Thursday, May 18, 2006

AIDS and suicide

Less than 2% of the gay population survives to age sixty-five. Gay people commit suicide at much higher rates than national averages [according to a DHS study]. Gay people generally attribute these problems to the oppression and hate they receive from society. However, the internal struggle with homosexuality creates much emptiness and despair.
Jason Parks,
in Resolving Homosexual Problems: A Guide For LDS Men

The other trick about this book is that it is a little dated. It was published in 1997 and a lot has happened since then. The discussion on HIV and AIDS was particularly annoying to me. It's understandable, but still annoying, when someone who doesn't have a science background tries to interpret and explain scientific information and gets it slightly wrong. Journalists are notorious for this. Or just presents selected scientific information that supports a particular point of view. I didn't quote this section because it is quite lengthy, and, really, his point in the section about HIV and AIDS being a significant public health problem for gay men is true regardless, and most people probably wouldn't even notice subtle errors in portrayal.

The bit on suicide quoted above is similar. I've seen many endorsements on the blogs of the idea that emptiness and despair can result from the internal struggle a gay man faces. And I think it is entirely reasonable to believe that hate from society has a great deal to do with the problem. But spouting either of these as if they adequately explain this complex problem is off-putting. What about confounding factors? What about mental illnesses? What about substance abuse? What about personality traits more prevalent (but not pervasive) among gays? What about the fact that we just plain don't understand these things as well as some would like to claim?

I thought the recent post on DW's blog discussing suicide was an interesting example. Suicide rates are both knowable (although perhaps not by a retrospective cohort) and reported. Saying they can't be shows a lack of epidemiological training or understanding. Further, the LDS church does not "contribute" to suicide among gays any more than a high school teacher who gives a paper an "F" contributes to the suicide of the student who feels like a failure and takes his life afterward. It is the emotional and confused state of the suicidal person that leads to the death, not innocuous circumstances that would be tolerated by a well person. Such mis-attribution of blame is deplorable.

1 comment:

Foxx said...

What is the internal struggle but a conflict between the truth a society preaches (i.e. homosexuality is evil) and the truth that springs from one's heart (i.e. I'm gay and good)? All things being equal, I don't think I would have thought twice about the morality of homosexuality any more than a straight thinks about the morality of their sexuality, but I lived in a world where there was only one acceptable way, and I don't fit that way -- through no choice or fault of my own.

The struggle is between external truth and internal truth and figuring out for oneself which is more important.