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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homophobia is the Patient

Mary Lynne Ellis

According to Young-Bruehl, the obsessional attitude is characterized by a view of homosexuality as dirty, degenerate, and feminizing. It is associated with financial power and AIDS. The world therefore needs to be cleansed of gay men. Hysterical characters need homosexuals, but ‘keep them in their place’. Homosexuals act out the desires which they prohibit in themselves and they can punish them for it. They can watch gay porn vicariously but return to their heterosexual world ‘’forgetting’ that (they) ever left or what (they) did’ (p. 158). A narcissistic relation to homosexuality is revealed in members of same-sex groups which are implicitly, yet strongly defined as non-homosexual, for example, men’s teams, clubs, and military units. Young-Bruehl’s descriptions are useful as snapshots which succinctly and vividly convey a range of homophobic orientations to the world. She does stress that positions of dominance and alienation for any of these groups are constantly shifting and that social and political conditions and purposes ‘operate as galvanizing ideologies and organizing ideas’ (1996: 342). However, as my account of Teresa’s struggles with her homophobia towards her son in analytical psychotherapy highlight, the categories theorized by Young-Bruehl are too sharply delineated and do not sufficiently allow for the shifting complexities of homophobic attitudes.

 Homosexuality: Whatever Next?

 In my presentation of Teresa’s work in psychoanalytic psychotherapy my focus is on those aspects of Teresa’s analysis which concern her exploration of conscious and unconscious manifestations of homophobic thoughts and feelings.2 Many other themes have emerged over the years which have been as or more significant. I feel privileged to be engaged with her exploration of feelings of which she, at times, feels very ashamed; they are very ‘at odds’ with what she wants to feel towards her son and towards lesbians and gay men in general.


  1. Those details of her life which might identify Teresa have been disguised in order to protect the confidential nature of the work.