Nobody’s Business But Your Own

Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.

Lou Reed

What a strange and complex and perplexing thing sexuality can be at times.

Maybe what I’m about to write will help someone else who is suffering the effects of Sexual-Orientation-Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (SO-OCD).

Ever heard of it?

First, it’s a given that all human beings occasionally think thoughts that make them feel uncomfortable and afraid.  OCD, despite being quite uncommon, is a vast canvas upon which anything the mind ponders can hold like dried paint if the thought doesn’t pass. Science isn’t sure why this happens of course, but theories abound.

Where one woman might obsess about the safety of her children after a recent school shooting has dominated the news cycle for weeks, another might be a compulsive gambler.  The depth of the problems OCD creates is variable, from slight to unmanageable. It can ruin lives and has.  The longer it lingers, the more devastating it can be. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a proven treatment method in most cases, but it is a grind for most people.  Some never get over their obsessions. Death is the only relief. The compulsions are drawn full-circle into suicide ideation, the final obsession and the only reasonable solution.

Many people haven’t grasped what OCD means. Unless they are afflicted themselves they can’t imagine the torture people are suffering, a condition borne of an unwillingness to embrace the uncertainties of existence.  OCD is about control.  Your thoughts are not always controllable, and that is the source of the problem. The harder you try the bigger your obsession grows. Yes, a shooter might attack another school one day.  It’s almost a certainty. Yet you can’t worry that your child will die that way.  The odds are against it.  But there is uncertainty as well. It could happen. We live in a world filled with madness. Human beings are erratic.  Some are dangerous to themselves and others.

OCD can manifest in something as simple as a fear of flying or as benign as cleaning the house fifty times a day while neglecting other important matters. How about hoarding cats like the cat lady down the street?

Obsessions are often “triggered” by environmental and cultural experiences, as well as by genetic coding.  That is right; OC can run in families just like other illnesses—mental and physical.  It can seize upon entire populations, or a good portion of a nation. The obsession over “terrorism” in the U.S. is a prime example. OC can trigger hysteria in the body politic in other words, particularly as propaganda is pumped into the environment to scare the shit out of you, divide you, and control you.

I’m a straight man.  Though somewhat introverted and nearly pathologically shy growing up, especially around girls I liked, I know from experience that I am heterosexual.  I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed my sexual adventures with women, but at times I lacked confidence in my ability to take relationships to the next level.  This is as true today as it was 50 years ago.  The conundrum of my sexuality was resolved early, however, and I had no doubts.  I didn’t give it a second thought and accepted everyone on their own terms.

In college I had openly gay friends and likely some who were closeted, though I didn’t notice or care.  A roommate called me into his room one evening and confessed to me that he was gay.  I had no idea, not even a suspicion because others’ sexuality did not concern me (it still doesn’t).  I said, “Good.  Enjoy yourself.”

I know exactly what cultural expression triggered my current obsession with my sexuality. It happened shortly after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage across the nation, a major victory for the LGBTQ community that I’ve always supported.

This cultural and environmental shift caused me to think, “Gee, maybe I’m gay. Hmm…”  Why did this happen?  I have no idea, but believe me I’m sorry it did.  Here was good news for a change.  I could go out and find a husband and live happily ever after if I wanted!  WTF, I thought.  I don’t want that.  I’ve never been with a man. That action scares me.  It’s kind of, you know, not my thing.  What was I thinking?  Was I about to board the gay train? There I was/wasn’t snuggling with a man in my thoughts because that’s okay if you want it.  I don’t want it, I swear to Jesus. It scares me. The irrational took over my brain big time.

SO-OCD is not a homophobic condition, and its sufferers are rarely if ever anti-gay.  It’s not even about sexuality really; it’s about obsessive and compulsive thinking.  It’s a mind game until the game stops and a winner is declared.  It’s a war on the self, and like wars in general it lingers too long in many instances.  It’s a psychological illness, unlike homosexuality itself.

Actual gays don’t have problems with this form of OC, though clinical studies have shown cases of homosexuals fearing they might be straight.  (How strange.)  Healthy gays and lesbians love who they are. That is the essence of their struggle for gay rights and the cause of their celebration with every victory, a cultural movement of vast importance, the endgame of a groundswell that started at Stonewall and continues.  I’ve supported the struggle and always have, despite my disinterest in any penis other than my own, which is occasionally attached to my right hand amid fantasies starring beautiful women.  Those particular fantasies I can live with.

There it was all of a sudden, I was thinking about homosexuality and it stuck like a fear of death. (Don’t know about you but I do fear dying.)  I wonder if I’m alone in this, I thought.  So I began to study the journals. I googled, “I’m straight but I feel gay today.”  There it was. I definitely was not alone.  SO-OCD is more common among heterosexuals than imagined.  People can and do doubt themselves about many things, including their sexuality. Doubt induces fear.  Damn, I was happy to find people like me, another sort of community.

The documentation of SO-OCD is growing.  It is everywhere on the Internet, people openly wondering what is happening to them.  In college texts and white papers it is usually studied as an aspect of generalized social anxiety and depression, conditions I’ve long suffered and which can also be triggers for OC.  Someone writes: “I’m straight, but I could be gay because I had a lesbian thought and imagined myself with a woman!”  The questioning, the quest for confirmation and control certainty has entered a new realm for this first-time OC sufferer. Her mind rages:  You could be gay!  You’re gay!  No I’m not!  Yes you are!  You’re closeted, girl!  You have gay tendencies (whatever). Fuck you, I am not!  But you had a gay thought.  So what so did you. Listen, I know sexuality is fluid.  I couldn’t do it though.  As much as you want to sleep with me, I just couldn’t do it. It’s not me. God, you’re homophobic!

On and on.  OC tricks the mind, which is not the same thing as denial.

Closeted homosexuals always know who they really are, usually from a young age.  “I always knew I was different” is a common refrain. Sometimes they stereotype themselves. “I played with dolls and I didn’t like sports.”  A ten-year old boy tells his mom he’s gay. How in the hell does he know that?  He just does.  It happens. Transsexual kids can pick up on things early as well.  Not waiting round like Caitlin Jenner, who hid because long ago she was a famous athlete named Bruce.

Closeted married people usually know their orientation before taking their vows.  They’re hiding for reasons attached to our culture’s heteronormative hegemony, which is finally eroding as you read this. Too, they actually do often love their opposite sex spouses and the kids that may happen. Marriages can also be consensual, with one or both partners indulging in same-sex encounters for reasons that you and I may find odd.  Orgy anyone?  But again our reactions are societal in nature and heteronormative, even judgmental.  Sexual tastes have vast range and elasticity.  Openly gay people are very brave, to be admired for their courage.  That is the essence of the movement’s “coming out” testimonials.

Heterosexuals always know who they really are as well, usually from a young age also, though there is more questioning among youths now because societal barriers are falling. LGBTQ counseling is better in modern schools, in the good ones at least. My utopian nature tells me in the future no one will hide who they are.  Good.  Maybe the wars will wind down, finally.

O.K., probably not.

SO-OCD is not funny.  It consumes its victims and roils their minds, dominates their thought processes like, well, like any other unrealistic obsession. It scares the shit out of you, especially when a trained Freudian psychologist tells you it’s just your latent homosexuality rising, mister. He’s telling you you’re in denial regarding your sexuality!  Better find another therapist fast, you realize. I know I’m not gay.  That was some real bullshit. What am I doing here listening to this asshole’s opinion?  I didn’t wanna hear it because I’m not gay.  Am I?  The motherfucker just called me a repressed homo.  He’s gay!  But look, my friends are calling me, seriously, a gay man, too.  Everybody knows!  They’re kidding.  No they’re not.  How could they know anything about my inner life, unless I tell them?  That’s it then, they may think you’re fucking lying.  Maybe they’re gay? Hmm…But so what, who cares, right?  Everyone is a psychologist these days.

Well, I do care.  I do not want people questioning my authenticity.  It pisses me off.  I know who I am.  Don’t worry about it.  Be gay—in the old fashion sense of the word.

The compulsion is in the open now because you’re checking everything out. That is the compulsion brought on by your thoughts, which you know damn well you’ll not act on.  People can see you’re abnormal and weird or “mental,” as a woman once told me.  But what you’re actually doing is checking yourself as you brag about all the pussy you used to get.  Look at me!  I’m hetero! The homophobes are watching you; they hear what you’re saying and think you’re covering up your hidden homosexual desires. You’re trying to protect yourself from their daggers, because they probably think you’re gay, even though you’re not in reality. But it backfires. What you’re doing is a compulsion, unnecessary horseshit.  People ought to take it for that, too.  But they don’t, unless they’re smarter than the average hombre.  Homophobes don’t.  If they can’t see actual homos in the environment they make them up in their minds.

An unwanted thought occurs to you, and you’re off to the OC races.  Christ, that man’s butt is enticing.  I could ride that thing.  But wait, look at her, she’s fine, too.  You just checked.  There you go again. Are you hard?  You need to affirm what is happening to you physically. About now your dick is as flaccid as a soft balloon. Your mind has taken over.  There will be no attraction of any kind at the moment. You’re busy obsessing on your uncontrolled thoughts..

Your thoughts drag on like dialogue from a stage play in a depraved nightmare:  She saw me.  She thinks I’m gay.  No, I have ED.  My dick is always limp. Which do I want?  I crave them both.  Holy shit, I’m bisexual!  What?  I didn’t know that.  I am definitely not fitting in these days. Or am I in the wrong crowd?  Wait a minute, I’m not bi. I couldn’t have sex with that man for reals.  I don’t do that.  You could, but you don’t want to.  No I couldn’t. Why not?  I’m not attracted to him that way.  Sexual orientation concerns attraction, doesn’t it, along with emotions, romance and love ideation; but attraction itself in not a fixed entity either. You can be attracted to someone and not want to jizz on him/her, can’t you?  You’ve thought about it?  Yeah, I have. Everyone has.  It’s the course, how you determine your desires.  Your real desires.  You want it?  No.  Everyone has gay thoughts, fantasies they’re called. Not all the time, of course.  Not like the people with this malady, not like me and my community of OCs.  We can’t bump them out of the way because we might be gay, according to our thoughts. And while we can’t act on our thoughts, we must take them seriously.  Why?  I don’t know.

Women think about lezzies. Men look at men.   But people don’t mention it, and they definitely do not act on it unless they’re gay or bi in reality or simply want to experiment for some reason, while keeping their precious sexual identities intact.  The thought machine makes people feel uncomfortable, especially most religious people who deny/ hate their thoughts.  Like gay preachers and family values, gay-rights legislation-denying gay politicians.

You think about things in your inner dialogue that you would never do. Get out of here, man.  I’m not closeted.  I’m not even fucking gay. We live in a homophobic environment.  Bartenders can be the worst.  One said, “You’re looking at me like you want to fuck me.”  Honestly it wasn’t on my mind, since I’m not gay.  Maybe he was, I don’t know. A bar is a confined space.  Where are you supposed to look?  If the bar has a fan you could watch it go round and round. But then people might think you’re romantically attracted to it.

Another bartender said out of the blue, “No, I’m not gay.  I’m not wired like that.”  Good to know, but I hadn’t asked.  I guess he thought I wanted to fuck him, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.  Maybe he wanted to have sex with me. I was the only customer in the bar at the time.  Yes, I see another case of OS-OCD behind that bar.  In return, baby, I’m not wired like that either.

It’s all weirdness, man, and too much, too much. My vibe is in question, obviously.  Everyone knows I’m gay except me.  Except I know I’m not.  I think.

A therapist versed in OS-OCD, unlike your first one, suggests you’re fine as you are:  But what is happening?  You are certainly obsessing, but you must be you and not obsess. It’s imperative for your health. What do you want out of life?  I want a woman, goddammit!  I want you, you’re hot!  No you don’t.  You’re probably straight.  But I’m a happily married woman.  Don’t tell me that.  Don’t approach women like that.  Why not?  Listen old man, your thoughts are controlling you right now.  It really is all in your mind, and you must learn to control your compulsions.  Freud had no real evidence backing his theories.  We don’t pay attention to all of his ideas. They’re dated.  The bisexual at birth gambit could be true, however.  Oh, God help me! Might be something there, who knows? These are theories.

So you’ve landed in Cognitive Behavior Therapy.  This is not like a Freudian couch.  Don’t speak every thought in your head. Society frowns, calls you a clown.  You’re being reactive, compulsive, which is not cool.  I’m confused.  Sexual orientation is innate. So we believe and are nearly certain.  Environmental factors, hmm…possibly.  Cultural connections?  Perhaps. Your childhood… maybe.  You were born the way you are.  Okay, but am I gay?  What do you think?  I think I’m straight!  There is room for uncertainty, however. No!  You’re obsessing again. Uncertainty is a given in everything except nuclear war.  That won’t turn out well. Breathe, reflect. Get up and go for a walk. You know yourself.  Your intrusive thoughts are not you and your fear is unnecessary and damaging you. Mingle with other human beings.  OCD is holding you back.  Your intrusive thoughts are not you in reality.  They are just thoughts.  Oh?  I’m not really gay?  I’m slightly disappointed, because I know I could get more sex if I were. I wouldn’t like it though.  I already know that. I want a woman. Or do I?  Oh, wait, maybe I’m asexual? The thought just occurred to me because sexuality is too complex and fluid.  But the Kinsey scale says I’m hetero…

On and on.

Thanks for reading.  Writing this has been good therapy for me.


Terry Simons is the founder of Round Bend Press Books in Portland, Oregon.  This story is excerpted from his memoir of growing up in Oregon, A Marvelous Paranoia.