A (Straight) Writer Reveals: What Goes On at ’Conversion Camp?’
Faith and Facts
Aside from a growing body of evidence that homosexuality has its roots in physiological causes, ranging from brain studies to non-human instances of homosexuality to proven statistical trends showing that younger sons are more likely than older sons to be gay, the simple fact has been observed that homosexuality seems to take place at a given rate in every nation and culture and at every socio-economic level. Indeed, reputable mental health professionals warn that attempts at so-called "reparative therapy" and "conversion therapy" are more likely to harm those to whom they are subjected than to help them.
But, as Cox noted in his article, the idea that homosexuality is a pathological condition, and that to be gay is somehow to be less than a man--that it requires a "cure" or a "Journey into Manhood," as though gay men were not already exactly who and what they ought to be--is a persistent one, especially among those with anti-gay religious beliefs, and seemingly impervious to demonstrable fact. Wrote Cox, "How much does science really matter when God has spoken?"
In the United States, so-called "reparative therapy," also known as "conversion therapy," has been decried by professional organizations dedicated to mental health concerns, including the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which struck homosexuality from its listing of mental disorders in 1973. In 1992 The International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization also struck homosexuality from its list of pathologies, marking an international consensus that gays and lesbians constitute a natural human sexual variation, rather than being victims of disease or deviance.
However, some religiously based organizations still promote the view that gays and lesbians are "disordered." The Catholic church has barred gays from entering seminaries, declaring that they do not enjoy a healthy ability to relate to persons of both genders. Some groups, most of them religiously based, also promote the notion that through prayer and psychotherapy, gays and lesbians can "convert" themselves into heterosexuals.
While human sexuality may feature some degree of plasticity, especially in adolescents (who frequently go through a phase of sexual experimentation with, and attraction to, others of the same gender), most mental health professionals view homo- and heterosexuality as innate qualities of individuals. One way of looking at human sexuality, espoused by the American sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey, proposes that each individual falls somewhere on a "scale" of sexual orientation, the extremes of which exclude attraction to either the opposite gender or the same gender; in the middle, there is room for some degree of bisexuality.
There is some evidence to show that at least some individuals identifying as gay or lesbian might refocus their sexual energies on the opposite sex; what is unclear is whether those individuals were innately, and essentially, gay or lesbian to begin with. Indeed, the debate over whether physiological differences between gays and straights are authentic--and meaningful--has raged since Dr. Simon LeVay’s 1991 paper "A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men" was first published in the journal "Science."
The paper documented LeVay’s discovery that, on average, gay men had a smaller cluster of specialized neurons in their hypothalamuses than did heterosexual men. Subsequent research has offered other indications that brain physiology may indeed account for the deep-seated and spontaneous feelings of same-sex attraction that gays and lesbians experience.
What alarms GLBT equality advocates are attempts from religious and social conservatives to paint gays and lesbians as having "chosen" their sexuality--an argument that makes even many heterosexuals uncomfortable, because it suggests that straights could also have "chosen" to be gay. Even so, the argument that sexuality is a choice is used repeatedly in efforts to deny gay and lesbian families and individuals equal access to rights and protections enjoyed by virtually every other demographic, including access to marriage rights.
Without the backing of scientific evidence to support the view that homosexuality is either a choice or a pathology, some religiously-based groups have launched public relations campaigns designed to suggest, or even claim outright, that gays are deviants who have made deviant choices. A Mormon-affiliated ant-gay group, The National Organization for Marriage, has attacked family equality efforts with an array of well-funded campaigns in states such as Maine and California--where ballot initiatives were used to rescind laws granting family equality to same-sex couples--as well as in states where marriage equality might yet become a reality.
Next page: Anti-Gay Groups Take Aim, Claim ’Choice’