My struggle with HOCD
The first intrusive terror about being gay came to me shortly into my first year of university. I was walking to class when for some reason the notion hit me that I was gay and in denial. It literally happened like that; totally out of nowhere. Naturally I was horrified, went to my room and, in what I considered to be a definitive test, put on some gay and straight p*** side by side. The straight p*** turned me on, the gay did nothing and so that was that.
Now, to contextualise my situation; I never had any conflict over my sexuality growing up. At fourteen I was heavily manipulated by an older boy into sexual activity with him but, being young, curious and ultimately desperate for s**, I never thought anything of it. Shortly after I started dating my first girlfriend and was thrilled by all the sexual prospects here. It might be prudent to add at this point that I had a pretty voracious sexual appetite growing up.
Also, due to the death of my uncle from AIDS when I was young, I always felt a certain protectiveness toward gay people. This verged on dogmatic and may have influenced me to view gay activity as ‘cool’. I was introduced to the show ‘Q**** as Folk’ by a friend and thoroughly enjoyed its engaging storyline, although I tended to find the endless s** fairly disinteresting. Meanwhile I hired out films like ‘My Summer of Love’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’ due to the promises of lesbian action, after my parents saw the search history and put a block on the internet.
Over the next few years, I had several teenage relationships with several girls. I was constantly in pursuit of sexual experience and constantly frustrated. I masturbated regularly to women and sometimes to thoughts of men; seeing as I was stemming from my own experience. Occasionally the prospects for further gay activity arose and I took them, thinking nothing of it. I had no emotional connection, no particular burning desire to do it; but honestly? Any sexual stuff was good enough for me.
However, as I neared the end of high school and relationships took a turn for the serious, I began to encounter obsessional doubt regarding almost every girl I dated. Was she right for me? Did I truly love her? This anxiety drove me insane and drove the girls away, leading me to moping and hitting on more unimpressed women. Once, incredibly depressed and feeling like I was verging on suicidal, I hooked up with a close male friend; just to feel something.
So here we have the essential pattern of my adolescence; I loved women but would comfortably get with guys if women were not forthcoming. In most cases, I turned down interest from guys who tried to get with me, being generally not keen. But when it did happen, it was no cause for doubt. I was very open minded and believed that sexuality should be enjoyed in whatever form. I never identified as bisexual though, because I never felt any emotional connection to any guy in the same way I did for girls. The fire, the thrill of discovery and pushing the sexual boundaries didn’t exist for me with men. It was just something to pass the time.
So we reach my first year of uni. After this momentary doubt, I forgot about it, until about a year later, in a media studies class when we watched the famous ‘Puppy Episode’ of Ellen Degeneres’ sitcom, where, after years of apparent obliviousness, she realises she is actually gay. And suddenly that crippling, horrible fear was back. She never even knew she was gay. What if the same thing happens to me? What if suddenly I realise I’m actually gay? What if those experiences I had were my true self, and my girlfriends just denial?
Again I managed to talk myself down. I was being stupid. I had been in a relationship with my girlfriend Sally for about six months at that point. After the initial ecstasy of it I had briefly experienced the doubt that plagued my teenage dalliances, but got over it by essentially ignoring it. But a niggling fear that I may be happier elsewhere remained and then came the new thought; would I be happier with a man? Was that what was missing? And so, bit by bit, the thoughts began to hit hard. The endless terror and self analysis. Every girl I’d ever been with, I scrutinised with a fine toothed comb. My levels of arousal during every sexual experience I’d ever had, whether I was truly attracted to the girls I checked out on the street, how turned on I was during every rare gay masturbatory dalliance I had. Before long, the fear became daily. Sometimes I would feel okay and feel like I was being stupid, then something would set me off; whether it was an unrelated comment or a thought. I reassured myself by saying I never really found guys to be physically attractive, so naturally I started looking to see if I did. And there are good looking dudes everywhere.
I tried masturbating to gay p*** again and found it enjoyable, but shockingly, suddenly so. This caused even more self loathing and doubt. But why? Why did I care so much if I was gay? I had never been adverse to the concept. I thought gays were cool. I loved Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood and was actually disappointed at the fact that I was never fully bisexual. My girlfriend was the only reason I had to seriously be against the notion, and yet it seemed to go beyond that. This deep seated disgust at the very idea was driving me wild.
One night, while Sally was asleep I looked up ‘coming out’ and learnt that many people considered the process to be realising your sexuality and, after in many cases a period of denial, accepting it. Was that me? In denial? I got in the shower and shook, feeling like screaming. I told myself that if I was gay, I would have to deal with it, and imagined a future of going to gay bars and being in relationships with men. The idea was not appealing, but it wasn’t like I had any choice. I accepted it and suddenly felt different. Not better, but as if a weight had been lifted. I didn’t feel gay, though. I got into bed and hugged Sally tighter than I ever had. I didn’t want to let go of her.
The next day though, it came back. I looked at counselling services nearby and tried to figure out where this was all coming from. It didn’t matter how many times I thought of a justification to a particular fear, it would always be back a few days later, the same thoughts, unaffected by the apparent resolution I thought I had. And I had a lot of them; I told myself I was actually bisexual, or that I was a two on the Kinsey scale. I told myself I was just experimenting. I told myself that my anxiety stemmed from my competitive relationship with my best friend and my fear that my past gay experiences somehow made me less than him. The excuses were everywhere.
Around the same time a new guy started at work who was very good looking. And I became obsessed with judging how I felt toward him, whether I actually had a crush on a man now. Every time I concluded that I didn’t, the fear came back. It didn’t matter how convincing my assertion that I was being stupid, the blind terror always returned. Then one day, sitting in a theatre, I noticed a guy a few rows down and became obsessed with whether or not he was attractive. Not the notion of him being attractive, but my inability to conclusively state to myself that I wasn’t attracted to him. I went home and did some more internet searching and then stumbled upon something quite extraordinary.
HOCD is a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder in which the sufferer obsessively doubts their own sexual orientation, usually an orientation they have always been comfortable with. And it’s not limited to straight people. The psychologist writing the article spoke about gay men being terrified that they were in fact straight and all their work in coming to terms with things was in vain, and bisexuals who were horrified by the idea that they were in fact only one sexual orientation, usually the opposite to the one they were predominantly involved in.
The article described ‘spikes’, the feeling of overpowering fear that results in the obsessive thoughts. It spoke about how teenage experimentation can often confuse the brain and how the blind terror at the concept of being gay was usually a pretty strong indicator that the subject was not, in fact, experiencing a genuine coming out crisis. On top of all of that, it described a similar type of OCD where the victim obsesses over the validity of the relationship they’re in. The relief was incredible. I wasn’t gay, I just had OCD. And now it would be okay, right?
But the fear came back, and only got worse. It didn’t matter how much I found that I related to in the many, many articles about HOCD; my brain always found a counter argument. If you’re not gay, why did you j*** off to gay p*** that time? If you’re not gay, why have you kissed guys when you’re drunk? If you’re not gay, why did you notice how good looking that dude on the tram was? And on it went. There was always something and it always came back. It started to affect my relationship with Sally. She said I was distant and preoccupied. I didn’t want to tell her, because how could she understand? Why wouldn’t she just assume that I was just a closeted gay man? Finally, one night she demanded an explanation and I gave it to her. She laughed and asked why I hadn’t just told her sooner. I was relieved and felt so in love with her.
A couple of weeks later, drunk at a work function, I cheated on her with a female colleague. I was blind drunk and couldn’t keep my hands off this girl. The guilt and horror I felt at this and our subsequent breakup briefly offset the OCD, as did the quiet sickeningly triumphant little voice in my head that said; see? Could that have happened if you were gay?
But it came back worse than ever and I found myself reaching breaking point. Sleep became difficult. Leaving the house was a hazard. Without Sally I had no support and my OCD was coupled with the guilt over what I had done, which I could not ever begin to deal with because honestly, in the few hours where I wasn’t experiencing a spike of some kind, I did not want to think about anything remotely serious. Not for a second. I wanted to enjoy the brief times where my brain felt like my own again.
The internet helps. Different articles by different psychologists provide a lot of answers to my questions. HOCD sufferers sometimes can experience arousal at gay p*** because the turmoil sometimes operates as a form of arousal. And I don’t think I know a single guy who hasn’t at some point fooled around with another dude. It shouldn’t be a cause for fear. We live in a time when there is no reason to hate your sexual orientation, whatever it may be. But even now, without a significant other I could hurt, I still hate the idea of being gay and endlessly obsess over it. I know that if I was actually gay I would be far more genuinely attracted to guys and would either find ways to brush it off or justify it to myself, rather than endlessly obsessing over that. I know that logically and psychologically speaking, it’s highly unlikely that I’m really gay. But it doesn’t matter, not at all. The spikes still hit hard and bit by bit they’re driving me into the ground. Bit by bit I feel myself losing the ability to cope. Part of me wishes I was gay so I could accept it and move on with my life. I even say to myself that I accept it, just to have an end to this. But it doesn’t matter. The fear always returns and I can’t ignore or offset it. I don’t want to test myself by experimenting with guys again because every psychologist I’ve read says that that only confuses the OCD more, which is the last thing I want. But I’m fast running out of options. I can’t afford a shrink.
I don’t know what to do.