Monday, July 17, 2006

Ex-gay ministries

Eve Tushnet and David Morrison both have written in recent weeks about ex-gay ministries and psychological programs that say they can heal homosexual desires. There is much wisdom in both of what these individuals say. Eve also followed up her NRO piece on her blog here (scroll down to the end of the day for about five posts) here and here.

As for my thoughts, I am a bit of a skeptic about these programs, because they tend to be based on historical-psychological theories for the genesis of homosexuality, and if that's true, then by definition, it can't be undone. You can't unlive your adolescence (you can try to recode it, sure, but I'm not sure wht this would help existentially ... the male body has a mind of its own and it's a hard thing to fool). But I have even less time for the attacks on these ministries, which I think presuppose a descriptively inaccurate understanding of sexuality -- the dominant-hand/eye-color model of something teleologically determined at birth (or so soon in one's pre-sexual conditioning as to make the distinction academic). I posted some of my thoughts at Amy Welborn's last month, and I've adapted my two or three notes into a few more paragraphs that I think stand up without the context of the back-and-forth:

As for the success of these programs, 'successful" sublimation of homosexual desire does not constitute 'becoming heterosexual,' if we understand these terms as ontological categories. But having desire for the opposite sex might constitute success, at least somewhat, and that IS common. What is rare is the complete elimination of homosexual desire -- in other words, therapy produces three sorts of results; all-straight, mixed (i.e., glass half-empty, half-full, howver you wish to slice it), and all-gay (i.e., complete failure). Whether this split is 33-33-33 or 20-40-40 or 5-5-90 is neither here nor there, ontologically. The point is that change is possible. The rigid division of persons into "gay" or "straight" orientations blinds us to this fact.

The problem is that "sexual orientation" (as our society understands and constructs that term) is not "one's essential being." To ask the question in reverse ... can a breeder change his behavior to the point where homosexuality becomes habitual and "normal" for him? Sure. And if he's propagandized sufficiently with the notion that he's now discovered his "true nature," he can develop the "orientation" as much as anyone else.

I agree that people should go into these programs, if at all (I have not) only with their eyes wide open, knowing what the chances of "success" are, and with realistic expectations. All too often, this caveat is undermined both by marketers eager to sell their product, and by the hopes of potential customers who want to be rid of what they see as a scourge (understandably also ... hey, remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Dad warned eager-beaver pitcher Greg that out of millions of young boys, only one will go up to be a Don Drysdale. And Greg said, "well, I'm gonna be the one." It's like that.)

So yes, I agree that these things often are unsuccessful and shouldn't be oversold. Shame on those who do. I hope you enjoy your money. But the thing is, I don't think the APA/gay activist concern on this subject is disinterested and unideological. The general prevalence of failure or only-partial success doesn't distinguish anti-gay therapy from any other non-drug, non-intrusive (think "A Clockwork Orange") psychological treatment. And keep in mind that only the believing and highly-motivated should even enter such efforts in the first place (which BTW makes the "unscientific" charges ring hollow). If there were a (say) 30 percent success rate, that wouldn't mean 3 of 10 random men on Dupont Circle. But again, this doesn't distinguish anti-gay therapy. No therapy can ever work on someone determined to resist it or who thinks his condition is good.

1 comment:

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

I'm not terribly worried about "being healed"--as much as I want to please God with my life and lifestyle.

Courageman, you raised some very important points for consideration.

Great post.