The Best Little Boy in the World

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in lgbt 03 May 2015
Gay-Guys-Gay-Fathers-Day-SM-300x195In a recently published study, Drs. John Pachankis and Mark Hatzenbuehler have substantiated what’s called the “Best Little Boy in the World” syndrome (from the 1973 book by Andrew Tobias).

It’s the idea that young, closeted men deflect attention from their sexuality by overinvesting their energy in achievement-related success: good grades, elite employment, competition and an over-emphasis on appearance, much more so than heterosexual men.

What does this mean for us LGBT men and women? To me, the bottom line is:

“We’re fundamentally flawed and we’d better hide it well.”

For most of us LGBTers, this is the message we got from our family and the society we grew up in. If you didn’t: congratulations. Read this anyway to understand why your friends are struggling with workaholism, perfectionism, rigidity and alcohol/sex/drugs.

Sigmund Freud called this “a superego-driven life”: a life focused on being very careful to do the right thing, worrying that someone will judge you as less than perfect.  As the best little boys/girls in the world, we were raised to be perpetually vigilant and anxious that someone would discover our hidden secret and expose us to ridicule.

It’s not surprising that, as children, we were trying to be the best little boys and girls we could, trying so hard to fit into an ultra-heterosexist world where almost everything (music, films, greeting cards) is oriented towards people that we can never be.

Given all of this, it’s a miracle that more of us aren’t really screwed up by growing up LGBT in a very non-LGBT world. Many of us grow out of the “best little boy/girl in the world” syndrome into healthy, mature men and women. But, many of us still struggle with this internal censor, this superego-driven life that continually tells us that we aren’t good enough, don’t do things right or (our deepest fear) that we are fundamentally flawed and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Using Freudian terms, I want to introduce the ego and the id. The id is the part of you that wants to go wild, be free and spontaneous.  Good little boys/girls are usually terrified of their ids: they want us to stop being so careful and perfect.

Welcome the hero/ine of our story: the ego. The ego is that part of us always seeking balance: continually balancing our extremes to keep us neither too rigid/repressed nor too wild/out-of-control.

For many of us, our ego is pretty weak. A strong ego can handle a lot of stimulation and not get overwhelmed. A strong ego won’t let you get too rigid or controlling: it’ll warn you in a myriad of ways, “Danger, danger…this isn’t making me happy.”

A strong ego means death to hyper-achievement and the end of the best little boy/girl in the world syndrome. We live in a terribly heterosexist world that isn’t a good fit for us in so many ways, but – with a strong ego – we can find our own path and create a loving, supportive world for ourselves no matter where we choose to live and work.

Luckily for us, the ego never stops: the id is always screaming, “Let me out, I wanna be free!” and the superego continually tells us, “Just shut up and suck it up, or there’s gonna be trouble.” The ego is like your ideal parent, protecting you from too much scary stuff and encouraging you to try new things and take risks to grow.

Although most of us were raised to be the best little boys/girls in the world, we don’t need to continue to be this way. Begin to give yourself the freedom to be the best version of yourself, rather than having to be someone else’s idea of “the best”.

It’s time for all of us best little boys/girls in the world to grow up.

Here’s the bottom line: there is nothing wrong with you. You are not flawed. You are a human being on a journey through a very complex world and you are doing the best you can. You are the perfect version of you: unique and wonderful. Be open to these truths and begin to leave your old rigidity and perfectionism behind.