Eve Tushnet

June 16, 2006

No time for a real post, but every bit of this (read everything on June 15) is brilliantly spot-on. Everything gets a resounding "Amen!" from me, except her one-liner about Love in Action, as I still don't quite know what to think about them, and her advice about praying the rosary and confessing to a priest, for obvious reasons.

Her NRO piece is okay, but not as interesting to me. I would have appreciated more attention devoted to the rank-and-file exgay "little people"–mainly we just hear about two LWO speakers (only one of them exgay) and the exexgays who are strongly critical of their exgay experience.

One thing I absolutely must come back to: Her comments on her blog about alienation and beauty articulate something my brain has been fumbling with for a while now. Her statement that "my experiences weren't just pointless, something to be overcome and forgotten as quickly as possible" resonates with me and highlights one of the things that bug me about the exgay mainstream–the emphasis on disvaluing, diminishing, discrediting, and demeaning the experience of same-sex attraction.

Unfortunately, further reflection must wait for another time.


Some Notes on My Residential Program Experience

June 13, 2006

I didn't want to get into it in the midst of My Attraction Change History (and make that even longer than it already is), but I should probably clarify some things about my residential program experience. Especially given the recent notoriety of Love in Action / Refuge, I want to be sure to point out some of the important ways in which my program experience differed from that.

1. It was entirely voluntary.

They made it very easy for people to leave the program, and were very quick to ask people to leave if they didn't act like they wanted to be there.

2. It was entirely free.

Those in the program were responsible for paying for their own toiletries. Also, you had to bring enough money for a bus ticket to take you back to wherever you came from, in case you or the program suddenly decided that you ought to leave. If you were too poor to afford these things, they would connect you with someone who could help you out. Other than that, it was completely free of charge. Of course, we "paid" in labor to keep the program running–growing food to feed the people in the program, preparing food, taking care of the facilities and the grounds. But nobody got rich off us–nobody took advantage of us.

3. It was entirely my own decision.

My family and most of my non-Christian friends and even some of my Christian friends vehemently objected to my going there, afraid I was going to be brainwashed or something. Instead of anyone pressuring me into it, there were tons of people trying to pressure me out of it. I embraced full responsibility for my decision.

4. It was a drastic measure that I recognized as such.

I didn't make the decision to enter the program (or the daily decision to stay) lightly or in ignorance of what I was doing. They were quite upfront about how they operate when I went in for my initial interview, and the application packet had all the relevant information and rules contained within. I understood their fundamental beliefs and values, and felt them to be in agreement with my own. So I knew what I was getting into.

I saw it as pretty much a last resort, a last ditch attempt to try to find a way to make my life work. I had tried every less drastic, less radical, less aggressive, less invasive thing I could think of. I had tried doing the normal exgay thing, but that clearly wasn't working at all. I had repeatedly tried reconciling my faith and my sexuality with gay Christian theology, but I couldn't make that work for me either. I had even briefly tried "quitting" my faith and walking away from God, but for better or worse, during my evangelical days I have never known the luxury of doubt. I don't know why–maybe we only get so much doubt in a lifetime, and I used all of mine up before I became a Christian? All I know is that since I have become a Christian I have never been able to seriously doubt God's existence, His love for me, the veracity and trustworthiness of His Word as contained in Holy Scripture, or His will for my life regarding homosexuality. And it is very hard to turn away from God without doubt, as I discovered. Too hard for me at least.

5. They only required that I grow my hair out to a length of two inches.

I realize this part was unclear/misleading in my original post, so I've edited that. They didn't make me have girly long hair. They did feel that two inches was a reasonable lower limit for a woman. It was my decision to just keep growing my hair out all the way once I passed the two-inch mark. As far as I was concerned, if I couldn't have my gloriously bad-ass 3/16" buzzcut, why bother? I'm not really the compromising sort about these kinds of things.

6. The physical-touch restrictions were designed neither to punish me nor to cure me, but were there for pragmatic reasons, for the community's sake.

As I indicated in my attraction change history post, the program apparently had a great deal of trouble in the past with admitting same-sex attracted people into the program. The same-sex attracted people would almost invariably end up seducing other people in the program. The two sexes were kept quite separate from each other for the most part, and no dating was permitted, so the potential for "situational homosexuality" was very high. Quarters were very close, and affectionate friendships among those of one's own sex were encouraged. This was a recipe for problems. So even after my application to join the program was accepted, there was considerable debate over whether or not I should be allowed to come, and when I was allowed to come, the special rules and restrictions were put on me in an attempt to avert what seemed to some staff to be another inevitable impending disaster.

Thankfully, I vindicated myself by apparently becoming the first same-sex-attracted woman (at least in the memory of the staff I spoke with) to finish the program without creating a lesbian scandal. Which is perhaps slightly embarrassing, from a worldly perspective, now that I think about it. 🙂

7. The program did not consider itself therapy.

They openly rejected the designation "therapeutic", saying that it referred to another approach that they did not practice. Psychology/psychotherapy was held in rather low esteem. They preferred what they called a "discipleship" model instead. What did this mean, practically speaking?

It meant that my weekly meetings with my mentor were nothing like any session with a mental health professional for therapy that I've ever had. They were not a venue for me to work out my thoughts and feelings about my past, present, and future. Instead, they were a space to discuss my present spiritual growth and whatever Bible texts I had been assigned, and for my mentor to confront me with whatever she heard from other staff that I needed to be confronted about. We kept journals, but our journals were not really a place to dwell on our problems. So, for example, for a while I was assigned to spend my daily journalling/reflecting time going through the accounts of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection in each of the gospels, answering the question "So what?" for each verse. We met in a group session briefly once a week, but this was only to confront and confess issues that came up in our interactions in daily community life, not a place to discuss our problems. Our lives were mostly filled with work, Bible classes, singing, and prayer. It was a "God-centered" approach rather than a "man-centered" one. While therapy primarily looks inward, we were encouraged primarily to look to God, to allow our lives to be solely guided by the question "In this moment, how can I please God?" I didn't work through what I had thought were my issues so much as I learned to view them as though they ultimately didn't matter. I didn't solve my problems, I dissolved them.

I mention this just to clarify the nature of the program. There was virtually no therapy of any sort present, in either a group or an individual setting, if "therapy" is being understood in the ordinary sense. As I said in my original post, my sexuality was virtually never discussed once the rules were in place. We were required to do a write-up on our family history upon entering the program, so that they had all the facts, but this was rarely discussed either. So there was no attempt to uncover the "roots" of my same-sex attraction. It bore no resemblance to reparative therapy. It was more a sort of intensive spiritual training. Which was fine by me.

I need to write about how enormously blessed I was by this program, but I will save that for its own post.

Conversion Rates from the OCRT

June 12, 2006

NOTE: Statistics and specific facts are not my strong suit. I am much better with ideas than facts, with the abstract than with the concrete, with the big picture than with the nitty-griitty details. I tend to miss the trees for the forest. So generally I would prefer to play to my strengths and avoid a post like this. But because I want to raise these concerns, I'll risk humiliation and bring them up anyway, and hopefully learn from whatever correction is offered to me.

I usually enjoy the Ontario Consultants' on Religious Tolerance site. Although they have a noticeable bias (who doesn't, anyway?), I find them useful for picking up links and tidbits of info. So I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to follow a link from an online discussion to their (in my opinion) misleading attempt to come up with estimates of orientation change from existing studies.

Please understand that I don't doubt that attraction change currently may be rare. I'm not convinced that the common approaches are very successful in general. So for me this is not about defending reparative therapy or a particular "success rate." I just think that honesty, accuracy, and clarity are of value.

There's more I could say about this essay, but I want to focus on the numbers, because they're what jumped out at me. I understand that the author (B.A. Robinson) acknowledges that the figures he comes up with are "crude" estimates, blaming this on the deficiencies in the studies themselves, but I think they are more problematic than that.  

1. Exodus International (1978)

Before discussing studies and success rates, Robinson initially defines conversion as being a change from homosexual orientation to heterosexual or bisexual orientation. I was pleased to see this, as it seems to me to be the most reasonable definition. (Of course, I am biased.)

But when he begins discussing the study of Exodus International in 1978, suddenly he raises the bar, and changes the definition of conversion to be a change to "exclusive heterosexuality". The psychiatrists doing the study felt that 3 of the 30 subjects studied had become exclusively heterosexual, and so Robinson says that only 3 out of 30 changed. This definition-switch seems a bit slippery to me.

Robinson then assumes that since those 30 subjects were chosen by Exodus staff to participate in the study (apparently out of 800 members at the time), that these must include all the most successful cases, and therefore these three must be the only three who changed in all Exodus ministries. Which is how he comes up with his 0.4% success rate (3/800). This, I think, is an unjustified assumption. He will make this assumption again with another study, on an even grander scale–assuming that because the subjects were selected by pro-exgay groups and not randomly chosen, that the study group must include all the "best" cases, all the cases of people who have changed. To me this seems almost as misguided as the opposite mistake of assuming that these groups of subjects are representative of all who have attempted change.

2. Shidlo and Schroeder

On to Shidlo and Schroeder, the next study for which Robinson offers his own conversion number. (I've griped a little about S&S elsewhere–here my intention is to discuss not them but OCRT's use of them.) He notes that 8 out of the 202 reported orientation change. But, seven of these eight were exgay counselors or leaders whose statements "may have been false" (OCRT). So Robinson interprets this as showing that only one out of 202 had changed, and therefore gives the stat of 0.5% (on another page he says the failure rate is 99.5%)

This strikes me as odd. Just because he thinks their statements "may have been false" because they are involved in the exgay movement, he counts them as failures? Perhaps their claims to success deserve a question mark next to them, but it seems bizarre to label them as failures. Not being confident that X is telling the truth is nowhere near the same thing as being confident that X is lying (or is self-deceived). So I think perhaps it would be more honest to say something like: "We would need to research further to ascertain the degree to which the other seven may have changed."

3. Spitzer

Again, in his discussion of Spitzer, just as in his discussion of the Exodus 1978 study, Robinson subtly switches his standards from his more modest initial definition of conversion being from homo to hetero or bisexual in one's attractions, to the much stricter standard of conversion requiring a change to exclusive heterosexuality, only counting as "successes" those 37 who had no more homosexual attractions, fantasies, etc. This seems dishonest to me. The impression the casual reader would get, given Robinson's initial definition, is that the success rates that Robinson prints in bold are the percentages of those who experience any significant attraction shift whatsoever.  Robinson gets the smaller numbers (that he is hoping for) by switching to a more demanding standard of success.

And again we see the number game from before repeated:

"The 46 subjects from NARTH might have been chosen as the most successful patients from as many as 250,000 individuals who entered therapy. Unfortunately, no data has been reported about the total number of persons from whom the 200 carefully selected patients were provided. Assuming that only 100,000 subjects were involved — a VERY conservative figure, then 37 "success stories" represents a conversion rate of 0.04%"

No thinking person in her right mind would honestly say that Spitzer's group was representative of all those who pursue an exgay path. But to suggest that it must include all of the "success stories" of NARTH and Exodus, as Robinson does, seems even more ridiculous. It would mean assuming that NARTH and Exodus were omniscient regarding the changes in the lives and attractions of everyone who passed through their ministry or practice. It would mean assuming that NARTH and Exodus were able to successfully contact all these people. (Which seems doubtful because if they've changed, they've probably been out of contact from the ministry or therapist for quite some time, as they wouldn't need them any more.) And it would mean assuming that all who changed attractions would want to take part in such a study. All of these assumptions are hard to accept.

4. Drescher

Later, Robinson discusses a statement by Jack Drescher:

"Jack Drescher…:'There are probably a small number of people with some flexibility in their sexual identity who can change. Out of the hundreds of gay men I've treated, I've had one.' If we assume that his term "sexual identity" is a synonym for "sexual orientation," and that Dr. Drescher has treated 200 gay men, then he would seem to estimate that about 99.5% of gay men have a fixed sexual orientation, and that only about 0.5% can change their orientation. "

But this is a very different thing from a study of those who attempt to change. Presumably we are talking about an ordinary population of gay men, many of whom have probably never made a concerted effort to try to change in any way. So I don't see why one should think that these numbers meaningfully apply to those people who are trying to change, as Robinson does, suggesting that Drescher's statement supports his above-mentioned success rates in the neighborhood of 0.5% or less. Regardless of the degree to which change is possible, I doubt we can generally tell whether or not a person is capable of change if he or she isn't trying to change.  


Again, as I stated at the outset, I do not profess to know how common attraction change is or what the success rates are.  (Just like my assurance of salvation, on good days I'm pretty sure about one person at most.  🙂  )  For all I know, the figures OCRT came up with could be correct. So my objection is not to the numbers themselves, but to the way in which they were arrived at and the way in which they are being used, both of which seem quite dubious to me.

My Attraction Change History

June 5, 2006

A commenter on XGW said exgays don't exist, (06/01/06 8:55 pm–I refer to different comments on that thread in this post. As I can't figure out how to hyperlink specific comments on that blog, I'm referencing them by their time and date.) For some reason I felt compelled to speak up. (06/02/06 2:22 pm)

The details of my attraction change soon entered into the conversation. So I said (06/02/06 7:24 pm):

For what it worth, as best as I can estimate, I went from over 99+% same-sex attracted to currently 25% same-sex attracted. It varies (I'm working on a blogpost about that), but that's on average. That would be a Kinsey 5.9+ to a Kinsey 1.5.

(I had said as much already here on my blog.)

Timothy Kincaid, a writer for XGW, raised the question of exactly what the nature of this change was. (06/02/06 8:32 pm) If it was simply a reduction in same-sex attraction, isn't it likely that what really changed was a matter of focus and attention, rather than a real change in my attractions? (Actually he said a great deal more than that; I hope he'll consider this a fair super-condensation of his remarks. If not I'll be happy to edit accordingly.)

The funny thing is that his comments connected well with a comment I had made a couple of days earlier on the blog of another XGW commenter, Arbitrary Marks. In a continuation of our annoyingly technical philosophical discussion of supervenience and sexuality started on XGW, I said:

I’m not sure I’d consider my increasingly selective [same-sex attraction] to be indicative of significant change. Personally I find my increased attraction to the opposite sex more interesting as a change than any lessening in my attraction to the same sex. The latter, after all, could simply be a matter of skillful subconscious suppression. There’s some evidence for that, in that my same-sex attraction will sometimes spike under conditions of extreme stress.

After these conversations it occurs to me that I should take a little time to describe my experience of change in detail, so I'll have a handy link to give to people who want to know more. So, without further ado, here is a history of the four phases my attractions have gone through on my exgay journey. I must warn readers that I got bored and frustrated writing this, so I assume that they will get bored and frustrated reading it. It seems that laborious analysis and self-indulgent introspection can take the excitement out of any subject, even one as steamy as sexual desire or as hotly controversial as fluid sexual desire. I'll try to edit it at some point to make it less annoying to read, but if I don't post it now "as is", I will never get around to it.

  1. White Knuckles and Gritted Teeth. (1998-2002)
  2. Peace and Self-control (2002-2004)
  3. Hello! Who Is HE? (2004-2005)
  4. I Like Guys (2005- present)

Read the rest of this entry »