Posted // 2009-09-16 - Today's Rosemary Winters piece in the Trib
ended up being more thought-provoking than I expected. Last month's announcement by the American Psychological Association
that therapists should not recommend so-called "reparative therapy" treatments to their clients came with perhaps less fanfare than it deserved.
An exhaustive two-year study of programs that claim to change gay people into straight people found them to be ineffective at best, and potentially even harmful.Quelle surprise.
This question: Is it possible for gays and lesbians to "go straight"?--has long been at the heart of America's culture wars. After all, if sexual orientation can be altered with a proper dose of treatment and self-control, then gays and lesbians are being willfully perverse. They could change if they wanted to.
So, when all these homos clamor for things like "equality" and "fair treatment," they're really just making unreasonable demands that society accommodate their chosen perversion. This is the way the issue has been framed by right-wing televangelists and reactionary politicians for decades.
On the other hand, if sexual orientation is an immutable human trait such as eye color or sex, then discrimination against gays and lesbians is not only hopelessly unfair, but downright un-American. This is basically how gay-rights activists, secular humanists, and compassionate religious folks have framed the issue.
Now, personally, I'm as gay as a vase full of daisies. No amount of therapy could transform me into a ladies' man. (And I speak with authority: When I came out to my family at 15, their immediate response was to send me to a reparative therapist who, after three sessions, proclaimed from underneath his terrible eyebrows that I was "incorrigible.")
So, I tend toward the "immutable" hypothesis--but not without reservations. Many of us--probably most of us--are either gay or straight, period.
But sexual orientation is not always binary--that is, not every human being is drawn throughout his or her life toward only men or only women. Some people are bisexual all their lives. Some straight men become "bi-curious" when circumstances arise, just as some gay and straight women go through heterosexual or lesbian "phases" during their lifetimes. And some gays and lesbians spend their lives putting up a heterosexual facade.
So, one's public social identity as "gay" or "straight" may have little relation to the private reality of with whom one actually has sex with. People seek reparative therapy when their inner homosexual reality conflicts with their desired public heterosexual identity. (Presumably, this could go the other way, too, although for some reason when you bring up the possibility of "straight-to-gay" reparative therapy among devout conversion therapists, their brains seem to snap.)
Basically, if you're a conflicted bisexual and want to be straight, you're more likely to become a reparative "success story" than a Kinsey 6.
And, who knows? Depending on circumstances, that bisexual may get so much satisfaction and success out of living a heterosexual lifestyle, with all its social privileges and avoidance of intolerance, the reparative experiment could end up being worthwhile. After all, sex isn't everything in life. Why begrudge someone for being happy?
Still, that's little consolation for the Kinsey 6. The whole source of the conflict is social intolerance of gays and lesbians, and that doesn't go away no matter how many "success stories" the conversion therapists trot out.
In the end, the innate orientation of people who are "successfully converted" doesn't change, but merely the ease with which they can learn to live with the conflict and resign themselves to a heterosexual public identity. This is their choice and, if some who desire conversion are able to successfully manage it, then good for them.
That doesn't mean that their choice is desirable for everybody. Most of us have found that the only path to true happiness and fulfillment is following Polonius' advice: "To thine own self be true"--even in the face of social and religious intolerance (which, with each passing decade, continues to diminish). We have learned to reject external pressure in favor of self-acceptance.
For those who don't get it, this is why we make such a big deal out of gay pride: Because the ultimate "reparative conversion" is the change from a self-loathing individual to one who courageously faces the opposition and states, "I am happy with who I am."