In case you think you’re alone, let me tell you right off the bat that there are thousands, if not millions, of straight people suffering from the obsessive question, “What if I’m gay?” (and many gays suffering from the thought, “What if I’m straight?”). If you’re prone to anxiety, once this thought enters your brain it will likely take hold like the suctions of an octopus until you find yourself in a state of self-afflicted agony. At that point, you’ll find yourself spending every free moment Googling and searching, ruminating and obsessing, desperate to find a definitive answer to this question so that you can reassure your anxious mind.
There’s an element to the question that is a direct result of the pitiful lack of accurate information and honest conversations to which we expose the young people in this culture. While we have no problem revealing increasingly more amounts of nudity, sexual innuendo, and explicit sex scenes in everything from commercials to sitcoms, we still fail to have real conversations about sexuality. Consequently, most people grow up believing that you’re either straight or gay instead of understanding that there is a great deal of fluidity when it comes to sexuality. For example, you can be a woman who prefers to be in relationships with men but feels aroused by the thought, idea, or fantasy of two women being together sexually. Likewise, you can be a man who identifies strongly as heterosexual but can feel aroused by two gay men. If we understood this simple fact growing up there would be much less incidence of gay spike.
For example, I have a few clients struggling with relationships anxiety who grew up in liberal cities and were lucky enough to form close friendships during their early adolescence. As there were no topics off-limits for these friends, they discussed everything from masturbation to lesbian sex fantasies. As they matured into adulthood, while anxiety took hold in other areas it never latched onto the gay theme. I attribute this entirely to the fact that their thoughts and fantasies about the same sex were normalized during their formative years. So even when relationship anxiety took hold, it focused on other areas as psyche knew there was no place to land regarding sexuality.
But for most people the gay spike is the perfect line of thinking for the wounded self to latch onto when it’s trying to convince you to run from your loving, attentive, well-matched partner. You see, the wounded self’s (ego, small self, fear-based self) entire function in life is try to control others and outcomes. It simply cannot tolerate uncertainty, emotional vulnerability, or the risk of loss. As there are few endeavors in life more emotionally risky than committing to your partner and, thus, exposing yourself to the possibility of loss (of self or other), the wounded self flares up with a vengeance as soon as it senses that this relationship could be for life. In its attempt to convince you to leave, it throws out the most compelling argument it can find: What if I’m gay? Because if you’re gay, then you would have to leave and wounded self has, in one brilliant chess move, achieved its goal: to control the outcome of your relationship. So there’s this terrible irony at work: the last thing in the world, the thing that would shatter your heart into a million pieces, would be to lose your partner, but what’s worse than that (according to the wounded self) is to commit to your partner without a one hundred percent guarantee that it will work out. Do you see the logic here? The wounded self would rather control the outcome by convincing you to break up then allow you to sit in the uncertainty, choice, and risk of making a lifetime commitment.
If you let the wounded self be in control by believing its lines, you’ll be sunk. But as soon as you name the gay spike as FEAR you gain one degree of your power back. Oh, and I know that the wounded self will throw every bit of “evidence” in your face: Remember the time when you were nine and you played doctor with your neighbor? Remember when you were thirteen and you wondered what it would be like to kiss your best friend? Remember when you were drunk in college and you did kiss your best friend? Or you weren’t drunk and explored sex with the same sex? At some point, when you’ve done your fear-warrior work, grown a solid adult self that can be secure in your ability to make a choice, become more comfortable with uncertainty, and educated yourself about sexual fluidity, you’ll be able to respond to these lines with, “So what? I’ve made my choice, I know who I love, and I choose to take the risk of loving.” Those four steps are easier said than done, of course. Fear-warrior work requires excavating all of your deepest fears about intimacy, relationships, and love. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty and growing a solid inner adult require devoting yourself to some kind of daily practice journaling and/or mindfulness (hopefully both). And learning about sexual fluidity means taking steps to educate yourself about this already spiky topic.
There’s a very simple exercise for shifting out of the mental rumination of an addictive thought and dropping into your heart, where the root cause of fear of loss lives.
1. As soon as you notice that you’re stuck in your head, say to yourself, “I’m in my mental addiction.”
2. Then say to yourself, “This thought is a lie. What is it protecting me from feeling?”
3. Then shift into your heart by literally putting your hands on your heart, closing your eyes, and connecting to your breath. Even if you can’t connect directly to the fear of loss and uncertainty in that moment, you’ve at least called fear out onto the mat, thereby creating a separation between you and your wounded self, which will help you grow your loving adult/witness. When you pause you break the cycle of intrusive thoughts, even if only for a few moments. If you can journal with an intention to explore your fears and beliefs, even better. And if you can truly touch into the fear of loss and allow yourself to unravel into a good cry, the fear will begin to rinse through you and you’ll find the intrusive thoughts naturally falling away.
There are many techniques for breaking the cycle of intrusive thoughts in the moment: singing a song using the thought as the words, blowing bubbles, etc. While these are excellent tools for on-the-spot work, they don’t address the root causes of intrusive thoughts, and many people find that once they heal from one thought using these CBT tools, another eventually appears. But when you pull the thought out by the root, you can heal from intrusive thoughts and ruminating at a much deeper level.
If you truly want to heal from the gay spike you need to approach it for what it is: an intrusive thought. For others, the intrusive thought could be, “What if I don’t love him/her enough?” or “What if I’m not attracted to him/her?” And outside the realm of relationship anxiety, the intrusive thoughts are, “What if I hurt someone?” or “What if I’m a pedophile?’ or “What if I have a terminal illness?” But even as you read those intrusive thoughts you may be able to discern the common thread: the fear of losing life (the fear of death) or losing control (which is often experienced as a death). And the work is the same: To grow a strong, loving inner adult who can provide the comfort and reassurance to yourself that you may not have had as a child and some sort of spiritual net that can catch you as you fall through time on this mysterious, constantly changing, risky, miraculous journey we call life.