Why do gay men tend to have closer relationships with their moms instead of their dads?
(Pictured above: "The Last Days of Infancy" by Cecilia Beaux, 1885.)
June 6, 2018 (Joseph Sciambra) – Scientist Simon LeVay, who has spent most of his career trying to locate a "gay" genetic determinate for homosexuality, in his book Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, wrote: "[G]ay men do indeed describe their relationships with their mothers as closer, and their relationships with their fathers as more distant and hostile, as compared with how straight men describe these relationships." Borrowing from the theories of American psychiatrist and gay activist Richard Isay, LeVay thinks it's possible that some pre-homosexual boys exhibit certain traits fathers dislike but mothers like. As a consequence, some mothers "become unusually protective of a son whom they see being exposed to teasing or hostility from the father or from other children."*
In my own life as a "gay" man, the scenario I repeatedly witnessed was the son of feuding or divorced parents, whereby the boy becomes confidant and "girlfriend" to the bitter and suffering mother. When most of my friends in San Francisco, who seemed to come from everywhere else except California, expected a visiting guest from back home, it was always a mother, sister, aunt, or female cousin; never a father. Tragically, when I did see a dad or the two parents together, it was at their son's funeral. Occasionally, I would tag along as they toured the famous sites of the city and then ended the week with an incredibly tedious day-long shopping excursion to nearly every boutique in Union Square.
During the final hours of one such visit, a friend invited me to dinner with him and his mother. I sat completely silent and shocked as he described to his mom a list of peculiar sexual difficulties he was having with a current boyfriend.
What some "gay" men have said about their mothers:
Brandon Baker (journalist) –
"... it's true that we all have wildly different relationships with our parents and plenty of gay men spend just as much time worrying about his reaction. But there's something inherently more weighty about a mother's approval...She also, obviously, likes boys. So, if anyone's going to love you unconditionally, it's her."
Jamie Brickhouse (author) –
"I think that the story of my relationship with my mother Mama Jean is universal no matter what age you are, whether you're 50 or 15, that the parent/child relationship is universal, that the mother/son relationship is universal, and that the mother/gay son relationship is universal. Though my mother was what some consider to be a stereotypical "gay" mother, dominant, overbearing, but certainly that type of mother will always exist, and the common dynamic between mothers of gay sons...I believe that gay men and straight women have a natural affinity for each other, and I think that dynamic starts with the mother. I think that for many gay men, their mothers are their first fag hags. Because I think gay men are in touch with the feminine sides of ourselves, and we're in tune with that with our mothers in a way that a straight son is not and in a different way that a straight daughter would not be." [Parents divorced when he was young.]
Charlie Craig (a respondent in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) –
His mother: "When we returned to our car, I noticed Charlie's shoulders were shaking. I soon realized he was crying. All I could do was embrace him and tell him I loved him and that we would get through this. As a parent, no matter how grown your children are, you want to shield them from harm. I felt I had failed him."
Lee Daniels (director) –
"My mom had five kids. And she came home after working three jobs, and I'd rub her feet. We'd all rub her feet. We were lucky to get any time with her.
"My mom knew early on that I was gay, and she knew that I had to get out of the ghetto.
"When I came out it was because I loathed my dad so much – I couldn't understand how you could, with an extension cord, beat a 45-pound kid just because he's aware of his femininity."
Sam Greisman (activist) –
"When I came out she didn't even bat an eye. In fact, she was overjoyed. Being gay was just one more thing she loved about me. She couldn't be more supportive of me." [His mother, actress Sally Field, and his father divorced when Greisman was six years old.]
Henry Holland (fashion designer) –
"My mum says that she knew I was gay before I did. But then she's a very, very camp mum. My upbringing was basically a gay training camp." [His parents divorced when he was three.]
Anthony Perkins (actor) –
"She wasn't ill-tempered or mean, just strong-willed, dominant... She controlled everything about my life, including my thoughts and feelings." [His father died when he was five years old.]
James Duke Mason (activist and son of singer Belinda Carlisle) –
Carlisle said: "... because from the beginning, my friends have been 90 percent gay and lesbian. That's just the way it's been for me. So I'd rather have a gay son than a straight son, let me just say that." She added, concerning her past drug addiction: "My biggest regret is...my lack of presence as a mother to James when I was drinking and using drugs. I regret a lot of the pain I caused during those years."
Robbie Rogers (athlete) –
"I have to give my mom some credit because when I asked for My Little Pony dolls for Christmas and birthday gifts (and we each got to pick out a new toy when another sibling was born), she let me choose whatever I wanted. And what I always wanted was a My Little Pony doll and another less-than-masculine toy, this stuffed dog that had a flap on its belly with little puppies inside.
"Other than the occasional teasing, my sisters were happy to play dolls with me. And my mother was content to let us enjoy ourselves. My father was another story, and on a few occasions when I was very young he made it clear that he didn't like his namesake playing with 'girlie things.' I remember one time overhearing him say to my mother in a really angry voice, 'I don't ever want to see him playing with dolls again! I don't want a fairy for a son!'"
Sam Smith (singer) –
"I came out when I was like four years-old! My mum said she knew when I was like three."
Gary Williams (jazz singer) –
"I helped her and Dad through their divorce, but being gay definitely has a bearing on it. We don't do stereotypical gay-son-and-mum things such as shopping, but I'm a sensitive person, and Mum feels comfortable telling me anything...I told Mum...and she gave me a big hug. At first she was worried about me being bullied because of my sexuality." [His parents divorced when he was young. In an interview, Williams's mother said: "Gary's more sensitive and understanding than straight men often are. However, he isn't camp, which is why I never suspected he was gay in his teens – despite his dad wondering."]
*LeVay S, (2011). Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Published with permission from Joseph Sciambra.