Curing Homosexuality: The Science of Sexual Orientation vs. Bigotry of Reparative Therapies

Flag2 (2)“Homosexuals are brute beasts…part of a vile  and satanic system that will be utterly annihilated,  and there will be a celebration in heaven.” – Jerry Falwell

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that horrendous attitudes, actions and rhetoric towards the LGBT community is still alive and well on planet earth. Yes, it is true that the issue of discrimination toward the LGBT community here in these United States has been steadily declining. An understanding regarding the facts and data regarding human sexuality continues to grow within the general population, as is the acceptance that the LGBT community is, otherwise, no different from any other demographic within our species. Personally, I find this a very positive indication that we are making progress as a society, shaking loose from one of the oldest and most stubbornly clung-to forms of bigotry.

Obviously, there is still a problem…

Much of the problem is exacerbated by the religious right’s most notorious leaders, pastors and televangelists as they stubbornly cling to that old rugged cross, holding tight to prejudices that are largely formed by fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. We’ve all seen the videos on our social networks of the fundamentalist minister standing behind their bully pulpits, triumphantly waving their bibles and pointing their fingers in condemnation, spewing off their hatred and ignorance.

To many of us, they are a parody unto themselves. This does not change the fact that they are still influencing a lot of people with their bigoted ways, and the belief that the members of he LGBT community deserve the reception of horrible, barbaric rhetoric, acts of violence and blatant discrimination in almost every area of their lives is supported by countless individuals. The whole situation is not only terrifying to the LGBT community, but also horrifying to anyone who has an ounce of understanding about human biology, genetics and the animal kingdom in general.

The Orient Express…

The debate within the scientific community is heavily in favor of a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. While there are still some in the scientific community who support another genesis of human sexuality, it should be understood that within the scientific community, those who are engaged in this aspect of research do so not to justify bigotry or to somehow produce a report that justifies any sort of discrimination, hoping to prove that sexual orientation is a choice so that they can raise a beaker into the air, and shout, “Eureka! It is a choice! Grab your torches, we got some fags to burn!” That is the job of the religious zealot.

It has long been understood that the sexual orientation of any one given individual is not a choice, and presents at very early stages of development before the individual is even sexually aware. The argument that is being put forth regarding “nature or nurture” is generally left between those of us who endeavor to understand the science behind human sexuality and those of us who prefer to thump a bible and shake loose whatever crumbs of ignorance that should happen to fall out – completely failing to understand that, regarding our sexuality, one does not just simply change who they are.

Before I continue, there a two things I should state here. One, it is my firm position that the only bona-fide research into human sexuality comes from the scientific community. Two, it is my personal position that sexual orientation is the product of genetics, that we are born with our inherent sexuality already imprinted on our DNA. The scientific community recognizes that genetics play a significant role in determining sexual orientation. Either way, nobody should ever have to live in fear because of their sexuality.

So, nature or nurture…?

The answer to this question surrounds two variables. Are people born with their sexual orientation, or is their sexuality a product of another set of circumstances? The “nature” argument is based on the latest, most advanced, cutting edge science. The “nurture” argument is based on a twenty-three-hundred-year-old philosophical belief known as Tabula Rosa, which is a treatise put forth by Aristotle. The tabula suggests that personality and behavioral traits are entirely learned and that all of us start off with a blank slate with respect to personality.

What validates the “nature” argument within the scientific community is the ever-increasing evidence that sexual orientation develops before birth. Here are just a few examples of those who support genetic disposition:

  • Author and respected geneticist Matt Ridley states that, “Nobody in science now believes that sexual orientation is caused by events in adolescence…Homosexuality is an early, probably prenatal and irreversible preference.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists stated, “Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice”
  • Frederick L. Whitam, PhD, Professor in the Department of Sociology at Arizona State University, said, “During the past 30 years, a strong body of evidence has emerged to suggest that sexual orientation is biological. During this same time period, not a single bit of scientific evidence suggests that sexual orientation is learned has appeared.”
  • The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance stated, “We recommend following the lead of most physical and mental health professionals, and consider homosexual orientation to be normal, natural, unchosen and fixed.
  • Kenneth M. Cohen, PhD, Lecturer in Human Development at Cornell University, wrote, “Recent scans of the human genome reveal that some gay males share a genetic marker for homosexuality on the X chromosome. One avenue through which genes regulate homo eroticism is by instructing the brain to develop in a sex-atypical manner.”

What invalidates the “nurture” argument is the lack of scientific evidence. This position is derived from religious texts that support a view of homosexuality as aberrant and sinful. It rejects scientific and biological influences for homosexuality, and holds to the belief that sexuality can be changed, altered or suppressed. This has led to the invention of “gay rehabilitation programs” which has been debunked as not only preposterous, but inherently dangerous to the mental health of the individual. These programs have resulted in some horrific “treatments” which include:

  • Aversion therapy, whereby gay men are shown pictures of naked men and simultaneously shocked with electricity
  • Brain surgery in the form of frontal lobotomies
  • Castration, both physical and chemical
  • Intravenous infusion of animal-organ extracts
  • Intravenous infusion of cocaine, estrogen and testosterone
  • Gay men being forced to masturbate and then shown pictures of women just before orgasm

In pre-apartheid South Africa, homosexual men who could not be “cured” were chemically castrated or given sex change operations which resulted in an abundant and excessively extreme rate of fatalities. There are other experimental “therapies,” but the most common is “reparative therapy,” which I will cover in greater detail further on.

Political Influences…

The advent of social networking has given us almost unfettered access to information. The plethora of data that streams into our brains in the form of videos, articles, essays, books (both digital and sources for the printed word) from the religious right within the political demographic known as “Conservatism” is enough to make the blood of even the most milquetoasted among us come to a rolling boil.

The influence that these politicians have over many of their constituents continue to stir the pot of hatred, bigotry and discrimination that already exists within the uber-religious community. These political leaders spout rhetoric which serves to incite their most ardent supporters into a feeding frenzy against the LGBT community, and range from the blatant to the thinly veiled.

The results of these powerful and influential people can be seen by the prevalence of crimes against the LGBT community, which has been well documented by the US Government. According to FBI hate crime statistics, there were 7,163 reported hate crimes in 2005. 14.2% of them were based on sexual orientation. Most were violent in nature. In the US, 75% of students have no state laws to protect them from sexual harassment and discrimination in school. In public high schools, 97% of students report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers.

Mental Health…

For almost thirty years mental health practitioners and researchers have recognized that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Moreover, they are highly critical of attempts to change sexual orientation. These professional associations include:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The American Counseling Association
  • The American Psychiatric Association
  • The American Psychological Association
  • The National Association of School Psychologists
  • The National Association of Social Workers.

These are not fringe groups. They represent about half-million health and mental health professionals that have collectively agreed that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association specifically rejected reparative therapy as ineffective and destructive, risking depression, anxiety and destructive behavior.

Reparative Therapy…

As I stated earlier, one of the most dangerous “treatments” for homosexuality is known as “reparative therapy,” which is the ridiculous notion that homosexuality can be cured. This, of course, is not based on science, but religious dogma. The reported success rates of the conversion of homosexuals to heterosexual orientation prove false under close scrutiny. These reports are from an ideological perspective on sexual orientation, not from the scientific perspective of genetics, biology and real mental health researchers. It does more harm than good, and any attempt at orientation conversion should be ethically questioned

Reparative therapy is “practiced” primarily by fundamental Christian counselors, who are sometimes referred to as “Neuthetic Counselors” in an attempt to further bury their status as purveyors of snake-oil. Based on the premise that homosexuality is an unnatural disease or disorder, these programs run the gamut from lengthily structured sessions in a clinical atmosphere which include immersion in prayer, bible study and repetitive mantras to unstructured programs involving a call to “repent,” or suffer a cure that has a very familiar “final solution” ring.

One of the most high-profile among these charlatans are the Michele and Marcus Bachmann, who run counseling centers called “Bachmann & Associates.” Their clinics have been so successful that the income derived from their bigotry was the primary source of income for their family when Michele left her law practice to move into politics. An ABC News story reported that,

“The Bachmann & Associates counseling centers appear to offer a wide range of services to people in emotional distress and are clearly billed on the clinic’s website as a religious-based approach to mental health treatment.”

Pants Down…

There have been enough stories regarding ardent anti-gay bigots being caught in homosexual relationships that cause many people to speculate that a portion of the reparative therapies are by actual homosexuals who are in denial of who and what they are. However, this is not just speculation. I was personally involved in a major and well-known ministry that focused on reparative therapy. I started off as a “counselor” for men who were convinced they were addicted to pornography as a result of demon possession or oppression. I was so successful that I was added to the staff of their reparative therapy department, and eventually was promoted to a position that can best be described as sort of a supervisor of a number of counselors in both departments.

Here’s how it worked. As a counselor, I would receive “patients” through a referral system and guide them through a program that lasted many weeks and included various steps for recovery that were modeled somewhat after a twelve-step program. Once the program was completed and the “patient” was cured, they had an option of training as a counselor. Once they were certified as a counselor, they were assigned to a moderator (like myself), who was in charge of overseeing their case loads and, of course, acting as an accountability partner.

Thus, the reparative therapy department was staffed almost completely by homosexual men who were under the erroneous impression that they were “cured” of their “illness,” and were now “curing” others like them. So, it is not uncommon for religious homosexuals to be homophobic themselves, and I have found through personal interaction with these “counselors” that they are among the most unhappy and mentally confused people I’ve ever met.

Back To Science…

As I have pointed out, science does not yet fully understand how a particular sexual orientation presents in any individual, but there are many hypotheses being studied, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors and complex interactions of biological and psychological factors. What we do know is that sexual orientation is not a choice. It emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience, and psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice nor associated with any emotional or social problems.

There have also been many comparative studies between homosexual parents and heterosexual parents that reveal no developmental differences between the two groups of children in their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, popularity with friends or their sexual orientation. In fact, it has been shown in many cases where children of homosexual parents have fared better in several areas of development.

The reported success rates of the conversion of homosexuals to heterosexual orientation proves false under close scrutiny. These reports are from an ideological perspective on sexual orientation, not from the scientific perspective of real mental health researchers. Their treatments are poorly documented and the post-treatment follow-up time is too short.

Circles…

The ignorance of science is a cornerstone of the fundamentalist church, offering to cure an imaginary illness that they have invented. Homosexuals are not broken, and do not need repair. Homosexuals who ignore the science behind their sexual orientation end up emotionally wounded by religion and a life saddled with guilt and despair. Homosexuals deserve unreserved participation in all aspects of life, including federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Science needs to be the standard-bearer regarding human sexuality, and religious doctrines that spew hatred and intolerance toward homosexuality should be treated just as those doctrines that advocate slavery. Those who openly preach for the denigration and biblical murder of homosexuals should be arrested and imprisoned.


Enhanced by Zemanta

  24 comments for “Curing Homosexuality: The Science of Sexual Orientation vs. Bigotry of Reparative Therapies

  1. April 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Great article as always, Al.

    Does it really matter whether we choose our sexuality, whether we are born with it, or whether it’s a mix of the two? If we’re not harming one another, there should be no reason to disrespect and mistreat anyone who chooses a lifestyle different from our own. It’s an interesting question, but hearing of over one thousand reported hate crimes related to sexual orientation is a horrible thing regardless.

  2. Alverant
    April 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Just a little nitpick, if conditions in the womb influence sexual orientation it’s not technically genetic. I understand that the more sons a woman has the more likely the youngest son will be homosexual because of what happens in the womb (something about how the body attacks the fetus so makes it more feminine). This is independent of genetics. I think the nature/nuture argument sets up a false dichodomy (sp). Unless we include these prenatal development factors into “nature”, we need to add a third factor into the mix. Like genetic/development vs nuture.

    • Jenora Feuer
      April 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Well, epigenetic conditions are not strictly genetic, true, but they don’t change the ‘nature’ aspect of this. And, as Al says above, the scientific consensus is on genetic predispositions: genetics plays a large part, though the final result will depend on which genes get activated in what sequences.

      The fact that identical twins do not always share sexual orientations says it’s not entirely genetic. (Then again, I’ve heard of one case where one of a pair of identical twins was a dwarf and the other wasn’t: same genes, different ones turned on.) That fraternal twins seem to share sexual orientations more often than non-simultaneous children of the same parents definitely suggests womb conditions are involved.

      (I need to find that article I read some years back that actually showed the relative percentages of ‘chance one person is homosexual based on closeness of relationship to other homosexual family members’. I think it was in a Scientific American special issue on sexuality, though it was almost certainly quoting some other paper on that.)

      • Anat
        April 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm

        Well, epigenetic conditions are not strictly genetic, true, but they don’t change the ‘nature’ aspect of this. And, as Al says above, the scientific consensus is on genetic predispositions: genetics plays a large part, though the final result will depend on which genes get activated in what sequences.

        Well, theoretically something can be done to influence some genes to be turned on and others off. Hormonal treatment, vaccines (it has been proposed that the ‘younger brother’ effect on male homosexuality is due to the maternal immune system attacking some factors that are necessary to develop a male heterosexual brain in the fetus, though I have no idea how much evidence supports this), maybe other medications, whether applied prenatally or postnatally could theoretically counter some ‘homosexualizing effect’ in the early environment. If we were to understand how the system works in sufficient detail to tweak it safely. And *safely* is key. Complexity of early development is such that intervention is more likely to be harmful in general, regardless of whether it did anything to the sexuality of the developing future-person. IOW what I said about potential treatments is intended only hypothetically and theoretically to make a point about the science, not anything I consider a good idea.

    • August 20, 2012 at 7:13 am

      How about genetic/inborn hormonal factors vs. Nurture?

      ~ SoACTing

  3. Steve
    April 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    “The ignorance of science is a cornerstone of the fundamentalist church, offering to cure an imaginary illness that they have invented.”

    That’s not just true of homosexuality, but Christianity in general. They invented an illness called “sin” with the symptoms often being thought crimes that people have no control over (such as sexual desires of ANY kind). Then they offer the cure, knowing with absolute certainty that people will remain “sick” and come back for more

    • rapiddominance
      April 20, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Then they offer the cure, knowing with absolute certainty that people will remain “sick” and come back for more.

      I seriously doubt that modern church leaders are deliberately implementing a negative-feedback loop. At least not as a usual practice.

      Also, the statement implies that christians are in touch with their flaws and are actively working to sort out their problems. Does that sound at all like your idea of the ‘modern christian’?

      In contrast, one of the more common claims we hear from atheists is that the church offers an invisible product that is far too easily obtained. Its a concern that I can sympathize with.

      But then, what do I know? I’m not a pastor or a behavioral expert.

      However, the blogger IS a former protestant pastor. He reads our comments. He has a good track record of responding to his readers.

      So why don’t YOU ask him?

    • rapiddominance
      April 20, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      My first reply likely seems tedious. It seems a little tedious to me, too, now that I have read it again.

      There is a point to it, though.

  4. Alverant
    April 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Ward, I think it matters if sexuality is a choice or not because it changes the nature of the hate it invokes. If it is not a choice, then hating homosexuals would be akin to hating someone due to skin color or nationality. But if it’s a choice, then hating it is like hating someone for their religion or which sports team they support. If something is a choice then you can choose to change it or you can choose to remain a part of it.

    • April 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      @Alverant: I appreciate that there is a difference, but hating someone for having bleached blonde hair or naturally blonde hair is equally irrational, unfair, and wrong.

      Hate exists in the mind of the bigots, and convincing them that sexual orientation is genetic is unlikely to change the nature of hate in their minds.

      Regardless of whether it’s possible or not, how dare anyone demand change for a personal, harmless choice? We shouldn’t ask people to change their sexual orientation, nor should anyone feel the need to excuse what needs no excusing. By the same token, I condemn the hatred and bigotry regardless of its source. I think we can agree on that 🙂

    • Happiestsadist
      April 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      The problem with that line of reasoning rapidly become apparent when confronted by bisexual people.

      • April 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm

        Yeah, but we’re “confused”, and just need to “pick a side”… (or, we’re “greedy”, or, we “need/want to have more than one partner”…)

        /snark

  5. Pierce R. Butler
    April 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    None of my dictionaries, nor dictionary.reference.com, has “neuthetic” or “nouthetic”.

    A general-purpose web search via DuckDuckGo came up with all sorts of hits (including the National Association of Neuthetic Counselors), all church/bible related.

    Can anyone explain the etymology of this verbal neoplasm?

  6. Heydar A. Rashed
    April 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Nouthetic counseling (from Wikipedia):

    Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counselling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin, and that repudiating mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was articulated by Jay E. Adams, a professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations (e.g. the National Association of Nouthetic Counseling and International Association of Biblical Councillors) and seminary courses (e.g. at The Master’s College[1] and Seminary[1]) promoting it.

  7. April 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I blogged along similar lines today as well, though mine was perhaps the most strident blog I have written to date, and much more strident than yours (today). FYI–as you may know the reparative therapy people got much of their gusto from a study done by Dr. Robert Spitzer. He is an atheist who validated the notion that you can successfully “pray away the gay” in a 2001 study. Just last week he renounced his findings as untrue. He in fact bashed his own work, saying that his study proved nothing….

  8. Jeroen Metselaar
    April 21, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Finding out the cause of homosexuality is interesting from a scientific point of view. From a humanistic point of view it is like finding out the cause for liking broccoli, interesting science that is morally neutral.

    The question of why somebody is homosexual should be completely separated of any judgement. It is none of anybody’s business who wants to fuck who, and how or where. Or Why.

    But in this debate the bigots (why call them anything else?) come for the ammunition, not for the science. Remember that you can never win them over on science. If it is a choice than it is a sin, if people are born that way it was a god’s judgement, if it is acquired it must be a demon….

    If you want to learn about human psychology and the causes of behaviour, great, do your science and publish it. It is after all fascinating and possibly very useful. But don’t expect any sense from the religious right on field of science. (Or very much any other field)

  9. April 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Nature/nurture…either way the anti-gays don’t care. If it’s a choice they say we’re supposed to choose to be straight. If it’s not they say it’s not our fault we’re gay but it is our fault if we choose to act on it (engage in “gay behavior”, i.e., gay sex acts). Either way we’re dirty, sinful, evil, shameful things who need to “change” to appease them. But of course they’re not bigots because they’re just expressing their “deeply held religious beliefs” and exhorting us to live according to “Gods plan for us”.

  10. B-Lar
    April 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

    While I was readng ths I was struck by the thought that abortion would probably suddenly become OK “in the eyes of the lord” if we could confirm that sexualty was defined prenatally and that there could be a test to confirm predisposition to homosexuality in the womb. I would love to put that question to the christian right. It would certainly be a test of doublethink…

    What do you think their answer would be? Perhaps this will be the bigots debate of the future?

  11. Rick Schauer
    April 23, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Al, thoughtful article and as usual great to see you running on all cylinders and at full-throttle today!

    I’d like to point out that the “disease of chemicals” and AA “treatment” appears founded on much the same rhetoric as Reparative Therapies. And with AAs 95% failure rate after one year, looks about as ineffective.

  12. Sue Blue
    May 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Al, this couldn’t be more timely and helpful for me. I was recently debating this very issue with a christian on another blog. This person seemed intelligent, with good spelling, grammar and a relatively coherent thought process, but he was convinced that homosexuality was “unnatural”, the major cause of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (according to him, no one else gets or spreads the virus), and that homosexuals have some sort of overarching political agenda to convert schoolchildren to their “disgusting lifestyle”. He’s from Canada, where apparently there have been laws enacted to protect gay students from bullying by including teaching about homosexuality in the school sex education program. According to this guy, no one can opt out of this education, and he’s convinced this is a homosexual takeover. Because he wasn’t just an obvious troll or an uneducated, frothing idiot ranting away with his caps-lock key stuck on, I tried to debunk all of his points. He finally had to concede some of them, but he still was angry about the sex education. This article would be a great reference for debunking his claims! I might just send him on over here and let the reason and logic set him straight. Thanks for a clear and concise take-down of the fundy anti-gay arguments.

  13. July 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible

  14. Don VanderStelt
    August 3, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    The human genome has been mapped and no gay gene was found. To say science supports a genetic predisposition is inaccurate. That being said, changes in genetics do occur post-birth.

Leave a Reply