WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Well, here it is, folks. The APA has released conclusive, indisputable proof that you can't pray away the gay. I guess it's time to just go find myself a boyfriend and stop being all angsty now that the APA has come to the rescue. ...or is it?
There's more to this story than meets the eye, methinks. For a spin you might not have seen in most of the popular media, check out The Wall Street Journal's report, which emphasized the APA's acknowledgement that people should be supported in fostering their whole identity, including (not scrapping) their faith or belief system. You can also get the actual APA report straight from the horse's mouth if you're not keen on letting biased reporters filter it for you and have the energy to wade through over 100 pages.
You can even check out a response from Exodus. They seem...undeterred. Surprised? I hope not.
Addendum (16 Aug 2009): NARTH also released a study they say refutes many of the APA's claims over the years.
Despite the hard-line interpretation most people seem to take of the review as a final nail in the ex-gay coffin, and despite some whiff of political timing, I do see a concession in their comments which I appreciate, encouraging therapists to take into account a person's whole self, including beliefs about homosexual behavior, in helping them find healthy acceptance and decisions with how to deal with their own situation, rather than just telling them they're queer and should find a partner. Kudos on that front. I've always said, when people tell me to be true to myself, that I have a lot more than hormones to be true to, and I expect people to respect my choice to be true to myself, my whole self.
In relation to all of this, I'm going to ramble for a while. Follow along if you will:
Nonetheless, I do tend to shake my head and raise an eyebrow at organizations and individuals who hyper up into defense mode by shouting, "What do you mean people don't change?! Don't I exist? Am I invisible?! What do you mean it's harmful to use therapy to promote change? I've changed. Look at me. I've been married for years and made babies. Lots of them. And we practice just for fun." Good for you and your "tens of thousands" of cohorts (see the CNN report), but I don't see the evidence that such is the case for even a large minority of subjects who undergo therapy of homosexuality in that way.
Pardon my skepticism, but I have my doubts about actual "sexual orientation change" and tend to think of "change" more as a shift in thought processes and training the brain to think in less sexual and more relational terms, a change which I think is healthy but which I don't think is the "I'm hetero now" one-eighty ex-gay advocates' language tends to portray, even though they sometimes claim that's not what they mean. But alas, some people say they've changed from homo to hetero, and I'm in no place to call them liars, so I believe they've possibly changed as they say or believe they have, but I have some deep-seated skepticism based on my direct experiences with friends who have publicly claimed similarly but, over time, confess (intentionally or not) in private conversation that they aren't exactly hetero and explain what they really mean when they say they've "left homosexuality" or "changed their orientation". Who knows, right? I can't get into someone else's psyche enough to presume to know. Some of it may come down to semantics. I just know a lot more people who have tried it and were quite unchanged as far as attractions go (though often better at dealing with the emotions around it and controlling behavior and impulsive habits or thoughts), sometimes (not always) being quite discouraged as a result.
HAVE YOU REALLY TRIED?
Granted, you have to want change when it comes to any psychological re-programming or treatment of disorders, and you have to have solid motivation for wanting it, and you have to be willing to do what it takes. You also have to have the skills and tools to cope and process, which most often requires a really solid therapist/counselor and a solid support and accountability system. From my observations, relatively few people fit those criteria all together, which may account for much of the "failure" of treatment. I'll acknowledge that.
"IT COULD HAPPEN!"
(see this link, at :43, for the ultra-obnoxious, outdated reference)
I mean, I often defend the whole "change is possible for at least some" theory. Why reject it if people say they've experienced it? To satisfy some lustful need to make in genetic or biological? To justify demanding legal equality? To liberate myself from the expectations of friends and family that I might, someday, become straight and fulfill their dreams for me? I've considered the possibility of accepting "change", myself, if it were to come after years of emotional healing and growth and accountability and thought processing. The theory behind "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy" or whatever you call the process of bringing homosexual thoughts, behaviors, and desires under control or even dissolving most (even all?) of them while possibly magnifying heterosexual inclinations is, I believe, more complex than most people give it credit for. And most people won't give it a fair hearing because the APA, for example, has said homosexuality is not a disorder or the result of any psychological problems, and that's the end of that discussion because to imply anything else is destructive and bigoted. Bah. Dogma.
YOU OBVIOUSLY DIDN'T TRY HARD ENOUGH
But whether or not homosexual inclinations or feelings change in any given individual, I try to sympathize with the emotional trauma and hopelessness of putting one's faith in a mentor or therapist who promises something that doesn't happen and then being told it was one's own fault for not committing to the process enough. And I have my own suspicions and skepticism of the motives of those who are crusaders on the "change" battlefront. They, like their opponents, are invested. They stand to lose not only credibility but money and clients if they somehow confess they have homosexual thoughts sometimes (nevermind what they do with those or how well they "control" them).
EX-GAY DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN NOT ATTRACTED TO MEN
For example, the NPR report references someone citing the numbers of those who change from "self-identifying" as homosexual as if that means they have changed their orientation. But I know several guys who have publicly renounced "homosexuality" and say they flatly reject identifying themselves as "gay" but who, when you have a private conversation with them or you observe their eyes in the gym, prove to be quite attracted to men in a more-than-straighties-are-attracted way and quite less interested in women sexually, even if they proclaim they want a relationship with a woman and are convinced that's where their happiness will be found. Identifying as gay has little to do with whether manflesh turns you on more than womanflesh.
WHAT HAPPENED TO LIVE AND LET LIVE?
My question to those who would denounce the entire ex-gay movement is this: what happened to "let me live my life as I choose"? Whether to identify as gay or whether to marry someone of the opposite sex is each person's decision to make, and as long as they're honest with their potential mates, let them choose how they want to live their lives and pursue the greatest happiness they know how. I hear cries from gay people everywhere for validation of their relationships against the moral judgement of others, and then they turn around and decry the morality or ethics of someone who chooses a "traditional" marriage and loudly proclaim such to be liars and self-deceived. It doesn't make sense to me.
Whether or not so-and-so ever looks at another member of the same sex with some "hubba hubba", or whether or not their spouse is the only member of the opposite sex that will ever turn them on, or whether or not they even have a sex life with their spouse, or whether they actually love and adore and enjoy physical intimacy with their spouse in a mutual and fulfilling way, or whether they really did shift from primarily homosexual to primary heterosexual attraction, it's their decision to make, both the "SGA" party and the straighty they're forming the relationship with.
Why does that threaten you as a gay man or woman, to have other gay men or women (who often prefer, for their own reasons, to refer to themselves as something less stigmatized) choosing alternative lifestyles? Sure it makes life harder for you when people say, "Well so-and-so married a woman, and they seem happy," but buck up and deal with it. You don't need anyone's validation to make your own choices.
BUT DO I HAVE THE ENERGY OR INTEREST TO LIVE THAT WAY?
I look around, and I personally know several who seem to be living traditional heternormative or "single" lives, many with opposite-sex partners and children or who are totally non-dating and single and truly working towards such future marriage and family. I respect these men and women and their sense of mission. I appreciate their drive to live true to their beliefs and principles. And by and large, they are respectful of the decisions of others, despite proclaiming that there are other options for those who want them, even if they regard some of those decisions as immoral or against God's will. My hesitation in wanting to follow in their footsteps is that they seem to have something in common: they seem, at least, to live and breathe the process. They may say homosexuality is incidental to their lives. They may say it's just one small part of who they are and doesn't define them. But they chair Evergreen committees, mentor others, hold seminars and speak on panels, attend and speak at conferences, write essays and books, manage web sites and discussion groups, hold firesides, attend experiential weekends over and over... I just wonder if I'd rather stay single and go about my other interests, if living a more heteronormative way comes with all of that.
But then again, I recognize that even if I'm not doing all of those things, the topic is going to be on my mind probably as much or more as it is for them. And I realize I am blogging about the topic all the time, so how can I think I'm really any different right now? At least they're framing their thoughts and focus on the issue in ways that help them live the way they want to. I have more thoughts developing on that but will save them for a later post.
OK, BACK TO THE POINT
What right does a therapist have to try to promote a person to adopt a gay-affirming perspective if the client has expressed belief against such? I do agree they should be very up front about the success rates, what "success" means, and the possibility that they can work through their questions and turmoil in the meantime, choosing a fulfilling life congruent with their most valued beliefs. I'm glad the APA is coming out in support of therapists backing off a bit and allowing their clients to determine who they want to be, helping them to process it all healthily even if they choose a sort of alternative-to-alternative "lifestyle". At least, I hope that's what they're doing.
Update: interesting analysis of the report from another blogger here.