Good for California! “Straightening Out” Gays Is Now Illegal


I am happy — really happy — with something the state of California has done.  It is a very, very good thing.  They have become the first state in the nation to ban therapy that tries to turn gay teens straight. I am armed with subjective histories.  My heart, if not my brain, goes to them first. My first private office in California was in San Diego and just happened to be near the center of the alternative lifestyle community of that fine burg.  I heard tear-stained stories from gay guys whose parents had “suggested” therapy of this sort.  One man, who saw me for treatment of a physical pain syndrome, told me how his parents wanted and believed in a heterosexual son.  He cried as he told me about their “Christianity” and their desire for him to father a family.  They would even try to encourage him on dates with girls when he felt “less than nothing.”  Curiously enough, I remember him as being part of one of the most highly committed and long lasting dyadic relationships I have ever known.  He had a loving male partner who brought him to every appointment and waited in the waiting room. When I approach a situation, I do not start with subjective data, however emotional.  I look farther.

I know that the searchers of the human genome for markers for homosexuality have come up empty.  This seems to mean that homosexuality is probably not genetic.  It does not mean it is not biological.  Last time I tuned in, people seemed to believe that homosexuality — at least in males — seemed related to stress during pregnancy.  I was still back in Europe when I read that the largest number of gay males ever born in a similar set of circumstances were the male children born to women who had been incarcerated in concentration camps.

I also recall “soft” signs of gay male sexuality, such as the wide sella turcica or perhaps even a wider face known as dolichocephaly.  For transgendered males, I traced many cases to the administration of hormones — often diethylstilbestrol.  Sometimes, transgendered histories can be traced to chromosome abnormalities.  But transgender is a discrepancy with identity, not attraction, so it is different. Homosexual patients who were male were not looking for reasons, so the question is not something I can remember being raised. As for women, the numbers seem to be smaller and less seems to be known.  I have known “mannish women” – or women of masculine habitus.  I had only the most superficial relationship with a woman bouncer in a Parisian lesbian club whom I once met.  Still, she is a solid argument for the biological nature of “gayness.” I have seen solidly built women who have blood counts in the normal male range who have never fantasized about anything but women.  I’ve also seen women who have been married and have children.  And yet other women who’ve had so many horrible and inhuman things done to them that I somehow understand how they never want sex with a man again. There is much we don’t know, but this does not mean we are all wrong.

There are folks who believe that gays can be made straight.  They are affiliated with multiple religious organizations.  For obvious reasons, the Jewish one scares me the most.  It is endorsed most heavily by the more orthodox, pious Jews.

We used to drive through an Orthodox Jewish part of Los Angeles and I’d see young women with Jewishly-dressed toddlers in baby carriages and perhaps wigs and head clothes.  When I did, I’d say a previously non-existent and very grateful Hebrew prayer that I have been spared that fate.  After all, I started my education in a Jewish Yeshiva – or religious school – where I was told I was destined for maybe some singing and candle-lighting ceremonies. But I lacked a penis, so other ceremonies were off limits.

Years later, I almost cried when visiting one of my all time favorite thrift shops in Los Angeles — “Out Of The Closet” which raised funds for AIDS research and other worthy charities .  I saw a T-shirt with a pink triangle — the label for a homosexual under Hitler — and the motto “There’s one in every Minyan.”  In case you’re wondering, Minyan refers to a group of ten men needed to take the Torah out of the Ark and read it.  I’ve been a member of the American Psychiatric Association and I know they are fairly good at assessing stuff.  They’ve put out a position statement on therapies designed to change sexual orientation.  Basically, I agree with them.  No signs of the validity, no signs of the efficacy, and no idea of ethics. We do have a not-too-well-veiled attempt to validate a political and religious agenda.  The NARTH group seems to have tried to stem this criticism by allowing organizational affiliates with a religious agenda to not actually be a part of them but to somehow remain at arms’ length.

You need some strong scientific criteria to establish science, and the people at NARTH ain’t got it.  You need some scientific proof your stuff works.  Nothing new or original is required to determine this one — just objectivity.  Objective scientific reality, even if it can only be approached asymptotically, is how you get to it.  Since Avicenna in second century Persia, it’s known that you set up experiments to see if something works.  It may not be easy in this case, but it is certainly doable.  Nobody has even tried. If you absolutely believe something is true — and you are coming at this thing with a belief — then it is not debatable and no kind of truth can be reached.  The power of belief is not something you can fight.  You can either accept it or ignore it or maybe have a war. The strongest argument here is within the very nature of psychotherapy.  When you start to do psychotherapy — of the competent and honest sort — with someone you do not know where you are going to end up.  You simply cannot design an endpoint.  The most honest thing a therapist can say is what I have always said.  “I will walk a part of the road with you.  I don’t know where it is going, but I will support you all I can.” I am very proud, unequivocally proud, of the decision made here by the state of California.  And it’s not just my heart that’s proud.  It’s my scientific brain, as well.

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