THE BLOG
04/09/2013 06:49 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2013

Conversation With a "Gay-Buster"

After publishing a recent HuffPost blog post on the rights of gays and lesbians, I received an email from an activist opponent of same-sex marriage and proponent of the notion that homosexuals are defective people who must be "fixed." I have had exchanges with this person in the past. I decided to share this exchange. The "gay-buster" is G-B; I am GRS.

G-B: Homosexuality is abnormal, treatable. The truth will out. See www.narth.com; www.gaytostraight.org; www.josephnicolosi.com; www.pfox.org

GRS: So, here are my thoughts, in brief, on this subject. For all of human history, until the end of the nineteenth century, people who engaged in homosexual sex were not thought to be different from others, except in their conduct. Some people like oral sex, some don't. Some people like homosexual sex, some don't. On that understanding, homosexual conduct was merely a variant of sodomy (which included pretty much all nonreproductive sex), and because it was simply a choice it was easy to condemn people who engaged in homosexual sex as sinners and criminals, just as one might condemn burglars, rapists or murderers. In the late nineteenth century, however, psychologists began to understand that homosexuality was an orientation with which some people were born, and suddenly the idea of the "homosexual" as a type of person, rather than as a person who engaged in a particular kind of sex, came into being.

But what to make of this? The general (though not universal) view was that the homosexual orientation was a genetic defect, a genetic degeneracy, that needed "fixing." This led to the notion, for the first time, that homosexuals didn't need criminal punishment, but treatment. Moreover, since this understanding suggested that having a homosexual orientation was inherent and not a matter of "fault," the medical profession condemned the tradition punitive approach in favor of a therapeutic approach.
That led to an era from the beginning of the twentieth century until the mid-twentieth century is which doctors attempted to find ways to "cure" homosexuality. They tried everything from psychotherapy to aversion therapy to electric shock to castration to sterilization (and a lot more crazy things besides). Alas, the scientific conclusion was that the homosexual orientation really could not be "cured."

People could manage to control their behavior, within limits, but the orientation itself could not be eliminated. Thus, just as with sufficient discipline a person with a normal sexual drive can learn to live a celibate life or a person with a heterosexual orientation can learn to have homosexual sex (as in prisons and the military), some homosexuals can manage to have heterosexual sex. I don't know about you, but as a heterosexual myself, I would find it awfully difficult to behave as a homosexual, but I if my kids lives depended on it, for example, I suppose I could manage it.

In any event, it's extremely important to understand the difference between changing one's sexual orientation and changing one's sexual behavior. The latter can be changed, albeit with great difficulty; the former seems extremely resistant to change. Orientation is about desire, it's about what and who "turns you on." It's different from conduct. It's a bit like left-handedness. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to alter a person's natural left-handedness. That is an orientation with which some people are born. It is possible, with extraordinary difficulty, to train them to act as if they are right-handed, but it is artificial and they would be much better as lefties. (Of course, just as some people are bisexual, some people are ambidextrous. It's the way they are born.)

Now, I have no objection to a consenting adult who is unhappy with his sexual orientation trying to change it -- in either direction. That's entirely up to him. I would object to fraudulent promises of change, of course, as I would object to any fraudulent offer of medical treatment. But let's put that aside. Let's assume, although pretty much all the independent scientific evidence is to the contrary, that there are some forms of "reparative" therapy that can "cure" homosexuality. To the extent that is so, and to the extent people want to try, fine. There are, after all, plenty of reasons to want not to be homosexual in our society, even today, given the hostility, discrimination and condemnation still heaped upon homosexuals in some quarters.

The central issue, though, is whether a homosexual orientation should be thought to be something that needs to be cured or repaired or treated. On that score, I am adamant. The greatest insight we as a society have had in the last half-century with respect to homosexuals is that they do not need to be cured, repaired or treated. Life left-handedness, some people are homosexuals. There is no more reason for society to condemn homosexuals than there is for it to condemn lefties. Once we clear our heads, it becomes obvious that these are just people who have a different sexual orientation, and there is nothing inherently or morally "wrong" with that.

Of course, I understand that this flies in the face of some ancient religious beliefs, but I do not for a moment think that those beliefs should control our own good judgment and sense of decency and justice in the twenty-first century. I suppose that when it comes to religious beliefs, I think "do unto others" trumps everything else. So, if you want to tell people who are gay that if they'd rather not be gay you can help them, fine with me. But you really shouldn't think of it as "cure" or "repair" or "treat," any more than you would say you're going to "cure" someone of being left-handed. Cheers.

G-B: You just stay in that Leftist mental groove and never venture out of it. Groupthink. The truth is going to rock your world.

GRS: C'mon. You ask me for a reasoned response and then you offer this? Play fair. How about this: Go through my message and tell me PRECISELY what statements you think are wrong. Do it seriously.

G-B: It's clear you still haven't done the reading at www.narth.com and other websites. So you're really just talking to yourself. Sad. The real problem, Geoff, old pal, is that you ignored the info I gave you. The American Psychiatric Association is headed by lying Leftists. Face it.
Again, some readings: Charles Socarides, "Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic: The Issue of Homosexuality" and Joseph Nicolosi, "The Removal of Homosexuality from the Psychiatric Manual."

No science can tell you what's moral, anyway. But science can add information that can help one understand the nature of a thing--including a feeling. As long as you aren't willing to test your moral assumptions, you'll be stuck in an illusion--and mislead your readers. To repeat: Homosexuality and transgenderism are symptoms of deep-seated gender self-alienation. In homosexuality, the partner/object of desire is unconsciously used as a gender crutch. In transgenderism/gender identity disorder, there was early (age two or so) gender identification with the opposite-sex parent figure.

Faulty bonding and identification with the same-sex parent figure creates a chronic state of emotional neediness that later takes one of these forms. (Bisexuality is just a milder form of homosexuality, with normal development having been partially achieved.) Better parenting prevents these. Skilled psychodynamic psychotherapy and good platonic mentoring correct them. This takes years, even decades, as with other deep-seated disorders. The subject is psychology, not sociology or history.
You've got a lot to learn. It takes humility to realize one has been seriously wrong about something, and for a long time.

GRS: O.K, let's try to stay away from name-calling ("lying leftists" v. "right-wing crazies"). Here are some thoughts. Keep in mind that I mean what follows somewhat playfully, although seriously, as well.

With respect to Charles Socarides. According to him, gender disorder is the result of "early (age two or so) gender identification with the opposite-sex parent figure" due to "faulty bonding and identification with the same-sex parent figure." As you say, his theory is that this "creates a chronic state of emotional neediness."

There is, of course, a wonderful irony here that may explain Charles Socarides' obsession with homosexuality and its cure. As you no doubt know, Charles Socarides sired Richard Socarides, an extremely prominent homosexual who has long been one of the national leaders of the gay rights movement. Presumably, this occurred to poor Richard because Charles was so busy pursuing his career that he neglected his son, thus making him gay. Because, under his theory, this is not Richard's fault, but his own, Charles must find a way to absolve himself of responsibility for this horrible development.
And so, voila, he discovers a "cure" for homosexuality. Richard's continuing homosexuality is no longer Daddy's fault, but Richard's own fault for refusing to take his "medicine." "If only Richard weren't so damn stubborn! I could cure him in a flash." And so Charles manages to expiate his guilt for what's he did to his little boy, while casting the blame onto the son. It's like something out of Saturday Night Life.

O.K., now let's get more serious. Let's take Charles Socarides at his word and assume hypothetically that homosexuality is caused by faulty bonding with the opposite sex parent in early childhood and that with some form of therapy the effects of this faulty bonding can be reversed. The fundamental question is: Should it be?

Many of our personal and psychological characteristics are shaped in early childhood. Are we confident or insecure? Are we aggressive or passive? Are we curious or dull? Are we overachievers or underachievers? Etc., etc. Indeed, this is largely what psychiatry is about. But psychiatry doesn't define all of these characteristics as mental disorders. The vast majority, though due in part to the quirks of early childhood, are regarded as within the realm of ordinary human behavior.

Some people would rather be different than they are and they are certainly free to seek psychotherapy or some other means of personal transformation to makes themselves "better" or happier people, but we don't consider these characteristics mental disorders. In my view, people who are unhappy with who they are should certainly be free to try to change. They may want to be more confident, more ambitious, more loving, less sexually repressed, more generous, less consumed with the approval of others, and so on.

Is homosexuality in the category of characteristics that should be regarded as mental disorders or in the much broader category of personal characteristics and psychological tendencies framed by our experiences in early childhood? Is it more like bipolar disorder or lack of self-confidence or eagerness to achieve?

Throughout most of the twentieth century, homosexuality was thought to be like bipolar disorder. It was seen as a mental disability (whether due to genetics, upbringing, or a combination of the two) that was clearly dysfunctional and that needed to be changed in order for people suffering from the disorder to lead a normal, functional, happy life. The problem with this understanding, as the profession gradually came to understand, is that the primary problem faced by homosexuals turns out to be imposed on them by the animus, discrimination and antipathy of others. Left to their own devices, homosexuals turn out to be just as capable as other people and just as able to lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives as other people -- except for the discrimination and antagonism they face.

Once the medical profession came to understand this, it recognized (correctly, in my view) that although homosexuality may be caused or affected by early childhood experiences, there is nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with being overconfident, or insufficiently confident, or overly amibitious, or more shy than usual. Viewed in that light, what needs fixing is not homosexuality, but society's response to homosexuality. It would be as if our society's norms led the vast majority of people to despise and persecute shy people. This would make shy people miserable. They would want to mask their shyness and would do everything they could to be different than they are. But once we realized that there's really nothing wrong with shy people and that the problem instead is our persecution of shy people, the obvious right solution is not to torment and torture shy people for the actions of their parents but to recognize that they should be allowed to be who they are. I suspect this was the central insight that led to the change in the DSM. It was simply about recognizing that the only psychological problem with homosexuality was not the result of homosexuality but the result of our society's treatment of homosexuals.

Now, this brings us to what for you is really the crux of the matter. As you so emphatically note, you regard homosexuality as immoral. Thus, even if people who are homosexual aren't at fault for being homosexual, their behavior is immoral. It would be as if, because of their early childhood experiences, a particular type of person had a strong orientation toward child sexual abuse. I would certainly agree with you that child sexual abuse is immoral, that it should be punished, and that people so inclined should seek therapy.

But there is a fundamental difference between child sexual abusers and homosexuals. The former are clearly and unequivocably doing something we regard as seriously harmful to children -- who are
not legally competent to make sound decisions for themselves. Whether or not people inclined to engage in child sexual abuse can effectively be treated psychologically, their behavior is clearly immoral because they are directly harming others persons. Homosexuals, however, who have relations with other consenting adults, are merely engaging in consensual sex. To find this to be immoral requires a much more complicated conception of immorality.

In my view, as I said before, the central test of immoral behavior is the "do unto others" precept. Applying that test to homosexuality, I see no rational reason to view consenting homosexual sex as immoral. I understand, of course, that religion has often held it to be immoral, but the really interesting question
is . . . why? The usual answer is that it is unnatural. But flying at 30,000 feet, walking on our hands, and surviving cancer are also unnatural. So what? In any event, one person's religious belief is no reason for interfering with other person's freedom. In my view, to treat a class of persons as pariahs when they have done nothing to harm others and (as Charles Socarides says) they have not chosen to be who they are is itself immoral.

G-B: You poor, poor man.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?