Queer Sense: Attachment
The ability to form bonds is not just a human trait; it’s something all mammals do.
The media is full of news stories about an animal saving a person. A German Shepard named Effie led her owner to an elderly man who had collapsed on a trail out in the woods. JoAnn had a heart attack in her home and Lulu, her daughter’s pot-bellied pig rushed outside and laid in the middle of street trying to stop traffic. After someone stopped, the pig led the driver back to JoAnn where she was lying on the floor in pain.
A Labrador named Major pawed at his owner’s iPhone alerting 911 eventually helping the owner who had gone into a seizure. A dog pulls an injured dog from the middle of a highway over to the side. A dolphin saves a dog from a shark attack. There are numerous stories of a dog raising tiger cubs. During the Katrina Hurricane in New Orleans a National Guard officer said this of the rescue efforts, “We estimate that 30 to 40 percent of the people who refuse to leave the affected areas are staying because they want to take of their pets.”
The underlying concept that explains why an animal is compelled to save a human or another animal, or why a person will put their life at risk to save their pet is called Attachment. A word that is synonymous with love. We understand attachment and on a daily basis witness humans attaching to one another. A mother takes time from her job to call her children at home making certain they’re okay.
A son asks his parents constantly when his grandparents are coming to visit again. “I miss them,” he says. A parent runs back into a burning home to save her child. A young man enlisted in the Army and fighting overseas takes out a picture of his lover to look at night. His eyes mist and for a second he’s back home.
BRAIN: LIMBIC SYSTEM
Not all animals attach though. While the dog’s eyes reflects warmth and playfulness, the eyes of a reptile will only return a black, glassless stare, void of emotion. Reptiles belong to a species that is unable to attach. A female crocodile will lay its eggs in shallow water and depart, never to return to inquire about the welfare of her hatchlings. She may even resort to eating her own young to satisfy her hunger drive, for convenience, or simply because the treat is too tempting and vulnerable to pass up.
What separates mammals from reptiles? It’s interconnections in the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is what fosters attachment between people, people and animals, or animals and other animals. Reptiles, unsurprisingly, have what is known as a reptilian brain, which sits atop the spinal cord. This is responsible for rudimentary functions such as breathing, swallowing, vision, and heartbeat. The reptilian brain does not supply the reptile with an instinct to aid or nurse another, not even its own children. It does not have anxiety when its young dies and it may even be the one eating the young.
The existence of the limbic system in and of itself does not guarantee that one will build an attachment. Rather, social interactions are required to develop these connections, for only when this part of the brain is engaged can one learn to attach.these interactions are deprived, the result can be incredibly startling. Several experiments have revealed the consequences of such neglect.
This brings us to Attachment Theory.
ATTACHMENT & SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
The concept of attachment has been well established in the world of psychology and is used to describe how bonds are formed. Psychologists refer to these emotional connections, or bonds, with the term, Attachment Theory. This concept first came about when Konrad Lorenz used ducklings to demonstrate how imprinting works. Shortly after the ducklings hatched, they attached, or imprinted, themselves on the first figure they saw—Lorenz.
Taking a walk down the path of fiction and supernatural you may remember the young adult movie Twilight? There is a scene in the film when Jacob the werewolf witnesses the birth of Renesmee.
Jacob imprints on the female infant and this imprint is fixed for life.
John Bowlby stated that infants have an innate need to attach to a figure which will be their primary bond. He argued if the infant is deprived of an a primary attachment figure this will lead to psychological difficulties such as emotional instability and fluctuation.
Bowlby said a young child who has chronic deprivation from her primary attachment figure, such as child raised in an overcrowded orphanage, will be likely to have reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression, and affection psychopathy described as an inability to show a concern for others.
The concept of attachment has been established in experiments and in the field.
A young monkey taken from its mother and placed in a cage was given two wire-meshed objects intended to serve as mother-like figures.One of the figures had a bottle of milk attached to it and a cloth covered the other figure. The young monkey did not cling to the figure holding its food but instead favored the one that brought him warmth. The monkey attached to the one that could provide the most similar experience to being with his mother rather than the one that could give him nourishment.
Researchers have known since the 1940s that sterile, clean orphanages was not enough for infant survival. After World War II researchers found that orphan children were dying by an alarming number. They however had no diseases that were causing their death. The researchers suspected the children were dying by deprivation of attachments.
In a recent study, an Austrian psychoanalyst and physician Rene Spitz demonstrated the importance of attachment by looking at infants in two conditions. One group of infants were at an institution that kept the infants inside cribs and rooms that were sterile and sanitary but lacked consistent attachment figures. The other group of infants were raised by their mothers who were incarcerated in prison. Spitz found the infants raised in the institution, and deprived of human interaction, had a 37% mortality rate! There were no infant deaths in the group raised by the mothers who were incarcerated.
Attachment is essential to life.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) continues to be a mystery for parents and physicians. A cause for the unexpected death of a child found with no physical injuries or medical abnormalities has yet to be found, though it is thought that those infants who sleep alone are at a much greater risk for SIDS than those who sleep with their mothers. Scientists have discovered that mother and infant share a unique physiological rhythm when they sleep, and as such spend less time in the deepest stage of sleep, which is when an infant is more likely to go into respiratory arrest. This mother-infant sleep synchronization appears to be a type of unique sensory communication.
Statistically speaking, the United States is one of the top five leaders in SIDS deaths and like several Western countries they regard it somewhat taboo to sleep with your infant. This is in contrast to non-Western countries around the world that do not consider it taboo to co-sleep with one’s infant. Research SIDS on the internet and you’ll find that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents that co-sleeping with one’s infant increases the chances of SIDS. Yet, there’s research to refute that co-sleeping increases risk at all. Not to mention in countries like Romania and El Salvador which have the lowest SIDS rate they do not have a taboo against co-sleeping with an infant. I advise mothers to follow the guidelines of health experts pointing out these findings above are correlational and not casual. The point to consider is the importance of the infant-mother sleep synchronization and how this bonding has been around for eons.
Psychologist Mary Ainsworth completed research in the 1970s with toddlers and demonstrated that children actually attach in different ways.
She labeled secure children as having formed safe, firm, confident attachment to a parent and were less distressed when a parent was not next to them. She referred to children who had insecure attachments as have less confident attachments with their parent. When a child’s parent left the room they became distressed and uncertain when or if the parent was returning. This child had built up a series of memories of parent with inconsistent behaviors.
What does attachment theory have to do with shaping of our attitudes towards people of varied sexual orientation?
ATTACHMENT OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUALS
Gay people attach like anyone else does. They attach to friends, parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, their school system and sport teams they play for. Gay people seek lifelong partners and same-sex couples attach to the children they raise like anyone else.
Attachment affects how likely a pre-teen lesbian girl will come out to her parents and friends.
Imagine the girl has a secure attachment to her parents who are accepting of gay people. If this is the case, the daughter has an easier time in coming out to her parents. The likelihood of rejection is unlikely going to happen. If the same girl has parents who hold anti-gay beliefs then she’s less likely to come out to her parents and more likely to remain in the proverbial “closet”.
Youths who have been loved by their parents have not only been rejected by their parents but kicked out for their sexual orientations. A person’s mere sexual orientation can cause someone significant distress if the youth fears retaliation from parents or being kicked out of their home.
A youth’s attachment to his parents, peers, and organizations such as school and church has an influence on his positive or negative attitudes toward the queer community.
Attachment to parents who are gay affirmative makes it more likely that a gay child will question his or her sexual feelings. Parents with rigid, negative attitudes towards gay people and also have a strong attachment to their child results in a youth who is less willing to question his sexual feelings.
A boy who has strong attachment to his heterosexual peer group will blend in as heterosexual because coming out probably means his friends’ rejection. He may even participate in taunts, bullying, and ridicule of youths perceived to be gay.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters, were described as sociopathic, a trait which experts claim drove them to commit their crime. However, many youths in our society have sociopathic tendencies, but we do not see massive school shootings every hour of every day.
The reasons for this include not only a poor access to weapons but also the ability to regulate emotions, coping skills, and social support. School connectedness can buffer any unstable tendencies with a youth, which Eric and Dylan did not have.
A youth’s attachment to organizations impacts their sexual attitudes and sexual identity development. In Oregon, studies have found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths were five times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.Those high school students on campuses with Gay-Straight Alliances were less at risk of suicide than those without. These students often felt a sense of belonging to their school because of their ability to connect with their peers and teachers through the Gay-Straight Alliance. Feeling as though one belongs can make a great deal of difference.
People often attach to those in the media, television personalities, and characters in books and movies. Whether a character is gay or heterosexual, we can also attach to a lesbian or gay media personality or character in a television show, movie, or book. The television show Glee features two young boys, Kurt and Blaine, who are openly gay. Viewers admire their spirit and energetic personalities and readily attach to them.
Gay media figures such as Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper, and Rosie O’Donnell garner respect from their viewers. Heterosexuals and gays alike attach to them. Viewers are able to identify with them and are inspired by their rhetoric. The same is true for ultra, conservative anchors who hold anti-gay attitudes such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannty. All of these media personalities provide a sense of belonging and community to the wider world.
Politics is an interesting arena in which to observe attachments. A person may choose to attach to politicians of all political persuasions for any particular reason. One may attach to Senator Tammy Baldwin because she is openly gay or because of her political stance.
A person may attach to President Obama, perhaps because they feel connected to his personality, his sense of humor, or his intellect. Their attitude may be influenced when the person they have attached to asserts that gay people should have the right to marry. This undoubtedly happened when President Obama asserted that gay people have the right to be married as heterosexuals.
We can often feel attached to our political organization and feel a sense of belonging to this group that may or may not have a gay-affirmative stance.
Gay college students develop a better attachment to their peers and college when their campus has gay support groups, dormitories designated for gay individuals, or gay fraternities. Workplaces that offer same-sex benefits and same-sex anti-discrimination can increase individuals’ sense of belongingness and attachments to co-workers.
In workplaces with no same-sex anti-discrimination policies in place are likely to cause someone to feel distressed due to hostile environments. A Lesbian teacher in Texas described harassment and bullying from her school administration. A man was fired from a children home in Lubbock, Texas for being gay. The home stated the man showed an inappropriate lifestyle by greeting his partner in public with a kiss.
We connect, we attach. These attachments are how we build communities. They bring us closer to the people in our lives, the organizations we frequent, and ultimately affect our attitudes in a positive or negative way. These are the attachments that help to form our thoughts regarding the gay population and are paramount to who we are as heterosexual and gay people.
The suicide note of fourteen-year-old Jean-Philippe demonstrates not only the hardships gay youths face but also just how strong our attachments can truly be:
To all who loved me and to the ones who did not love me: I am sick of this shit of a life. Sick, to the point of wanting to puke!!! I am so lonely. So alone with what I am suffering. I’d rather die than go on suffering like this.
P.S. By the way, I was gay and I would like to say to the ones who still love me that I will never forget them.
ATTACHMENT: GAY SUPPORT
ATTACHMENT: COMING OUT
ATTACHMENT: GAY FRIENDLY ORGANIZATIONS