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Book Review: Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance by Richard A. Isay, M.D.

The first thing I noticed about this well-written book was its title, Becoming Gay. The title disturbed me because of a firm belief system I have toward lesbians, straights, and gays. A man does not become gay; he passes through the birth canal and into this world as a gay male baby.

But as I read the book, I realized what Dr. Isay’s title meant. He was referring to the haunting epic journey he had taken from youth until the full realization when he developed an identity as a homosexual man.

  Dr. Isay was the more aesthetic middle child between an older handsome athletic brother and a younger parent pleasing sister. Yet neither parent was openly affectionate. His father was chronically depressed. Discipline and child rearing was his mother’s job and she was quick to anger and punish.

Like so many homosexual young boys, Dr. Isay went to summer camps to please his mom and dad, and although he despised the tedium of interactive sports, he knew that watching naked boys in the showers or changing room fascinated him.

As he matured, Isay began to solidify his desire to work as a therapist. As part of his professional training program, first, he had to undergo deep personal analysis in order to fulfill degree requirements. Isay’s psychoanalyst led him to believe he was not a homosexual. His erotic attraction to males masked his true heterosexuality.

According to this analyst, the cause of this gender-switched attraction was the result of Isay’s poor self-esteem and lack of real self-worth as a man. Following accepted theory for the cause of homosexuality, his analyst led Isay to blame his overbearing mother and now permanently absent father; Isay’s father died at age forty-five.

By the time Isay had completed ten years of analysis, he had married and begot two children “all of whom I loved.” Still deeply troubled by his sexual attraction to men, he became convinced that years of suffering through psychoanalysis did him great harm. Believing his analyst blatantly wrong, as a result, he began to form his own theory for homosexuality as he worked intensely with gay clients. 

He now believed that he is and was gay from birth. He put forth the theory that homosexuals do not become gay or lesbian. Simply put: That’s the way they are born. Armed with this satisfying theory, he continued his practice as a therapist counseling both heterosexual and homosexual men.

  Becoming Gay is indeed a heroic story for this reason. Here was a doctor living a closeted life, afraid to come out for fear of losing his wife and family and afraid of destroying his career. Here was a man forced to seek sexual gratification in hidden places, sometimes in public bathrooms.

  How Dr. Isay dealt with his feckless situation is the story found in Becoming Gay. 1) It is a sad story when considering the horrific life he spent denying his own personality. 2) It is a terrifying story considering the demons the man faced before admitting gayness to his wife and family. 3) It is a tortuous story considering the pain caused by his analyst who almost led him to destroy his innate being.

Yet, this book is a deeply moving read, uplifting, because of its words of enlightenment, encouragement, hope, and love for gay men at a time when gayness is still not socially acceptable.

I would highly recommend this book to adolescents and adults:

1) To young homosexual boys who need the courage to come out so they can find understanding and love from accepting peers even when their own parents reject them

2) To homosexual men and women who must be led to believe they are not freaks. They are  normal natural people

 3) To gay men in heterosexual marriages who may even contemplate suicide rather than face the mountain of problems society has caused them

 4) To analysts who must treat homosexuality as normal for that person, not as an illness which can be analyzed and cured

5) To people, particularly men, who wish to help homosexuals by carrying a healthy, loving, understanding, unprejudiced, attitude toward them into their homes, their communities, their workplaces, and their places of worship.

About Regis Schilken