Monday, July 31, 2006


After reading a few books on reparative therapy by proponents, I asked my therapist whether he thought it would be a good idea to read books debunking the idea. I wondered if he would respond like a priesthood leader might if you asked about reading anti-Mormon literature after having just finished the scriptures, but he did not. He strongly encouraged me to read up on their arguments, to be as informed as I could about all sides of the issue, and to assess it all for myself. Who, I asked, would be a good author to start with? He promptly suggested Jack Drescher, the national leader in the psychiatric field in opposing reparative therapy.

As it turned out, I was able to not merely read something by Drescher, but to meet the man and hear him speak in person at a professional meeting not long afterward. Unfortunately, a few days later I moved across the country and have yet to find the handout and my notes from the presentation! So, regrettably, all I have to go by now is memory.

He introduced the science, the politics, and the history of reparative therapy. The interplay between homosexuality and medical and psychiatric scientists is pretty darn dramatic. Gay advocates got some traction from a gay psychiatrist who agreed to be part of a panel at a national psychiatric conference--as long as he could wear a rubber Nixon mask! Drescher discussed the remarkable way gay rights activists organized and started a cultural revolution of gay tolerance. They began framing homosexuality as an identity characteristic that requires non-discrimination protection under federal law. It was brilliant.

But alas, it wasn't long before Drescher began bashing. It always amazes me how people can become so committed to a worthy cause like opposing hate and bigotry that they then slip into allowing themselves to hate and be bigoted against those they see as enemies. Drescher sees nothing, nothing at all, redeeming about what reparative therapists do. He sees it as unethical. He sees it as harmful. And he sees it as something to spend a great deal of his time and effort to write and speak out against. I respect all of this. It's when he then falsely described the methods of reparative therapists, vilified the practitioners, and derisively described religious conservatives as hypocrites--not some, but all--that I started losing respect. He called NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) Narth Vadar. Clever. Especially if you're a propagandist. I expect something a little less sensational and perhaps respectful from a scientist.


Chris (hurricane) said...

I expect something a little less sensational and perhaps respectful from a scientist.

Fair enough. Except that perhaps he doesn't find what they do worthy of respect.

That said, one of the things I like the most about you is your balanced approach to complicated and controversial issues.

-L- said...

I find plenty of people I disagree with but still manage to be civil to. I don't think an ideological difference excuses character assault.

Some gay advocates play the diversity card over and over again but have no interest in tolerating diverse points of view from the conservative side of the spectrum.

Thanks for the compliment

Chris (hurricane) said...

Some gay advocates play the diversity card over and over again but have no interest in tolerating diverse points of view from the conservative side of the spectrum.

I agree. Advocates for diversity can be highly intolerant. And when you through politics into the mix, it can get messy and uncivil.

But from where I sit now, I have to admit that I often find the diverse points of view from the conservative side to be intolerant and threatening. Sometimes intolerance is hard to tolerate--something I sure you can agree with even if we don't agree on where the intolerance lies.

mark said...

I don't enjoy dogmatism, either. I remember in my teens seeing bits and pieces of Carl Sagan's series Cosmos, and really resenting the way he was so absolute in his assertion that evolution was the answer to how we got here. Of course, I was probably then and later just as dogmatic that evolution was "false, false, false". I smile a little as I think about how darn sure of myself I was.

Up here in Canada, I am grateful that gay marriage is now legal. But I sure do get tired of the narrow attitude too many of its advocates have. All they seem to be able to see is "their issue" and anyone who is not 100% for "their issue" is "the enemy". Extremes of black and white, just like the fundamentalists they love to attack. Too bad they can't see all of the shades of grey in between. They'd sure be a whole lot more tolerable to be around.

Ultimately, I think it is all about self-righteousness, and insecurity.

learner said...

Hi, I'm new to your blog. I find your questioning mind refreshing. I don't really know if I can add anything worthwhile to the discussion, but I think discourse is always rewarding as long as it is done in an effort to understand.

I am female, straight, and not a Morman. I happened upon this blog rather accidentally. I retired over a year ago and have enjoyed time spent reading. One topic I have found fascinating is that of the "causes" of homosexuality and herterosexuality. It's so sad that progress in understanding this is blocked by politics at every level.

From what I have read, it is incomprehensible to me that more scientific research has not been done. Funding is scarce, and it would appear, only certain scientists want to touch this hot potato and some who do may even have an agenda. That's a shame.

Truth for the truth's sake should be enough reason for science to go on about its business, but that's not how funding works, so I see.

I think that's why I have enjoyed your comments. As a scientist, you want the truth. That's as it should be. Perhaps we'll discover the exact trigger for homosexuality and heterosexuality , or perhaps we will one day be better able to understand a complex mix of triggers, perhaps not. That should not mean we shouldn't try.

I can count on two hands the number of men I've worked with over the years that I have known to be gay. I am sure others were and I did not know. I offer this only so that you are aware of the limits of my expereince with gays.

One of my colleagues, a young man much younger than I, died of Aids. He was very out of the closet and very politically involved, and he welcomed the questions that my friends and I threw at him.

Perhaps gays look at straights the was we look at them. Curiosities. That's not kind, but it's true.

We are alternately understanding, compassionate, non-judgemental, and then out of nowhere, something swtiches, and even though we may not voice our thoughts we are perplexed, insensitive, and intolerant. We say, "It's just not natural. It's like incest, no different than a brother and a sister getting it on. Something's very wrong."

Yes, we do that. Of course, you probably know that that's what we do, even the most tolerant among us. Perhaps gays feel the same way about straights, that we are indeed curiosities.

For a very long time I considered myself to be "enlightened." My reasoning was simple, perhpas simple-minded too: Gay people are born that way. They don't choose to be gay. That is that."

Now that I have had a chance to read a bit, I see that at least to date, science just doesn't know. The best it offers is that homosexuality is probably a complex mix of the biological, the psychological, and the sociological/environmental. Okay, that's at least a starting point, even if it turns out to be wrong.

Also, it's altogether possible that what causes one person to be gay is not what causes the other to be gay.

And, I wonder if the "causes" themselves are actually the opposite of what "causes" heterosexuality. That is, are they really opposites at all?

Well, all I am saying is that I know very little; perhaps I know nothing. Yes, I think that is a better description of my knowledge here--I know nothing. However, I am a layman. It saddens me that both the physical and social sciences seem to know "nothing" as well, nothing for sure, that is, yet some people on both sides proclaim they do.

It's okay for them not to know if I felt they were seriously trying to know, but it would appear that people all over this issue do not really want to know. They simply want some "evidence" which will bolster their already held position. It's the Middle Ages where this issue is concerned.

That does not mean we can't learn from both sides, however.

So, that's who I am and where my head is right now.

I decided to write because of something you wrote. It hit me upside the head because in my reading it's a comment identical to or very much like comments so many gay men have made.

You referred to a high school experience. You were lying in the grass, looking up at the stars with some male friends of yours. You said, "I want to be like them. I want...them."

The first part of you statement was within my experience... maybe, depending on what you meant. Perhaps it's just semantics so that's why I am writing. When I was a young girl, I might look at the hair of another girl, a girl with beautiful hair, and say, "Geez, I'd give anything to have hair like that." Or I might have admired and even been envious of a girl who had a conviviality I lacked. Perhaps I did the same when I saw a girl who seemed to never be shy since I was very shy at that age.

HOwever, it struck me that I didn't want to be like *them.* I wanted to have *traits* like theirs...the hair, the personality, etc.

I was wondering if that's what you meant. Did you want those boys' traits or did you really and truly want to be like them in every way? Or, in what way did you want to be like them?

Next, when you said you wanted them, did you mean you physically wanted them?

That lead me to thinking that if this is a common experience of a gay person, the wanting to"be like" someone coupled with actually "wanting them," that there might be a psychological disconnect of some sort to who you really are, your identity.

If you want to be "like them" and "have them," let's say you do. Let's say you get together with such a person. Wouldn't this be very tough on a relationship? Would you be dissatisfied if either you or they became somehow "different" or if you perceived they or you were different? Would that now mean you were no longer attracted to them or they to you?

It's sounds like you are wanting yourself or your conception of yourself or a perfected version of yourself, and a relationship based on that would be hard to sustain.

If I am making no sense here, forgive me. I am just trying to understand what you and others have said.

It's comments like this that make me wonder if those who believe homosexuality is somehow "learned" or is psycho-social may not have some truth to their arguments.

The other thing I'd like is to ask you a question since you have a background in science.

So much of who we are, I gather, is based on the neurological pathways...the neurons, the synapses, the neurotransmitters and all. This stuff is way beyond me.

But, simply put, if I taste chocolate as a very young kid and something is stimulated in my brain, some pleasure center, does that mean that if I contiue to taste chocolate a pathway will grow stronger and stronger, telling me I like chocolate to the point that giving up chocolate may become difficult? Or pizza? Or milk? Or playing pick-up sticks with my older brother?

My point is, have there been studies that try to determine if in either an infant's experience or a young child's experience a nerve pathway somehow developed when there was pleasure attached to an experience with a same sex person like a dad, or other family member. HEck, doesn't even have to be a family member. I mean this pleasure did not have to be a sexual pleasure either.

Well, I think I've answered my own question on that one. No experiment to date has been designed that would trace those pathways, nor have any parents volunteered their kids for such an experiment.

I'm rambling at this point. Any comments would be helpful.


-L- said...

Learner, it is a delight to have a new visitor to the blog. Your comment was interesting and enjoyable to read.

To answer a couple of your questions, I can start by saying that I don't understand exactly what I mean when I say I "wanted" my friends. That's the trouble about sexuality and desire and the inner-workings of our brains. They are nuanced and always moving and subtle and generally impossible to articulate exactly what the necessary parts of a particular experience really are. That's just human experience, I think.

There are those who believe that homosexuality is a sexualizing of attractions that are born from envy and a deep feeling of personal inadequacy. I don't know if there's any truth to that, but it's certainly consistent with that experience, in particular. I loved those friends in high school. Thought about them all the time, was envious of their other friends, always wanted more attention, etc. Ultimately being enamored morphed into having a crush. Or something like that.

I recognize that wanting to have someone else is an impossibility. Even those with whom we are most intimate, even our own family members, everyone retains their individual identity and separateness. So, yes, I understand that there's something irrational in this compulsive desire that I experience. But it's less compulsive now. I still desire, but not nearly as frequently or as intently. And I think that's a good thing, because I agree that my desires can never be met--they are impossible to fulfill entirely since they include consuming another being into myself.

As far as the neurological pathways, my impressions on the subject aren't scientific, but perhaps are somewhat informed by science just the same. I don't think that a formative experience with chocolate would lead to dependence, necessarily, unless chocolate was the only way a certain need was to be satisfied. I guess I'm trying to make a distinction between just any ol' sensory feedback and sexual development. I think sexuality is something more similar to the imprinting that happens when a duckling first looks at its mother and after hatching and immediately becomes dependent. I heard that if the chick first sees a dog, it will believe it to be its mother and it will follow it indefinitely. The mind is much more complex than we understand. Much.

It's a false distinction to say that people are either "born that way" or "choose" to be gay. I feel entirely certain that neither is true, but that both have an influence. So, take that for what it's worth.

Thanks again for the comment.