Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Homosexuality, theology, free speech, and the prices involved

[Content Note:  religiously based anti-gay sentiment]

Should Christians be able to communicate publicly their convictions that homosexuality is sinful.

The above is a question that Wendy Gritter recently got asked, shared her views on the question (she did so on a friends-only Facebook post, so I don’t feel right reposting what she said here), then invited many of us to offer our own thoughts on the matter.  I did so as a couple comments on her Facebook post.  I wish to repeat and/or summarize those thoughts here as well as share a few other thoughts.

My short answer to the question is yes, Christians and everyone else should be permitted to publicly voice whatever convictions they have, even if I personally find those convictions or their choice to voice them to be problematic or downright detestable.

I suspect that some Christians might object to the second half of that sentence, the part that starts “even if.”  The thing is, that’s the price of free speech:  Everyone else gets to exercise theirs as well.  That means that if someone says something that I find objectionable or troubling, I get to critique what they said and state why I find it objectionable or troubling.  Furthermore, I’m allowed to form my opinions of not only what people said, but of those people based on the things that they have said.

Honestly, I find that belief to be hurtful and harmful toward LGBT people.  I’m also inclined to consider even the most gentle, nuanced, and most compassionate of that particular conviction to be harmful to some LGBT people.  I say that as someone who went to a church who never really played up the evils of homosexuality in its sermon, but received the message sufficiently that things almost didn’t end well for me.  Those kinds of convictions have consequences, and far too often, those consequences fall people other than those who hold or express them.

But rather than focus on why I find the belief or conviction itself troublesome, I’m going to spend most of this post explaining why I find the expression of that conviction troublesome, unnecessary, and counterproductive.

First, I want to start with a practical, if somewhat confrontational point.  We all know some Christians are convinced that homosexuality — whether that means being gay, identifying as gay, or having same sex sexual relationships to that particular Christian — is sinful.  Some Christians — a lot of them, really — have been saying it for decades.  I’ve been hearing it for more than seventeen years, myself.  So I have to wonder, at what point are those Christians going to accept that their message has been heard and quiet themselves so they can actually listen to someone else for a change?  Because quite frankly, I’ve had my fill of listening and would like my turn at being listened to.  And I mean really listened to.

So why do some Christians feel the need to keep repeating a message we’ve all heard for decades?  Do they really think they have something to add to that message that we haven’t heard before?  My seventeen years of experience has provided me no evidence that such is the case.  The only new things I’ve heard are from people like Wendy who are saying it’s time to listen.

In many ways, I think Fred Clark is right when he attributes it to tribalism.  For many in the evangelical Christian religion, Fred argues that denouncing homosexuality is a sort of tribal marker, done to demonstrate that a person is properly a part of the evangelical tribe.  That’s all fine and good, but not being a member of that tribe, I’m not all that interested in seeing those tribal markers on parade.  Such Christians have a right to parade them, but they don’t have a right to expect me to stick around and watch, let alone ooh and ah.  And to be honest, I’m not convinced that parading around one’s tribalism makes a lot of sense for a group that — as I understand it, at least — is supposed to be trying to pull as many people into the tribe as they can.  And when the expression of those tribal markers actually negatively impact some outside the tribe, well, I’m not sure you can get much more counterproductive than that.

Moving on, I also want to express my view on morality and how that impacts this whole topic, as words like “conviction” and “sin” lead me to believe that we’re talking morality.  Morality has to do with choice, and the only choices any person has any control over is their own choices.  I can’t make your choices for you, dear reader, nor can you make mine for me.  Ultimately, we are the sole masters of our own morality and solely the masters of our own morality.  So when heterosexual people start talking about whether homosexuality — however they’re defining that word — is moral, I note that they are laying down moral laws that don’t have any direct impact on their own lives.  They don’t have to struggle against those prohibitions or restrictions.  They are effectively trying to dictate burdens to be laid on other people.  Not cool.  To them, I say focus on sins that you actually might struggle with.

Now in fairness, there are non-heterosexual who believe that same sex sexual relationships are sinful.  Because of that belief, they choose to remain celibate or enter into what some call a mixed-orientation marriage.  That is their right, and while it’s certainly a choice I wouldn’t make, I honor their moral agency.  But I really don’t see the point in even them broadcasting that conviction, unless they are discussing at as their personal choice.  The thing is, I’m not convinced that’s why some of them do so.  Too often, I get a sense of “this is what I’m doing and what you should do too” behind them.  To which I say, nope.  My moral agency, my decision.

Personally, I think unless a non-heterosexual person asks for advice on what to do about their sexual feelings or how one handle’s ones own sexual feelings, it’s best to keep one’s own counsel on whether one things homosexuality is a sin.

But yes, everyone has the right to ignore my advice on that count.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The Good

Today, I finally finished reading “Out of a Far Country:  A Gay Son’s Journey to God.  A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope” by mother-son team Angela and Christopher Yuan.  It was an interesting read and I found it both enjoyable and problematic.  As such, I want to do a number of blog posts about it.  In this blog post, I am going to try to focus mainly on what I enjoyed abut the book.[1]

The book focuses on two stories (though I’m sad to say that the one story ultimately gets subsumed by by the other), the story of each of the two authors.  Christopher shares his journey of coming out, walking away from his biological family, making many bad decisions, facing the consequences of those decisions, and reclaiming his life and reuniting with his family.  It’s touching, moving, and raw.  As someone who loves both stories and seeking to understand the heroes of those stories, it made for an incredibly compelling read.

Intertwined throughout this was Angela’s own story and her journey through the initial shock of her son’s announcement that he was leaving[2], her conversion to the Christian faith, and her acceptance of and patience with her sons journey before finally being reunited with her.

In many ways, Angela’s story was far more interesting to me than Christopher’s, which is why I was sad at how her story seemed to become little more than a subplot in his journey rather than something in its own right.  In part, this was because while neither Angela nor Christopher use the word in the book, it seems pretty clear to me that Angela is codependent and her initial reactions to Christopher and his bad decisions epitomizes the controlling behavior that those of us who struggle with codependency are so prone to.  As such, I was able to relate to Angela’s journey of recognizing these behavior patterns in her life and changing them as much — perhaps more than — I could relate to Christopher’s story.  After all, Christopher’s journey and my own were quite different and we’ve arrived at different places.  As such, in many ways, I found myself drawn more to his mother.

I also admire the honesty and rawness with which both author’s described their experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout their journeys as well.  It was easy to see and understand not only what they were going through, but how their experiences and responses to them transformed them.  As such, while there’s much about the book that bothered me (and I will get into that soon enough), I think it was well worth reading and would encourage interested people to give it a try.

I will note however, that it deals with many deep and potentially triggering topics (including homosexuality, family rejection, drug abuse, HIV, imprisonment, and religiously-based homophobia).  Anyone who does accept my recommendation needs to be ready to deal with heavy topics.

[1] Sadly, what I found problematic about the book will likely take more than a single post.

[2] Though in fairness, Angela did lay down an ultimatum that contributed to Christopher’s decision.

Examining Conversion Therapy: Sessions with David

In this post, I continue my examination of Patrick Strudwick’s article where he describes his first-hand investigation into the world of conversion therapy.  Just as my last post focused on Patrick’s sessions with Lynne, this post will explore the sessions that he had with David.

Patrick starts this section of the article by indicating that he and David are conducting these therapy sessions using Skype and webcams.  Just as I noted the strangeness of Lynn holding a scheduled therapy session over the phone, I find the idea of holding therapy sessions over the Internet to be highly questionable.  Once again, I fin myself wondering how well a therapist can handle a situation from a distance if something particular difficult or traumatic comes up during the session.

David starts the sessions by giving Patrick a highly positive prognosis.  In fact, David indicates that one third of people seeking reparative therapy face complete change, while another third experience significant change (a phrase that is rather vague).  The problem with David’s claims here is that there is no evidence to substantiate them.  There are no comprehensive studies on the success rates of conversion therapy.  In fact, the only recent study on the topic doesn’t match up to David’s claims, despite the fact that some have heavily criticized that study.  So here we have a therapist who is making promise based on claims that are not backed up by evidence.  Again, this is nothing less than playing into a client’s insecurities, and is rather unethical.

David then moves into the same talk about both religion and masculinity.  Apparently, conversion therapists are still trapped in this notion that homosexuality and not being “masculine” are somehow inextricably linked.  This demonstrates a lack of understanding of both sexual orientation and masculinity.  Part of David’s therapy involves Patrick examining himself in the mirror while affirming and touching his own body.  I find this a very strange practice and don’t see any psychological model that would explain how this would affect one’s same-sex attractions.

David’s approach to conversion therapy is odd in that he asks Patrick to reinterpret all of his actions and feelings.  David suggests that there must be some hidden meaning behind every attraction and emotional experience he has.  He interprets everything as a manifestation of some hidden wound.  Again, I find this a strange practice rather than simply accepting one’s feelings and attractions for what they are until a reason to look for another interpretation arises.  I certainly find his idea of “homosexuality as cannibalism” a rather weird notion, and seems to say more about conversion therapists’ needs to pathologize something as natural as desire and love.

Like Lynne, David looks to Patrick’s relationship with his parents as possible cause for his homosexuality.  Unlike Lynne, David does seem to pay attention to what Patrick says and tries to mold his theories to Patrick’s life rather than trying to rewrite the client’s history to fit the model.  Particularly, David suggests that Patrick over-identified with his mother due to the fact that he was creative and extroverted like her and under-identification with his father.  David suggests that this pattern led to a lack of masculine identity in Patrick, which he then sought to compensate by latching onto strong men in a sexual relationship.  Again, we find ourselves circling the conversion therapists’ inability to separate their notions of masculinity from sexual orientation.  It is perfectly possible for a gay man to be masculine, and I have known more than one heterosexual man who didn’t meet such rigid notions of masculinity.  (In fact, such heterosexual men are often the biggest critics of such narrow concepts of masculinity.)
In the next session, Patrick indicates that he’s had sexual feelings for David.  David seems rather unphased by this admission.  David — a self-identified ex-gay himself — also acknowledges that he still has “echoes” of sexual feelings towards men.  This makes the next part of Patrick’s therapy session particularly shocking — as if what happens next isn’t shocking in its own right.

“Close your eyes and focus on that arousal you’re feeling down in your genitals,” he says. “I want you to hear, as a man, as I look at your body, I see strong shoulders and a strong chest, I see a man who has an attractive body and I want you just to notice the arousal you feel as you hear me talking about that. Imagine an energy and picture that energy as a colour, and make the brightness of the colour relate to the intensity of the sexual feeling, so you might be starting to get a bit of a hard on, you might be starting to feel an erection and that sexual energy, but I want you to just picture that as a coloured light. What colour would it be?”

This kind of talk strikes me as very intimate and sexualized.  It certainly is not the kind of conversation I’d want to be having on a webcam session with my therapist during my second therapy session with him.  And I certainly would not want to be going through this with a therapist who in one breath claims to be “cured” of homosexuality and admits he still has the occasional sexual thoughts about men in the next.  David’s entire approach to therapy seems highly sexualized and even voyeuristic.  That alone strikes me as disturbing.

I suppose it comes as little surprise that David reveals that his supervisor is associated in some way with Richard Cohen.  Patrick notes in his article that Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association.  He doesn’t note that many ex-gay ministries and conversion therapists distanced themselves from Cohen for a while when Cohen’s disturbing “holding therapy” got strong media attention.  Cohen’s approach to therapy seemed inappropriately sexualized and intimate, so it’s unsurprising that other therapists associated with him would have equally problematic practices.

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Examining Conversion Therapy: Sessions with Lynne

Today, while browsing the latest entries on Box Turtle Bulletin, I ran across a post that examined an Independent article.  The Independent article, written by Patrick Strudwick, discusses reparative therapy.  For the article, Strudwick had therapy sessions with two reparative therapists, Lynne and David.  The bulk of the article describes what he was told in those therapy sessions.

After reading the article, I felt that these therapy sessions deserved careful consideration and analysis.  The things that Strudwick was told by both Lynne and David are very telling about the whole conversion therapy process and the problems it poses.  To that end, I want to take a close look at the therapy sessions with Lynne in this entry.  I hope to do the same with the sessions with David in a future entry.

Lynne starts out the first therapy session by affirming that she believes homosexuality to be a mental illness, an addiction, and an anti-religion phenomenon.  Bear in mind that the first two classifications are in direct contradiction to the position of every psychological and psychotherapy association out there (with the exception of NARTH, which was created specifically to peddle the notion that homosexuality is a mental illness) and all peer-reviewed research.  This is important, because Lynne and other conversion therapists are already on shaky ground because they are seeking to treat something which doesn’t apparently need to be treated.  However, such therapists rely on the fact that their clients (or worse, their clients’ families) are willing to believe their sexual orientation is an illness in need of correcting.  In effect, they are playing off of their clients’ own insecurities to sell an unnecessary (let alone ineffective) therapy.  This willing to play to their clients’ insecurities is highly unethical, and will play a bigger part in these therapies as we consider Lynne’s investigation into the “causes” of Patrick’s homosexuality.

Lynne then opens the session with prayer, the first sign that her therapy is going to be intermingled with a lot of religious material.  This is evident when she asks Patrick if he is lustful about his same-sex attractions.  That word gets thown around a lot in conservative religious circles, and I tend to think it’s abused.  Truth be told, there should be a certain amount of sexual desire in any romantic relationship.  However, things get worse when Patrick also points out that he also felt what he considered sincere love in some of his relationships.  Lynne dismisses this out of love, referring to it as “darkness.”  The conversion therapist’s willingness to discount any feeling simply because it doesn’t fit their model is unconscionable.

As is common among conversion therapists, Lynne starts asking about Patrick’s family.  Those familiar with the theories of Joseph Nicolosi will recognize that Lynne is trying to establish the distant father and overbearing mother that is so often given as a major cause of homosexuality.  (I’ve always found this theory silly, since I have yet to meet any teenager who doesn’t consider his mother overbearing at one time or another.)  Patrick indicates that he had a loving family life.  However, Lynne is not willing to let this particular theory go yet:

“Well, there was something happening within your family dynamics that led to your depression,” she says.

The depression that Lynne is referring to is the depression that Patrick indicated that he was depressed as a teenager.  What is notable about this, however, is that Patrick already stated the reason for this depression:

I tell her that I was depressed as a teenager because I feared I would face prejudice for the rest of my life.

Fearing that one will face prejudice for the rest of one’s life is a perfectly legitimate reason to be depressed.  However, Lynne discounts Patrick’s explanation for his depression and inserts her own, based on nothing more than her desire to make Patrick’s psychological profile fit her predefined notions about how homosexuality forms.  This is questionable at best and downright unethical at worst.  Again, bear in mind that most of Lynne’s patients are coming to her in an emotionally vulnerable state.  By disregarding the explanations they give her and inserting her own, she is pushing her own theories and views on them.  In effect, she has ceased to be a therapist at all, but has become something much uglier.  This desire to push her clients in the direction her theories say they should go will appear uglier later on.

After exploring rather curious theories about difficult births, neonatal intensive care, and the “spiritual effects” of Freemasonry (I’d love to see an attempt at peer-reviewed research on that last one!), Lynne begins asking about sexual abuse.  Patrick indicates that he’s never been abused.  Once again, Lynne is unwilling to accept Patrick’s analysis of his own life:

“I think it will be there,” she replies, dropping her voice to a concerned tone. “It
does need to come to the surface.”

And so, she prays for me again. “Father, we give you permission to bring to the surface some of the things that have happened over the years. Father, enable your love to pour into that place of isolation in that little boy, whatever age, we give you permission to go there, with your healing power and your light, go into those parts, open all the doors, and access each one with your light.”

She looks up. I ask her again about this abuse. “I think there is something there,” she says. “You’ve allowed things to be done to u.” In the next session I ask if she thinks the abuse would have taken place within my family, because I can’t remember it. “Yes, very likely,” she replies.

Once again, the therapist is trying to force her client to fit some predefined model rather than observing the real life story he presents and analyzing it honestly.  And this is where her clients’ emotional vulnerability come in.  By pushing this idea that her client must have been abused, she is setting up the perfect situation for creating false memories.  False memories have ruined lives — both the lives of the supposed abusers and those of the victims.  False memories also end up hurting those who really have experienced abuse and have forgotten or repressed, as it makes professionals more cautious about accepting even valid recovered memories.  In short, Lynne is hurting a huge number of people simply for the sake of making a client’s history fit her preconceived notions of what it should look like.

Patrick indicates that his next session with Lynne is over the phone.  This single sentence makes my head spin.  While I can certainly understand why a therapist might need to deal with an unexpected crisis with a client over the phone, I cannot imagine holding a planned therapy session over the phone.  It strikes me as inefficient, and potentially risky.  If any powerful or troubling emotions arise, Lynne is not present to handle the situation.  It seems to me that it would make more sense to postpone or reschedule the session to a time when it can be held face-to-face.  The fact that Lynne chose not to do so leads me to wonder if Lynne is the kind of person who puts conferences and lectures over the well-being of her clients.  If so, then I hope someone will encourage her to leave clinical practice.

Lynne’s first two suggestions during this session is that Patrick should (1) distance himself from his gay friends and (2) take up a sport, possibly rugby.  First, I find it strange that any therapist would presume to have the kind of authority to make such suggestions.  I understand that being critical of a clients’ friendships and other relationships is not uncommon, especially if the relationships and friendships are unhealthy or promote unhealthy behavior.  However, it’s also my understanding that a therapist generally points out how they’re unhealthy and/or promote unhealthy behavior and then allows the client to make their own choice.  To actually suggest a course of action like Lynne has strikes me as assuming too much control.

Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s questionable whether Patrick’s gay friends are promoting unhealthy behavior.  Nothing in the article suggests that Patrick has given Lynne any reason to believe such a thing.  It again strikes me as Lynne making assumptions rather than analyzing the person and relationships at hand.

The suggestion about taking up a sport always makes me laugh.  Conversion therapists seem to have strange beliefs about the relationship between homosexuality and masculine stereotypes.  Truth be told, they’re two different subjects.  Locally, we have a large number of gay men who are into volleyball and other sports.  Many gay men are into body-building and other “masculine” activities.  Others of us don’t care for such activities, but it has nothing to do with our sexual orientation.

Lynne’s idea of therapy involves trying to force her client’s life stories into her preconceived models, throwing out a lot of religious jargon, and playing with irrelevant notions of masculinity and sexuality.  And she’s doing this with emotionally vulnerable clients.  And we’re supposed to consider this valid therapy?