from Parenting &
A Parent's Guide to(InterVarsity Press, 2002,
Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames Nicolosi: $15.00
"If there's one thing I've learned from
being a father," said Gordon, "it's that each child is
different." He settled down into the chair in my office with a
look of sad resignation.
A successful financial analyst, Gordon was the father of
four sons. "When Gloria and I were married, we couldn't wait
to have a family," he said. "I didn't have a great
relationship with my own dad, so I really wanted to have that
The couple had three boys in rapid succession, both of whom
now idolized their dad. Then came Jimmy.
Gloria, seated in the easy chair next to her husband,
looked at me with sad, worried eyes. "By the time I was
pregnant with Jimmy," she said quietly, "I wanted a girl so
badly. Jimmy was to be our last child. When he was born, I was
disappointed to tears."
Perhaps Jimmy and his mother had unconsciously worked
together to remedy that disappointment, because at the age of
eight, Jimmy was now his mom's closest friend. A caring and
gentle boy who showed a gift for playing the piano, Jimmy was
the kind of child who is naturally attuned to what other
people are thinking and feeling. By this age, he could read
his mother's moods "like a book," but had not a single male
friend his age. In fact, he was already showing many signs of
pre-homosexual behavior. Gloria had recently become concerned
about the boy's increasing social isolation and depression. In
contrast, their older boys were happy and well-adjusted.
Jimmy's gender confusion had first become noticeable years
before, when he started putting on his grandmother's earrings
and trying on her makeup. Gloria's gold and silver hair
barrettes had been especially captivating for the little boy,
and he soon developed quite an astute sense of what he liked
and didn't like about women's clothing--all this before he
ever started school. He was just four years old at that time.
"I treated Jimmy just like I treated all my other sons,"
said Gordon. "And I guess that didn't work, because he always
seemed to take my criticism the wrong way. He'd go off to his
room and refuse to speak to me for a couple of days."
Now, having grown older, Jimmy was presenting many other
troublesome signs--an over-active imagination that he used as
a substitute for human relationships; immaturity, and
contemptuous rejection of his athletic older brothers and the
friends they brought home. Gordon recalled that their others
ons always had rushed out to meet him when he arrived home
from work. But not Jimmy, who had always acted as though his
dad was unimportant.
Right now, it was Jimmy's fantasy world that caused
everyone the most concern. He had a "make-believe" life in
which he spent hours alone in his room drawing cartoon
characters. And Gloria had observed another disturbing
pattern--whenever Jimmy became intensely frustrated as a
result of a painful event in his life, he immediately
retreated into the world of feminine make-believe. When one of
his brothers' friends was visiting the house and had teased or
slighted him, he would revert into an exaggerated version of
Finally, Gloria and Gordon agreed to do something to help
Gordon could see that his son had, for a long time,
retreated from him. "When Jimmy was little, I went through a
tough time. Our marriage was stretched to the max, and I was
having a lot of trouble at work. I guess I just didn't want to
be bothered reaching out to a temperamental little kid who
pouted and stomped off to his room whenever I said something
he took as criticism."
The other boys, in contrast, had always been eager to play
with their dad and to seek out his attention. "So I just let
Jimmy choose not to be with me," Gordon admitted. "I have to
admit, my way of thinking was, 'Well, if Jimmy doesn't want to
be around me, then that's his problem.'"
"Our strategy, then," I explained, "is to do just the
opposite of what you've been doing. That means, Gordon--you
need to actively engage Jimmy. Gloria, you'll need to learn to
back off from him. And the whole family has to keep working
together to remind Jimmy that being a boy is a good thing."
My strategy for him included encouraging Gordon, his Dad,
to give him special attention, having him take the boy out
with him on errands, and engaging him in contact-type physical
play. I try to sensitize fathers to the many daily
opportunities, such as going out to gas up the car and
allowing the son to hold the gas pump, for example, or
stopping to buy an ice cream cone and engaging the boy in a
conversation about something that specially interests him. All
of these small efforts are part of building the male-male
bonding that lay the foundation for a strong father-son
Sometimes Gordon invited Jimmy to go with him into the back
yard to help him work in the garden or start the barbecue.
Gordon made it his business to be home when Jimmy had his
weekly piano lessons, and to go to all the boy's recitals. At
other times he included the boy in sports outings with his
older brothers, hoping to draw Jimmy out from his habit of
isolation and his resentment of his brothers.
At first, Jimmy responded with explicit rejection of his
father's invitations. When invited to go along with him to the
office, for example, the invitation was turned down in no
uncertain terms. But as he developed a more comfortable
relationship with his father, Jimmy began to act more like a
boy, and at school, he was beginning to find himself teased
and scapegoated less often.
With my encouragement, Jimmy's parents decided to send him
to a day camp that encouraged sports participation but that
was not competitive, and that had more boys than girls
enrolled. Jimmy's mother Gloria made the special effort of
soliciting the help of the camp supervisor, a young
college-age man who was willing to give Jimmy the special male
attention he needed.
Boys like Jimmy must understand that their parents are
supporting, encouraging and uplifting them, not being
judgmental and critical.
As a result of his parents' consistent intervention, there
was a gradual diminishment of Jimmy's gender-inappropriate
behavior. This included not only his effeminacy, but his peer
isolation, general immaturity, and fear and dislike of more
Later, Gordon told me, "When Jimmy dismisses me and acts
like I'm not important, I've got to admit it's kind of a slap
at my ego, and I'm tempted to walk away. It's so much easier
just to coast along and accept the status quo. But then I
remember that Jimmy's attitude toward me is a defense.
Underneath all that rejection and contempt, he really does
want to connect with me. So I put aside my feelings and just
keep pursuing him. I dropped the ball with him when Jimmy was
younger, but now, I'm not going to let him just turn me away."
As we've seen, boyhood gender confusion is really a retreat
from the challenges of masculinity. And many studies indicate
that gender confusion is also associated with other problems,
which--as in Jimmy's case--usually includes rejection of his
father, social isolationism, and compensation in a fantasy
Successful treatment helps the boy find his way in a world
which is naturally divided into males and females. With the
dedicated help of the two most important adults in his life,
his mother and his father, the gender-confused boy can begin
to abandon his secret androgynous fantasy and discover the
greater satisfaction of joining the gendered world.
As a parent, you'll need to be sure that your
interventions--with or without a therapist--are done gently
and affirmatively, but clearly. While discouraging unwanted
cross-gender behavior, parents must be sure that the child
feels affirmed as a unique individual.
This means your child need not be expected to be a
"stylized" boy or girl, with nothing but gender-stereotypical
interests. There can be a fair amount of gender role
crossover--but at the same time, healthy androgyny must first
be built upon a solid foundation of security in one's original
It is essential that you always respectfully listen to your
child. Don't force him into activities he hates. Don't make
him conform to a role that frightens him. Don't shame him into
covering up effeminate mannerisms. The process of change must
proceed gradually, through a series of steps that are always
accompanied by encouragement......
Taken from "A Parent's Guide to Preventing
Homosexuality" (c)2002 by Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames
Nicolosi. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box
1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. http://www.ivpress.org/