Sunday, July 01, 2007

On tonight's 'Media Crossfire'

On the left ... Fox News. On the right ... the Los Angeles Times.

No, really.

Read this Fox News report about denunciations of the ex-gay ministry Exodus, which met last week in Southern California, under the headline "Former Leaders of Ex-Gay Ministry Apologize for 'Bringing Harm'," and remind yourself that this is the far-right organ of the christofascist godbags (HT: private e-mail from Irenaeus).
Three former leaders of an international ministry that counsels gays to change their sexual orientation apologized for their efforts, saying that though they acted sincerely, their message had caused isolation, shame and fear.
The former leaders of the interdenominational Christian organization Exodus International said Wednesday they had all, over time, become disillusioned with the group's ideas and concerned about what they described as the wrenching human toll of such gay conversion efforts.
"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families," the three, including former Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, said in a joint written statement presented at a news conference in Hollywood. "Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear and loss of faith that this message creates."
Needless to say, the usual suspects are crowing. And needless to say, wrongly.

Admittedly, the first word is "former," but unless you read the article carefully or know the names or the backstory, it doesn't leap out to you that the speakers aren't just "former" in the sense that Bill Clinton is a "former president." It would be more accurate to describe Bussee as a "disgruntled" ex-gay, something the article mentions only late and in passing. His criticism of Exodus is about as meaningful as a 1980 article about a former Democrat apologizing for the damage his party had done through the Great Society and the "acid, amnesty and abortion culture." Then mentioning that it was Ronald Reagan's stump speech. Or describing David Brock or Damon Linker as "former conservatives," without mentioning that "disgruntled ex-conservative" is now their official role.

I don't mean to be hard on Bussee, but no therapeutic program can ever, in principle, work if the patient walks away or convinces himself, through whatever means, that his condition is something good. Fox notes that Bussee left Exodus to pursue a sexual relationship with another man. I really do understand that resisting a lifetime of habit is hard enough, even apart from cultural propaganda. And that the male organ does have a mind of its own. But Bussee's giving up once a man gave him the hots sufficiently is still a pitch-perfect example of Chesterton's epigram that "the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." In this case, "abandoned" might fit better than "untried," but the point is the same. Instead, Bussee surrendered to Woody Allen morality: The heart wants what the heart wants.

But the better news is that incredibly, and I found this via an article at the California Catholic about the confluence of the Exodus and "Ex-Gay Survivor" conferences, this very good Los Angeles Times piece notes how both the "ex-gay survivors" and Exodus are backing off some of their indefensible claims.
Despite the fundamental gulf that divides them, gay-rights activists and those who see homosexuality as a sinful disorder are starting to reach agreement on some practical points.
They seem to be coming closer to, dare I say, a more-Catholic view of same-sex attraction. (Father John Harvey is cited at the bottom of the Cal Catholic article). I think that the grandiose promises of some people associated with Exodus simply feeds the kind of frustration that produces cases like Bussee. I would have long ago become a self-identified gay, living the lifestyle in Dupont Circle, if the standard for holiness were "never having homosexual feelings" or "never having the standard male reaction in response to them."

But at the one end, the current head of Exodus Alan Chambers, who actually IS on board with the group's mission, acknowledges that "conversion" is slow and imperfect, and probably never complete.
... Chambers won't celebrate successful "ex-gays." Truth is, he's not sure he's ever met one.
With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he's a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he's come to resent the term "ex-gay": It's too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said. ...
Chambers and other Exodus leaders talk deliberately about a possible biological basis for homosexuality, in part to explain that no one can turn a switch and flip from gay to straight, no matter how hard they pray.
Evangelicals tend toward a soteriology of "once saved, always saved," with salvation being a onetime, definable event that divides your life into "Before Christ" and "After Christ." Since religious doctrine shapes imagination, even when it's not intellectually cited, it's not surprising that evangelicals should see "conversion" sexually as analogous to "conversion" spiritually. And set themselves up for a fall. And while the move against that model is merely personal for Chambers, that it is occurring at all is heartening.

While it's not surprising, as the LA Times cites, that the anti-ex-gay side should "[see] it as a sign of openness," the article also notes that they're at least modifying their tune somewhat on therapy, again bringing it somewhat more in line with what the Church teaches (unintentionally in this case, I'm sure).
He and other gay activists — along with major mental-health associations — still reject therapy aimed at "liberating" or "curing" gays.
But Bussee is willing to acknowledge potential in therapy that does not promise change but instead offers patients help in managing their desires and modifying their behavior to match their religious values — even if that means a life of celibacy.
"It's about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.
The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.
"What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization" common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist.
"For many years, mental-health professionals have taken the view that since homosexuality is not a mental disorder, any attempt to change sexual orientation is unwise," said Spitzer, a Columbia University professor.
Every little bit of progress is noted -- the gay therapist refers to "these same-sex attractions," which refers strictly to what can be known (phenomena) and avoids the reifying (and therefore obscurantist) language of sexual orientation. There have been a series of reports in recent months that the APA is considering re-listing "unwanted homosexuality" as a mental-health condition (something I would definitely acknowledge as existing in my own case). As follows:
APA President Gerald P. Koocher affirmed a patients’ right to help at a Town Hall Meeting at the organization’s annual convention in New Orleans. Koocher stated, “APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction.”
The rubber will hit the road when the APA's gay caucus and the rest of its pro-gay membership has to approve a course of action -- will it say approved therapies can "modify[] their behavior to match their religious values" and, in Beckstead's words, "allow[] them the space, free from bias" to do this. After all, the most rabid gay activist can easily acknowledge "unwanted homosexuality" as a condition, but say that the only approved courses of action are those intended to get the patient to "want" homosexuality. Again, this is closer to the Church's teaching that behavior is normative and that "orientation" is a category suspect at best.

I don't quite know how optimistic to be about the APA's vote next year -- there are some doubts about the review panel's composition. Its decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the DSM was not a medical or scientific decision at all, but a philosophical one that "gay is good." The work of pro-gay head-shrinkers since merely presuppose this and build on it; they don't and can't actually prove it as true. The head of the APA's gay caucus more or less says as much. Their criticism of anti-gay therapy is not its success or failure, but because it is Badthought.
Anderson conceded that it is the motivation of many therapists involved in reparative and conversion therapies, rather that the effectiveness of the programs, with which he takes issue.
"The APA, of course, recognizes the issue of client autonomy to set their goals," Anderson said. "But we also still see that people who promote reparative therapy are promoting a prejudicial attitude toward homosexuality."
If we must call psychiatry a science (and I am very reluctant to for the reason here¹), a medical decision could in principle have been soundly made within the APA's scientific competence. "There is nothing known that can counter this condition" is not different in principle from "this cancer is inoperable," a judgment in which an oncologist is, in fact, expert. But instead the decision has been taken as giving unimpeachable "scientific" support to what is nothing more than a certain philosophical anthropology, which science is incompetent to critique. An oncologist has nothing to say on whether it is good to have cancer (that's a matter, to use Mr. Anderson's lingo ... "for client autonomy, which psychiatrists [of course] respects"). It misses the point to call an oncologist "wrong" on that issue, in the sense that someone who says 2+2=5 is "wrong. "The point is that said oncologist is not even right enough to be "wrong," instead being more like the man who says "2+2 demonstrates that your love is like a red, red rose."
------------------------------------------
¹ The universal problem of all psychological discourses is that the human soul ("psyche") is plastic and self-conscious, which makes all psychologies true to those who believe them and false to those who do not. As I noted above and have before, no therapy will ever work on someone determined to resist it or who thinks his condition is good (so the "scientific" criterion of "randomness" is nonsense on stilts for psychology. Psychology can only be "true" at the level of a self-fulfilling prophecy to those outside each discourse, but so what? Why does gay-activist psychology get a veto over Catholic psychology?

3 comments:

Jeron said...

One of our members is returning from the Exodus conference tomorrow night. Can't wait to hear about that. Christopher West was supposed to talk, which is why they went.

Anonymous said...

The "...re-listing "unwanted homosexuality" as a mental-health condition..." is an interesting observation.
It might be argued that it is at least comparable to the prevailing attitude toward sex-change operations (though I confess a lack of expetise in this area). Because if counseling for sex-changes are not a priori assuming such a desire is wrong, how can that be the case when someone is desiring a change of behavior?

Mephibosheth said...

I was deeply involved in Exodus in the past, knew Alan, and was friends with his VP, Randy Thomas. Alan's language has definitely changed over the years and certainly represents a break with his predecessors, which causes no end of histrionics among the folks at places like ExGayWatch. As far as I can tell, he has never given a straight answer (oops) to questions about whether he still has homosexual attractions.

It looks like Christopher spoke at one breakout session. I'm pleasantly surprised and intrigued that he was there at all; Catholics have pertually been ghetto-ized at Exodus conferences.

Someone once suggested this fantasy to me: Ex-gays bringing a class-action suit against the APA for delisting homosexuality, the idea being that the delisting prevented people from getting the help they desired. Mmm, no thanks. I really don't want to fight for my right to be mentally ill.