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ETA: I have officially been convinced I was wrong. Hey, it happens!;-) Feel free to keep commenting, but do check out my recent blog post following up on this.

Apparently, California has passed a law outlawing certain kinds of psychotherapies, specifically those that attempt to "cure" homosexuality.


This reminded me of a story I came across in I believe the New Yorker (I may be misremembering the source). It was about MSM's who didn't want to identify as gay for whatever reason. for some people, they had families including wives and didn't want to risk losing them. Other times, they liked being part of a religion that didn't approve of homosexuality, and I remember a few stories where they simply lived in more conservative areas of the country, small towns or whatever, and they thought they would become outcasts in their communities if they came out. These were men who were sexually attracted to other men, sometimes exclusively (homosexual rather than bisexual) - but other parts of their identities were more important to them than their sexuality.

The piece talked about various therapies for people in this situation, along with the ethics of treating patients. Options ranged from talk therapy to help these MSM's deal with the stress of staying in the closet, to drug therapy and/or behavior modification to reduce sex drive, to conditioning therapy to help these men develop attraction to women. I can't recall if the article said you could actually change your sexual attraction, but I think some psychologists did claim you could develop certain parts of your sexuality. (So if you were attracted to both men and women but were more attracted to men, and wanted to live as a sexually active heterosexual, you could do certain things that increased your latent attraction to women.)

The thing I remember most were some of the stories from the men in therapy. One man in particular, a middle-aged man from Staten Island, said his family and friends would view him as an outsider if they knew he had sex with men. Maintaining those relationships was more important than his romantic life, but he also didn't want it to be "just sex" and he didn't feel it was fair to another man to have a deeper romantic relationship he wasn't prepared to acknowledge. So he wanted a therapist who would help him set up his life that way. He said he thought it was cocky of people who didn't know him, to say he had to order his life the same way others did, making a romantic relationship at the center of it - who were they to tell him that the fact he had sex with men had to be the defining characteristic? I felt for the man, because that's not a decision I think anyone should have to make. But it struck me that there was a quiet sort of dignity in his decision. Kind of like the perpetually single (myself included) who don't define ourselves in terms of who we're in a relationship with - that's simply not the central element of our lives.

So there's a part of me that wants to celebrate this decision on California's part. I honestly do not believe homosexuality is a disease that can be cured. In a perfect world, people shouldn't feel like they have to prioritize between different parts of who they are, hide parts in order to have other parts accepted. But I also can't get that man from Staten Island out of my head. If a person decides with his or her therapist that this is the best course of therapy to achieve the goals he or she wants, do I really want the law taking that decision out of their hands? Even making them wait until the patient turns eighteen? That strikes me as... intrusive. Maybe if the law said the child had to request the therapy or something like that, I'd be more comfortable with it. But, while I'm not a libertarian, I do have a certain sympathy for the idea that government should stay out of personal decisions as much as possible. The reason I'm not a libertarian (one of them) is I think economic inequality is often a bigger barrier to liberty than a restrained government would be in a lot of cases. That doesn't mean I don't have respect for personal choices. And this law seems to get in the way more than it helps.

Thoughts? What do you think of this law? Am I over-reacting here?


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 2nd, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
Am I over-reacting here?

In a word, yes you are.

I am the mother of a transgendered individual (male to female), and I'm getting a not quite first-hand eye-full of just what folks who have sexuality or gender issues have to go through. I also know that, at least in my part of the state, the redneck Fundamentalist Christians misuse this "therapy" horribly - forcing it on young people who are either confused about their sexuality or contented to be gay/lesbian.

The fact that it is more abused than useful makes me quite contented that this pseudo-science has finally bit the dust.

Yes, people (adults) who are currently leading what amounts to double lives and want to "fit in" over exploring who they are otherwise should be able to have the therapy. Frankly, I honestly don't think this law applies to this, as it would tend to be a matter of doctor-patient confidentiality definitely outside the purview of government. I believe this law applies to aversion therapy forced on teens by horrified parents in order to get them to turn straight whether they want to or not.

In a perfect world, we'd all be content to let people self-identify without prejudice. In the practical world, however, the chances of a gay/lesbian teen facing ostracization by his peers or rejection from their family is a horrific emotional blow. Being forced into this kind of therapy to "fix" them insinuates that they are somehow broken or "wrong". The results are generally not pleasant.

I hear from my "new" daughter the kinds of fears and stresses she endures for being not like everybody else. I'm certain that if she weren't absolutely dead certain that she was on the right path, the idea of going through some of what she has done would be enough to scare the living bejeezus out of anyone trying to make that choice capriciously.

Offered for what it's worth. As usual, YMMV.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
Aearwen, I've read this comment more carefully after I (finally!) got done reviewing French; when I replied on FB I really was ducking in with my mind on other things. I don't think I gave it the thought it deserved.

And I also think I understand the situation in California better than I did. I honestly wasn't trying to criticize the law but rather express my discomfort and work out whether that discomfort actually applied! It was more that the suggestion (outlaw certain types of therapy) triggered a wire in my brain that made me think of other things that are vaguely related. I know some people use their blogs and sites to argue for what they believe; with me, it's more a way of thinking through things, getting other peoples' opinions - a work in progress, as it was. I've reread the article with that in mind, and it does look to address a real problem. (Btw, your daughter is lucky to have a mum as supportive as you sound! Not that I'm at all surprised...)

These complex issues of identity and finding your place in a community can probably wait until you're eighteen. If there's a real problem of parents forcing their kids into "therapy" to "correct" their sexual orientation... that sounds horrible! Like child abuse, or close to it. I suspect you can make a case that whatever bad results there are to denying people access to this kind of therapy - if there are any - would be outweighed by the ways people are abusing this therapy.

This reminds me of a situation I faced when I went to Cleveland State to do my M.A. I had what sounded to me like a deep southern accent. It got deeper or less deep at different times, depending on how recently I'd been talking to someone from NC, my mood, and a whole host of other things. It seems petty compared to sexuality, but you have to understand that being from a rather small NC town, going to a major city and going to grad school at all was like culture shock. And people heard my accent and reacted to me a certain way. I had to make a conscious effort to "bury" my Southernness in various ways - my diction, my expressions, the ways I dressed and interacted with people - because if I didn't that was the first association people made whenever I opened my mouth. It was less about living a double-life, and more about me taking the bits of myself I'd inherited in my life and massaging them into "me" I chose. I did not choose to be female, heterosexual, a natural student, a Protestant Christian, a Southerner, German-American, and all the rest. And I also did not choose the associations all those things had on the people I was around: take a white Southerner who spoke with a Southern twang and at that point often used the idiom of a fundamentalist Christian culture... well, it painted quite a picture that wasn't flattering and wasn't even all that honest. So I had to learn to emphasize different parts, downplay others, and transform some of the bits left over - all in a way that I actually recognized the final product.

I'm not blind to the discrimination many LGBT people face, and the powerful impacts it has on their lives. One of my defining experiences was seeing how a close friend of mine, a gay man who was pretty well hounded by some people in the more fundamentalist student groups. I'm being a bit opaque because it's actually a painful thing to talk about. But it ate me up inside, seeing what they did to him and how it broke him inside. Watching that very nearly drove me from the church, and it certainly meant I'd relate to the world I was raised in in a radically different way - in a real way, those experiences started life part II.

One way that experience impacted me (one of many) is, I tend not to judge the way people relate to their homosexuality. I'm all for giving people the tools for managing how their sexuality plays out in their lives - which isn't the same thing as changing their sexuality, of course. It's more about not letting said sexuality be the cornerstone of your identity if you don't want it to. And I think that's what I heard when I read about CA's new law. Sounds like that association is misplaced, but I hope you can understand better where I was coming from.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 03:08 am (UTC)
What adults do, is (on the whole, or at least we hope so) their own choice, but the pressure on teens to undergo such therapy could be so enormous that, yes, they should be protected from that (leaving aside whether the therapy is even in any way effective).

Here, recently the decision was taken that a similar 'gay therapy' would no longer be covered by health insurance, though it wasn't banned.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your points, Nath. I think you're right. The Dutch(?) approach strikes me as a good one - this seems like the kind of thing that's more elective than medically/psychologically necessary, so I'm fine with insurance not covering it.

If you're interested, I I posted a longer, more general reply on people's comments to this post here:

Oct. 2nd, 2012 06:01 am (UTC)
In your example, the man *wanted* to change some part of his life, but I notice that he did NOT want to give up same-gender sex. He just wanted to feel better about his sexuality given the repressive constraints of his family and the niche of society he lives in. The kind of therapy that is being banned would not have helped him anyway.

If a person does not want to change, forcing them into "reparative therapy" to suit someone else's notion of who they should be attracted to does feel cruel to me, especially since the data shows that the therapy is basically useless.

I imagine any one choosing "reparative therapy" as it is commonly practiced to "cure the gay" does so because they feel terribly pressured by someone/something to be "normal." To not have any impulse to change and having "reparative therapy" forced on a person, especially by parents, would be more coercive than any regulation forbidding it.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC)
Frankly, the very idea of therapy as a "cure" for sexual orientation sickens me. (by juno)

Me too. There is nothing to be cured. Does anyone wants to "cure" his/her blue eyes and convert them to brown?
No, I didn't think so.
Well, the same is with sexual orientation. Being a gay is not a disease.

Edited at 2012-10-02 02:22 pm (UTC)
Oct. 2nd, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
There is a segment of people who feel that things outside of the norm must be "cured", often by force. Too many times "interventions" have been held that are nothing short of torture. This law finally defines that as totally wrong.

I don't think that interpretation of the law would apply to the man you cited in your blog post. I think that an adult who is bi-sexual and wants psychological therapy to help him in determining his comfort level for sexual relations with either sex does not come under the heading of this "cure".

However, it is my hope that this law will save some young people from truly horrific "assistance" perpetrated by well-meaning but deluded adults. Torture is torture whether it be physical or psychological and people are fully entitled to be comfortable with their own sexual orientations.

- Erulisse (one L)
Oct. 2nd, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC)
I think what you're talking about and what the law is banning are two slightly different things.

You're talking about an adult male who wants therapy to help reduce the stress of his chosen lifestyle (i.e. closeted). He doesn't seem to be looking to change anything fundamental about himself, just to make his chosen circumstances a bit easier for himself.

That's not what this California law is addressing. First of all, it's addressing therapy aimed at minors, which means that what it's really saying is that parents can't force their child into this. Second, the therapies that it's saying that parents can't force their children into are the kinds of therapies designed not to ease circumstances but to break down and rebuild a fundamental part of the child's personality. Those therapies are the ones that can be violent and that do way, way more harm than good in the long run.

Essentially, the law is aimed at providing space for people to make choices, not take choices away. The children are perfectly free, on their own initiative, to seek out therapy that will make it easier for them to be closeted or on the down-low or out or whatever makes them happiest. But their parents are not free to compel them to undergo damaging therapeutic abuse before they can make those decisions.

That's all.

So, yes. I do think you're over-reacting a bit. I think your impulses are generally good, but mis-aimed, because the California law won't affect the people you appear to be worried about.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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