“Love Won Out” on CNN: When Will Someone Finally Say What They Mean?

Jim Burroway

April 6th, 2007

Last night’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360 featured a segment that was filmed at the Love Won Out ex-gay conference that was held in Phoenix February 10. (The official transcript for the CNN segment is here.) I was out of town, so I couldn’t record the segment, but I did get to see it. I thought reporter Gary Tuchman did a good job. His report pretty much matched what I saw there.

(By the way, I saw the camera crew roving the grounds throughout the day. Someone mentioned CNN, but I wasn’t sure at the time if they knew who it was were if they were just speculating. The camera and microphone weren’t marked, but they were accompanied by Love Won Out volunteers everywhere they went.)

I was particularly amused by Dr. Nicolosi’s appearance on CNN:

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Joseph Nicolosi often accuses the media of distorting his research. He was reluctant to speak with us.

(on camera): We were hoping we can talk to you when it’s over.

NICOLOSI: Yes. OK. Well, I don’t think so.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Eventually, he did agree to go on camera, but:

(on camera): You’re categorically saying that, if a father and son have a normal relationship, that child will not be gay?


TUCHMAN: That’s a pretty strong statement, right?

NICOLOSI: You want to debate? Do you want an answer or you want to debate?


NICOLOSI: I gave you an answer.


So, there are some stereotypes you talk about, how, you know, if a child’s effeminate, if he’s creative, he’s artistic, those are things to look out for. Is that fair to say?

NICOLOSI: Goodbye.

With that, Nicolosi stormed off. I can verify that Nicolosi did cite artistic interest as a “warning sign” in his plenary session first thing that morning — the same session that appeared in the CNN segment — as he was describing a father/mother/son dynamic. This is what that reporter heard:

…but we see here typically mother, father, son, classic triadic relationship, many, many studies support this. In the relationship between the mother and the son, over emotionally involved, strong personality, dominant personality. The father is quiet, with drawn, non-verbal, non-expressive, and/or hostile. The son is temperamentally sensitive, shy, introverted, artistic, imaginative. That temperament does not make a homosexual. That child with that temperament in a particular family dynamic will set him up gender deficit, and that gender deficit becomes compensated through homosexual activity. [Emphasis mine.]

And again, during a breakout session later that afternoon, Nicolosi not only mentions an artistic temperament, but he elaborates further:

The prehomosexual boy appears to be sensitive, introverted, artistic, timid, passive, perfectionistic, aesthetically inclined, imaginative, interested in music, art, and theater, but that does not make a homosexual. You need that predisposition plus a particular family dynamic to create gender identity deficit, which then becomes compensated or “repaired” through homosexuality. So it’s a developmental stage.

Now I assume that what Nicolosi might have meant to say was that you can be artistic and not effeminate or prehomosexual. He sort of said that, but it’s not entirely clear. But he certainly put artistic interest in the class of “things to watch out for.” Didn’t he? Or did he?

You see, that’s the whole problem I’ve been experiencing while trying to describe what I heard them say at “Love Won Out.” I mentioned earlier that I was trying to write my next post on the meaning of the word “change.” Obviously I haven’t finished it yet. And part of the problem is in trying to nail down exactly what people mean when they use that word. As I said before, my copy of the Oxford Universal Dictionary described “change” in just six inches of text. But for “Love Won Out,” I’ve been struggling with it for eight weeks now and still haven’t been able to get to the bottom of it. Every time I took a stab at it, the article at some point would completely break down into an incoherent mess. It was like trying to create a Remington sculpture out of Jello.

And when people like Nicolosi are as careful — and as slippery — as they are with language, I may never find a way to crack the secret code. You can even go so far as to parrot their own words sometimes, and then the next moment you may come to think you really didn’t hear them correctly because now all of the sudden they’re saying something different. But try to point that out, and you get a reaction much like reporter Gary Tuchman experienced when Nicolosi stormed off. They say what they want to say, we try to understand what it is they have to say, and somehow it’s our fault for not understanding them correctly.

Watching that segment was an epiphany for me. I don’t know why — I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before, but maybe it was just the way it all came together as I saw it in the hotel room last night. And I saw it when I heard Melissa Fryrear talk about her love of red-headed men and Mike Haley’s absolute assertion of his own heterosexuality. And then in the midst of all that, we find Alan Chambers, trying his best to be candid by acknowledging that sometimes he finds other men attractive:

ALAN CHAMBERS [Note: the CNN transcript incorrectly identifies him as “O’Donnell”]: Again, I don’t feel that I will ever be as though I never was. You know, certainly I’m human. I could be tempted by a homosexual thought. I could find myself-

GARY TUCHMAN: That doesn’t go away with you?

CHAMBERS: It hasn’t gone away 100% with me.

So you see? I can’t give you a coherent description of “change” because they didn’t give me a coherent description of “change.” And you know what? That’s not my problem. It’s theirs.

So with that out of the way, I’m re-writing what I started to write. I’m not going to try to explain “change.” I’ll just let them do it in their own words. If they insist on using the word “change,” then I’ll just tell you what they said and I’ll let you be the judge of what “change” means. Because frankly, it’s their word. And if they insist on using it, it’s their responsibility to explain it. Not mine.

And if it turns out that you can’t make heads or tails out of it either, then as far as I’m concerned, you’re in good company.

David M

April 6th, 2007

I kept having this nagging thought while reading. The anti-gay proponents who generate this stuff don’t necessarily know what they mean by change.

How could they understand change if their science and logic are both bogus and flawed? Their claims to truth about gays of course don’t make sense or have any basis in reality, so it follows that their theories about change don’t either.

Moreover, if these people REALLY ‘got it’ then they wouldn’t be pursuing their anti-gay agenda in the first place. It makes sense that Love Won Out’s idea about change makes no sense; oppression of gays doesn’t either.

Lynn David

April 6th, 2007

About half-way through I said to myself, ‘why doesn’t Jim just let the words of the LWO presenters speak for themselves…. yep!

You might contrast what they say at a conference to parents, etc… against what Dr. Bill Maier, psychologist in residence at Focus on the Family, said in a recent article and also in answer to a blog entry about it on Good As You. It seems there are two faces to what is said. The coded language meant to draw in the ‘faithful’ and then that language when speaking to the ‘secular public/press.’

David Hearne

April 7th, 2007

Whenever Joseph Nicolosi starts talking about ‘artistic temperments’ or ‘sensitive natures,’ I expect him to add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

You’re right that the ex-gay crowd tends to be slippery about their treatment’s effectiveness and their definition of ‘change.’ However, after reading their essays and Tanya Erzen’s “Straight to Jesus,” I think I have a clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve.

Being ex-gay means a cultural change. It means being a Christian. If you’re one of the ex-gay spokesman like Alan Chambers, it also means a political change — being against hate crimes laws, gay marriage, etc. None of this has anything to do with sexual inclinations, but the underlying hope is that the cultural/political shift will lead to heterosexuality.

That doesn’t make sense, of course. But it makes sense if you understand the heavy expectations that many conservatives place on ‘culture.’ To them life is simply a matter of approaching it with the right philosophy. If I’m a right and proper Christian, then I will never suffer from want. If we raise boys to believe in valor, then our country will always win wars. And if I think and act the way a heterosexual behaves — or the way I think a straight man should behave — then I will become a heterosexual.

I hope that’s clear. I’m understanding what you mean about the difficulties in explaining this.


April 7th, 2007

When being right is more important than finding out the truth, then the meanings do have to change. The same sort of thing happens in the Intelligent Design attempt to call itself science as in the ex-gay movement. One cannot get a straight answer as to definition because the definition has to keep on changing to meet the right circumstance. It’s not that they intend to lie – they are very sincere in their beliefs – but that their belief is more important than getting to the truth.

And that is the contradiction that many Christianists do when they focus on a belief system rather than on the one in whom they say they believe. Jesus is described as the truth, but when one bases the ideas one has above the truth, then what actually happens becomes irrelevant.


April 7th, 2007

When a person of faith goes into ex-gay therapy expecting to change by faith, by the power of God and it doesn’t happen, that person’s faith is deeply shaken. That which they have held so dearly is crumbling as they watch and they cannot stop it. The person of faith is drowning. And just as a drowning person will grab for anything to keep head above water, the person of faith will grab at straws to stop the collapse, to stop the bleeding. So it may be that what we are observing is this grasping at straws, this gasping for air. And just as the drowning person isn’t thinking clearly, so it is with those who are caught in this situation, who find themselves defending that which they know is untrue deep down inside.

Bruce Garrett

April 8th, 2007

And when people like Nicolosi are as careful — and as slippery — as they are with language, I may never find a way to crack the secret code.

The Secret Code:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Ever notice how the mindset at events like Love Won Out, when it comes to the meaning of words and the dogged allegiance to tribal canon in the face of mountains of irrefutable observable fact, resembles the Bush administration? The GOP? Right Wing Talk Radio? I have straight friends who are just completely flummoxed by how brazen the disconnect with reality is getting now among Bush supporters. And I keep telling them that their gay and lesbian neighbors have been seeing this behavior for literally decades now. If the rest of the country had been paying attention to how this element routinely operates, back in the 1970s when Anita Bryant showed them how the Gay Menace was an even more potent vote getter then abortion and race, maybe it wouldn’t have the power it does now. Be nice to think so anyway.

A British reporter, I think it was in the Guardian, wrote that to understand politics in America today look at the republican party in Texas. But to understand the meltdown of the republican party since Nixon, just go visit a Love Won Out conference. Seriously. Mind you, I’m not saying it was homophobia that caused the meltdown. The meltdown happened when tribal loyalty became more important then facts, became the touchstone for what is or is not true, became the standard by which right and wrong are measured. The meaning of the word you’re looking for Jim is actually pretty straightforward. Its: “Shut up and submit to our authority.” All their words have that same meaning.


April 9th, 2007

I agree with Bruce.

Based on my own experiences, I belive that most churches that fund and promote these programs care less about the actual feelings and struggles of the individual and more with the outward appearance.

My church leaders sent me to many therapists and counselors when I discussed my feelings of homosexuality with them. After many attempts at different therapy techniques, and intimacy excercises failed, along with my marriage of twelve years, I finally came out to myself and my family. I had always been active in my church and follwed the teachings, believeing if I was faithful, I would be happy.

My family was accepting of the divorce, although unhappy. and all believed that I would remain in the church and not “live the lifestyle”. To my family and the church, my happiness was less important than the appearance. I know that they will not tell people about why i was divorced, and get upset as I will tell people outright the reasons behind it. To them, homosexuals should jsut remain in the closet with their “shame” or go quietly away.


April 9th, 2007

Based upon my personal observations of your artistic talents, you are obviously very, very straight…


April 11th, 2007

“With that, Nicolosi stormed off.”

Jim, you’re too kind.

[Jim Burroway]”I couldn’t record the segment, but I did get to see it.

Go nuts:

On an intellectual note,

JB: “I mentioned earlier that I was trying to write my next post on the meaning of the word “change.” Obviously I haven’t finished it yet. And part of the problem is in trying to nail down exactly what people mean when they use that word.”

I was just thinking that this applies to many of the ways they (authoritarian types) approach things. They are using their spiritual faith to justify using their best intellectual attributes for the worst purposes.

In this case — and especially — they are taking the need to be infinitely flexible (ie change) as the pain of human life demands, and as a result are using this legitimate survival skill and promoting it as a legitimate way of life. A “lifestyle” of denial and suppression.

“Ex-Gay” is literally the legitimization of a defense mechanism. A perversion of the ability to adapt.

Mike Haley and Mellisa Fryrear’s escape from hell may be worth it to “adapt” to heterosexuality, but that to me is not a “choice” to leave homosexuality, that’s a last resort.

Mike Haley says that “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it’s holiness” (now an ex-gay mantra).

That says to me that to ‘leave homosexuality’ means to leave sexuality altogether. It’s like comparing sexuality with sunshine to distract from the fact that it’s not a comparison. Thus guaranteeing that true love is NOT expected to be part of the equation in life (without actually saying so).

The change in this sense is in thinking that love itself is not necessary. That the desire for happiness is selfish and sinful. And the practice of perpetual denial becomes not only legitimate, but “holy,” and to be revered.

[hypothetical] “Look at him giving up the possibility of ever finding love. See, it IS possible for anyone to decide to never be happy.”

And it’s almost as though that’s the same mental functioning that goes on in the minds of even many ‘ex-gay for pay’ ex-gays. I believe in miracles too, but I don’t think they’re so naive as to think they will ever be fully “healed” to full heterosexuality.

It seems to me that the word change means acceptance of the idea of perpetual change. The antithesis of the creatures of habit that we are.

For the ex-gays it’s a continual denial of self, but it’s representative of the whole authoritarian (conservative) movement.

They are using the skill of discipline to not only deny their own unacceptable parts of self, but to continually deny every facet of reality outside themselves that they find unacceptable.

They get an A+ for skill in this department but a -F for their ability to utilize it responsibly.

In the dictionary of the parallel reality that they are attempting to create, words give birth to thoughts, not the other way around.

Change the words and you change the thoughts. Simple and easy. Not thoughtful, but most of all, not fearful.

Remember, authoritarians are children trapped in adult bodies. :-)

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