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Guilt in any number of forms is a deep and persistent problem for homosexuals, and overcoming it is a long but fulfilling and liberating experience. Like the devil, as described by the Puritans, guilt insinuates itself into the most private corners of the heart and comes dressed in many clever disguises. Most of us feel that we are far too intelligent and sophisticated to be plagued by anything as old-fashioned and silly as guilt. But it's precisely the intelligent, sophisticated person who has the most difficulty in clearly labeling the guilt that haunts so much of his behavior. Some gay men so disapprove of their own homosexuality that they hate themselves not just for what they do but for what they are. Often this sense of guilt is not experienced directly but masquerades as chronic depression. A person suffering from profound guilt believes he should be punished for . . . well, not for his wrong-doing but for his wrong-being. Accordingly, he does nothing to stand up for his civil rights.

Most gay men, however, suffer from less sever forms of guilt. They feel guilty not for being, or for doing specifically "bad" things, which can range from cheating on a lover to experimenting with S/M and liking it. Or they may feel guilty about being gay but only intermittently, when they read a condemnation of homosexuality in the press or when their parents look hurt and disappointed.

Guilt may be either conscious or unconscious, the latter being particularly hard to root out. It can manifest itself in excessive cleanliness, in excessive politeness, in a compulsion to work too hard. Unhappily, many gay men who suffer from internalized homophobia transfer their feelings of guilt to other gays and despise them as a substitute for hating themselves. Your guilty feelings may also be motivated by a desire to please your parents.

In plumbing your guilt feelings, you may learn that lying just below your guilt about being gay is a more general guilt about sex of any sort. Some children are brought up in families where sex is bad, no matter what form it takes. The relationship between the parents is so poor that it leaves children with a sense of despair about all love relationships.

Guilt manifests itself in other aspects of gay life compulsive cruising, inability to succeed in business, romantic fascination with straight men, an exclusive taste for quickie sex, or a penchant for "hopeless" love affairs with unobtainable partners. Guilt breeds a fear of intimacy and the self-contempt and longing for punishment that underlie so many of these behaviors. A more elusive expression of guilt is the desire to do endless favors for other people, to woo them in hundreds of little daily acts, to be a professional nice guy. This compulsion to please, usually linked to an inability to say no, often arises from a need to demonstrate that one is likeable in spite of the terrible fact of one's being homosexual. Self-contempt endows the individual with an inexhaustible trust fund of guilt that can be drawn on by anyone and on any occasion.

The best way of overcoming guilt feelings about being gay is to participate with other gays in civil-rights organizations like ACT UP and Queer Nation. The object is to actively fight back against the institutions that made you feel guilty. The more conservative-minded person might work as a volunteer in an AIDS service organization. As long as a person is isolated from the gay community, he stands a much-reduced chance of dealing with his guilt feelings.

If participation in gay groups does not relieve feelings of guilt, then psychotherapy is recommended.....

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