Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Nonsense of the "Ex-Gay" Thing [Note: This Post Will Be Occasionally Updated]

[I have decided to keep this post "open," and add to it as people mention things or I think of them. Normally it's kind of unethical to edit after posting, but the list below will be an exception.]

Well, I'm back from the most beautiful week in Montreal with my daughter. I had to go to a conference there to receive an Outstanding Paper award from a journal, along with my co-author. There was a great music festival going on downtown -- Les Franco Folies, and we heard some top French and Canadian bands and singers of all types. Took lots of pictures, had lots of adventures, got lots of sunshine, walked until our feet were falling off.

So I see that there were a number of good comments on that last post, which I love. Look, this "ex-gay" thing is a stroke of genius, the wackos knew exactly how hard that would be to refute. I've been seeing the topic on TV, even in Canada, I saw Warren Throckmorton in my hotel room, and I see they're cranking up the volume on this "ex-gay" machine, because it has the potential to work spectacularly for them.

Let me enumerate some of the problems with the "ex-gay" point.

To begin, here is the argument: some people who have a homosexual orientation can pretend to be heterosexual. They can marry someone of the opposite sex, and some can even manage to have children. This is considered preferable to marrying someone that the person finds attractive, usually for religious reasons. The CRC and PFOX intend to use this argument to undermine the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum. They plan to try to force the district to include teaching about "ex-gays" in the classes, and will claim that the schools are dicriminating against them if they don't include it.

So here's what I scribbled in my notebook while I sat in a terminal in Boston waiting for a flight to open up (there were thunderstorms all up and down the East Coast last night, we almost didn't make it back):
  • People don't change You will not hear even the staunchest proponents of "ex-gayism" say that people can actually change their sexual orientation. If there are actually "ex-gay" people in the world (and it may be possible, though nobody seems to be able to find any of them), they are a big secret. The most anyone can say is that gay people can suppress their feelings or change their behavior.
  • It's religion Many straight people are confused and uncomfortable with the topic of homosexuality, but the only people who really oppose it use a religious argument. Groups like the Taliban and certain Christian groups focus on scraps of scripture and ignore the larger message of forgiveness and minding your own business. The "ex-gay" movement is almost entirely centered around religious ministries. Some religions don't eat ham, some don't eat beef, some don't shave their beards, some have to cover their heads, some believe gay people should pretend to be something other than what they are. None of it belongs in the public schools.
  • There is nothing special about suppressing your impulses As a straight married guy, I can tell you there are times that I see attractive women and don't do anything at all. This is not a bit different from a gay person who has learned not to act on their feelings. Do they deserve a medal for that? If they get one, I want one.
  • "Ex-Gay" equals Straight If somebody used to be gay, and now they're not, then they're "straight." Heterosexual. There doesn't need to be a special word for it. The sex-ed curriculum already teaches about straight people.
  • What's wrong with love? The "ex-gay" argument is essentially an anti-love position. Maybe I'm overly romantic, but it seems to me a person should be able to follow their heart and fall in love with someone who is actually attractive to them.
  • The Gay Gene The anti-gay groups like to repeat "there is no gay gene." First of all, they don't know if there's a gay gene or not, genetic research is a very young field. Second, nobody ever said there is a gay gene. The argument suggests a false dichotomy, as if there were 1.behaviors you can choose and 2.genetically determined behaviors. Of course, all genes interact with the environment, nothing about the human personality, especially, is carved in stone at birth. That does not prove, or even imply, that sexual orientation is a choice.
  • God's Plan I saw a preacher on TV the other night saying that homosexuality is not part of God's plan for us. But ... how does he know that? Is God so obvious? It is one thing to say that God's plan is revealed in the Bible, but does anyone really think all of God's plan has been published? Doesn't anybody wonder why God would have given some people (and members of other species as well) a same-sex orientation? The divine will is profound and mysterious, and it is a presumptuous oversimplification to quote a few Bible verses and say how God feels about something. When someone is hurt in an accident, they talk about how hard it is to understand God's plan; I say, let's love the whole world as a great, unfathomable, constantly-surprising mystery, not just tragedies but everything.
  • Religion is a choice You will hear the argument that gay people don't deserve "special rights," for instance protection from discrimination, because "it's a choice." (Of course it's not, but they like to hear themselves say it.) This argument is often made by the same people who complain that the world discriminates against Christians. Make up your minds, would you?
  • Statistical insignificance If there are "ex-gays" who have changed their sexual orientation, their numbers must be very small -- you see a couple of "personalities" who represent the big organizations, and that's it. Certainly there are more important sexual phenomena to talk about in a high-school class, things that real young people will deal with in their real lives.
  • Not Gay in the First Place Does anybody really believe you can just switch? If someone changed from being gay to living wholly, without conflict and strain, as a straight person, I'm pretty sure most people would understand that he was never really gay to begin with.
  • Conversion therapy is dangerous There is a tragic history of people becoming depressed and even committing suicide after failed attempts to change their sexual orientation. Proponents will tell you that "tens of thousands" of people have changed, but they won't produce one, besides the usual poster children. The "therapy" is based on bizarre psychological theory, and in its usual form attempts to break down the personality before building it back up anew. This is unwise and can lead to tragedy.
  • Jesus Jesus never told anyone to be ashamed of their sexual orientation. Hypocrites who quote the Bible overlook this very important fact. What would Jesus do? He would almost certainly not waste his time telling homosexuals to pretend they are straight. He would almost certainly encourage his followers to love others, even when they don't understand them. It seems impossible to me to get from the Beatitudes to the hatefulness of the "ex-gay" rhetoric.
  • Change can go both ways I heard Larry King, of all people, bring up this point the other night. If you encourage gay people to go straight by saying that "change is possible," you will be simultaneously encouraging apparently-straight people to come out of the closet. Which do you think there are more of -- "out" gays who wish they were straight, or people living straight who are hiding same-sex feelings?
  • Professional ethics Every mainstream professional organization in the fields of psychology, mental health, and medicine has issued a statement specifically denouncing conversion therapy, which attempts to make "ex-gays" out of gay people, and declaring it unethical for their members to practice it. The explanations are thorough and scientifically sound. Anti-gay groups would like you to believe that these statements are politically motivated; the disrespect that this shows for science generally, and specifically for those who devote their lives to improving ours, should tell you something.
  • False hopes There are some things about a person that really don't change, no matter how hard you try. Telling a guy who is lonely, confused, and persecuted by society that he can change his sexual orientation may give him unjustifiable hope that leads eventually to even deeper depression, when he has to face the fact that he is, actually, the way he is. This is not a nice thing to do to somebody.
  • Morality Some people claim that homosexuality is "immoral," based on religious authority. But morality can be derived by reason, too, there are good reasons to separate choices into right and wrong. A reason-based morality will almost certainly value kindness, cooperation, understanding, and empathy over arbitrary authoritative pronouncement. It would be very hard to give reasons why it is morally better for a person to act on feelings they don't have, in order to satisfy social pressures emanating from people who don't like them.
  • Biblical hypocrisy The Bible is a long and complex record, and contains very many proscriptions and statements about what God (and various prehistoric tribal leaders) wants us to do. It would be interesting to remove all the adulterers and divorced people, who would have been put to death according to biblical law, from groups like the CRC and PFOX, and see how many people are left to tell gays that the Bible demands that they pretend they're straight.
  • It's insulting Telling people that "they can change" is logically equivalent to telling them there's something wrong with them. But experts in psychology and mental health agree, there's nothing wrong with being gay. Gay people can have their problems, but they're the same problems the rest of us have. It is not correct, and not nice, to tell them there's something wrong with them. It would be much better for our society to learn to accept its variety rather than abnormalize entire classes of people.
  • Sex in the Bible Let's not forget that the same Bible that is used to attack homosexuality also describes situations involving incest, adultery, and polygamy, without comment. Do these religious experts have a belief about the appropriate number of concubines for a man to have? Mmm, so what's the big deal about a guy having a boyfriend?
  • Ex-"Ex-Gays" It does appear that there a whole lot more ex-"ex-gays" than "ex-gays," even if you count the poster children, the leaders and spokesmen of the movement. They're always going back to the gay bars, always getting caught doing something scandalous. If they were really "ex" anythings, that wouldn't happen, would it? (The fact is, they're still gay.)

I'm sure that people will suggest other arguments, these are just what I could come up with sitting in an airport terminal with time on my hands.

The sad thing is that the debate will not be won by reasoning. The "ex-gay" thing is crazy, it's wrong, it's mean-spirited, but these noisy people will only be driven out of business if everybody stands up to them. It doesn't really matter, you might say. Well, it will matter when you wake up in the morning and discover that the nuts are running things in your county.


Blogger Kay2898 said...

If people kick out the ex gay movement what would poor PFOX, Warren Throckmorton and company(Recall) have to do?

I just could never imagine them leaving homosexuals alone to live their lives as they see fit and enjoy tolerance levels we all enjoy.

It just seems they live and breath hating homosexuals and anyone who supports them.

August 06, 2005 3:05 PM  
Blogger Alex K. said...

Maybe the PFOX people and that Throckmorton guy can get proper jobs.

So they could help society better itself. (No, purging homosexuals and making them feel bad does not accomplish that.)

I think a big reason why the whole "ex-gay" thing is so absurd is because the label is entirely UNNECESSARY.

Ex-gay = Straight, just as Ex-Straight = Gay.

There's no need to say that. Unless these people have some shady agenda, which they do.

August 06, 2005 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "shady agenda" is exactly right.

How much more shady can anyone be trying to make homosexuals think they need to change in order to fit in the society with people like PFOX, Recall and Throckmorton. Let's us not forget Dobson who believes the gays will destroy the earth and more.

Shady bunch.....

August 06, 2005 4:36 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Alex, I'm going to add your point to the list. Thanks...

August 06, 2005 4:50 PM  
Blogger Kay2898 said...

Exactly why do PFOX, Recall(CRC) and company think they are charged with "fixing homosexuals?"

It is incredible of all the horrible things going on in the world that these folks have a pretty sick agenda only to get rid of all homosexuals.

How about the world's poverty and hunger?

August 06, 2005 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Jewels said...

After thinking about it some more, why not simply ask them why they choose the label "ex-gay" as opposed to simply saying straight? I'd like to know how they define the term "ex-gay" and why they insist on using it.

If people wish to become "ex-gay," it would most likely mean that they wish to completely forget about their homosexuality altogether. If they are always labelled as "ex-gay," it will never be forgotten. It's like pointing the finger at them and not letting them live it down for as long as they live. It will haunt them forever.

August 07, 2005 7:34 AM  
Anonymous Tish said...

Jim, somewhere in your original post you use the term, "Special Rights." The opponents of equality like that term but it should not go unchallenged.

It is not a "special right" to be able to keep a picture of your family on your desk at work, but many people in same-sex unions fear letting their co-workers know who their spouses are because they could lose their jobs over it. It is not a special right to be in the hospital room when the person you love is being given the results of a biopsy; especially when you are that person's primary caregiver. It is not a special right to walk down the street holding hands. It is not a special right to work in the profession you have trained for. It is not a special right to be allowed to adopt the birth child of your spouse. Heterosexuals have all of those rights. Loving couples in same-sex unions have some of those rights in some places, but mostly they have to fight for the rights and they have to prove that they are "deserving" of those basic human and family rights.

August 08, 2005 4:22 PM  

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