The following excerpt is from our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017.) Dr. Richard Ruth places his own personal history in the context of his chapter on gay men and feminism.
Feminist scholarship (Fonow & Cook, 1991) critiques other trends in contemporary social and behavioral science and advocates that we not just insert but locate our studies in our personal experience. I bring that perspective to this chapter.
I grew up male, with an incipient awareness I was gay, before the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s introduced not just women but men to the notion that male lives could be lived in different ways – less oppressive to women, and less constricting and thus less oppressive to men (Kaufman, 1994, has written theoretically about this phenomenon) – from what had been envisioned in the years after the suppression of first wave feminism (Banks, 1986).
Like many, if not most, gay males of my 1960s generation, I internalized, early in life, that my failure to embrace or live up to (heterosexual) male ideals meant that I was destined to rejection, loneliness, sometimes physically violent bullying, and misery. Though I did not know, at the time, that pre-feminist US psychoanalytic theorizing held that male homosexuality is the product of an overinvolved mother, a distant father, and therefore developmental arrest (Drescher, 2008), I knew that the playground was dangerous and adolescent social life was hell. My fantasies of personal and sexual fulfillment took proscribed forms; “successful” male socialization, I knew well, would occur, to the extent it did, at the price of the death of my soul. One of the first things I learned about my emerging sexual identity was that, in most parts of the Western world, it was illegal at the time, and therefore dangerous (Johnson, 2009).
Before Stonewall, it was the women’s liberation movement that gave me a sense of possibility. I hungrily consumed Friedan’s The feminine mystique (2010/1963) as a teenager, and Hanisch’s “The personal is political” (2006/1959) when it first appeared, transcribing the texts from a female to a gay male idiom. Feminism gave me vision and empowerment to come out, short years after Stonewall.
One of my first actions after coming out was to join a conscious raising group. We met, sharing painful experiences of oppression, awkward first steps in being out, and dreams of a different future, and we saw each other through, for three crucially transformative years. We did not take each other on about the equal reality that gay men have male privilege, a gap I realized only in hindsight.
I went through graduate school, and then psychoanalytic training, as an out gay man, something not common in the 1970s. I feel very fortunate to have had the support of feminist women in my personal life, and my emerging professional life, from the beginning of my journey to become a clinical psychologist and a psychoanalyst. This bolstered my courage and perseverance, though I was painfully aware that, as I encountered some colleague’s overt homophobic dismissal, that I had no role models ready at hand. None of my graduate school professors, analytic institute instructors, or supervisors was gay; as in an earlier phase of my development, I felt tolerated, at times warmly tolerated, but alone. I learned important insights about who I was in my consciousness raising group that it felt impossible to deepen or extend in my seminars and training analysis. Contextualizing my early professional development, I lived through the first stages of the divergence that came to divide the women’s movement from the gay movement, not aware at the time of what was happening, where it came from, or its implications.
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.