is a way of holding something away from yourself, keeping parts of your self at a distance, taking your own feelings and compartmentalizing them so you donâ€™t have to deal directly with them. As with many fears, the fear of being gay (which I believe is fairly common) leads one to keep gay itself way over there in the psyche and in day-to-day experiences. The fear leads a man to believe that if he lets a little bit of this gayness â€œin,â€ he will be swept away in it, much like stepping in a stream that is faster and more powerful than we thought and we are carried downstream.
It is still, unfortunately, one of the most damning things one young man can say about another. Just last week I saw graffiti in a schoolyard: (â€œso-and-so is GAYâ€).Â Those are still fighting words and part of what we are fighting is even a little bit of admission that we find men attractive, that we like their bodies, that we find them compelling in their masculinity, courage and strength of character. This fear and repression is, and has been for centuries, what keeps men apart and keeps them lonely. If I am a little bit gay, I am certainly going down a river that I wonâ€™t be able to get out of.
This makes it easier to see how many public figures can â€œmake a livingâ€ speaking out against homosexuality and, if they have any political power, trying to repress it in the society at large. Decrying same sex love helps their audience (the percentage that shares their fear) identify with them and, two, gives them a public way of keeping their own feelings at a distance. When I can passionately deny my feelings to you and add on judgment and condemnation, it helps affirm my own repressed stance.
So read the quote above again and take out references to sexuality. â€œâ€¦participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit_____ â€¦â€ and fill in the blank. People who have had supportive and accepting parents are more in touch with themselves period. Their full self is not denied. They have little to fear. They learn to face themselves, to deepen their awareness and accept their thoughts, feelings and desires. This â€œrecipeâ€ for healthy relationships is what some parents aspire to: acceptance, compassion, empathy, authenticity. This is not only true between parents and children, as Iâ€™m sure you will recognize, but between and among all persons.
â€œIndividuals whose â€¦ identity was at odds with their implicit â€¦attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against _____.â€
In other words, children who are at odds with their own inner experience were raised by parents who were controlling and biased. Itâ€™s a no-brainer when you consider it, isnâ€™t it? If I have thoughts and feelings that may be fearful for me and/or socially unacceptable in my sub-culture, it is going to do me harm if my mother and father are repressed themselves and control the hell out of me. The result is an adult who is not fully aware of himself, has serious inner conflicts that are unresolved and who will condemn others for the very things that he is afraid of.
â€œDo I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
All of us, as Whitman, contain multitudes. All of us have a piece of the most holy and the most evil (if you believe in good and bad) inside. We all contain, in our glorious brains, souls and bodies, sexism, racism, prejudice, judgment and fear. We also have love, acceptance, courage, intelligence and compassion.
Our fears and self-denial stand in the way of our love. This is not just about being gay or not gay, black or brown or white, fat or slim– this is about living our lives fully and loving our children and the others in our lives for all of who they are.