Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ex-Gays: It's a Social Phenomenon, Not a Sexual One

PFOX seems to feel that, since they were in on the lawsuit that forced MCPS to re-start the whole development process, they should have control of it.

In case you're new to this story, PFOX is "Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays" (though that would actually be "PFX-GAG", it's really just "Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays"). This group, formed by national religious-right organizations, claims to represent hundreds, uh, I mean thousands -- what's that? Oh, I mean tens of thousands of people, mostly guys, who have stopped being gay. They call them "ex-gays."

Now, if you're like me, and you first hear about this, you're thinking, Wow, I didn't know there are tens of thousands of ex-gays... You feel a little naive. You've lived such a sheltered life that you've never met an ex-gay person.

Well, yeah. That's a problem, isn't it? In reality, it isn't really clear that there is any such thing as an ex-gay person, except for the few who speak for this well-funded group.

Our hearts go out to the poor kid who hits puberty and discovers that his eyes are attracted to other boys, especially if he's being raised in a very strict evangelical household. That has got to be horrible, he's got to feel like the biggest freak in the world, and we know that suicide is the option chosen by many such young people.

That kid or young adult has to choose between leaving the church and staying. He may find that his sexuality feels natural to him, even if it is not shared by the other kids at Sunday school, and he may choose to live without the shame that will be imposed on him with every reminder that he is a sinner, an aberration. He can always leave.

Or he may choose to stay with the church, and obey its dictates. In this case, he can be celibate or he can pretend to be straight.

And some groups demand that of their members. That they live a lie.

Let me analyze this "ex-gay" concept for a second. You have a two-by-two matrix here. On one hand, you have a guy who is either gay or straight, I mean, really. And on the other hand you have a social group, the church is usually the relevant one, that either accepts or rejects the guy's true sexuality. So in the world there are four possibilities:

1. Straight, Accepts
2. Straight, Rejects
3. Gay, Accepts
4. Gay, Rejects

I don't know of any instance of #2, but it's possible. Maybe a straight guy at a gay picnic, I don't know.

Anyway, the group that PFOX represents comes from possibility Number Four, where the social group rejects the gay orientation. Because why would somebody in #3 try to pretend they were something they're not?

So the issue is not the person's orientation, it is rejection by the social group.

The concept of "ex-gay" is not about sexual orientation, it is about the group's ability to enforce its values and norms on its members. The "ex-gay" person is gay, no matter what people think. He's just pretending to be straight because of pressure from his peers and from authorities. The subject has very little to do with sexual identity, sexual orientation, or any of the other things taught in a sex-ed class.

It has everything to do with the group's power over the individual, whether the group -- religious or otherwise -- is able to force him to conform to the group's demands even in the most intimate details of his life, even when his true nature is completely opposite.

PFOX is about social control, it isn't about sexuality, and it does not deserve a place in the discussion over this sex-education curriculum. Maybe in the "Cults and Mind Control" section of a Psychology class, but not here.


Blogger Isabel Manuela said...

Jim, a quick question here. In one of the articles about the halting of the curriculum, Regina Griggs from PFOX says that the BOE "can not chose which sexual orientation they like."
Statement with which I certainly agree.
She was, though, referring to the ex-gays on the list of sexual orientation. And there I got lost. Heterosexual means you are "oriented" or attracted towards your opposite sex; homosexual means you are "oriented" towards your own sex (and hell, I think they claim). Then, if ex-gay is a sexual orientation, other than to salvation, towards which sex are they oriented?
I think that if you are not gay anymore you become...straight? or what?
Also, should the curriculum include ex-gays, and ex-exgays? Should the curriculum include what mainstream science says about "reparative therapy"? Should the curriculum mention that the king of "reparative therapy" and president of P-FOX, Mr. Cohen, was expelled from the ACA for ethical issues?
You know, I'm just trying to be all-inclusive here.
Essentially, if the curriculum quotes all mainstream medical and scientific organizations as saying homosexuality is not a disease, I guess that implies there is no need to "cure" it. How do they reconcile those two issues?

May 25, 2005 11:57 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

It does seem fair, if you're going to teach about ex-gays, to teach about ex-ex-gays, who are very much more numerous. And what about ex-ex-ex-gays? That would be guys who were gay, then weren't, then were again, then weren't again...

The fact is, nobody really cares. It's a political hoax. As far as I'm concenred, a guy who's gay and doesn't want to be should be told the truth: dude, you're gay, get over it, lots of people are. If it weren't for the bigots, it wouldn't be any big deal.

May 25, 2005 2:16 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

I'd like to say a few things about where I think we stand and should
go from here.

First, just an elucidation. As Jim has pointed out, "ex-gay" is not a
scientific or medical category. No medical organization recognizes
such an entity; on the contrary, since medicine no longer considers
homosexuality a disease it will not support any attempts at
conversion. And it recognizes that attempts to convert are useless at
best and harmful at worst. Since we're talking about sex-ed, we should
keep to the language of science, and science has no room for ex-gays.

However, ex-gays, if they do exist (with respect to identity, not
behavior, since almost anyone can change his or her behavior, at least
for some period of time), are simply bisexual. They are not straight.
They may say they're hetero, they may act hetero, but, by definition,
they are bisexual. Since bi is very infrequently mentioned, it often
gets left out, and I've been amazed how the "T" in LGBT has overtaken
the "B." It just goes to show that you never know what will happen.

Where do we go? Lakoff has had important things to say about framing,
but the most important issue of all has until now been sloughed off. I
think it's because of the lack of passion on the part of many moderate
and liberal religious people and their leaders. Dr. King brought about
civil rights by speaking to white America about morality, morality as
a positive force. We should do the same.

It doesn't help us to claim that moral values means educating
children, or universal health insurance, or eradicating poverty. It
does, but the battle has been engaged on a different playing field, a
personal moral playing field, and we need to respond in kind. We
should be calling the extreme religious right immoral every chance we
get. Creating a scientific category such as "ex-gays" out of
nothingness is immoral. Spewing hatred at gays is immoral. Conflating
homosexuality and transsexualism is immoral (even Ehrlich now seems to
understand the difference). Violating the Constitution, threatening
judges with violence, is immoral. It's not just illegal, it's immoral,
and instead of trying to respond rationally, we need to respond in kind.

And in quieter moments, we might want to ask our right-wing friends
just why they expend their life's energies in hating homosexuals. What
is it they're really frightened about? It has nothing to do with their
Bible, since the admonition against homosexuality is only one of 613
commandments, the vast majority of which they don't even recognize as
applicable to them as Christians. And it doesn't even apply to
lesbians. So let's confront them on this issue, and not let them
squirm, and throw our categories of equal rights and
anti-discrimination back at us. Our law is based on the Constitution,
not the Bible, so we must emphasize in our writings and deliberations
that simple fact.

Secular law is based on secular morality which has many religious
roots. Many of them believe this is a Christian nation – let's fight
them on that simple statement. It's an issue I would gladly bear arms
to defend. But we have to be clear what the real issues are here.

And, I believe, that underlying this spasm of hatred and retreat to
old-time religion is an anxiety bred of fear of terrorism, of losing
one's pension, one's Social Security, one's health insurance, one's
family – because when the economics get really bad families
disintegrate. So while we confront the religious intolerance we need
to be building a party on values to help everyone live a more secure life.

Thank you,
Dana Beyer, M.D.

May 25, 2005 3:45 PM  

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