11 April 2012

Please do not hinge your hope on "change"

When the researcher admits validity of criticism and expressly requests to retract his former conclusions, it's time to reconsider: http://wthrockmorton.com/2012/04/11/robert-spitzer-retracts-2001-ex-gay-study/.

None of this should change your freedom to choose how to respond to your attractions, but my direct observation of and personal conversations with dozens and dozens confirms what a long-time ex-gay leader recently said about the popular claim among certain organizations and groups that "change is possible": http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/10/10/former-love-in-action-director-i%E2%80%99ve-never-met-a-man-who-experienced-a-change-from-homosexual-to-heterosexual/.

I've noticed a subtle and gradual (if not somewhat disingenuous-seeming) shift in the usage of the word "change" in organizations like Evergreen and Exodus, apparently to sidestep or move away from discussion of reversing orientation, as more voices come out in testimony that few if any people actually change in the way the word has traditionally been used in that setting. There are still organizations like NARTH which endeavor to amass evidence in support of eradicating "sexualized" same-sex attraction in favor of an emerging heterosexual orientation, so it's not like this was the last leg, as some are claiming, but when foundational voices are retracting their conclusions, it certainly raises questions.

After about eight years involved in support groups and gay Mormon social circles, the only two people I've met who claim to have changed from homo- to heterosexual are Journey Into Manhood founders, and I haven't sat down for a real, personal conversation with them to find out if that's even what they really mean when they say they "identify as a straight male", though they know very well how vulnerable, conflicted men will hear it and yearn for it.  The claims of those I know of but haven't met are such that any retraction from them would mean loss of therapy fees, book royalties, speaking fees, and the public pride and championing of activist loved ones, so I see a strong incentive for them to convince themselves and others.  But I have little or no justification to claim they're just bald-faced liars, and if I could sit down with one, I would listen and try to understand what they mean or have experienced.  They might mean that when the temptation to look at erotic images arises, the images tempting them are of women.  Maybe they mean men are no longer interesting to them, and they feel magnetically drawn to women now.  They might mean they're attracted to men primarily but express that attraction in only friendly ways and deny or refuse to entertain, in any way, the romantic or sexual yearnings that occasionally arise, or call them something else.  They may mean they have directed, suppressed, and "re-framed" their attractions to such an extent that they genuinely hardly think about it anymore and live a contentedly "straight" life.  But even if they mean the latter, I know few, if any, who achieve that stably before marrying a woman, or before their early thirties, so I'm left wondering how much of that is personal effort and how much is decreased libido and more present priorities and stresses.  Unfortunately, those who claim to have changed are understandably guarded, having been verbally assaulted and publicly mocked, so I don't expect to be able to sit down with one.

Some people I personally know have temporarily claimed, in snapshot testimonials, to have eradicated most or all of their same-sex attraction while increasing opposite-sex attraction.  But they later privately admitted they'd over-interpreted a decrease in overall sex drive, or increased opposite-sex curiosity or openness (not attraction), or behavioral changes and relationship improvements.  They'd mistaken relative absence of obsession and impulsion for lack of same-sex attraction.  Nonetheless, saying I've never seen anyone actually change from homosexual to heterosexual is not the same as saying it's absolutely impossible.  And I can only speak from my own experience and what others have told me about theirs.  I just have never seen anyone "change" in the popularly understood and deliberately intended marketing use of the word, and others who have been on the front lines of larger efforts have periodically made public admissions of similar observation.

Those who speak out in support of "change" use such cleverly crafted wording to make the intended meaning of "change" so nebulous as to obscure any distinction between their change and the sexual, spiritual growth of my straight friends.  Heterosexual friends have, seemingly likewise, reached points in their lives when they were no longer troubled by thoughts contrary to their belief system and dominated by obsessive drooling.  They've learned emotional intimacy and authenticity and learned not to act on every sexual urge.  They're no less "straight": they just...matured.

I don't point this out to keep people from taking a path I chose not to take or to defend my own.  I don't point this out to slander individuals.  I don't point this out to push legalization of marriage for same-sex couples.  I point this out because I've watched friends repeatedly engage in an exhausting effort to change their orientation which led to isolation, depression, emotional dishonesty and detachment, all of which they were convinced would be worth it.  But they haven't changed in the ways they hoped, even if they denied they hoped it.  I point this out also because I personally know what it's like to see no good to be gained from casting doubt on an ideal goal just because I and everybody I knew hadn't reached it, when in reality nobody among us had reached the legendary goal.  I point this out because I believe getting caught up in the ideal of being "fully released from the temptation of same-sex attraction" completely distracts from the truer, more practical and helpful discussion of "whether or not it ever changes, what now?"  

If hope is only found in eradication of same-sex attraction, then I know nobody who has real hope.  I concede in a theoretical way that it can possibly change for some, but if so, it's very, very few.  Not one person among the dozens I know has changed their orientation, not after Journey Into Manhood, years of therapy, years of quietly doing their own thing, or years of being married to a woman.  You might want hope it can change.  But for most of you, even among those who believe you must never engage in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships, it just won't.  Other things will change.  Your ability to cope.  Your openness to a relationship without the sexual chemistry you yearn for.  Your openness to finding real attraction with just the right person to make it work.  Your emotional stability.  Your social network and support system.  Your religious beliefs.  Your communication skills.  Your relationship intimacy.  Your emotional intelligence.  Your decisions.  Your goals.  There's a lot of hope to be found in those kinds of changes.

Maybe one day, someone will figure out a reproducible way to eradicate erotic, romantic, or sexual same-sex attraction, and political pressure will not stifle it.  Maybe some day, neurology will advance enough to re-wire anyone for heterosexuality for those who want it (I wonder how many people would choose to become bisexual to increase their options...huh...oh, right: topic at hand).  It's conceivable that there will be a way to turn same-sex attraction into opposite-sex attraction.  But today, it's just not happening for at least most people, probably all but a very select few, and possibly not for anyone.  Maybe a few have changed.  Maybe they're more righteous and hard-working.  Maybe they wanted it more.  Maybe they had just the right combination of therapy, support, desire, belief, chemistry, diligence, divine intervention, and experience.  Or maybe they're just an anomaly who understandably think their coincidental effort and desire earned or caused the change.  Maybe they're more adept at self-deception or repression.  Maybe they're twisting words to make a buck.  I don't know, and I don't much care.  I just know my friends--the people I personally care about--haven't experienced the coveted 180 degree orientation change...or even 100.  And I gave up on assuming it might be due to their supposed "lack of" anything.

Hope, I believe, is not found in the message that your "orientation" can and must "change", or that you can and should attempt to eradicate your same-sex attraction or even make opposite-sex attraction stronger than your same-sex attraction.  I believe hope is found in being told you are free to choose to live what you believe and want and that there are ways to make the best of a difficult situation.  Hope is found in recognizing the challenges ahead and trusting that you have the strength and support of people who care, not only to endure but to find fullness and joy in life.  Hope is being assured you are not a simpering victim of the lions of gay corruption or religious tyranny.  My hope was found in facing a tough probability or potential reality--that this might not completely change--dealing with it head-on, being open to what changes might be possible, and refusing to hinge my happiness and spiritual confidence on a specific kind of change that frankly does not come to most despite years of effort.  Try to change, if you feel you must, but please, please do not hinge your success, happiness, or self image on eradicating all homosexual feelings.

Change or not, you can do this, and you can find truth and happiness.  Something may have to give.  You may have to reevaluate the way you look at some things, what you believe to be true, what challenges you're willing to take on, how you see yourself, what attachments you might need to let go of, or what you most want.  But hang in there, and know that no matter if you're celibate, married in the temple, adopting children with your same sex partner, an all-around slut, or anywhere in between, you're in really good company if you still and always will most often feel something more instinctual and attractive for a hottie of the same sex walking down the street than a hottie of the opposite sex.


Bravone said...

Thoughtful post. I don't think my attractions will ever fully change. I'm not sure they need to. I do find significant value in some programs such as Journey Into Manhood, but do not expect them to change my orientation.

I have found hope and happiness in my marriage, and allow that others may find their hope and happiness in other ways.

BTW, isn't "mixed-orientation" marriage really a misnomer? Shouldn't it be "same-orientation" marriage? After all, we ARE both attracted to the same sex.

Trev said...

Wow, I LOVE this post! This is so thoughtful and considerate and reasonable. Good advice for anyone, regardless of what path they're choosing--and that's the key: we all need to choose what we DO and NOT hinge everything, as you say, on the eradication of attraction.

This is going right into my OneNote Notebook of things I like, and I think it will be of help to some friends in the future.

Original Mohomie said...

Ha, Bravone, I always have a twinge of "isn't there a better term?" when saying "mixed-orientation marriage", but it works better than alternatives I'm aware of, except maybe mixed-sex marriage. :-)

I appreciate your willingness to unapologetically speak for your own happiness in your marriage and lack of need to believe you will become generally heterosexual.

David L. said...

BRAVO! Well said. I am a widower and I am gay. I was luckier than most to have married my soul mate. But during my nine years of marriage, I still battled & struggled with being gay. My struggle wasn't because I thought I need to change, but because society and the church were telling me that I was evil, an abomination, unacceptable to God. Now hope isn't found in changing, but in the church accepting for who I was created to be. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and compassionate writing.

jimf said...

> Not one person among the dozens I know has changed their
> orientation, not after Journey Into Manhood, years of therapy,
> years of quietly doing their own thing, or years of being
> married to a woman.

"years of therapy. . . or years of being married to **a woman**".

The primary moral consideration that I think should raise a warning flag in the mixed-orientation marriage "approach" to achieving normality, or sanctity, or the Kingdom of Heaven, is precisely this whiff of **instrumentality** in the role of the heterosexual partner -- "the woman". I.e., the suggestion of **using** another human being as a means to that end (for the homosexual partner).

Even when a woman (and it is always a woman being wooed by a same-sex-attracted man, is it not?) is ostensibly entering such a relationship with "eyes wide open", how can **anybody** (especially a young person) be in a position of giving informed consent in such a situation -- how can the young woman, or for that matter the young man, be expected to really know what they're getting into?

The motives for a heterosexual woman to to enter a marriage with an avowedly same-sex-attracted man are **extremely** likely to be self-deceptive and skewed, in predictable ways: the woman is likely to be sexually and romantically attracted to the man, and may be hoping against hope that her love will someday be reciprocated (it never will -- not in that way; she is setting herself up for bitter disappointment when she finally realizes that truth, maybe after years of frustration, and her very love will only blind her to that likelihood in the beginning). She may have rescue fantasies, or fantasies of holy self-sacrifice -- fantasies of saving her husband's soul. These will also turn to bitter self-reproach when the husband is **not** ultimately rescued from "sin", or even turns away from his religion altogether (probably at the same time he ultimately turns away from her). Then, not only has the woman's love gone unrequited and been of no use in "saving" her husband, but her prayers have gone unanswered too: her faith has proved lacking somehow, she has failed in her sacred self-sacrificial mission, and she has disappointed her Heavenly Father. And then there are the kids -- permanent reminders of failure (even if loved for themselves), and permanent sources of cognitive dissonance (What is mom supposed to say about dad? What are the kids supposed to make of dad -- is he a goodie, or a baddie?).

Surely these things need to be faced frankly, in all their potential ugliness, ahead of time, and not soft-pedaled with a "non-judgmental" "Well, it doesn't work for some folks (a lot of folks), but that doesn't mean it can't work for you!" line of advice and (false) reassurance.

Don't you think?

Original Mohomie said...

I do think those possibilities or probabilities need to be faced, yes. I don't think they're inevitable outcomes, and I do think they can be dealt with, but I think they're probabilities and more challenging than many initially believe. That's why it really bothers me when people dismiss warnings with, "Oh, every marriage has problems." Yes, they do. And a mixed-orientation marriage will have those same kinds of problems PLUS what I believe to be an inherent difference in dynamic from the typical marriage, even if the dynamic has parallels in a few heterosexual, mixed-sex marriages where one spouse is just not nearly as sexually interested.

I understand that some marriages have other challenges that bring inherent dynamics that are likely to be challenging, like a Muslim Iraqi man and a Christian American woman (cultural and religious differences to be resolved), or a bipolar person and...another bipolar person (communication and stability could be much more difficult than for most couples). Those are going to be tough in ways my marriage with a woman might not be. That doesn't mean those marriages can't work, but it would be silly to refuse to really, carefully consider what you're taking on just because a very few voices are saying, "Well, we've done it, and we think others can, too."

There are personality traits to take into account, levels of devotion to different religions, intensity of bipolar swings, specific triggers of partners, etc. The fact that one couple seems to be successful does not mean others will be, especially if those others do not have the same personality, society, family dynamics, motivations, options, etc.

I still think there's an inherent difference between mixed-religion marriage and mixed-orientation marriage. But I didn't always fully think mixed-orientation marriage was inherently more challenging than most marital challenges. Before I knew many people who were in mixed-orientation marriages, I focused much more on notions such as "everyone has challenges, and not everyone marries the kind of person they're most attracted to." But the more such couples I met, the more I began to believe, personally, that this is a very different issue and is a much bigger deal than I used to believe. I recognize that's my subjective assessment, but I feel compelled to share it as much as I feel compelled to defend my friends' right to choose such relationships, challenges and all.

jimf said...

> Maybe one day, someone will figure out a reproducible way to
> eradicate erotic, romantic, or sexual same-sex attraction,
> and political pressure will not stifle it. Maybe some day,
> neurology will advance enough to re-wire anyone for heterosexuality
> for those who want it. . .

You know, I suspect that any technology capable of doing that would also be quite capable of eradicating erotic, romantic, or sexual attraction **tout court**.

Suppressing those inconvenient -- to the larger social group -- personal loyalties (sometimes total, and obligatory, promiscuity can be directed toward the same end) has occurred in real-life cults and religious practices as well as in well-known fictional settings (the morally-prescribed promiscuity in _Brave New World_, Oceania's "Junior Anti-Sex League" in _Nineteen Eighty-Four_, the drug-induced asexuality and passivity of citizens in George Lucas' pre-Star Wars movie _THX-1138_ -- "If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in prosecution for criminal drug evasion."

"Zinnia Jones" (Zachary Antolak) recently made a YouTube video entitled "Potential barriers to 'curing' homosexuality".

Anyway, be careful what you wish for!

jimf said...

An interesting article (not about shaving).

When the Beard Is Too Painful to Remove
August 3, 2006