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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homophobia is the Patient

Mary Lynne Ellis

A strong theme for Teresa is her anxiety that she has ‘caused’ her son’s homosexuality. This became focused on her recollection of changing her son’s nappy when he was a baby and her disquiet at seeing her son’s penis erect; she began to feel that that she must have caused him to have an erection, although she does not recall touching her son inappropriately. Although realizing intellectually that homosexuality is not ‘caused’ in the way she fantasizes, she would return to this anxiety periodically. This fantasy has generated a number of different meanings, depending on the context.

Sometimes it is associated for Teresa with her own childhood experiences of sexually abusive situations. Male sexuality is for her often (although not always) equated with abuse; sexuality between two men therefore appears doubly abusive and disgusts her. Luigi’s identification with being gay, placing sex at the foreground of his identity as a man at times seems to embody this notion of abusive masculinity for her. Luigi’s moustache emerged in our discussions as unconsciously symbolizing male sexuality and it becomes the focus of her anxiety and feelings of loss that her small boy is now a sexual man.

A central question is, of course, Teresa’s relation to her own sexual desires. She has not had an intimate sexual relationship for over twenty-five years and her son’s statement of his sexuality has brought about a crisis of her own. It is unthinkable to Teresa that she may have feelings of attraction towards her son, although she knows that she has never acted upon such a possibility. It is also difficult for her to admit any experiences of same-sex attraction she may have had. In one session when I said to her that her sexuality had been very intertwined with her experience of rejection by her husband she had surprised herself with her tears.

Some weeks later Teresa dreamt that she was enjoying having sex with a person who was half-man and half-woman. This character had male genitals and a very ugly woman’s face which was, in the dream, nevertheless erotically attractive to her. I wondered whether the ugly face was an attempt to camouflage the pleasure she was feeling. In a later dream she was making love with her ex-husband. The pleasure was mutual and he was lightly commenting on a physical feature which, actually, is a feature of her own, but which she had attributed to him in the dream. I interpreted to her that perhaps the ex-husband in her dream represented her own sexuality which she was now beginning to claim.