Everyone has different childhood experiences and upbringings. It’s what makes each person unique and different, and helps to sculpt their morals, ethics, beliefs, personalities, and more. However, many gay men often learn that their childhood has commonalities with other gay men. Understanding the challenges gay men face, from young boys through to gay men, can impact the rest of their lives.
It’s around the age of 5-10 years old that boys discover they are not like other boys. They do not understand how they are different, but they do know things are not the same. The reaction to this awareness is to try to fit it with the other boys, trying hard not to be the centre of attention. They will try hard to let people look at them too closely and discover their differences.
The emotional reaction includes fear, isolation, and confusion. Self-esteem starts to take its first big hit. They begin to self-monitor, checking if their behaviour is similar to other boys. This hyper self-monitoring leads to a loss of being able to feel comfortable and spontaneous. It’s a dangerous path, where the child spends more time focusing on what others expect them to act like rather than exploring who they really are.
When a boy realises that he is different, and that he prefers boys over girls, it can be extremely traumatic. Fears and questions begin to arise. Boys will ask themselves if other boys will find out, will they be bullied, how will his family react, will these feelings go away, and what will happen to him as he gets older.
This realization will also cause strong emotional reactions. These emotions and doubts often last into his adult life. Fitting in becomes the name of the game, requiring him to hide who he is and how he feels. Everything from appearance to gestures become very sensitive. This is when the boy will not be himself anymore. They doubt that their family and friends would accept them for who he really is, and he can become overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s about this same time that he will teach himself not to trust loving and caring relationships.
As the boy becomes a teenager, he will begin to have crushes on other guys but he is trapped because he cannot do anything about his feelings, other than to hide them. It’s extremely frustrating and lonely. There isn’t the opportunity to fall in love, go out on a date, or experience a relationship, unless it’s with a girl and under false pretences, which adds even more confusion. There are many hurt feelings seeing friends fall in love and not being able to have those same experiences. It’s a sensitive time when he will wonder if he will ever find love and acceptance.
Growing up in this environment isn’t fun; however, in spite of all these problems with self-esteem and lack of a strong sense of self-knowledge, gay youth train themselves to be alone and how to conform with the rest of the world, pleases others.
It’s not until he is in his 20’s or even 30’s that the gay man is able to explore dating and falling in love. This comes with consequence because he never experienced these feelings growing up, so it’s all new and often overwhelming. Relationships are overwhelmed with emotions. This is normal for teenangers, but because he never experienced that, he’s now battling these feelings much later in life, making him feel like a silly teenager all over again.
Gay men do survive their very difficult and trying childhoods. It’s now easy to see why early life experiences can lead to problems later in adult life. Anxiety and depression are common amongst gay men. Anxiety is an extension of the hyper monitoring, with large amounts of self-criticism. Relationships will almost always be difficult because of the lack of practice and not allowing others to get too close to him. Sexual experiences are also hampered because he wasn’t able to experiment with his sexuality and desires when he was at his sexual peak, making sex a quicker and easier way to connect with guys, rather than the long process of dating and building an emotional relationship.