25 October 2010

The pitfall of dismissiveness

Observation: talk to any random person on the street, and they don't know anything about Evergreen, Exodus, Love Won Out, or reparative therapy. Never heard of it. Talk to a gay person about them: some have heard, but the vast majority haven't even given it a second thought and chalk it up to bigots and self-loathers who would strip them of the happiness they've found in learning to accept themselves and learning that God accepts them. Talk to an LDS or formerly LDS gay person who was in the church in the last ten years but is same-sex dating, and they've most likely heard of it, and many of them have some strongly worded opinions about them, but relatively few of them have ever been to an Evergreen Conference or read a book by or been counseled by a reputable reparative therapist (now now, don't jump on the 'oxymoron' jokes). Generally, they're completely dismissive of efforts to live a heterosexual lifestyle as "lying to one's self", and they're confident those who promote reparative therapy or a self-denial approach have all been long-since debunked as a bunch of quacks, and only desperate people could want to try to live the heterosexual lifestyle.


It's a classic error, really, in any society or group: the lack of effort to really explore the assertions made because...hey...it's obvious it's all bunk because look: an authoritative organization says it's often harmful, and I know tons of people who tried it and thought they were changing but ultimately decided they were fooling themselves and are happier since "accepting themselves". Of course, they don't think about the fact that OF COURSE that's who they know. Are they really going to run into the people who are still at it and purposefully and mostly happily living the way they believe they're supposed to?

Others have said, "Every gay guy I know who got married did OK for a while but just couldn't sustain it and either suffered through a lonely, awful marriage or he eventually broke it off, often after there were kids involved, and was happier overall but carried the regrets of a broken home. Every one." I've asked them, "Did any of them openly discuss their homosexuality with their wives beforehand?" The answer? Nope. And again, what of the guys who have had successful marriages? Do they run in gay social circles? They do exist, you know. Do I think they're much rarer than the more tragic stories? Yes, I do, but they exist, and perhaps in increasing numbers as they find healthier ways to live their alternative-alternative lifestyle.


But here's the problem: when the whole argument is based on, "No gay guy can really marry a woman and stay happily married very long," or, "It's so tragic when people can't accept who they are and live miserable, self-loathing lives," guess what happens when the people who've heard that and nothing else about reparative therapy go to a conference like Evergreen's or Love Won Out, and they personally meet dozens of people who seem completely genuine and sincere and say, "I do exist, and there are increasingly many of us," and they are presented with statistics and theories which fit the patterns in their own lives. Suddenly, it becomes clear to these newcomers that the outspoken gay people had no idea what they were talking about, and the reparatives are not only disarmingly charming but are surprisingly intelligent. Suddenly, everything they've heard before may feel like a big lie, designed to deceive them from giving these good people a chance to show them a better way...


Of course, I've seen this same phenomenon everywhere, particularly in politics and religion. I think sometimes we think that to actually address an "opponent's" arguments would be to validate them, so it's more convincing to just dismiss them and scoff at their claims or satirize them while knocking down straw men. But when someone investigates and finds validity in their arguments, and sees that nobody has bothered to refute those arguments on their logical merits, they are likely to draw the conclusion that nobody has refuted them because there is no refutation.

Maybe it's because opponents' claims are actually complex, and the refutation even more complex, and it's easier to say, "Trust us, they're not right," than to say, "Fine, here's the evidence and analysis, and certain things they're saying are rational, but their conclusions are drawn way beyond what's supported by research," or whatever. Goes for people on both sides of most issues, as far as I can tell.


So setting aside the emotion-charged rhetoric and attacks on ex-gay crusaders who go on vacations with RentBoys, where are the rational responses to the claims made at an Evergreen Conference, for example, or Joseph Nicolosi's methods? I do know there are some responses to their claims because I've found some, but they're not the arguments you typically find, and it seems a bit subjective as to whom you believe or which scientific, replicable studies you glean statistics from and how you interpret the numbers and personal stories of people who say, "I don't know about the numbers, but X worked for me, and I'm happy."

There's no Anti-Evergreen conference where you can go get charged up and hear it all packaged in an organized response, buoyed by the sense that you've found rational arguments nobody else has bothered to piece together and enjoy the fellowship of others who are in the know. There are few web sites, if any, dedicated to responding to the claims of ex-gay ministries or reparative therapists on the merits of their foundational theories and statistical support rather than relying on emotionally-charged rhetoric and exposing supposed hypocrisy of their promulgators.

I have my own theories about certain things, and I want to know how to find out if studies have been done along the lines of my questions but haven't found anything researched. Is that because nobody gives their claims enough credibility to bother investing money for research to refute them? Is it because the research has been done and is old news and I just don't know where to find it? Is it because it's just a barely newborn field of research, wide open for real investigation to test claims and better understand the human psyche?


Of course, there's another facet to this on top of any rational approach: Evergreen offers shining faces and happy countenances, a grand battle cry to join the army of God and press forth to Celestial Glory and eternal joy. What does "being gay" offer that can compare to that grandeur and "larger than myself" "eternal glory" sense of mission and purpose?


Maybe if those who do not agree with Evergreen were a little less stubbornly zealous, there might be fewer who are surprised when they discover Evergreen to consist of some apparently very good, intelligent, self-determined people, which has made it easier for presenters to say, "See? The gay people who want you to be miserable like unto them have lied to you about who we are, so what else have they been lying about to spread their dogma?" I know you may not believe it's worth the effort, but I kind of wish more people had been to Evergreen and could witness how reasonable they are in so many ways, even if you disagree with their interpretations of data or underlying theories and the way they connect them to the data.

So, in the interest of finding out which ideas are straw men and which are critical points of discussion, or addressing the issues in a rational way rather than foolishly thinking so many chumps are "duped" by "stupid" theories and mirages of happiness, let's address not just our emotional reactions or dogmatic adherence to gay-influenced APA committee edicts but address the actual issues, ask the critical questions, respond to the science and psychology, and risk being wrong or escalating and accelerating the intellectual arms race.

...Tomorrow or the next day, 'cause I'm tired now.


BLB said...

There are 2 guys, Guy A and Guy B. Both have indigestion. You offer them 2 pills, the black pill and the white pill. Guy A takes the black, Guy B takes the white. Guy A gets totally healed and sees Guy B roll over and die.

There are 2 other guys, Guy C and Guy D. You hand them the same 2 pills. Guy C takes the white, while Guy D takes the black. Guy C lives and sees Guy D die.

Guys A & C meet up. You offer them the same 2 pills. They take the pill they see as the "good" one, while dismissing the other pill and will begin to think the other guy will die.

Can you really blame them for thinking so? What happens if one forces them to switch pills and they both die?

Original Mohomie said...

Can you blame them? No. Does their response being understandable make them any more right? No.

In your metaphor, it's important to know what else was going on outside of current understanding. I don't think the dying analogy quite works because it's a quantifiable and final result, BUT even so, clearly more information needs to be gathered to understand what's going on when each pill seems to "kill" in different situations. Clearly it's not just the shade of the pill which determines its result, and unidentified variables and interactions must be discovered to understand what's really going on, which will never happen if nobody is willing to say, "Hey, there's more going on here than our fears are allowing us to examine..."

But you'd also be right to be wary of dolling out the pills to people while ignoring the damage done to some.