Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Congregation of One, part 7

I wasn’t particularly surprised to find the Planned Parenthood presenter a bit off-putting. The last lecturer I remembered from Planned Parenthood staff had played a phone recording from an abortion hotline in which a young woman wailed about the physician who had turned her away. This was the type of thing that brought people to attempt abortions on themselves with coat hangers, we were told. Valid point, certainly, but perhaps she could have emphasized it more with bright lights shining in my face after a period of sleep deprivation.

There was no attempt to address the elephant in the room—what were physicians to do when their personal values held performing an abortion to be immoral? Ignore or change their values? It was an interesting question that was smoothly bypassed giving the impression there was only one answer—physicians were to put aside their personal issues in the best interests of the patient.

Now, this new Planned Parenthood lecturer had asserted with complete finality that reparative therapy had been shown to be “ineffective, unnecessary, and harmful.” In an e-mail I requested primary sources for this claim. He directed me to the American Psychiatric Association’s position statement on the topic. I responded by quoting their position statement: “To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of ‘reparative’ treatments.” Changing tacks, he asked why I was so interested in the topic. I replied that I was concerned that science and not politics inform our medical education. Then, he wanted to know why I was bringing politics into the discussion at all.

Why indeed. There’s nothing political about homosexuality. Oh no, nothing at all.

He suggested if I had further questions to direct them to the course directors. I did, but I never heard back. I didn’t really expect to. I had spent hours and hours—collectively, probably days—filling out evaluation forms, but I had never received any indication that my feedback on sensitive issues was heard or appreciated. Sure, when I suggested they change the date of a test it was given some thought. But when I evaluated FCP’s sexuality course, I imagined they had done the opposite of my suggestion the following year just to spite me.

So, again, I was left to wonder about reparative therapy all on my own. Was it just “psychobabble”, as one of my psychiatry mentors had derisively dismissed it? Irresponsible and unethical therapists preying on desperate gay men with nowhere else to turn, now exploiting guilt and shame to promote their own political agenda while ignoring the diabolical risks of failure, despair, and suicide?

Please. I couldn’t believe the pervasive ignorance on the subject among the ivory tower that was my medical school. I had read some books, and they made sense to me. I had a friend who was undergoing reparative therapy and he seemed far happier than before. I had been referred to a reparative therapist for myself, and he claimed to be a man who had changed his sexual orientation many years before. He had written a book about his experience. I read it. I doubted. I hoped. I wondered.

Was this my coat hanger? Too bad the APA had encouraged therapists to turn me away, to attempt to abort my homosexuality in a closet at home with nobody to watch for side effects. Nobody to mitigate the risks.

Index for A Congregation of One
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8


mark said...

Hi L:

I have really enjoyed reading your "Congregation of One" blog entries...I hate the politics that seems to submerge any real, honest search for truth when homosexuality comes to the fore. And it comes from both sides, religious conservatives and gay liberals.

On another blog (Protean's) he quoted from a review of a new book called "Straight to Jesus". It is written by a woman who spent time working in an ex-gay community as background for her doctoral dissertation. She is an ethnographer, meaning she her approach is like that of an anthropologist who studies living communities and tries to understand how they work. She certainly doesn't agree with the ex-gay movement, but from I have read so far she seems to be a lot more even-handed and tends to let people speak for themselves. Anyway, I thought I'd mention this book, as you (and other readers of your blog) might find it interesting...I haven't got far into it yet (I bought the book last night) but so far it seems really interesting, very engaging writing.


-L- said...

Livid is a mild description of my response to that Solon article. Part 8 is the end of my current series, then I'll respond (if I get around to it).

mark said...

Wow, I hope that you do respond, because if the review provokes that degree of anger in you, I would really like to hear why.

mark said...

OKay, L, I saw your comment on Protean's websie, and I understand now the source of your anger. I have responded over there, so I won't repeat myself here. But I understand your anger and agree that the attitude that deeply held religious beliefs can easily be changed is pretty stupid.

Chris (hurricane) said...

L, I've enjoyed this series.

I saw your comment about the article on Protean's blog and I find myself finally deciding to ask you a question that has been on my mind for as long as I have known you, but I have not asked so as not to be impolitic or impolite.

You are a man of science and rationality. Your chosen profession of medicine demands it. You have written often and eloquently of the need for rigor in understanding scientific data. And yet, you do not seem to demand the same kind of rigor when it comes to matters of religion, even when it impacts you in a profoundly personal way.


And more broadly, why do we allow illogical and irrational beliefs to go unchallenged in our personal lives and in society at large simply because they are rooted in religious belief? You decry the anti-religious bias in the institutions that you have been a part of, but it seems to me that religion gets a pass on micro and macro scales when it comes to evidence and justification.