Dr. Richard Isay died of cancer on Thursday, according to the New York Times. He was 77. During his life, he affected a dramatic and lovely transformation: from a young, frightened, and closeted psychiatrist and psychologist; to a distinguished professional, married man, and father playing at heterosexuality; to an outspoken LGBT advocate and fierce proponent of equality in his change-resistant field.
Dr. Isay entered psychology when homosexuality was considered as a disorder, and that's how he treated his own orientation. He pursued therapy, was pronounced cured, and persisted with what his wife, Jane, would later call "half a marriage" for many years.
He came out to Jane in 1980, though the couple wouldn't dissolve their union for another nine years. (They told each other they stayed together "for the children.") Dr. Isay came out to his colleagues, too, which proved risky: Although the American Psychiatric Association had declassified homosexuality as an illness in 1973, American psychoanalysts still tended to view gayness as a psychic deformity. From the Times:
... Not only did some of his heterosexual colleagues attack his ideas, but they also stopped referring patients to him and suggested that he might need more therapy himself.
... In 1992, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, [Dr. Isay] threatened a lawsuit to force the association to promise not to discriminate against gay people. The group relented, issuing position statements that it would not discriminate in training, hiring or promoting analysts. It also formed committees to educate member institutions on its changed policies. Even so, some members still regarded homosexuality as something that therapy could change. But in 1997, the group became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.
The last people to whom Dr. Isay came out were his children, who he didn't tell about his orientation until he was preparing to separate from his wife and move in with his long-time lover, the artist Gordon Hassell. Having tended to that very personal business, in 1989 Dr. Isay became a fully public advocate, publishing Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development, a book which challenged the entrenched homophobia in the psychoanalytic community. Later, Dr. Isay pub wrote Becoming Gay, about the dangers of the closet, and Commitment and Healing, a scholarly argument for romantic love. At the time of his death, Dr. Isay was a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and a faculty member at the Colombia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.
Last year, Dr. Isay's ex-wife published an essay in the Times, in which she recalled the night in 1980 when her husband told her he was gay:
When he came in, his face was grave. He sat down on the bed and said, “I have something I need to tell you.” He took a deep breath. “I’m homosexual.” At that moment I saw my future collapse before my eyes. I got the chills and ran to take a hot bath. It gave me time to think and warmed me, but not for long. We spent the night talking and lamenting. On the plane home, we held each other and sobbed and planned. By the time we landed, we had decided to keep his sexual orientation a secret and stay married for the sake of the children.
Those children are now grown. Last summer in Manhattan, Dr. Isay married Gordon Hassell in one of their living rooms. His grandkids served as flower girl and ring bearer.
A new study performed by social scientists at San Francisco State University has confirmed something that, had you thought about it for a second, you'd probably have assumed anyway. Turns out, gay dads get just as exhausted as heterosexual parents, and like heterosexual ones, often don't have time or energy for intimacy. From the US News and World Report:
"When gay couples become parents, they become very focused on the kids, they are tired, there is less time for communication and less desire for sex," Colleen Hoff, a professor of sexuality studies at San Francisco State University, said in a university news release. "They go through a lot of the same changes as heterosexual couples who have kids."
... "We found that gay fathers have less time for sex and less emphasis on sexuality, which could mean they are at less risk for HIV," Hoff said. "Many fathers said they feel a sense of responsibility toward their children which motivates them to avoid risky sexual behavior."
The 48 fathers surveyed for the study have reportedly accepted the changes in their sex lives with equanimity.
The study does contain some data that's likely to delight the anti-gay blogosphere. Turns out, gay men with children tend to adhere to the same relational rules'n'regs they followed before having children. That is, if they were monogomous, they tend to remain monogamous, and if they weren't monogamous, they still aren't. From the study's abstract, at the Journal of Couples and Family Psychology:
... couples reported negotiating agreements regarding sex with outside partners that closely resemble those documented in studies of gay couples who are not parents. Men reported that parenthood typically decreased their opportunities to engage in sex with outside partners, but also posed barriers to talking about these behaviors with their partners and health-care providers ...
In the US News and World Report, Dr. Hoff explains that the most significant such "barrier" is the stigma associated with being non-monagamous while raising children.