Excellent Mother Jones Article on Orientation and Fluidity

September 13, 2007

Hey, yeah I’m back.  Real posts will commence shortly–I’m kind of waiting to see what the deal is with the Jones and Yarhouse Study.  (Oh wait.  That news just in.  Well, I’ll post this and go read that next!)

 But in the meantime, check out this article by Gary Greenberg: “Gay by Choice? The Science of Sexual Identity.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m just in a sunshiny mood today, but it seemed surprisingly smart and thoughtful to me. 


sorry for the silence (plus randomness on ssa-folk and the church)

May 8, 2007

Hey…sorry for being so quiet over here.  There’s kind of a gridlock of thoughts and emotions in my head, making it hard to get any of them out.

 I’ve run into a problem with the next installment in the identity series.  See, it’s supposed to be about how my gay identity got in the way of my embracing and integrating myself into the church, the Christian community.  I spent years feeling super-isolated, like a stranger in a strange land, a dyke among fundies, and it was mostly my fault.  I was always judging them, looking down on them, assuming they were bigots even when they weren’t, interpreting every little thing they said or did as uncharitably as possible–because I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop thinking about my gayness vs. their straightness.  And my Christian walk became so much richer when I started seeing myself as one of them, and started seeing them as my brothers and sisters, embracing them, opening up to them, trusting them, loving them, etc.  Realizing that straight conservative evangelicals are not the devil changed my life.

So I was writing about that.  But Ron helped me realize there’s a huge problem here.  I am confident that what I describe above is an accurate analysis of my own situation.  But the fact is that a lot of gay/ssa people DO get thoroughly burned by the straight church, and it ISN’T their fault.  Rejection, ignorance, hatred, fear, etc.  So there are plenty of people out there who would be entirely within their rights to think me a Pollyanna, or an insensitive jerk, or both, if I just said “I think we all need to open up to the straight church and love them.”  Sure it might have panned out well for me, but it backfires, a lot! 

I feel I shouldn’t worry about it too much, because I’m clearly just telling my own story here.  But at the same time, I’m no solipsist.  If I say something here on this blog, it’s because I think it might meaningfully connect with someone else’s situation, however indirectly. 

What makes it harder is that I don’t know the relative numbers of different kinds of churches.  How unusual is my positive experience of the church?  How common is the negative experience?  How many ssa Christians are getting burned by trusting the straight church, and how many are hardening their hearts and closing themselves off from the church unnecessarily because of an assumption that the people around them are evil homophobes even when they’re not? 

People sometimes tell me “Well you just got lucky in finding a good church.” Okay, except I’ve attended four churches since becoming a believer (because of moving, not because of church-hopping), so I’ve gotten lucky four times in a row.   Granted, three of those churches were in the Northeast:  New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  But I live in the Midwest now, so you can’t use the “enlightened liberal northeastern folk” excuse anymore.  So you have to understand that from my perspective, I feel like I’ve been selling the straight church short all these years.  Every time a Christian was nice to me, I was always like, “Oh, I guess they’re just an exception to the rule.”  But here I am, almost nine years into my Christian life, and I have never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian.  (Of course on the internet all bets are off!)  I have encountered some ignorance in the church, to be sure, but it wasn’t ill-intentioned, and when I took the ignorant ones aside and explained things to them, they responded fairly well.  And I have never heard a homophobic sermon in an evangelical church that I attended.  I have heard one sermon on homosexuality–in Massachusetts in the midst of the furor over impending gay marriage–but it was astonishingly irenic, and the pastor spoke powerfully about the importance of supporting/defending gay people’s ability to provide for and protect their families.

(In the interest of being fully honest about my church experience, I should note that I heard several homophobic sermons in the Catholic Church growing up.  In my teens, even though I was an avowed atheist, I often went to Sunday Mass with my mom, to keep her company and also to tease her about the superstitious folly of religion and the backwardness of the church.   And wow, this one priest did NOT like gays.  His fiercest vitriol was saved for Sundays before St. Patrick’s Day, to accompany the annual kerfuffle over gay groups wanting to be part of the parade.  Once he went off on the “sodomites” and “perverts” with such venom that my mom (who was no PFLAGer!) whispered to me, “Do you think we should get up and walk out?”  I said no, even though I was touched that she was willing to sin mortally and defiantly to defend my honor, because it was so amusing to watch that sorry little man foaming at the mouth over my existence.  It made me feel powerful.)

Anyhow, that’s the conundrum.  How do I talk about my own experience in a way that doesn’t insult others?   And what can I say to other homo-attracted Christians about embracing and loving the church (which I believe we are called to do!)  that would be helpful and not likely to blow up in their faces?  And what are they supposed to do if the straight church screws them over and treats them like dirt?  What does brotherly love (on our part) look like then? 


Haggard’s Cure

February 12, 2007

Addendum/Correction: 

When I wrote this post, I assumed that the person who informed the press that Haggard was “completely heterosexual,” someone who was acting in an overseer’s capacity over Haggard in some respect, would accurately relate Haggard’s own view of his progress.   At the time that seemed like an obvious assumption–what motive could his church have for exaggerating or misrepresenting his healing?  Why would they risk getting egg on their face and looking like dupes again, by making some over-optimistic claim that Haggard wouldn’t even make for himself?  Wouldn’t they be more likely, as those overseeing and counseling him, having been burned by his deception in the past, to encourage him to be more humble, more cautious, more moderate in his views of himself?   I sort of imagined it in my head as Haggard arguing with them, “Guys, I swear!  It’s for real this time! I’m completely heterosexual!”, and the committee only grudgingly, gradually relenting and agreeing to convey this news to the press.  I was angry at them for agreeing to go along with this lunacy.  (Unless it was a miraculous transformation.  Even then, I think a little caution in declaring this miracle authentic would be wise.) 

But the more that I think about it (Eve Tushnet planted the seed of doubt in the comment thread below), the assumption that the overseers would necessarily accurately convey Haggard’s view of his sexuality seems slightly less obvious.  It has occurred to my inner cynic that perhaps the overseers in the church (and the special team of people who agreed to oversee his counseling/healing process) just might want to make this whole thing disappear, get it over with, rather than deal with the messy long term reality of the struggle.  Let’s just say he’s fine, and ship him off to the Midwest!  I’d hate to think that they would do this, but it’s possible. 

I see that the email  that Haggard sent to some members of the church–two days before the “completely heterosexual” statement hit the presses–seems extraordinarily restrained in its claims about healing, and the word “heterosexual,” not to mention the phrase “completely heterosexual,” does not appear.  He says, rather, “As part of New Life’s efforts to help me, they sent Gayle and me to Phoenix for a three-week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment. We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life. Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.” 

So, if Haggard doesn’t think he’s completely heterosexual, or healed, or whatever, much of what I have to say below may not apply to him.  If it is his church overseers who decided themselves to declare him completely heterosexual, I am doubly (or more like octuply!) horrified at them for making a statement that I believe is likely to bear destructive fruit.

Anyway, I’ve edited this post in order to correct it accordingly–making explicit my assumptions in some places, and getting rid of them in others. 

***********************************

 The “same new reader” has requested a post on Ted Haggard’s cure.

Well, I don’t think it’s likely that he’s completely heterosexual, if that’s what you’re asking.  Of course, we have to remember that “completely heterosexual” can mean almost anything in certain exgay or evangelical circles, depending on whom you talk to.  But let’s assume that it means that his sexual attractions are solely directed towards women, that he has no sexual interest in men whatsoever.  And, let’s assume for this discussion that “completely heterosexual” is how Haggard would describe himself, something which is not clear, as the assertion of his complete heterosexuality was made by a church overseer and not by himself.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities at this point:

1.  He was instantaneous, miraculously changed.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand why God would change Haggard instead of the many other people I know and love who would be delighted to experience such a transformation.  But, then again, I’m not God, and there are a lot of things that God does that I don’t quite understand. 

2.  He’s flat-out lying, intentionally b.s.-ing everyone.

I know it’s not nice to suggest this.  I’d point out, though, that after the scandal broke, he was stunningly deceptive and slippery in his statements, always denying everything until denial is totally futile, and then admitting to as little as possible.  More like a politician than a shepherd of souls, if you ask me.  I would put more stock in his honesty if he had been forthright from the beginning. 

3.  He genuinely feels and believes that he is fixed.

There’s two ways this could be brought about.  I don’t know what took place in his intensive therapy, but perhaps it was some sort of Clockwork Orange thing.  I think it’s entirely possible that at least in the short run, a man could be made to believe that he is completely heterosexual through aversion therapy or programming or the like.  I’m inclined to think that in the short run, any sort of belief or behavior can be produced in a human being. 

Or perhaps (this is the second way) it’s not a matter of therapy at all, but simply the good old time-honored techniques of self-deception and wishful thinking.  In the short run, when we want to badly enough, we can believe almost anything about ourselves–even without a professional’s aid.  It is very easy to take a temporary fluctuation or easing up in our attractions as proof of a “cure”.  It is easy to reinterpret our feelings, in the short run at least, treating them as something other than they are. 

This sort of thing is fairly common among people who desire attraction change.  If I had a nickel for every person who ecstatically shared with me how much their attractions were changing, how much they were experiencing God’s healing touch, and then months or years later told me it was all a crock (usually on their way back to embracing homosexual relationships), well, I might not be rich but I would definitely have a lot of nickels. 

There can be a lot of fluctuations in our experience of our sexuality (over days or weeks or months) that don’t necessarily mean much.  So, for example, as I’ve discussed before, my sexual attractions evaporated almost completely in the residential program.  And there were times outside of that when I discovered that wasn’t attracted to a particular woman, or that I took a certain sort of interest in a man, and made it out to be something much bigger than it was.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying seasons of lessened attraction to the same sex or increased interest in the opposite sex.  But I think we set ourselves up for serious disappointment if we take any of these things as conclusive proof of permanent healing.  You can very easily find yourself a week or a month later right back where you were. 

This is not to say, however, that attraction change is impossible, that all experiences of fluidity are but fleeting and deceptive. I do not think we have evidence for saying as much, and my own story suggests otherwise, at least to me.  I know other people who have gone through exgay ministries and/or therapy who tell me they have experienced attraction change that is meaningful to them, even if it isn’t “complete heterosexuality,” and in many cases I believe them.  (I’m baffled by the tendency of some to take all exexgay/antiexgay testimonies at face value, and to dismiss all exgay testimonies.  It seems to me that both groups in general could have motives and reasons for seeing things through somewhat distorted lenses.)  Furthermore, while I don’t know any of them personally, I have heard of several instances of perfectly ordinary gay people (both male and female), thoroughly embracing their homosexuality, who one day find themselves falling in love with and sexually drawn to a person of the opposite sex.  My understanding is that most gay people would acknowledge such examples of random fluidity, although they might dismiss it as bisexuality.  (“REAL gay people could never fall in love with someone of the opposite sex.”)  I’m not opposed to calling it bisexuality, as long as it is acknowledged that it is a stealthy, surprising sort of bisexuality, with which you can have attractions and experiences identical to that of a thoroughly homosexual person for many years, and then suddenly start feeling something else out of the blue.  None of us, no matter how gay, can know for sure that we aren’t that sort of “sleeper” bisexual.     

I don’t think we can always neatly sort the fleeting from the non-fleeting, or the deceptive from the real.  As I’ve shared before, I put off Mr. DM’s talk about marriage for a while, not sure whether I could trust my feelings toward him or not.  And while we ought not be permanently paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future, as I eventually decided in connection with Mr. DM, I do think that we ought to be cautious, circumspect within reasonable limits.   This proclamation of complete heterosexuality, to me, indicates an unfortunate lack of caution. It’s a little hasty, to say the least.  And to talk about “complete” anything, this side of heaven, sounds awfully sketchy to my ears. 

Regardless of what the correct explanation is for the announcement, I suspect it will turn out to have bad results.  The way I see it, either people won’t believe that Haggard is completely hetero, or they will.  If they don’t believe it, and find those claims preposterous, they may be inclined to tar all of us who profess to have experienced some sort of change and/or who are simply seeking to honor God through celibacy with the same brush.  I fear that Haggard’s example will be brought up to mock and discourage those who are pursuing celibate or exgay paths, in a way that might be hurtful to them.  And if people do believe that Haggard is now completely hetero, as I fear some evangelicals might, this will make things even worse for the homo-attracted believers.  For without any qualification, the announcement suggests that change isn’t all that hard, that anyone can do it, in three weeks even!  What’s wrong with you, O homo-attracted Christian?  Why aren’t you straight yet?  Perhaps you don’t have enough faith?  Or perhaps you don’t really want to be healed?  C’mon, we’re getting impatient!

A church of New Life’s size must have dealt with some “strugglers,” must be aware of the complexities surrounding these matters of faith, homosexuality, and change.  I wish for the sake of the homo-attracted in their own congregation, as well as the church at large, they had been more careful to make a nuanced statement which acknowledges the realities of life for the majority of homo-attracted people, if not Haggard himself.


My Misadventures With “Healing” Approaches to Homosexuality

August 3, 2006

So, discussing things in my comment thread with And Also With You, I mentioned my not-exactly-warm-and-fuzzy feelings about “healing” approaches to dealing homosexual attraction, the sort-of-Freudian theories about how homosexual attractions come into existence, and how they can be gotten rid of. Given that this is probably my biggest point of departure from the exgay mainstream, (it might actually be enough to disqualify me from being exgay, I’m never quite sure) I’m going to try to explain why I’ve come to feel they way I do.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s common in exgay circles to view homosexual attractions as being caused by a lack of necessary emotional bonding with the same-sex (especially with one’s same-sex parent) in childhood. According to the story, the child ends up with a same-sex love deficit, and also a lack of security within their own gender, having not been properly affirmed by others of their gender, especially the same-sex parent. Also, lack of affirmation in one’s gender by the opposite-sex parent can be a problem too. Once adolescence rolls along, this deficit and insecurity and confusion can become sexualized, possibly leading to homosexual attractions. The solution, therefore, is to remedy the same-sex emotional deficit with healthy, non-sexual same-sex friendships and to heal the wounds of the past, spiritually and/or with therapy. Once those are taken care of, the story goes, the homosexual attractions should diminish or disappear, and the way should be open for heterosexual attractions to develop.

I don’t know to what extent these theories are accurate. I’m not trying to claim here that they are always false and/or never work for anybody. On the contrary, many people I respect deeply have told me that these theories worked well for them and were a real blessing to them, helping them change their lives. So I think in some cases they may be a valuable tool, and I believe that tool should be available to all who find it useful. But my own experience of trying to work with these theories raised a lot of concerns for me, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

1. The theories became self-fulfilling prophecies for me.

My first concern with these theories is that they tended to function in my own life as a self-fulfilling prophecy, in at least two ways.

The first way is this: part of the theory is usually that homosexual attraction is tied to being emotionally and sexually immature, a child trapped in a grown-up’s body, or being emotionally broken and incapable of healthy adult relationships. Now, far be it from me to deny that some people (both gay and straight, I think) are immature, childish in certain respects, and emotionally broken. But what I’ve experienced in my own life (and seen in others as well) is that when we believe we are immature, needy, emotionally broken beings desperately in need of same-sex affirmation and healing, it affects how we act. In a way that’s sometimes not for the best, I think. When we believe we are love-starved little children on the inside, we start to feel and act like love-starved little children. And it’s not pretty.

Thus, when I was into these sorts of theories, I was very self-obsessed, very focused on my needs, in part because the exgay theology I accepted was very focused on my needs. I was told by exgay literature that my mission was to make sure I got my needs met and my relational deficits filled. So I became the taker (and not a giver) in my relationships with others, in large part because I believed I desperately needed to take, and I believed I had little to give. According to the exgay theories, I needed emotional sustenance from “normal”, “healthy”, “whole” women. What could an “abnormal”, “sick”, “broken” wretch like myself possibly have to offer them? I expected very little of myself in the way of holiness, because I believed I would be incapable of attempting a holy, mature Christian life until I got my “legitimate unfulfilled emotional needs” met.

For me it was a hugely startling realization to make (and it was a long time in the making) that I could choose to live (relatively) maturely and participate in responsible, healthy, equal relationships with other Christians. Right now. Regardless of my homosexual attractions. I largely have the residential program to thank for that, and that is because they did not care one bit for these theories. In their mind I was simply a Christian who struggles with sin, like any other, and as such I was called to the same standard of life and love as every other Christian. (I should note that other Christians spoke that truth to me–but it took the program to really drive it home.)

The other way these theories worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life is in my relationship with my parents. Anyone who has followed my story at all will note that my relationship with my parents was sub-optimal. There is no use denying that. But I will say that spending years trying to diagnose what they did and how it might have caused my homosexual issues made our relationship worse rather than better. It increased the distance between me and my mom rather than diminishing it. It led me to turn my frustration with my same-sex attracted predicament (and it certainly felt like a predicament at times!) toward them. Every time I saw a fault in my mother or father, I would make a mental note of it, and remember how they did something vaguely similar when I was little, and how that probably contributed to my struggle in some way. Often I felt rather bitter about it, especially when I was having a tough time of things. And that drove a wedge into our already flawed relationship.

Please don’t get me wrong–the exgay movement does not endorse either of these things. They do not approve of behaving selfishly and immaturely, or of feeling bitter toward one’s parents. But in spite of their explicit stance, I found both of those problems to be very real side effects of these theories, potential pitfalls that I stumbled into. I accept responsibility for that, but the role these theories played in my choices is not negligible.

2. The pressure to fit the mold of these theories led me toward dishonesty about my past.

I once had a series of conversations with an exgay where the pressure to come up with a sexual abuse history was pretty overwhelming. I had no recollection of sexual abuse, but she kept bringing up the possibility. Weren’t there, after all, periods of time in my childhood that I couldn’t remember? (Well yeah, but does any adult completely remember their entire childhood? Isn’t it all bits and pieces for most of us?) Wasn’t it possible that I was abused during those times, and simply blocked out the trauma? With gentle coaching of this other exgay, I made the leap from “possible” to “probable” to “almost certain” in about ten seconds flat.

Later, I was informed by an exgay leader that 100% of people with a set of issues like mine were victims of sexual abuse. 100%. Unequivocally, totally confident, without a doubt. I walked away from that conversation rather dazed. I had no knowledge of ever having been sexually abused, but now it seemed like it had to be so.

Now, no one told me flat-out to my face: You must believe you were a victim of sexual abuse. But the pressure to believe it was extremely high, and as a result of that pressure I began to secretly blame someone in my life for the mysterious abuse that it seemed I must have experienced. Someone who I now believe is obviously, totally, completely innocent of that. To be honest I’m pretty horrified at myself. I have to admit that I really wanted to fit the ex-gay theory model. They insisted that they knew how to fix a particular kind of person with a particular kind of history, so I wanted to be that person with that history.

Again, don’t get me wrong, exgay groups in my experience do not endorse dishonesty. But for me the temptation to dishonesty went hand-in-hand with the theories that were presented to me, the theories I was encouraged to find myself in so that I could be healed.

3. I found an alternative that worked better for me.

By far the biggest reason why I’m not such a big fan of the healing approach, at least for myself, is that I found the alternative so much more livable and liberating. For years I thought about this struggle very much in these healing terms, as is standard in exgay circles and in some Catholic circles as well, it seems. I won’t say it was all a bad thing. It certainly got me to pay more attention to my emotional health and my relationships than I might have otherwise. It got me to be more reflective about certain things, and I’m a big fan of reflectiveness.

But I found it a somewhat stagnant, frustrating approach to take with regard to my homosexual attraction. After a certain point, I had pursued psychological healing and emotional healing and spiritual healing and healthy relationships with my parents and others for years. I just wasn’t sure what else could be done in any of those areas. (This was after I finished the residential program.) Yet my homosexual attractions were quite present, and I had no heterosexual attractions to show for all my efforts. Given all the obvious progress I had made, shouldn’t I have shifted straightward a tiny bit? If the theories were correct, then given the continued existence of my same-sex attractions, I was still obviously, severely, sexually and emotionally immature. But what else was to be done?

One day, a thought occurred to me. What if I thought about my homosexual temptations in the same way I thought about my temptations to every other sin? Like pride, greed, or unrighteous anger?

Did I worry about psychological or emotional healing for the temptations to any of these other sins? Did I try to diagnose and dig up their “roots” and make the temptations go away? Not really, it seemed to me. I just accepted them as sins that I struggle with, that I would probably always struggle with to some degree. Heck, my pride goes ten thousand times deeper than my homosexual struggle does! But I didn’t psychoanalyze each prideful thought or tie it to some emotional wound that I’ve suffered. Instead, I sought repentance. I sought grace. I sought strengthening from God to live faithfully, to make holy choices. I sought self-discipline and maturity to live more obediently, in thought and in deed. And I didn’t think that the mere presence of any of these temptations meant that I was psychologically or emotionally stunted relative to “normal” people. On the contrary, everyone experiences temptation. Paul experienced temptation. Even Jesus experienced temptation. So if my experience of temptation in general didn’t mean that I had specific psychological or emotional problems, then why was I viewing my struggle against homosexual temptation so differently?

Thus I decided to try treating my homosexual struggle in just the same way as I treated my struggles against those other kinds of temptation. And I found that an immensely freeing switch to make. Rather than focusing on trying to make the temptation go away, I focused on living with the temptation, doing battle with it, gaining mastery over it. I no longer worried about how it got there. Just as I didn’t worry all that much about why I struggled with pride or greed–I just knew that I did, as part of my fallen nature. I stopped treating it as a sickness that needed curing, and started treating it as a something that needed to be lived with in a faithful and holy way. Perhaps the temptation would eventually disappear. Perhaps not. It didn’t really matter.

This worked amazingly well for me. It got me to lighten up about my homosexual attractions. It helped me enjoy far greater peace and contentment than I knew before. It gave me a set of goals and a purpose that seemed more solidly Biblical to me than those recommended by these theories about what makes people homo-attracted. And, rather ironically, I got far better “change” results with this approach than I did with deliberately trying to get healing for my attractions according to those theories.


Responses to Responses on Ex-gay Stuff (Celibacy, interpreting the Vatican, etc.)

July 17, 2006

Quoth Noli Irritare Leones :

On the one hand, I do tend to default to assuming that people are struggling sexually, they weren’t meant to be celibate.

I think in a lot of cases this is true. I think most people are supposed to be married. I think far more people should get married than actually are. I don’t think everyone is cut out for celibacy. I think that Paul guy was onto something when he wrote to those people in Corinth on the subject.

But I just worry that for too many evangelicals, this idea that if you’re struggling you weren’t meant to be celibate is a driving force behind bad theology and worse decisions. On the one hand it is taken by some pro-gay Christians to mean that gay people who don’t enjoy celibacy should form same-sex partnerships. (i.e, “I am struggling, so I am not supposed to be celibate. I am not interested in hetero marriage. Therefore, I should enter into a gay relationship, regardless of those other verses. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can muster. If it is better to marry than to burn with lust, then surely it must be better to be in a committed monogamous same-sex relationship than to struggle so precariously, right? Even if it’s not “God’s best” for me.”) On the other hand, it is taken by certain exgays and their allies to mean that God absolutely WILL change anyone who’s having a rough time with celibacy or will miraculously take aware their sexual desires, which I think fosters a whole range of false expectations and resulting disappointment or worse.

What we need to remember to balance all of this, I think, is that God’s commands are His enablings. We need to trust, as Augustine prayed, that God will grant what He commands. When we see commandments and moral teachings in Scripture, we don’t need to ask, “Gee, am I really cut out for all that?” If He commands it, by His grace He will strengthen us to do it if we seek to obey. It may not be pretty, but it will be possible. We need to embrace strenuous spiritual struggle as part of life. I do not believe that God will call someone to celibacy if they are absolutely incapable of it. But I think we all far underestimate what we are capable of with the grace of God working in us. It’s kind of like exercising, when you’re running or doing situps or whatever and you’re feeling like you’re at your limit, and you think, “I absolutely cannot do any more!” But if you have a friend encouraging you and pushing you onward, you find that you can often do a lot more than you thought you could. Our limits are rarely where we think they are.

******

From And Also With You:

Where things get tricky is with her comments on the ex-gay movement as a Protestant phenomenon. First, she characterizes the recent Vatican document on homosexuals in seminaries as declaring that “homosexual attractions are necessarily a manifestation of spiritual and emotional immaturity.” I’m not sure that the Vatican document says that; on the other hand, I’m not sure it isnt true.

Perhaps I’m erring in the conclusions I’ve drawn. I must admit that I do not read many Vatican documents, nor am I as up-to-date on Catholic discussion of homosexuality as I might be.

But it seems to me that the logic of the statement was: A certain degree of maturity is necessary to be a priest. Therefore, men with non-transitory homosexual attractions should not apply for the priesthood. Now, there’s a missing premise needed to make the argument make any sense, and that premise is: Men with non-transitory homosexual attractions lack the necessary maturity. I don’t know how else to read it. I’ve read the statement several times. I’ve read a few commentaries on it and discussions of it. I understand that this topic is soooo last December, so I’ll refrain from posting abundant quotes to support my interpretation. But that’s how it looks from this outsider’s vantage point. If I’m missing something that I should be getting, I’d be grateful for explanation, either via the comments or email to disputedmutability (at) yahoo (dot) com.
I don’t object so much to the Vatican’s decision to bar gays from entering the priesthood, given the circumstances. But my own opinion is that the real reasons for doing so, the possibly legitimate reasons, have nothing to do with this Freudian stuff. Readers of this blog will soon discover (if they haven’t already) how deep my antipathy for that stuff goes.  To elucidate my position a little bit, it’s not that I deny that parental issues or other environmental factors may play a role.  For all I know they might.  What I do deny, with every fiber of my being, is that persistent homosexual attraction is conclusive evidence of stunted development.  I say this not because of myself, but because of others.  I have known people who through therapy and/or spiritual practice have healed whatever issues they may have had, and yet remain as same-sex attracted as they ever were.  And besides that there’s the fact that I’ve never really noticed much of a correlation between sexual orientation and maturity of any sort.


Catholics!

July 12, 2006

So I got some random linkage attention from Catholics a little while ago. Anyway, some of them seem interested in drawing out what they perceive to be the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals on these issues.

From the Catholic Report (July 5th):

The Catholic Church takes a unique postion within the world of faith. While Evangelical Christians believe God would never create someone this way and liberal Christians believe people should act upon their feelings, the Catholic Church takes a different approach. The Church believes these feelings may be there for some but they are not to be acted on. This means the Church gets attacked from all sides. Evangelicals say God would never create anyone this way and liberal Christians think we are terrible for not letting people act on their feelings. The Church believes that in the Fall (Garden of Eden) disordered parts of nature came into being. Therefore, they are not to be acted on whether they be homosexuality, pornography, addictions of all sorts etc.

In response to this I’d just note that there is a lot of diversity among us evangelicals regarding what to make of homosexual attractions. Many of us do believe, similarly to Catholics (I think), that a homosexual predisposition could be a result of the Fall. I don’t necessarily see that competing with other origin stories though–I see it as complementing them.

I simply don’t think we understand sexuality or its causes very well yet. It might turn out that the tendency to homosexual attractions is inborn. It might turn out that it is caused some other way. It might be different for different people. I am agnostic on the subject, and cannot understand all the dogmatic proclamations about it being made on all sides.

And somebody wrote into Catholic and Enjoying It, saying among other things:

PS. It’s interesting that a lot of what she describes has been written about by the Saints, and indeed, it seems to me that perhaps the Evangelical world does not quite have the vocabulary to describe it.

Um, I’m not sure this person is saying this, but just to be clear, let’s not blame my own ignorance and/or lack of eloquence on The Evangelical World. 🙂 They have enough to answer for, like that Statue of Liberation Through Christ monstrosity and Touchdown Jesus, without being taken to task for my shortcomings.

Also, I am familiar with a small handful of these Saint characters. I’ve read stuff by Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. I also have been greatly blessed by the one volume of the four-volume version of the Philokalia that I own. There are some Saint types in there (Mark the Ascetic, John Cassian, Hesychios the Priest, Neilos the Ascetic, Diadochos of Photiki, John of Karpathos) although I don’t know if they count as Catholic saints or just Orthodox ones. Also, thanks to John the commenter who dropped me a note about the Ignatian Exercises, I’m now learning about Ignatius of Loyola. Who seems like a cool guy. But maybe not quite as cool as that other Ignatius, the one who said, “I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.” Now THAT makes me shiver.

Anyway, where was I? Yeah, so, I’m not totally oblivious to the existence of these people who experienced astounding depths of intimacy with God, who had amazingly penetrating understandings of certain spiritual truths, who wrote down their wisdom to share it with the rest of us. I’m really grateful for them. I don’t really get the whole veneration/devotion thing, or a lot of other things about the Catholic view of their saints, but I’m grateful for them nonetheless.

It’s just that I feel awkward using their spiritual vocabulary to talk about my own experience. So, for example, I guess I feel that calling some of my spiritually rough and dry times a “dark night of the soul” would be kind of like calling the sonnet-shaped drivel I churned out daily for my beloved in high school “poetry.” Or like calling the clumsy comedic routine my husband and I perform with a ball on a court under a hoop raised ten feet off the ground “playing basketball.” I think it calls for giant scare-quote gestures at least.


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.