It is my hope that this book might be used to challenge those who use the “gender impaired” argument to promote the ex-gay movement. Yes gay men have issues around gender but that does not make them gay–or ex-gay for that matter!
This book turns the expression “a man among men” into a love story.
For Immediate Release: December 2, 2005
Contact: Jeff Theis, Publicity Manager
212-242-8100 ext. 38 / email@example.com
10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love
Release date: January 2006
Softcover • ISBN 1-55583-898-7
Do you always end up with Mr. Wrong? Are you constantly dissatisfied with your intimate relationships? Has the passion between you and your partner fizzled after just a few months? In his groundbreaking new work, best-selling author and gay-affirmative therapist Joe Kort reveals his own Top Ten list on how you can make the best possible choices in finding and keeping a partner. Among them…
- Introduction: Start Your Hero’s Journey and Let Your Initiation Begin!
- Chapter 1: Live in Integrity and Be Accountable to Yourself and Your Partner
- Chapter 2: Become the Man You Were Meant to Be
- Chapter 3: Discover How What You Hate Can Help You Love
- Chapter 4: Go from a Gay Boy to a Gay Man with Your Father
- Chapter 5: Recognize the Difference Between Mommy Nearest, Mommy Dearest, and Mommy Queerest
- Chapter 6: Learn How to Disarm—Not Strong-arm—Your Partner in Communication
- Chapter 7: Know Your Sexual Shadow
- Chapter 8: Understand the New Mixed Marriage: When Three’s a Crowd
- Chapter 9: How to Call It Quits Without Being a Quitter
- Chapter 10: Bring Your Own Shadow
By showing how to look closely at the deepest sources of your wants and needs, 10 SMART THINGS GAY MEN CAN DO TO FIND REAL LOVE will help you achieve the kind of lasting close relationships you deserve.
If you want to book a signing or workshops I do anywhere in your area please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-399-7317.
Read an excerpt of the introduction to the book:
Introduction: Start Your Hero’s Journey and Let Your Initiation Begin!
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere;
they’re in each other all along.
“He used to make me feel so good! Now he brings me too much grief!”
- “With all this conflict, how do I know if I’m with the right partner?”
- “Before I get into a relationship, I’ll need to get my own act together.”
- “Relationships shouldn’t be so much work!”
- “Maybe I’m not cut out for an LTR.”
- “I’ve got to love myself before I can love someone else.”
- “Gay relationships—particularly between men—never last.”
I hear things like this from clients (even friends) all the time. But I usually can’t agree. By itself, a relationship can help put your life in order. While you are in a relationship, loving yourself can come even more quickly. Your deepest healing and growth can occur in the context of a committed relationship. When someone says they cannot be in a relationship until they get their own act together, I find they are usually avoiding relationships with this thinking. They are making plans about what their relationships should look like and what the perfect partner should be like. I coach people to understand that the secret is not making plans for a relationship but instead to be in one and create the right relationship for you while you are in it. You get your act together by being in a relationship, not by being out of one.
Meanwhile, this book can help you understand why, in your relationships past and present, you’ve been making the same mistakes over and over. If single, you’ll discover why you keep picking out Mr. Wrong or Mr. Right Now, instead of Mr. Right. In both dating and committed relationships, issues from childhood do emerge, and now you can become aware of them to stop them from interfering in getting real love.
What kind of feedback—even including the complaints and frustrations—do you hear from men you date, boyfriends, and partners? If you listen, inevitably you’ll find something useful and helpful in whatever they say. What are your complaints and frustrations with your partners? Those complaints say a lot about you too if you listen closely enough.
As that quote from Rumi points out, you and your partner are in each other all along. This book will show you how doing the work a good relationship requires will bring out the best as well as the worst of you and give you a deeper understanding of yourself. The fact is, relationships are a form of therapy. You’ll meet partners who carry traits within you that you’ve denied or disowned, and will be drawn to those who express them freely. This returns wholeness to your psyche. So whatever you dislike and love in a partner are the same traits that lie inside you. Clichéd as that sounds, it’s true.
Are you single? Before finding the right partner, you can do a great deal to make yourself even healthier, and even pick better partners through dating. While searching for the right partner, you can work on becoming Mr. Right as well as picking him out. But you don’t need to wait to become a better man to find that perfect guy: you’ll become a better person—and partner—simply by being in a relationship.
Are you already in a relationship and want it to feel more comfortable and fulfilling? Then this book is for you and your partner too, because simply being in a relationship doesn’t mean you stop working on yourself. In fact, being in relationship means you should continue working on yourself. Doing so can make a huge difference in making your relationship successfully enduring.
Ideally, it’s best for both of you to work on yourselves together. But if your partner doesn’t want to go to couples therapy or do much self-examination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no hope. Your partner may simply not be ready, or fear that doing work will bring up still more problems. This book will help you each look at how you contribute to your relationship problems—and yes, the nightmares too. In fact, any relationship, whether just dating or being committed, often forces you to know yourself more than you’d like, because it raises issues that other simple friendships and therapy never do. Why this is will be addressed here as well. Any romantic relationship forces us to work more deeply on ourselves, making us stronger individuals.
Do you buy into the “happily ever after” myth that assures us that once we meet Mr. Right, all our problems will vanish in a twinkling? Wrong. Instead, that’s when our real problems tend to begin—but ironically, that’s a good sign, a positive indicator that you are with the right partner for you. In essence, you hire your partner to be your greatest teacher, and then go kicking and screaming into the classroom. Conflict in relationship with a partner almost always helps heal old issues you have not yet resolved. That is why you have picked this man. It is custom-made love!
Maintaining a good relationship is hard work. But is it ever worth it. Real love can’t happen unless you’re doing this hard work.
This book isn’t a how-to manual. Instead, use it to find the Mr. Right within you, your potential partner, or the man you’ve currently chosen. If you’re in a relationship, stop expecting your partner to make changes (not to say that your partner or boyfriend is completely off the hook). Take time out for a closer look at your own strengths and weaknesses first, and learn to soothe yourself in the face of what difficulties surface from dating and a committed relationship.
Doing this relational work will help you achieve your own emotional health, and you may even be surprised at the rewards that looking within yourself can bring.
The advice and insights herein are derived from the work of Dr. Harville Hendrix’s Imago Relationship Therapy, Robert Bly, Terrence Real, John Lee, Joseph Campbell, and Carl Jung. These men’s work, and that of others I reference throughout, brought me to teach men how to love themselves and other men. Independently, each of these male gurus had something to offer for men working on themselves and their relationships. Together, these pioneers create a relational model for us gay men who are in romantic, affectional, spiritual, mental, psychological, and sexual relationships with other men. The work of these men will show you how to get real, mature love based on consciousness, intentionality, and maturity.
Harville Hendrix created Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT). This gender-neutral relationship therapy has been the most useful model and communication tool I’ve found in working with any couples—gay, lesbian, or straight. But it does not go far enough, particularly for gay male couples. Therefore, I bring in the folk tale of Iron John, as retold by Robert Bly, and will refer to it throughout this book.
“Iron John” is a parable about boys becoming men, about going from immature masculine to mature masculine. It shows us men how to access the masculinity deep within all of us, dramatizing the stages any boy must pass through to win his masculinity.
Any relationship calls for its partners to evolve from children to adults. Ours help us psychologically go from gay boys to gay men; they are an initiation into manhood. When you commit to a partner, that journey into manhood continues and deepens. But it’s a long, hard one requiring consciousness, intentionality, and integrity from all three of you—you, your partner, and your relationship—if you want a lasting gay male relationship.
Terrence Real’s work on patriarchy from his books I Don’t Want to Talk About It and How Can I Get Through to You? reflects the harm that patriarchy has done to men through lack of receiving affection.1 Given that we are socialized as men, this greatly influences our ability to give and receive real love in gay male relationships.
Are you a King, a Lover, a Warrior, or a Magician? Archetypal myths and their imagery will help put into perspective the type of man you are—and to what type of man you’re drawn. And are you attracted to a King, Lover, Warrior, or Magician?
A book about gay male couples cannot be anything less than a book for men, inspired by the male clients whose stories I recount. Just because you are gay does not make you less of a man, even though there are plenty of messages out there contrary to this. In fact, coming out and being in a relationship with another male takes balls! It makes you even more of a man for your bravery in being out and visible as a man who loves men. So if you’ve read this far, pat yourself on the back and commend yourself for moving forward on your journey and intention to be a better man—both in and out of your relationships.
Coming out and finding Mr. Right is truly the kind of hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about. While he was not speaking specifically about men—much less gay men—I am adapting his work to our experience. Each one of us heroes has had to take his own individual journey to find himself as a man, as gay, and as a gay man in relationship to others.
And once in a relationship, your adventure continues. This adventure involves quite a bit of work, and I’ll spell out just what kind of work that is. I want to help you see dating and relationships as an adventure in which you evolve, and develop into someone you never could have dreamed of.
After 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives came out in 2003, hundreds of gay men from all over the world e-mailed, telephoned, and came to see me to say that what touched them most were my last three chapters on relationships. One man wrote that he wept while reading it, adding that he might still be together with his former partner if he had this information while they were together. Others spoke of their newfound hope of finding a partner and that my book provided them with a pathway. Yet some gay men accused me of being “too focused on relationships”—of claiming that the route to a quality life was in finding Mr. Right.
True, I’m very relationship-focused both in my personal life and professional practice, but by no means do I believe that you can’t achieve a full life without Mr. Right. It can indeed be enough having friends and family around you; but I believe that healing and growth for the most part take place in the context of a committed relationship. That can mean a partner, close friend, family member, or someone with whom you’ve made a strong mutual commitment. With a romantic partner, healing and growth happen more quickly and intensely because dependency needs are greater, and the contact more frequent and intense than in most other adult relationships.
As a therapist I work with clients who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, sexual abuse and sexual addiction disorders, chemical dependency, and general self-esteem issues, to name a few complaints. If my clients are in a relationship or enter into one at some point during therapy, I’ve noticed that many of them appear to have regressed, as if all the work we did was for naught—or else their individual work wouldn’t translate into their relationships, their partners failing to understand the “new” person they’ve become. Studies show that when one partner enters treatment individually and the other doesn’t, their relationship could be in trouble: having gained insight, the partner in therapy grows and becomes distant, and both are no longer on the same page.
I’ve learned that during and/or after individuals’ work in therapy, clients benefit greatly from couples work. Even a few sessions will include the partner on the journey, to keep the relationship connected and even deepen it. That is why I offer workshops for couples. Even if someone comes to me to address an individual concern, I stress the importance of attending a couples workshop—thereby keeping his partners in the loop—to learn how to incorporate the insights into their relationship. I also encourage clients to keep their partners abreast of the work we’re doing through regular discussions about what we’re achieving in therapy.
Gay or straight, we men haven’t been taught relational tools. Again, just because we are gay doesn’t make us any less male; we were socialized as males just like our straight counterparts. By relational I mean the power of interacting, in a close and intimate way, with both another person and yourself. Genuine self-affirmation doesn’t come easy, particularly for us gay men, raised amid so much homophobia, homoprejudice, homonegativity, homo-ignorance, and heterosexism, having to play at being straight when we were really gay boys.
I make the assumption that we were gay from birth. At this time, no scientific findings reveal whether this is fact or fiction. While we have no trouble thinking of children as born straight, no one wants to think of a child as gay. Why not? Because when homo-ignorant people hear the word gay, they hear the word sex instead, and immediately begin to visualize sexual images—adult sexual images. Thinking of a child as gay therefore leads them to imagine—inappropriately, of course—the child engaged in adult sex. If we understand that straight people were once straight children, however, then we can understand that we gay men began as gay boys and teenagers, and our sexual and romantic orientation was no more or less about sex than is true of our straight counterparts.
Throughout this book I use boyfriend to refer to someone you’re dating; I think of the term boyfriends as being Relationship Lite. I say partner to refer to someone with whom you’ve made a lifetime commitment. You can decide what works best for you. But for the sake of this book, I will use these terms accordingly.
This book will help support your hanging in there if you’re single, arming you with the tools to know how to improve your relationship skills. If you are already partnered or dating a guy and having conflicts and trouble getting more serious with him, you’ll find more encouragement to leave the relationship from most people than to stick it out. Our society sees relationships as disposable. If it isn’t working, just go get another one—but you might be walking away from the relationship of your dreams and not even know it. With the exception of a boyfriend or partner who refuses to get help to stop domestic violence or addictions, most relationship concerns can be worked out if you both want to work them out.
In the following chapters, I’ve tried to cover the dilemmas I see most often in my practice. Single men in the early stages of dating or the first stage of love—romantic love—are not a high percentage of my clinical practice, since they rarely seek therapy. No matter how much pain someone’s in, if he starts to date someone and “fall in love,” he either reduces the frequency in therapy or drops out. He gets “bitten by the love bug,” so to speak, and I’ll discuss exactly what that love drug is. In entering a social or romantic relationship with gay men, you must leave heterosexuality behind and immerse yourselves in each other, just as we all were immersed in our religions, schooling, families, and neighborhoods. We must leave these familiar places and enter “Iron John’s dark forest,” where other gay men are.
Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey—how we feel a call for radical transformation and radical experience. He argues that this experience is not the romantic one portrayed in popular myths, movies and stories, but rather a scary one. Holding this book means you’ve taken your first step toward the call.2
The fable of Iron John has powerful meanings that lay the groundwork for what you are about to read. We will explore how your lost sense of belonging as a gay boy and a gay teen makes it harder and more challenging to find other gay men as partners and to date, given that you received no guidance from your parents or society. You had to go it alone. What gay rituals and initiations did we have to celebrate and embrace, if any? Which “gay myths” and stereotypes are positive and promote health, and which do not? Where are the elders who can teach you to establish healthy relationships and find real love?
The Story of Iron John
Once upon a time, a king sent a huntsman out into the forest to shoot him a deer, but the huntsman didn’t return. Worried that some accident had befallen him, the king sent out twenty more huntsmen to search for the man, but they too didn’t return. From then on, no one would venture into the forest.
After many years, an unknown huntsman, looking for an adventure, arrived at the castle and approached the king, offering to go into the dangerous forest. But the king would not consent, and said, “I fear you would never come out again.”
“I will venture it at my own risk. I fear nothing,” the adventurer replied, and with only his dog, betook himself alone into the forest. Soon the dog came to a deep pond, and could go no farther. Out of the water stretched a naked arm, seized the dog, and drew it under.
The adventurer went back to the village and fetched some of the people to bail water out the pond with buckets. When they did and could see to the bottom, there lay a Wild Man, whose reddish hair hung over his face, down to his knees. They bound him with cords and led him away to the castle, where there was great astonishment. The king had the Wild Man put in his courtyard in an iron cage, where people walked by and laughed and ridiculed him, and forbade the door to be opened on pain of death, giving the queen herself the key. And from then on, everyone could enter the forest safely.
The king’s eight-year-old son was playing in the courtyard, and his golden ball—which he loved—fell into the cage.
“Will you give me my ball?” the boy asked the Wild Man.
“Not until you open the door for me,” the Wild Man answered.
“No,” said the boy, “my father, the king, has forbidden it.”
The next day, when the king was out hunting, the boy went again and asked for his ball.
“Open my door,” the Wild Man said.
“I cannot open the door,” the boy said, “even if I wished, for I haven’t the key.”
“It lies under your mother’s pillow; you can find it there,” the Wild Man told him.
The boy wanted his golden ball back, so he went to his parents’ bedroom, where his mother was sleeping. He approached her quietly, got the key from under her pillow, and raced back to the Wild Man’s cage. Opening the door, the boy pinched his fingers, drawing blood. The Wild Man jumped out, gave the boy back his golden ball, and hurried away.
Afraid, the boy called after the Wild Man, “Don’t go away, or I shall be beaten.”
The Wild Man turned back, took him up onto his shoulder, and went with him hastily into the forest.
When the king came home and saw the empty cage, he asked the queen, “What happened?”
She knew nothing about it, and looked for the key, but it was gone. She called their son, but no one answered. The king sent people out to seek him, to no avail; but he could easily guess what had happened.
When the Wild Man reached the dark forest once more, he took the boy down from his shoulder, telling him, “You will never see your parents again. But I have compassion for you, for you have set me free, and I will keep you with me. If you do all I bid you, you shall fare well.”
Thus chapter by chapter, you will first explore the lost gay boy you once were. The call to find yourself and come out therefore demands that you enter the dark forest alone, like the adventurer in “Iron John.”
We learn to be out of integrity with ourselves and others when we are not able to be out and open about being gay. This severely impacts our ability to be responsible and accountable, which is very difficult since you were taught not to be honest and forthright about who you are and the face you show to the world. Learning to be accountable and responsible and striving to be in integrity are necessary for a solid, authentic loving relationship. And you can do it—we all can, if we want to.
Finding real love demands that we go through that dark forest of relationships. Romantic love, the first stage of relationships, tries to show us the gold we have lost in our childhoods. Our buried treasures come out to play, and we find our inner gold easily through experiencing a new partner. In Iron John, Robert Bly interprets the golden ball as “that unity of personality we had as children—a kind of radiance, or wholeness, before we split into male and female, rich and poor, bad and good. The ball is golden, as the sun is, and round. Like the sun, it gives off a radiant energy from the inside . . . once the golden ball is gone, we spend the rest of our lives trying to get it back.” Relationships direct us to how to get it back, and this book will show you how.
During the Call of the Child, the next stage of relationships, the Wild Man reaches up and tries—sometimes successfully—to bring our partners down into the water, as we will see in chapter 3. Ultimately, during relationships, we recognize that we have a Wild Man who seeks his freedom. Relationships bring pain, conflict, and turmoil that cause many tears. In the story, the buckets of water stand for the quantity of tears we need to shed to find our caged Wild Man during our time in relationship.
As our relationships progress, we recognize the cage others have put us in by the way they’ve treated us. Like the caged Wild Man, we’re laughed at and taunted by our peers and the heterosexist, homophobic society at large. Gay and straight alike, we’re caged by the ways in which we had to adapt to the family and culture in which we were raised. Ultimately, we cage ourselves, and our Wild Man gets buried.
The power struggles of any relationship are attempts to get back what we lost long ago, symbolized by the golden ball. If we stay with him, the experience of having a partner will help you find the inner gold that you buried long ago as a child. It requires that you steal the key from under your mother’s pillow, face your father’s wrath and go against him, as you individuate into the man you are meant to become.
Wild Men are not aggressive. Bly distinguishes them from the Savage Man, who is hostile, insensitive, and full of rage. The Savage Man has repressed his nature, ignored his hurts, and in many ways is the antithesis of the Wild Man.
Relationships help us come back into integrity with ourselves: they remind us of the gold we had as boys, and of the men we have become. If we pay attention, our relationships will also help us attain mature masculinity, bringing together our inner boy and Wild Man. There is wholeness, a positive transformation, a bringing together of men with men, the promise of real love. The expression “a man among men” becomes a love story.
As men, we gay males were wounded from the beginning, punished for being the “wrong kind of male.” Whether you were a sissy or butch, you knew unconsciously (and often, consciously) that the part of you attracted to other males wasn’t acceptable. So your sense of masculinity was vandalized—and too often, gay men bring that trauma into adult love relationships.
No one prepared us for manhood. We have to prepare ourselves, but we can do it. In later chapters, We will explore male archetypes:
*The King: the part of you who can bless yourself and others, and has vision and boundaries;
*The Lover: the part of you that is emotional, sexual, and spiritual;
*The Magician: the part of you that sees options and guides you by using your intellect and your inner voice of reason.
*The Warrior: the part of you that does the footwork, enforces your boundaries, and ensures that your mental health work gets done.
All of these apply to your relationships. Which archetype is your strongest? Your weakest? And what about the men you choose—what archetypes are they?
To enter into an intimate relationship with another man, you must know what to expect. To get through the stages of love, you must find your authentic self, who’s been caged up for most of your life. In relationships, you will find the key to your freedom to discover him. Together we will explore the shadows, the darker sides of love, and how they can sabotage any relationship if you don’t understand them.
In a healthy relationship, unresolved issues with your mother and father inevitably will surface. We all “return to the scene of the crime” repeatedly, until it’s solved. Relationships help us solve—and resolve—those crimes. Whether your childhood was healthy and easy or abusive and dysfunctional, the need to clear up those unresolved issues always remains. In the Iron John metaphor, we gay men must steal our self-determination and independence away from our mother—from under her pillow—and know what issues we have with her. The type of mother you have and how you perceive her dictates how you go about the theft.
And every man—gay or straight—must progress from boy to man with his father. What special issues do we gay men have with our fathers? And how do they impact your ability to enjoy real love? Understanding this is vital to being a man in your adult love relationships.
Communication is hard to achieve, particularly when conflict arises. How do you express yourself when you’re angry with a partner, who you feel has gone from friend to enemy? How do you remove the parent projections off of him? I’ll provide a helpful model for communicating more effectively, honestly, and safely with your partner—and others who are important in your life. Your mind works differently when you’re being reactive, but you can get through even the most difficult fights. The communication styles outlined here will also help you with such difficult decisions as whether you and your partner choose to be monogamous. Chapter 6 will help you find out how to decide what is right for you.
How does sex play a part? Your Sexual Shadows can help you understand the type of man you are really looking for, both within yourself and in those you choose as a partner. What coded information is embedded in your sexual fantasies, sexual desires, and types of men you find attractive? Why are some men attracted to hairy bears, smooth twinks, punks, daddy or preppy types? What does this information say about you? Knowing this can only add to loving yourself and others more fully. The more you know yourself sexually and emotionally, the more you can fulfill yourself as a man—and a man in a relationship.
What if there’s the complication of you and/or the other man being heterosexually married? How does a married gay man get back into integrity with himself, his wife, and, perhaps, his children? For the heterosexually married, specific dynamics play out: loss of heterosexual privileges, stages of coming out as a mixed orientation
couple, and the extreme amount of guilt the heterosexually married gay man lives with before, during, and after coming out!
After you try all of this and do your best to work things out, what if it simply can’t be done? Breaking up can feel like a death—a torturous time of feeling rejected and abandoned, isolated and unloved. How you get through it depends on the support you’ve built around you, and how safe you feel about what and how much you allow others to know. Here your inner Warrior is important to help march you through the hard emotions that will surface, particularly those of feeling like a failure.
And finally, after dating many guys, having been in or just witnessed other relationships, perhaps you’ve come to know that you’re not interested in having one. Is that an acceptable decision? This is for you to decide. We live in a culture where couples are valued, but being single isn’t. Are you not invited to parties because you are single? How do you react when others feel you should have a partner, and that something’s wrong with you because you don’t? Here lies the importance of friends and family and a strong sense of self. How can you hold on to your inner King’s vision of being out of a relationship, and not cave in to what others want from you, while continuing to relate closely with friends and family?
Important, as well, is deciding whether you want to be in a short-term relationship or a long-term one. Real love is only for the long-term relationship crowd; but short term is fine—as long as you understand that real love will not await you there.
In my last book, we looked at the gay aspect of being a gay man. This book for gay relationships will examine the man part. Relationships offer us an initiation into many things, including, and especially, the kind of man you want to be.
Let your initiation begin!