Thursday, August 6, 2009

It Doesn’t Work

This really isn’t a surprise:

Using therapy to try to turn gay people straight has no basis in science and can actually be harmful, the American Psychological Association says.

At a conference in Toronto Wednesday, the organization voted by a margin of 125 to four to adopt a report (PDF) which concludes that attempts to “convert” homosexual people to heterosexuality can produce negative results, including depression and suicide attempts.

I can’t speak for every other LGBT person in the world, but I’ve never had any doubt that I was born gay and that any attempt to try to make me straight would be, um, fruitless. I don’t think it’s any different than being born left-handed or blue-eyed, and while you can teach yourself to be right-handed and you can put in contact lenses to make your eyes brown, you can’t change what’s hard-wired at the factory, so why try? All it will do is lead to confusion, frustration, unhappiness and grief. I know far too many people who, for whatever reason — social, religious, familial — tried to stop being homosexual and ended up in unhappy marriages and, in at least one case, criminal behavior that landed him in federal prison. I have seen alcohol and drug abuse among closeted and repressed friends and colleagues who used them as methods to try to escape the reality of their life as a homosexual. (By the way, to me there’s a difference between being gay and being homosexual. You’re homosexual if you are attracted to people of your own gender. You’re gay if you accept it and make it a dimension of your life beyond the bedroom…or the closet.)

The homophobia industry, largely made up of religious fundamentalists, has exploited “conversion therapy” to their own end. There’s a lot of money to be made in the business, either by parents who are afraid that their teenaged son is too interested in theatre for his own good or their daughter likes to change the oil in the family Plymouth, or men and women who, after years of being good little boys and girls and attending church or temple and the Christmas cotillion and trying desperately to fit into the heteronormative social structure, make one last attempt to please others or fit themselves into the narrow world that is demanded of them. The converters point to the statistics of the alleged high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse and say that it proves being gay is wrong, and either ignoring the fact that perhaps it might be them and their condemnation and denial of equality in law and society that might be a contributing factor, or they are willfully exploiting it for their own ends.

The religious converters refuse to accept the idea that being gay is something you’re born with for several reasons. I suppose there are those who sincerely believe that it is a choice, but forgive my cynicism if I think it’s more because they know that if they admit that being gay is a God-given trait, they have no basis for their homophobia. God is perfect, therefore anything he creates cannot be flawed — at least until after they are born — so God turning out homosexuals as if they were just another variety means that being gay is no different than any other innate trait. And there goes their target — they need someone to rail against to justify their holiness, use as a scapegoat for all the troubles in the world, and most importantly, to use as a fund-raising cash cow: “The homos are teaching in your local high school! Send us money!” They also know that the LGBT community is one of the last groups that it’s still okay to discriminate against. World War II took all the fun out of anti-Semitism, we’re supposed to be “post-racial” with Barack Obama in the White House (although that’s still a tad problematic), but there are still laws on the books — marriage equality, adoption, and military service to name just a few — that make it perfectly acceptable to discriminate against gays and lesbians and get away with it or even be praised for standing up for “family values.” (There’s also the fundamentalists’ fixation on the sexual element of being gay; it’s all they think about. Most people — gay or straight — are aware of their attraction towards other people long before they are aware of their sexual functions, so to say that being gay is all about sex tells me that the gay-bashers are the ones who have the issues.)

Frankly, we don’t need the APA to tell us that conversion therapy is wrong both as a scientific or medical treatment. The assumption that there is something wrong with being homosexual is both immoral and unethical. You are what you are, and to deny it to yourself or anyone else is an affront to humanity and the infinite diversity that makes us who and what we are.