A. The Charge. Young people who are destined to become homosexual have the misfortune to be brought up in dysfunctional families. To be sure, overly protective mothers in these families are well intentioned. For their part, the fathers often practice benign neglect, The combination of the two attitudes creates a homosexual neurosis that must be addressed by therapy.
B. Background. In recent decades, the chief advocate of this view was the psychoanalyst Irving Bieber (1909-1989), who believed that homosexuality was an illness that must be cured.
In 1962 Bieber headed a team of colleagues that published Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytical Study of Male Homosexuals (Basic Books), a nine-year study of 106 gay men. The study maintained that disruptions in family relationships early in life contributed to a child's homosexual development. It concluded: "A constructive, supportive, warmly related father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son; he acts as a neutralizing, protective agent should the mother make seductive or close-binding attempts.”
Critics have pointed out that many heterosexual men grew up in similar families, so that a homosexual outcome was not inevitable or typical. For a long time, American culture favored a style of fatherhood that was strong but aloof. As far as the qualities of the mother are concerned, who is to say when the mother is “too loving?” Such judgments are inherently subjective.
The Bieber theory was originally developed to reflect conditions in the United States, especially our family structure. Yet different family structures prevail in other parts of the world. The prominence of gay people has been documented in Japan, India, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa and countless other societies. The Bieber concept of etiology cannot account for these people.
C. Response. The original theory, which sought to blame the mother, surely reflects the misogyny endemic in our society. One should think carefully about the effects of this tendency.
Even though the Bieber theory is generally discounted among clinicians and other professionals nowadays, uneasiness persists among some parents. They torture themselves by asking: Did I “make” my child homosexual by poor parenting?
Fortunately an excellent organization exists to help parents and others cope as they learn of the sexual orientation of their children. This is Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), an organization of family members and friends of GLBT people, PFLAG has more than 350 affiliates throughout the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 11 other countries. The organization was founded in New York City in April of 1972 by Jeanne Manford, mother of the noted gay activist Morty Manford.