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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homophobia is the Patient

Mary Lynne Ellis

Soon after this, more aspects of her sexuality emerged. She was able to tell me that she had found gay sex on television very erotic until Luigi had come out to her. Teresa also admitted that she felt very uncomfortable about having been attracted to Luigi’s partner. She started to feel that her sexuality was ‘all over the place’.

Teresa has found her son’s camp aspects very challenging. When he showed her a photo of himself in drag, she had felt very uneasy: what would it lead to? What if he did it in public? It would be different if he were an actor. I reflected on how frightening the unknown was to her. ‘Or of what I am getting to know: first he says he is gay, then that he has a partner, then that he has a lesbian friend, then that he might give her his sperm…whatever next?’ she replied. I linked this to her childhood memories of always being on the alert and say ‘perhaps Luigi is ‘whatever next?’‘ At the end of the session she told me tentatively that, when she is with Luigi, she finds herself making camp gestures. I responded humorously, resonating with the playfulness that I felt she had now begun to allow herself: ‘you are worried about men being gay, yet here you are as a woman playing at being a camp gay man?!’

In a session soon after this Teresa told me that she had dreamt of trying to stop wild animals coming after her. When I reflected on whether these were aspects of herself, her own ‘wildness’, she told me how unbearable it had been to watch a television documentary about a woman scarred by a hysterectomy who had succeeded in becoming a belly-dancer. It felt ‘too much’. I reflected that perhaps the idea of feeling pleasure in, and a connection to, her body and her sexuality felt ‘too much’ for her. Later in the session I suggested that gay men’s public identification with their sexualities felt ‘too much’ in a similar way.

It is striking that Teresa’s homophobic feelings have been particularly intensified at a time when she has also been struggling with her feelings of being very neglected by her mother (who also had not been able to protect her from her abusive experiences of men). One evening, sitting in her armchair with angry thoughts towards her son, followed by thoughts about whether she had touched him inappropriately, and then a feeling of completely shutting off from him, she said to herself, ‘so, this is what my mother feels towards me’. In a dream which marked the end of her preoccupation with whether she had abused her son, she ‘saved the baby’ (her words). Taking hold of a baby which was dangling upside down with wires coming from it, connected to nothing and no-one, she had turned it upright and felt a huge relief.