Monday, February 27, 2006

Once upon a time...

This may not be the most exciting story to read. It's probably not unique. And I'm admittedly no Pulitzer prize winning author. But it's important to me because it has in large part defined who I am. Everyone has struggles, inclinations, and reacts to the situations life places them in; these things define who they are. I have chosen to be an "ardent" Mormon. That is, despite the challenges and the questions, I'm planning to believe it and live it anyway.

"Gay" means many things to many people. For the sake of clarity, I'll try to avoid using the word and explain instead that I'm attracted almost exclusively to men but I've never had sex with a man. I grew up in the Mormon church. My family are great down-to-earth folks who do their best to live their religion, but they may appear to some in my current circles as being fanatics. They may have suspected about my sexual preference, but nobody has ever asked me about it. Frankly, I've suspected a couple of my brothers may also be attracted to men, but they've all been married for many years and have happy families.

I decided that I would come "out" to my long-time girlfriend before coming to graduate school. She accepted me and we got married. We have one little boy. I want to be straight and feel content with my current family situation, but it hasn't turned out to be that simple. Hence, the angst.

The Mormon church teaches that gender identity and heterosexual marriages are eternal. Families are one of the ultimate endpoints of this life. There's no place for gay marriage in the afterlife, and there's no room for sex outside of heterosexual marriage. That leaves me with only three options: write off eternal life as unachievable and find the type of romance to which I am naturally inclined, never have satisfying sex at all during this life to hold out for an eternal reward, or learn to be most satisfied by having sex with a woman.

A friend of mine pointed out that choosing between an eternal marriage with a wife and limited companionship with a man during this life is really a false dilemma. Yeah, those aren't the only options, I admit, they're just the only ones I happen to believe in. I do envy some of my Mormon friends who have decided to allow themselves to be who they believe they are--gay. They have resolution of their confusion and in some cases have found just the right man to be with. This angst I feel is, I believe, why most psychiatrists think not embracing who you "are" is destructive. I know that's true for many men--suicides, depression, drug abuse, and probably lots of other bad things come from being unhappy with themselves. However, I believe virtue is itself the ability and willingness to confront perceived imperfections for what they are rather than accommodating them as something inherent. I say "perceived" imperfections because I don't impose my beliefs or perceptions on anyone else. I just want myself to be different than I am. And I want respect from people when I tell them this, not to be convined that I should accept myself. I want them to concede that I should exercise my autonomy for self-actualization, not conform to some presumed "self". Who can say what my "true self" really is if not me?

19 comments:

Another Other said...

Welcome. I wholeheartedly agree with your idea of virtue, and certainly hope your self-actualization process yields great dividends. It sounds like, despite some angst, you're doing well, and I commend you. I look forward to seeing what you have to say. Always nice to know there are other married gay guys out there. Truly.

Dave Walter said...

Welcome to the blogging world, L!

I can't think of a more difficult situation for a gay person -- or same-sex-attracted person, if you wish -- to be in. You're in what I presume is a happy, loving marriage and have a child. And you are a member of a religion that does not approve of gay sex or gay relationships.

As you've probably discovered, there are gay Mormons who have rejected LDS doctrine and fully embraced their homosexuality. Many of them have left the church. Although you may believe that's a totally unthinkable option for you, I encourage you not to dismiss it. Read what the happy, active gay Mormons and ex-Mormons say in their blogs, and interact with them.

Another option that may be unthinkable to you is having a fulfilling life with another man, which would mean ending your marriage. But again, check out what gay men who have left their marriages have to say on this subject.

The option that you want to pursue -- becoming straight -- isn't feasible. However, there are gay Mormons living happy lives without ever having gay sex. Read their blogs as well.

Personally, I believe it is tragic for someone to have to go through life suppressing his or her gay urges, never being able to experience a relationship with a same-sex spouse.

Whatever you decide to do, you'll get plenty of support online. But talking things out with a therapist would be really beneficial.

Dave

Dave Walter said...

PS: I left a comment for you here.

-L- said...

Hey Dave,
Thanks for the comments. I'm not convinced that becoming straight is feasible, but I'm not convinced it's not either. Just wondering why you say it isn't (so matter-of-factly!). Thanks,
-L-

Dave Walter said...

L,

The reason I say one can't change from gay to straight is that I've delved into this subject in depth, not only as an interested gay person, but as a reporter. More than four of the years I spent as a journalist were full-time for the gay press. The changeability issue came up repeatedly, both in the articles I read from across the country and articles I wrote myself.

The information I've read and gained from interviews leaves no doubt that a person who is a homosexual cannot change into a heterosexual.

Many people -- consider Catholic priests and nuns, for example -- can successfully subjugate sexual desires and remain celibate throughout their lives.

It may be possible for you to be content without acting on your homosexuality. A therapist can help you determine that.

The fact that you're online exploring this issue is good!

Dave

-L- said...

First of all, Dave, you seem to be a pro at blogging and I have a question for you. Is there a way to know when someone has responded to a comment you've left? RSS feeds or something. I don't really know what they are or how they work, I just know they're supposed to bring content to you instead of you chasing it down.

Anyway, I was interested to hear your credentials, but I tend to think your environment may have biased you a bit, what with working for the gay press. The strongest conclusion you could make, based on current evidence, is that we don't know whether a person can change sexual orientation, not that we know for certainty that one can't. Not proving that it happens is not the same as proving that it doesn't happen. I'm a med student and I tinker with health policy and science research now and then, and I feel pretty comfortable saying that. There is a difference between your having no personal doubt and society having scientifically proven something, one being objective and one subjective.

Dave Walter said...

L,

A solid journalist strives always for objectivity, and that isn't affected by the publication he or she writes for.

Technically, you're correct that we don't know whether a person can change sexual orientation. Just as we don't know whether a person can change into an elephant. Neither has been scientifically disproven.

I believe it would be exceedingly easy to prove that someone could change from gay to straight. Just take scientific measurements of sexual arousal pre- and post-change. How come we don't see results of such a study proving change is possible?

Regarding the blog-comments question, you can get e-mail notification of comments made on your own blog, but I'm not aware of a way to be notified of responses to your comments on someone else's blog. I don't use RSS feeds, but I don't believe they can be tailored in the way you desire.

Dave

-L- said...

Well, there aren't hundreds of men who claim to have changed to an elephant... that I know of. :-) I've spoken with a therapist who does so-called "conversion therapy" and claims to have helped hundreds of men through the process as well as himself personally. That, plus some studies on the subject that conclude that change might be possible, seem to be enough to justify some caution in making absolute assertions to the contrary. Anyway, just wondered if you knew more on the topic to share, and clearly you do know more than I do. Thanks for lending your experience.

Chris (hurricane) said...

L,

My knowledge of such "conversion" and reparative therapies leads me to believe that permanent and sustained change of orientation is not possible, but repression of unwanted feelings might be. People who are homosexual cannot become heterosexual, but they can suppress or deny their sexual desires.

It also seems that those who identify as bisexual are more likely to show progress--however that is defined--in changing or overcoming their homosexual desires.

A critical problem in all of this is that we have to rely on self reporting. I think it is possible (and likely) that many of the men who report progress are reporting what they very much want to believe as much as what they are actually experiencing.

-L- said...

When the data isn't really conclusive, it leaves you open to believe whatever you want to believe--choose your spin. But the therapist I was speaking about claims emphatically (and I may have even offended him by asking so many skeptical questions) that he went from homo to hetero and that's it. He's married, has kids, and no longer has homosexual desires. Is he lying? Maybe. But he's not the only example and I don't really see what his motivation would be.

I don't want to over-state my background in science, but I do have some experience as a medical student, and it seems to me that re-wiring the hypothalamus is unlikely, but possible. Sexual behaviors are developed (not chosen, developed) and they may continue to change depending on how plastic the brain is and the pathways that are reinforced.

I hear what you are saying though. I do have my strong doubts and at times I'm pretty sure it's a battle that will take a lot of effort and has no chance of success. But I'm going to give it a try. Let me know what you think of this site: www.peoplecanchange.com

Thanks for your comments!

Chris (hurricane) said...

When the data isn't really conclusive, it leaves you open to believe whatever you want to believe--choose your spin.

Or choose the truth that comes from your own experience.

I wanted to change for a long time, and I tried very hard to do that. And then I tried to endure it. It nearly destroyed me. I'm not going to change. I'm always going to be gay--and I'm finally happy about it. It's a blessing.

Let me know what you think of this site: www.peoplecanchange.com

I've looked at the site. I'm skeptical, for this reason: they offer an easy explanation for homosexuality and its root causes. And their explanation doesn't seem to explain why I am a homosexual.

Moreover, they do a very skillful job of ensuring that anyone who fails to change does so because they are attempting to change for all the wrong reasons, conscious or not, or becasue they haven't worked hard enough. That's a pretty big loophole. (And reminds me of what I've heard from LDS Church leaders about not giving up until your knees are calloused from prayer and your knuckles are bloodied from knocking at the Savior's door.) If someone can't overcome his homosexuality, it's ultimately his own fault.

But I've reached the point in my life where what I want is to be content and healthy as a gay man, not to try to become something else. I'm not going to try to change anymore. For someone who wants to change, perhaps this organization can offer something helpful.

-L- said...

All good points, hurricane. The idea that if you don't get an answer to prayer, it's your own fault, that if you can't change your sexualtiy, it's your own fault, if you have doubts and honest questions, you don't have enough faith--these are all ill-conceived answers to genuine challenges and problems that some members of the church glibly offer. However, I don't think it's necessarily typical and I don't think the site I mentioned is as guilty of it as you say.

First, the site isn't affiliated with any religion. Second, it says on the home page, "Yes, many gays have shown it is indeed possible to live a happy, dignified, fulfilling life as a homosexual man, and we respect them and their chosen path." And later, "Our path is, admittedly, not for everyone." And finally, under the link Is Change Really Possible they write, "In sharing our experience, we are not necessarily suggesting that everyone can change. Nor are we saying that everyone should try to change."

I don't know that their explanation fits me entirely either. But I don't see it as an "easy" explanation. It seems to have some credible points, and some that may apply to my personal life. Of course, it doesn't apply to everyone, but I trust you know that for yourself.

I just want to be sure you understand I'm not asking anyone else to try "conversion therapy", I'm just seeking to clarify that it has some hope for myself after the comments that have categorically denied that it is relevant or possible in the least.

Dave Walter said...

"I just want to be sure you understand I'm not asking anyone else to try "conversion therapy", I'm just seeking to clarify that it has some hope for myself after the comments that have categorically denied that it is relevant or possible in the least."

Why not see a "regular" therapist beforehand and get his or her take on your plans?

-L- said...

I've seen 4 therapists already, and I don't know exactly how to tell if they are "regular"! I'm assuming you would only consider the therpist "regular" if they took the party line that changing sexual orientation is impossible and/or harmful. Well, again, I have enough experience with science to know when experts are blowing smoke up my ass. Homosexuality was a mental illness according to psychiatrists until just a few short years ago and now suddenly there's a movement--oh yes, these things are decided by activists in medicine, not necessarily scientists--to consider wanting to change your sexual orientation as itself a sexual paraphilia. Give me a break.

A skill learned in medical school that I continue to try to hone is the ability to critically assess primary data rather than meta reviews and consensus statements. As I said before, I know of no data showing that change is not possible. Expert opinions should be assessed for credibility, and that's an ongoing process with my therapist. I don't know whether it's possible, but since the question to me is clearly unresolved, I'm planning to risk the attempt with the belief that the potential benefit outweighs the hypothetical harms.

Dave Walter said...

By "regular" I mean not associated with a religious organization.

I think the consensus viewpoint you're seeing in the APA and APA is that it is generally in the best interest of the patient to accept his or her natural sexual orientation rather than reject it as the result of societal pressures.

I would guess that most struggling gays are not in your position psychologically. Most of them, I'll bet, are experiencing various degrees of self-hatred, insecurity, depression, anxiety and other psychological ill effects. You, in contrast, seem to be fine with your homosexuality; it's the incompatibility of your gayness with your religion that motivates you to seek to become straight.

I believe you could attempt reparative therapy and not be harmed if it fails. It seems you'd be going in with your eyes wide open, and not experience psychological crisis if you find yourself still attracted to men after years of reparative therapy.

My concern is more about the gays who seek reparative therapy without having first achieved acceptance of their homosexuality as a fact of life -- as a core part of their being. I believe such people need to first get therapy to resolve the issues of self-hatred, depression, etc., and only then consider whether to pursue reparative therapy.

I also think such people should be presented with certain cold hard facts right upfront -- for example, the fact that most Mormon marriages involving a gay spouse and a heterosexual spouse end up failing.

I sincerely hope your own marriage is one of the successful ones and that you succeed in becoming a heterosexual.

-L- said...

Thanks, Dave. I appreciate your well-wishes.

Also, where might I review the "cold hard facts" you mentioned?

Dave Walter said...

There were a couple of facts mentioned in the two pieces accompanying Staying In, but I couldn't immediately find them. I highly recommend you read the essay and commentaries if you haven't already.

Master Fob said...

Hey, welcome to the blogging world!

I read that series of articles Dave linked to, and I must say, they're great--especially the first and the last. I'm not sure I'd call anything in them "facts," though. More like "observations skewed by a heavy bias."

Smiling4Now said...

Like i said in my other message I hope to be successful like you, a wife and children is a dream for me! a young gay guy!