What’s wrong with me?

Coming to terms with same sex attraction

Gay rights activists might be irritated by an article discussing why some people are gay and many scientists argue that such research should not even occur. However, fear and hatred of homosexuals persist where freedom to discuss such issues as ‘why are some people gay?’ is a question one should never ask. It is perhaps the reason why many still say today that talking about homosexuality is polluting young minds and promoting ‘the vice’.

pete's drawing-msm

From a lot of the reading I have done, it seems to me that most homosexuals are initially appalled to find that unlike most of their friends, they are not at all attracted to girls. I have borrowed the title of my article ‘What’s wrong with me?’ from an article published in the journal ‘Nursing children and young people’ published in 2011 by Brian Richardson, who is a program leader in child health nursing at Middlesex university, UK.

What’s wrong with me?

The paper was aimed at nurses working with young people, to help them answer this question that was often asked by boys trying to make sense of their situation.

Theories abound as to whether it is ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ that leads one to be a attracted to people of the same sex.

The nurture proponents have theories as to why some boys grow to be homosexuals. Some suggest that homosexuality is a result of a father-son relationship gone wrong. Early theories were that a boy failed to separate from the mother, did not identify with his father and so became homosexual. Others propose that a weak or distant father and a dominant mother led to homosexuality due to the lack of a strong male model.

Current ‘treatments’ are based on the theory that lack of sufficient love from a father causes a boy to sexualize same-sex emotional needs. As far as bearers of this theory are concerned, all men are heterosexual, and homosexual feelings when controlled can give way to heterosexuality. I will post an article in a few days about how these so called treatments have been administered in the past and the current thoughts on them.

Some have laid it squarely on nature: that one is born homosexual and there is nothing they can do about it.

Some studies show significant differences in the brains of those attracted to same-sex individuals compared to those attracted to the opposite sex and therefore insist that same-sex attraction is something one is born with. These changes in brain structure occur in fetal development and are likely to be hormonal.

Richard Blanchard from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada has published several papers that claim that in men, sexual orientation correlates with number of older brothers and each additional brother increases the likelihood of being homosexual. There is a paper free on line that discusses this…..


This is known as the ‘fraternal birth order effect’ and is said to be due to the mother acquiring ‘anti-male’ antibodies with each successive male pregnancy. These antibodies pass to the developing foetus, modifying brain development and feminising the unborn child.

Some claim that there is a genetic aspect to this and researchers have shown that same-sex attraction is passed on from the maternal line, something carried on the X-chromosome which we all acquire from our mothers. So having homosexual relatives from your mother’s line increases the chance of same-sex attraction. Researchers are not in agreement with this despite findings involving twins separated at birth.

The presence of homosexual relatives from the maternal line and many older brothers explains about 20 percent of homosexuality. The remaining 80 percent of the causes of homosexuality are unknown. This contributes to the discussion that individual experience is the most powerful predictor of human sexual behaviour and self-identity. Even the higher incidence of homosexuality in the maternal line may be as a result of culture not genetics – perhaps the mother’s family is the cause of the child’s behaviour and attitude.

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons why an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.

Word on the street
Word on the street is no different. The ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ dichotomy exists but is explained differently. On the Coast of Kenya, homosexuals give two reasons for homosexuality: the first is that a person is born with ‘feelings’ for the same sex and there is nothing you can do about it. The second is that a boy who is repeatedly raped gets to a point where they adjust to their place in life. Homosexuals who were not abused as children abhor this claim and feel that it dismisses the fight for their rights. However, this is not to say that all boys who are sexually abused will end up homosexual, only that repeated abuse might, in some cases, lead to conditioning.

Child sexual abuse and homosexuality
I tread carefully here because I am aware that this is a delicate issue. For this reason, I stick to scientific publications and quote from them. A paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour journal in 2011, reports that there is some truth in this claim.

Men with histories of child sexual abuse were over 6 times more likely to be in same-sex relationships than men who were never sexually abused as children. Several scientific publications have shown that a history of early sexual abuse among Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) is about 2 to 4 times higher than that of men in the general population. However, most scientific publications are quick to state that although there are high levels of a history of childhood sexual abuse among MSM, there is no causal relationship, emphasising that it is not necessarily the early sexual abuse that led to the sexual orientation.

A paper published in the journal Pediatrics in 2012 by Dr Andrea Roberts offers an alternative explanation that perhaps child sexual abuse does not lead to sexual orientation but the reverse; that perhaps, sexual predators target boys who are already showing signs of gender non-conformity.

Gender non-conformity and child abuse

That is to say that boys who feel and behave more feminine are easy targets for sexual predators. Feminate boys are likely raised by parents who do not accept their behaviour, they are more likely to be teased by their age-mates and siblings and may feel ostracised. Sexual predators pry on children who are easy targets who may not be able to express themselves. Feminate boys fit this high-risk group which is likely to explain why the rate of child sexual abuse in homosexuals is as high as that among girls.

The issue of a history of child sexual abuse among MSM is especially important when planning HIV prevention strategies. In Africa, MSM have a HIV rate that is 4 to 5 times higher than that of other men in the same population. Childhood sexual abuse reported among MSM has been found to be associated with increased HIV risk-taking behaviour. MSM who suffered childhood sexual abuse have been reported in several scientific publications to have increased number of male partners and were more likely to have unprotected sex.


HIV prevention programs targeting MSM may therefore need to incorporate programs to address the mental health concerns of individuals with a history of childhood sexual abuse as the standard programs may not be effective among this group.

In conclusion
Back to the title of my article ‘what is wrong with me?’ Many young boys become aware that they are different from others at about 11-12 years of age. In a country like Kenya, with its high levels of homophobia, such a young boy rarely has anyone to turn to. Such boys suffer from low self-esteem, bullying and are often depressed. It is important to state that homosexuality is not a mental illness nor a moral depravity. The answer to the question ‘what is wrong with me?’ is: ‘there is nothing wrong with you’.


  • consolata


    Nice article. Carefully and sensitively worded. I claim no expertise in this area but just sharing my thoughts. Remember the last time I discussed with you in Kilifi I had mentioned the fact that some persons’ gay predisposition may be due to abuse early in life. It is a good thing you are digging out the research.

    I think there is wanting to have sex with the same gender and feeling ‘trapped’ (the transgender persons like Audrey) in a ‘wrong’ gender body – two very different things.

    Surprisingly, some of those ‘trapped’ will want to date the opposite sex (if originally female, may still look for men in relationships and vice versa- this include our Audrey who said she would want to date women. An insight into her past life she reveals that she has also tried sex with males, with her as the female and confesses that it is not her cup of tea. So, she is not in it for sex. Sex comes as an after thought. In fact on matters sexual, she comes out as pretty straight. She could actually be oriented towards women, but prefers to behave female! Confusing until we come to the narrow definition of one being male or female at birth simply by assessing the sexual organs. We know that we can have children with both sexual organs (it is never recognized on the card and the spot is usually left blank). Then we have those like Semenya who are female but have some higher dose of male hormones, and we are left confused. Audrey may be having a real mix up of hormones and physical organs etc (If she could agree I would like to do a physical exam and other tests to understand her body better). These transgender kids are often teased for being tomboys or effeminate. The teasing helps shape them further into whatever they become- social misfits or persons strong enough to fight back. But how many turn to believing that they are transgender when it is more because they were bullied by a society that has stereotyped what is female and what is male? Could Audrey fall into this area?

    Hermaphroditism is becoming tricky, especially when it is not the obvious at birth. Some advocates are pushing that parents should only give their children names that can belong to either gender, or none at all- this could have serious implications on the silent majority who firmly know that they are either female or male (and it is not their fault). To recognize that some persons, may be due to embryological issues may be neither fully female or male is OK, in fact in all of us there is some masculinity and femininity. But to ask to refuse to state whether our children are male or female, while they have the right to declare themselves transgender is an affront.

    The other danger I foresee in the Audrey case is that some gays are riding on the confusion and pray that once Audrey succeeds, they will also be able to sneak in their agenda for gays. The Christian lawyers praying to be enjoined in Audrey’s case are naive. I don’t think they even understand how deep this thing is. It is like talking about persons with six toes and fingers. Do we condemn them? Isn’t their creator God?

    The transgenders are running a strong advocacy for policy change campaign to be recognized, which may be driven by the smouldering anger towards a society that did not play fair at there moment of need (if you follow Audrey’s stories there is a determination to change policy in society and it is cleverly baited at the media- media love man bite stories and so will not really focus on who Audrey really is but focus on the fact that she wants to change her sex- by the way, did she really say that?). If they are fought, they will win and we will end up with legislature that is biased – gives them undue advantage over the others who can truly decide whether they are male or female. It is better to demystify transgender persons and give them their rightful place in society, just like males and females. (aka hermaphrodites)- the question Audrey needs to be asked is can she be referred to as hermaphrodite to some degree? May be like Semenya, she needs to undergo tests from physical, physiological, chemical, emotional, mental etc to know which areas fall where and the mixes etc. Again i retariate there is nothing wrong with being a hermaphrodite because it is not your fault- irrespective of the degree you display traits of both genders.

    Another thing, if they are recognized, the pressure to define themselves as male or female reduces and they can just be themselves. But they will be pioneers in sexuality as a hermaphrodite- should I have male or female partners or both? Etc. In South Africa, the transgenders have been recognized and some are happy to be both female and male. In fact one talked of how she dresses female or male depending on how she feels in the morning and the village has accepted it. Nothing wrong with that. This way strange agendas are nipped in the bud.

    Then we have those who believe that they have a preference for same gender sex. Some are fully lesbian/ gay, while others are bisexual. They may not even struggle much to look any different from what their body presents them as. However, with time, they add on the mannerisms that will define their sexual preference in terms of clothing, make up and role play. Here is where in my opinion, the theory of abuse comes in. This abuse occurs to children and young people before they are at the age to make decisions, or even adults traumatised by a bad relationship or disillusioned by the inability of society to address their needs (physical, emotional, psychological, physiological, financial, etc).

    The other day I was watching this show in the US where this 18 year old girl decided that she was lesbian because a certain woman her mother had invited to stay with them had introduced her to lesbianism and in her own words ‘ gave her her first orgasm which she had never had with previous boyfriends’. However as the show continued, another of her friends also said she was sleeping with this woman and she gave quite good orgasms. This woman was also bisexual and was street walking part time to pay her bills. Immediately, the girl decided she was not lesbian any more. Then there is also a third party in the drama who is a lover to the lesbian because her baby-daddy has refused to man-up and provide. Ended up being quite a circus. The only sober person was the mother of the first girl who asked the woman to keep off her daughter as she was 18 but not yet fully grown up enough to make a sexual decision of that magnitude.

    Abuse may be sexual, emotional, mental and even due to peer pressure. For example, boarding schools where girls pair up before they have had a chance to really find out what pairing up with boys really feels like. Women who were in a bad relationship and find a friend who is sexually inclined the other way who is a good emotional and mental partner may be convinced that they are lesbian. Boys who were raped (and let us not give the excuse (or other excuses) that they were effeminate- rape is never the victim’s fault as this makes rape justified). Boys who experiment with each other and adjust to it as an alternative. We could say it is their choice but where do we draw the line- when one will experiment with chicken and like it – and say they are (not bisexual but may be what now?). I believe cases of abuse in whatever form are on the rise.

    The there is the modern day compartmentalization of the sexual act: physical- it is just an act and we remind people to ensure they use protection to avoid STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Nobody has the courage to also point out that we need to protect ourselves emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. Quite an incomplete explanation of what the sexual act really is. I think we shun the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects because they do not have a quick fix solution. We let people work it out for themselves. But it can also lead to adverse health effects (just like when we do not use physical protection) on the person’s area of mental and emotional health. In health, we have explored much of the illnesses that manifest as physical. But we are yet to research and understand better mental, emotional and spiritual health, which form part of the new definition of health under the WHO. What is the science behind these forms of health? Will doctors one day be making out ‘prescriptions’ / preventive measures like we know today for physical health? I would want to think that they will not be physical but would be mental, emotional and spiritual prescriptions.

    Then we have the gays for whom it may be in their genes. Like alcoholism and other addictions, we are now beginning to explore, one would wonder whether there is a gene that predisposes one towards this status and just lies latent waiting for a trigger. And what are these triggers? The more we discover, the better our understanding and ability to find solutions to this topic. Men having sex with men has been around for generations. So has been beastiality. Why do they draw negative reactions – in short what are the pros and cons of these habits? Should they be handled as acceptable? Why do they run against the grain of our fiber? These are the hard questions we need to ask ourselves.

    Being gay does not just stop at the sexual act, it goes further – issues like adoption of children, inclusion into sex education curriculum for schools that it is an alternative, etc. Advocates for gay/lesbian rights are ahead through sponsoring research that will show that it is not their fault and that they are born that way. I agree with them that it is not their fault. And together with them, we need to work to explore whose fault it is. On the other hand, the majority ‘straights’ feeling safe in numbers, blind themselves with hate for gays and only use the bible to argue. This will not wish gays away. There is a need for straights to step in and try to answer the question- what is wrong with me- through research that will arrive at balanced policy.

    Research like the one you have written about is a real nightmare to gays because it will start to turn the tide against their gain/ putting the matter into better perspective as we start to question. Some media house would not even publish you story as you would be upsetting a very strong advocacy group that knows its way around pushing policy. What the straights forget is that their children may be being co-opted into something they would never have become, and yet them as ‘straights’ are having their mouths taped for ‘discriminating’ against gay persons.

    For gay persons who would not like more research into areas of the link between abuse and becoming gay, or other research, what are they afraid of? This kind of research will help to identify true gays from fakes and this should be a welcome to them. God forbid that we tell some persons that it is OK to be gay when they were actually hoping that someone will see what is ‘wrong with them’ and help them out. This again will be a failing on our part. We owe it to them to explore the events surrounding the time when they discovered that they were gay/lesbian and really identify the true gays from the fake.

    In my parting shot, our sexuality is fragile and complex. It involves the physical, the physiological, the chemical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual and the social. It is there from the time we are conceived to the time we die. We need to handle children and all persons in this area with utmost care, sensitivity and respect.


    By the way What is wrong with me is a good topic. How about also researching on persons with addictions:
    Men who are drawn to commercial sex workers
    Having multiple affairs
    Shopping addicts
    Sex addicts
    And the inheritance of traits that exhibit in our persona like lying, niceness, behavior etc ( as opposed to the obvious physical traits that we have come to accept).

  • Thanks for your thoughts on the article Consolata. I took a long time writing it and read as much as i could find on the topic— there was not much. It is just not seen to be acceptable to study this area and ask questions. In all the scientific papers, there was a clear need to say – although there is a strong statistical association between early child sexual abuse and sexual orientation in future, the association was not necessarily causal.

    The paper ‘Childhood gender nonconformity:a risk indicator for childhood abuse and Posttraumatic stress in youth,’ by Dr Roberts and colleagues was not seeking to pass the blame on the boys for the abuse, but seeking answers to this complex question = you can see the reason why most researchers stay clear of the topic. In fact there are papers already published arguing that research into the causes of homosexuality is unethical (JHomosex 1996: 31(3).

    The work by Richard Blanchard has not been replicated by anyone else….. when a single scientist publishes on a certain matter and no one else seems able to replicate their work, then their work is always questionable, however because no one wants to do this work, it may be a dirth of people willing to plunge into area that leads to a lack of validation of the research.

    I agree with you that our sexuality as humans is rather complex – we don’t go on heat and mate to have babies…….. me thinks that may have solved a lot of problems though. However, our creator had other ideas.