Saturday, March 03, 2007

Reflections on the Robinson article, Part 2

Most importantly, Dr. Robinson rubbishes the notion of sexual orientation. I've expressed my doubts about the very concept in the past, noting the fluidity of behavior and the inability of the language of "orientation" to grasp it, beyond post-hoc rationalization. But he goes to town on it, laying out exactly why it cannot do this -- the very concept is circular. We identify the "orientation" as existing because of the behavior, but then want to say that the orientation is causing the behavior.
Do you see it just goes in a circle? It doesn't really add any information; we do that all the time in our society, in our culture: talk about things, label them, and then describe them as having acted as a result of the label. We do it a lot in the social sciences; take, for example, the concept of self-esteem ... what began as a description of what people were doing--saying or thinking good or bad things about themselves--came to be talked about as though it was the reason they were doing it. ...
Now the same thing is true when it comes to talking about homosexuality. Why is that man sexually attracted to other men? It's because he's homosexual. How do you know he's homosexual? Because he's sexually attracted to other men. What makes him do that? Homosexuality. We have created a condition, a trait, a disease, an orientation called homosexuality and given it power to make people do things.
If I were a Marxist, I would note that Dr. Robinson is describing the process of "reification" (from Wikipedia: "the consideration of an abstraction or an object as if it had living existence and abilities"). If I were a Foucauldian (which I am kinda), I would say that "sexual orientation" is merely a discourse that attempts to categorize and classify for the purposes of repressing the Other (sorry for the pretentious francobabble). These are objective facts: "John" first became fascinated with male bodies at 8. "John" was aroused while wrestling in gym class at 13. "John" first fell in love with a close male friend at 25. "John" first sinned at 28, to a male image. "John" first sinned with another man at 35. Those are all real events, ones powerfully stuck in my memory. But "John discovered he is gay" can never be anything more than an interpretation of those facts. And a pernicious one, because the discourse of sexual orientation, like all discourses, pushes toward a (self-)identification that represses Other behavior (in this case, chastity). The discourse makes that behavior appear as something one cannot do, not one's category, outside the box that the discourse has put you in. After all, if you "are" something, the only thing that will make you happy is to live out that something ("denial" being bad).

This becomes particularly pernicious in the case of the construction of identity, which depends so much on memory, what one did and what one thinks of it now. The last explains why it's important that so many of Dr. Robinson's patients are deeply introspective. He says he tells them:
"There is no difference between us, except this: you can remember how to be sexually aroused by other men because you've done it. I can't remember how to do it because I've never done it" ... But if this is a memory, if this is something I can remember how to do, how do you get rid of a memory? Amnesia?
Then he goes into a hilarious description of word association and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Buffalo." And how (again) someone very scrupulous and introspective would react so badly to saying "Reindeer" that it makes him worse off than in the first place, analogizing to how struggling in quicksand makes you sink faster. We know there is no "gay gene," but we also know that therapy has only limited effectiveness even among the well-motivated, at least with respect to same-sex-attraction itself (as opposed to issues related to it or growing out of it).

In other words, and without citing Aquinas or Aristotle, Dr. Robinson puts homosexuality in the same category as they would have -- a habit (independent of whether it is a good or bad habit to have). Or a learned pattern of behavior that is very difficult to break, particularly since one can only go through adolescence and maturation once. But also a habit that is absolutely impossible to break either among those who think it's a good habit to have and whose corresponding behavior is freed and/or encouraged. Even the APA, contrary to what the gay activists say, acknowledges that homosexuality is "caused" and not innate, though they do say it is fixed by adolescence. Hence the practicing gays who have convinced themselves that "gay is who I am." They are not exactly "wrong." The great paradox of psychology, in my view is that, because identity is constructed, all psychologies become true for those who believe them and all psychologies become false for those who don't believe them. As Dr. Robinson puts it:
Can you see why a young man who is emotionally sensitive, introspective, and wants to be good, gets caught up in that pattern? It is the introspective young man who over-interprets what's happening to him and focuses on it incessantly. It is the young man who wants to be good, who loathes and hates himself because he is not. It is the young man who is emotionally sensitive, who isolates himself because he cannot bear the thought or the pain of anyone else knowing about this problem. And so he shields himself from all kinds of intimate relationships, or from those who might help him.
We become what we do and do what we become. We do what we justify and justify what we do. We become what we have justified and justify what we have become.

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