As he grew older and went to university, he was swept along with the liberating and tolerant discourses that promised inclusion and protection from verbal violence. He felt that he fancied men and there were gay societies, other people like him. Seemingly he was at liberty to put his traumatic past behind him, but perhaps understandably, nobody was prepared to speak about any violence involved in their own gay identity–why recount a tale of powerlessness and humiliation and risk being seen as an indulgent victim? Where else other than in therapy can a story like D’s be told without incurring some embarrassment or impatience? D came to realise that he himself was an agent of this dismissal. At first this happened when he began to fall in love. He became obsessively drawn to particular gay men whom he imagined had been able to pass as straight and/or were strong and aggressive enough never to have had to endure the searing humiliation he went through–gay men who walked, talked and flaunted their sexuality with ease and confidence. When one of them showed an interest in D, he was, once again, close to believing that ‘he had arrived’, that he was accepted as he thought he had been with the boys at school. I asked him what he felt then. He smiled and said, ‘I think I felt I wasn’t defective anymore. I think M played up to it. He could pass as straight; he was tough; he could defend himself’. M advised D to tone down his gay mannerisms with which he complied. In analysis, it became clear that this partner and several others after him contained a promise of healing his bruised sense of being a man. Looking back on this experience, the logic he formulated was something like, ‘if they are gay men and want me, then I must be enough of a man myself’. For a while, D was lulled into a fantasy that the other was secure in his masculinity–indeed that there was such a thing–and so when rejection came, it was devastating. He felt that he had not only lost a boyfriend, but a guarantor of his ability not to be defective, to be a man and, less consciously, his belief that his life was worth living.

He recounted several experiences with a similar theme and his despair grew stronger as he realised that the quest for masculinity, uncontaminated by the traces of any effeminacy, was not just an ideal of his childhood bullies, but also of the gay men he was now meeting. He disregarded the men who showed interest in him, seeing them as equally defective, and went after those who treated him with considerable ambivalence reinforcing his sense of his own ‘defectiveness’.