top of page


A Commentary on Sex, Sexual Abuse, Society, Spirituality and Sexual Orientation

PREFACE: I wrote this after having some communication with an old friend who had been sexually abused as a child and who was having confusion about his sexual feelings, the source of his feelings, and was judging his feelings as well as himself for having his feelings. I have titled it “Everything Under the Rainbow” because of the old saying that great variety is “everything under the sun”. The variety of human sexual content and expression runs the full gamut, which is everything under the rainbow.


Growing up gay in the rural Ozarks of the 1960’s on a farm, physically distant from neighbors without even a telephone for communication, I also grew up naïve. My only impressions of the world outside that farm came mostly from our old black and white TV that could only pick up two channels. In those days, shows like “I Love Lucy” depicted separate beds even though the fictional couple was obviously married. Gay was something not even mentioned on television, radio or elsewhere. Prior to “don’t ask don’t tell” was, “let’s pretend it doesn’t exist”. I knew precious little about the rest of the world, and I certainly had never heard of Stonewall or anything to do with LGBTQ rights, but then I was fourteen years old when Stonewall occurred. I don’t recall any news coverage about it, and if it received any national coverage, I missed it. At the time, the world still wanted to pretend that gay didn’t exist. The hippie movement brought sex, free sex and sexual liberation to the American discussion, but gay rights would not really have much recognition until the early 1980’s.

Not only had gay rights just begun when I came into adolescence, I was also raised in a church so fundamentalist that one of my uncles told me I was going to go to hell when I chose a Presbyterian collage. However, attending that little Presbyterian college (Lyon College) was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. That was where I first began to lose my naivete. I went to school with kids from all over the world, and I learned about things I had never even contemplated. I had companionship and real friendship for the first time, and some of those friends happened to be gay. Lyon became the first place where I was given permission, by other students and some professors, to own my sexual orientation and be myself. Still, coming to grips with that would take me several more years. As a matter of fact, my own progression in the acceptance of my sexual orientation has pretty much followed the same timeline as the gay rights movement. Not that long ago, being gay was something I had kept completely silent, even though it may not have been hidden as much as I tried to pretend. As a teen, and young man, I told no one about being gay, not only because my church forbade it but because of things I saw written on bathroom walls, things I heard other boys say and fears that I would be ostracized or beaten, perhaps even killed if anyone knew how I truly felt. When I was a teenager, the minister who baptized me gave a sermon in which he said, “The sin of homosexuality is worse than the sin of murder.” This quote is referenced by a character in my second novel, The Calling Dream. Even though it is stated by a fictional character in the book, it actually did happen to me. After hearing that sermon, I thought, If I am worse than a murderer, would they put me to death if they found out? Should I go ahead and kill myself and just get it over? Thankfully, I had my grandmother and later, I had mentors and Lyon college where I first began to have a place to heal. ***As a side note here, let me tell you that I was raised in the same general locality as Gerrard Conley who wrote Boy Erased, his 2016 memoir which was produced as the 2018 film by the same name. He also attended Lyon. His interview, about his LGBTQ experience and attending Lyon, can be found online in an article published in the “Lyon College, The Highlander” by Olivia Lynch titled “Interview with Gerrard Conley”.

When I first began to become aware of sexual feelings, I noticed that I had attractions to men, but attractions are not just sexual. There are other types of attractions such as attraction to a person’s “vibe”, their energy and essence, and that type of attraction to men existed for me long before I became aware of my sexual feelings. However, when I was taught that attractions to men were worse than murder, I did everything I could to try to force myself into heterosexuality, even though feminine essence just didn’t feel right. I loved and respected women and still do, but I love them as human beings, as mentors and friends, not because I have sexual attractions to them. So, back then, I did what many gay people did, perhaps fewer now, but I know it still occurs, I tried to force myself to be straight. In those days before gay marriage was legal, gay people often married the opposite sex, raised families and later reached a point where they realized they just couldn’t keep up the pretense any longer. The strain of trying to pretend that you are someone you are not can be overwhelming. Also, when a wife or husband who thought their marriage was real, gets blindsided by the actual reality that their spouse is gay, the strain is unfair and overwhelming, as well. I am so grateful that I never married. I dated girls, I tried, but I could not bring myself to have any more than fleeting attractions to women. After college, I tried again. When I got my first job after graduating college, I dated a couple of girls, made out with girls and had sex with girls, but it was never the same. Still, I felt a horrible shame about my sexual orientation and could not bring myself to accept it. I reached a point where I could accept others who were gay, but I still could not accept it in myself. I was twenty-four years old before I really began the process of accepting who I was, and completing that acceptance took many more years. As is true of most gay men of the time, especially those from fundamentalist religions, admitting that you were gay was almost as bad as being gay.

Even though gay rights have come a very long way since then, to this day, being gay is something that many, if not most heterosexual people just can’t comprehend and many LGBTQ people still struggle with self-acceptance and worries about how society will treat them. I think societal acceptance is even more difficult for people who are transgender, and just to clarify, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. Gender has nothing to do with attractions. Gender is about male, female or fluid identity. Sexual orientation is at least partially about attractions, but gender identity has nothing to do with who you might be attracted to. Regardless of how far gay rights has come, LGBTQ is still the only minority at risk of rejection by their own family and, according to the Trevor Report, gay teens are three times more likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual counterparts and five times more likely to have attempted it. As well, LGBTQ youth coming from rejecting families were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide as LGBTQ youth from families where they are accepted. Much more work needs to be done to instill pride in being who you are, owning who you are and knowing that it is okay to be who you are. As well, work needs to be done to increase acceptance, reduce bullying, and help kids to understand that their worth is not determined by what others think. If there would be one thing I would want to instill in gay youth, but extend to youth in general, it is that another person’s behavior is never about you, even if it is directed at you and blamed on you. It is always about what is going on inside of them. If someone casts judgment and prejudice toward you, they are showing you who they are, not who you are. The Trevor Project:

One of the more common questions that heterosexual people like to ask Gay people is, “When did you know that you were gay?” Although the question, in my opinion, is inappropriate, at least they are trying to have some understanding and acceptance. Over time, I began returning with the question, “When did you know that you were straight?” Heterosexuals seldom ask themselves, “How did I get this way, why am I straight?” Gay people, at least of my generation, were prone to ask themselves, “What made me gay?” Perhaps, many young gay people still ask that question. However, the reason the question was ever asked in the first place is because homosexuality has been looked upon as an abnormality. The assumption is that there must be something wrong with you if you are not straight. Few people, at least in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures, considered that being gay could be a natural and normal phenomenon. Yet, there have been cultures, many Native American tribes among them, who embraced homosexuality and transgender identity as normal, often even as sacred. However, in mainstream society, when homosexuality is considered to be an abnormality, the conundrum that this presents to many straight people is that, if they have even one homosexual thought, one passing attraction to someone of the same sex, then they have to consider whether that also makes them abnormal and unacceptable?

Back in the late 1980’s, when I was living in Nashville, a friend said to me, “I think I might be gay.” I asked him why, and he said because he had been having sexual attractions to men. I asked, “Okay, what percentage of your sexual attractions are to men and what percentage of your attractions are to women?” He said that he was attracted to men about ten percent of the time and to women about ninety percent of the time. I said, “Don’t you think that is a pretty clear indication that you are straight?” I knew he wasn't gay, but I understood his confusion. The tendency of wanting to lump things, especially things like sexual orientation, into nice neat little categories presents a problem, especially since attractions do not easily fit into categories. The general consensus among researchers is that human sexuality is on a continuum, and it is not uncommon for people to, at least occasionally, have attractions outside their generally identified sexual orientation. The question I want to ask is, “What difference does it make?” We are who we are and what difference does it make how we got that way, who we are attracted to or why?

The assumption that anything other than heterosexual is somehow an abnormality has brought about years of research trying to figure out what caused it. However, just because a minority of people experience it does not mean that it is abnormal. Consider that only a small percentage of the population has naturally red hair, but we don’t label red hair as a deformity, nor do we care about what caused it, or spend millions on research trying to pinpoint the cause. It is accepted that it is genetic and that’s that. There is nothing wrong with having red hair, even if only a minority of people have it. You simply are what you are. People can dye their hair, but their natural color is always beneath the surface. Either you are born with it or you are not, case closed. It may take a while to have this same acceptance of sexual orientation, but just because someone is different, does not mean that they are abnormal. Yet, for centuries, anything other than heterosexuality was considered to be abnormal. Up until the 1970’s homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Yet, that was overturned when psychiatry began to take into account that homosexuals were no less well-adjusted and or less emotionally stable than heterosexuals despite severe and overt prejudice, rejection and oppression. In fact, most gay people who sought therapy about their sexual orientation did so because of pressure from church, family and society that claimed they were not acceptable as themselves. Send someone who is redheaded to therapy, try to change them into a brunette and see how far you get. You can cover over it all you want. A redhead can pretend to be a brunette, but beneath the façade is their true color. The same is true of people who can pretend that they are not gay. Beneath the pretense is their reality. The shame is that society would, at least in the past, rather have had them pretend they were straight than be true to themselves—don’t ask, don’t tell. Society’s tendency has been to push gay people into the shadows and then punish them for being there. How dare they even mention that they exist, much less consider having a marriage or a family unless they are willing to pretend to be straight.

So, how does someone become gay? What has all that research shown us? Again, I say, “What difference does it make?”, but let’s consider that research has shown a variety of things, and has shown nothing conclusive. You will find mothers who will tell you that they were aware that their child was gay when the child was as young as three years old. You have people saying that it is genetic and point out that homosexuality tends to run in families. You have people who say that it has to do with the hormone levels of the mother during pregnancy. One line of research showed that each time a boy is born into a family, the chances increase that the next son born will be gay. However, this does not apply to lesbians and the number of girls born into a family. Again, I pose the question, “What difference does it make?” To me, it doesn’t matter if it is genetic, due to something that happened in the womb or environmental. If Gay is who you are, then Gay is who you are. Whatever attractions you have are the attractions you have.

The old line of thinking was that gay men were the result of a strong mother and a weak father. That was proven to be bullshit, just like the early theories that schizophrenia was caused when a child didn’t develop a proper attachment to the mother. In the old days, they always liked to blame the mother and, of course, there is no underlying misogyny there, hmmm? One of the most ridiculous theories I ever heard (from an old psychiatrist I met in the early 1980’s, who shall not be named) was that homosexuality resulted because a boy did not have a strong male figure in his childhood, and needed, therefore, to suckle at the penises of men to try to incorporate the missing masculinity into himself. SERIOUSLY? So, those gay men who have very close, loving relationships with their masculine fathers, what is going on with them? Then, certain religious groups decided that orientation could be turned around with conversion therapy and that you could be trained to be straight, also proven to be bullshit. I seriously doubt that any of them stopped, for one moment, to contemplate what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot and someone was insisting that they could be trained to be gay. How easy would that be? You may be able to dye red hair brunette, but that does not turn the redhead into a brunette, only into a redhead pretending to be brunette. It only covers the reality of the situation. One of my own early therapists had me looking at heterosexual porn where I was supposed to fantasize about being the man in the photos enjoying sex with the woman. All that did is give me an appreciation for pornography where I got to see erect, naked men. That was also forbidden by the church, but guess what happens if you show a photo of bread to a starving boy? Some gay people live their lives pretending to be straight, but that does not change how they feel. It only shows their determination to fit themselves into the mold that the church, family or society assigned to them. Again, try putting the shoe on the other foot, and ask someone who is straight to spend their life trying to be, or pretending to be gay. How fair would that be?

It is possible that our sexual orientation could be very much like language. We know, for instance, that human beings are the only creatures on earth whose brain will double in size after we are born. That means that half of all the neural pathways in our brains are formed after we are born, most of it within the first three or four years of life. This is why the first few years are called the formative years. We learn language in the formative years of our lives, and it becomes so ingrained and natural for us that we cannot imagine not being able to speak it. We know that it is much more difficult to learn a different language as an adult. So, most people never do. Even if we learn a new language after growing up, we will never be as comfortable speaking it as speaking our native tongue. In fact, the tendency will be to slip back into our native tongue, and the evidence of our original language will be present in our accent and occasional difficulties with the new language. Nonetheless, whether sexual orientation, like language, is established during early development is basically irrelevant and not provable but if it is like language, then our native tongue, like red hair, is always going to be beneath the surface of any other language we learn. Some insist that that homosexuality is the result of having been sexually abused as a child. However, there is no proven validity to that assumption, either. There are, after all, men who were not sexually abused by men during their formative years who are homosexual and men who were sexually abused by men during their formative years who are heterosexual. Flip the coin and the same is true of women. The same speculation has been made that a fetish is also developed during the formative years. Yet, no conclusive evidence has ever proven that. A person’s attractions, especially their full-on orientation, are more complicated than the development of language. Again, why should it matter?

Over the past 40 years, having met many male survivors of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by men, it has been my personal observation that about 90% of them are heterosexual, about the same percentage estimated in the general population. I recall one who was feeling ashamed that the first orgasm he ever experienced was while being molested by his father. Yet, his orientation was heterosexual. Abuse does not determine sexual orientation. Nonetheless, sexual assault causes confusion, even for adults. For instance, women and men who have been raped are more likely to develop PTSD than survivors of military combat trauma. My observation of male survivors of sexual assault, even if it happened in childhood, is that they are much less likely to admit it, carry more shame about it and are much more likely to avoid getting help than women. Women who have been sexually abused, despite the trauma and mental upheaval it causes, seem more willing to seek help and to disclose their abuse than men. I think men are more likely to hide it because of the shame generated by a society that sees any homosexual contact as specifically wrong. Men also assume, perhaps more than women, that they should have been able to prevent it. After all, aren’t men supposed to be big and strong, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and therefore able to fend off sexual assault? Many men don’t reveal their abuse because they think people will “accuse” them of being gay. Before we go on, let’s clarify something here. Rape has nothing to do with sex itself. It is the use of sex as a weapon of domination, whether it is rape of a man or a woman. Men in prison who rape other men, for instance, would otherwise prefer females for their usual sexual contact. They are not gay. They rape as a weapon of humiliation and dominance. Again, the humiliation of male rape goes back to the assumption that homosexual desire is abnormal. Therefore, if a man raped me, I must be gay and I must be abnormal, for not only do I have the shame that I was not able to prevent the rape, but I have the shame of having been made into someone’s “bitch”. It is perhaps no coincidence that places where toxic masculinity is common are also places where sexual assaults are common.

Let’s not forget the underlying misogyny in all this. Men have long blamed women for their own attractions to them. It must have been Eve who made me eat that forbidden fruit, for I had no choice in the matter myself. This blame is the reason that women in some Middle Eastern cultures are expected to cover themselves in public, but the blame of women is certainly not exclusive to Islam. The underlying implication of a woman having to cover herself is that, if a man is attracted to her, it must be her fault. Since religion admonishes men to control their lust, woman are expected to take responsibility for not enticing their lust. Then, perhaps, men don’t have to take responsibility and get a free ticket for lust if they can point the finger and blame it on someone else. She tempted me, therefore it is not my fault. I call bullshit. Blaming a woman for a man’s behavior is not a new thing, but it definitely needs to stop being a thing. We are long past due to get over the assumption that anyone who is raped or sexually intruded upon must have done something to entice it. Here is the truth. Every one of us is 100% responsible for the choices we make. If someone is raped, it cannot be the fault of the victim. Here is more truth. If you are having sex with a consensual partner and are moments from climax, if that person says, “stop” and you do not stop, at that moment it ceases to be consensual and becomes rape. For male sexual assault survivors, it doesn’t take a lot to recognize that the erroneous logic behind a blame the victim culture would speculate that if a man is sexually abused as a child or raped as an adult, it must therefore mean that he is gay and that he somehow invited what was done to him. Again, I call bullshit.

It is true that people who were sexually abused often have confusion about their sexual feelings, but that does not mean that the abuse caused their sexual orientation. Confusion over your sexual feelings is not the same thing as your established sexual orientation. Many, continue to submit to the same type of sexual contact that occurred during their abuse because they feel tainted by the abuse and categorized, much the same way that gay people feel categorized when expected to “act straight”, even though the sexual contact does not really feel natural to them. Girls who are sexually abused often consider themselves as “used goods”, and therefore unworthy of meaningful, truly loving relationships. Boys who have been sexually abused often go into overkill trying to prove that they are the opposite of gay or assume that the abuse made them gay, so they have to act the part, even if that is not how they really feel. Often, male survivors of sexual abuse become body builders, engage in martial arts or other “manly” pursuits because they think it will protect them from being sexually assaulted again. Often, they engage in repeated conquests of women in an effort to prove they are not gay. For many, male or female, promiscuity gives them a false sense of control, the illusion that they are able to call the shots— “use them and lose them”—but this is often at the cost of not being able to establish meaningful long-term relationships. Some do the complete opposite and sink into asexuality where they want no physical contact and abstain from all romantic involvements. Also, adult survivors of sexual abuse are much more likely to have sexual intrusion because having had abuse causes them to have a sort of boundary blindness where they don’t recognize intrusion readily, or don’t feel safe setting boundaries. It is even possible for a person not to realize that they have been raped until after the fact. Although there are some common responses that people have to sexual trauma, reactions may also be as varied as personalities.