When I Was An Ex-Gay I Voted To Ban Gay Marriage
Today The State Supreme Court Ruled To Overturn My Vote
May 15th, 2008
Yes, in 2000 I voted yes on California Ballot Proposition 22 which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. At the time I had recently concluded reparative therapy with Joseph Nicolosi and held beliefs about sexuality largely consistent with Evangelical Christianity. I believed marriage was created by the Christian God and that our society had no choice but to retain God’s definition and voted accordingly.
In reaction to today’s decision the religious-right will no doubt claim this decision is counter to the will of the people. However this assumes nothing has changed in 8 years.
Eight years later I now realize how flawed, hurtful, and destructive my logic was. I wish to apologize for that vote. There are very few things in my ex-gay experience I am truly ashamed of — My vote in 2000 is one of those things. I thank the California State Supreme Court for making right on my error.
I have never been prouder than I am today to be from California.
How I Convinced Myself That I Was Changing My Sexual Orientation
Daniel Gonzales a former patient of Joe Nicolosi, explains.
May 4th, 2008
Oftentimes when I meet someone who’s been through ex-gay therapy I ask them if they ever reached the point where they believed they were beginning to change — It’s how I gauge just how deeply they got into the whole “ex-gay thing.” Ex-gay leaders often assert, “change is possible and I’m proof because I changed.” In my opinion the strongest response is “I too once believed I had changed.” Here’s my own explanation of how I believed I had changed:
Nicolosi: Gays Would Be “Jerking Off In Hamburgers All Over”
Another former patient of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi comes forward
May 3rd, 2008
Earlier this week, Daniel Gonzales provided his reaction to the recent Byrd, Nicolosi & Potts paper that appeared in Psychological Reports. Daniel’s comments were based on his own experience as a former patient of Dr. Nicolosi’s:
In my first session of therapy with Dr. Nicolosi he repeatedly pressed myself and my father, who was there with me, asking us if I had been molested as a child — which I hadn’t. In fact, much of that first session was focused on “digging around” for the supposed cause of my homosexuality.
Gabriel Arana, a Cornell University grad student and columnist for the Cornell Daily Sun, has come forward to write about his remarkably similar experience with Dr. Nicolosi in a recent column:
For three years I had weekly sessions with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Dr. Nicolosi thought that homosexuality was a pathology, a sublimated desire to reconnect with one’s lost masculinity. The theory: under-attentive fathers and over-attentive mothers create gay children. The purpose of therapy was to put me in touch with my masculine identity and thereby change my sexual orientation.
Years after I stopped therapy, I requested the case notes, knowing they would be destroyed after seven years. They provided an annotated collection of long-forgotten events. Next to the description of an argument with a male friend, Dr. Nicolosi scribbled “needs to look at the real source.” This was code: whatever the problem, it would be traced back to my lost masculine sense of self; I was angry because my friend had not paid attention to me as my father had not. Much of therapy also involved uncovering the numerous ways in which my parents had cheated me (as a teenager, I was more than happy to blame things on them).
According to Arana, Dr. Nicolosi didn’t try to conceal his utter disgust with gay people:
Disgust with what was termed the “gay lifestyle” was implicit in therapy. I remember Dr. Nicolosi telling me, in response to the question of whether one could easily contract HIV from semen, that if this were the case then gays would be “jerking off in hamburgers all over” to infect people.
That is was passes for ethical professionalism at NARTH. As does this:
…I know Dr. Robert Spitzer’s study well. Dr. Nicolosi asked me to participate in it, but instructed me not to reveal that he had referred me; while he wanted his organization’s views represented, he did not want to bring into question the study’s integrity.
The Spitzer study is the famous ex-gay study that purported to show that people can change their sexual orientation. However, the study was stacked with people who had a vested interest in demonstrating change. According to Dr. Spitzer, “the majority of participants (78 percent) had publicly spoken in favor of efforts to change homosexual orientation, often at their church,” and “nineteen percent of the participants were mental health professionals or directors of ex-gay ministries.” Among that 19% was Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas, Exodus International’s president and vice-president.
By the way, this is not the first time we’ve seen allegations that Nicolosi advised his clients to lie to Spitzer. Daniel Gonzales described a very similar conversation with Nicolosi nearly three years ago:
Nicolosi told me it would be great if I could represent the positive/success side of ex-gays in this study. Joseph Nicolosi asked me to lie to Spitzer when I called in for my study interview by denying Nicolosi had referred me. Turned off by this attempted manipulation, I never went through with taking part in the Spitzer study.
Hat tip: Ex-Gay Watch
NARTH Builds An Echo Chamber
May 1st, 2008
The April 2008 edition of the pay-to-publish vanity journal Psychological Reports features a new report from NARTH. Written by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, past president Joseph Nicolosi, and Richard W. Potts, the report carries the unwieldy but self-descriptive title, “Clients perceptions of how reorientation therapy and self-help can promote changes in sexual orientation.” While the title describes what the authors meant to show — how clients describe the benefits of reparative therapy — the report itself actually illustrates something very different: the ex-gay movement’s ability to instill an almost robot-like parroting of ex-gay rhetoric among their clients.
In ordinary surveys in the real world, there are always respondents whose answers don’t fit the authors’ hypothesis. In Stanton and Jones’ recent ex-gay study for example, there were those who claimed to have changed and those who didn’t (i.e. the “failures”). Both were represented in the paper because that’s just how the real world works. Absolute and total conformity to any hypothesis is virtually impossible.
But NARTH doesn’t operate in the real world. Not one of the 142 responses in the 26-page article deviated even slightly from the NARTH party line. The only responses appearing in this paper fully supported NARTH’s therapeutic framework.
Perfect outcomes like this may be found in the world of politically repressive regimes where dictators win “elections” by near-unanimous votes. But it is absolutely unheard of in scientific literature. Did the authors discard the responses that didn’t fit their preconceived theories? Or was their echo chamber so fully sealed that no dissent could even enter?
You can read more about it in our latest report, “Repeat After Me”: The Reparative Therapy Echo Chamber.
Ex-Gay Therapy: “Like Throwing Spaghetti At A Wall”
A video critique of the latest ex-gay therapy paper by Bryd, Nicolosi & Potts
May 1st, 2008
A new paper by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, past president Joseph Nicolosi, and Richard Potts was supposed to show what therapeutic techniques former clients of ex-gay therapy found effective. But what the paper really showed was how effectively those former patients absorbed and accepted the ex-gay movement’s distortions of human sexuality.
Daniel Gonzales, a former patient of Dr. Nicolosi shares his reaction.
You can read our analysis of the Byrd, Nicolosi & Potts paper in our latest report, “Repeat After Me:” The Reparative Therapy Echo Chamber.
The Grey Zone
January 31st, 2008
Last week, we reported on the videos posted online by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) which were plastered with warnings about content ownership and permissions. We described their paranoid attempt to circumvent free debate under the copyright law’s “fair use” provision.
Now Ex-Gay Watch was tipped to a video on YouTube which challenges NARTH’s attempt to curb free debate. And in doing so, the video provides an brilliant illustration of how feeble many of NARTH’s theories really are. Enjoy!
December 30th, 2007
Do you recognize this?
“Padre abraza tu hijo ahora que puedes, porque si no maÃ±ana quizÃ¡ lo abrazarÃ¡ otro hombre.”
A Protestant minister in Spain, Marcos Zapata, made that statement at at seminar “How to Raise Heterosexual Children.” In English, it’s “Father hug your son now while you can, because if not, tomorrow another man will.” — a paraphrase of Joseph Nicolosi’s standard stump speech. Not only is NARTH going international, but it looks like Exodus International is living up to its name as well. This article indicates that Zapata has been well inculcated in the language of Exodus. Spanish gay rights activists have asked the Galicia regional government to investigate.
Speaking of Fair Weather Friends…
November 9th, 2007
We already mentioned Joseph Nicolosi and Rigina Griggs, whose organizations once pretended they never heard of Richard Cohen last March when the world was laughing at his appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Now that it looks like the coast is clear, Nicolosi and Griggs back out of the closet and endorsing his latest book, Gay Children, Straight Parents.
More questions are arising as to whether Cohen himself may be a fair weather friend to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, known colloquially as the “Moonies.” He had been a member of thee Unification Church for twenty years, and his marriage is an arranged marriage that he said was suggested by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon himself. Cohen says that he left the Unification Church in 1995 and now professes to be a Christian.
But more recently, Cohen’s organization, the International Healing Foundation, was listed by the Freedom Of the Mind Center, a cult awareness web site, as a Moon Cultural and Social Front. Cohen denied the charge, calling it a “slander.” But questions about his links continue to pile up. Warren Throckmorton has been compiling a rather exhaustive dossier on the question.
What do you think? Moonie, or just Loonie?
Richard Cohen’s Back In The Saddle Again
November 9th, 2007
So here’s the puzzling thing. It was just last March when Cohen’s hilarious demonstration of his “holding” therapy on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show proved to be such an embarrassment that Exodus publicly disassociated themselves from Cohen, while NARTH (headed at the time by Joseph Nicolosi) and PFOX (headed by Regina Griggs) quietly scrubbed all references to him on their web sites.But now it looks like Nicolosi and Griggs are willing to let bygones be bygones. Look at these two endorsements printed on the back of Cohen’s latest book, Gay Children, Straight Parents:
“Richard is movingly candid about the brokenness in his own family life, and he’s not afraid to get down in the trenches and cry, mourn and laugh with everyone else who struggles. This book offers sound practical advice for healing family relationships.”
— Joseph Nicolosi, author of Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality and Preventing Homosexuality: A Parent’s Guide
We all want the best for our children. Please read this book and follow Richard’s suggestions for building a healthy parent-child relationship, one based on unconditional love and mutual respect.”
—Regina Griggs, national director, PFOX
Among the “sound practical advice” that Cohen offers in Gay Children, Straight Parents is the same therapy that he demonstrated on CCN, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and on Comedy Central. Cohen’s “suggestions for building a healthy parent-child relationship” haven’t changed one iota since they first appeared in his 2000 book, Coming Out Straight. So why are they now endorsing something that they found so terribly embarrassing then? Maybe Cohen’s fair weather friends are ready to rejoin Cohen’s huggery bandwagon after all.
You can read all about each of his twelve steps for parents in our latest report, From Buggery To Huggery: Richard Cohen Has A Plan For Your Family.
EDGE Boston Examines Reparative Therapy
July 25th, 2007
EDGE Boston has published David Foucher’s third part of his four part series on the ex-gay movement. I’m very impressed with this series — he really did his homework. In this especially well-written installment, Foucher examines the pseudo-Freudian theories underlying the ex-gay movement in general and reparative therapy in particular — theories which Robert-Jay Green of the Rockway Institute points out aren’t very well proven. Although Warren Throckmorton doesn’t agree with Dr. Green that these theories have been “disproven” (in Dr. Green’s words), he does broadly agree that these theories aren’t compelling in the way the ex-gay movement uses them:
“When I read the research, what appears to me to be the best rendering of it is that different factors operate differently for different people,” he explains. “In an environment like that, when you don’t know the answer to what causes sexual orientation, it’s really not proper in my opinion to inform clients of anything different than that. The reparative therapists inform clients that their attractions are due to childhood dynamics. The gay-affirming therapists may go the other way and say that sexual orientation is an intrinsic aspect of who you are, it’s because of your genetics or it’s prenatal, and that it would be harmful to try to alter it in some way. I don’t think the research would allow either dogmatic conclusion.”
Fourcher also uncovers what ends up being the very essence of what it means to be ex-gay: the naming and labeling of homosexuality. Jack Drescher is quoted this way:
“You can switch identities, they’re not fixed. But sexual orientation is not as flexible as identities. A person can come out, say they’re gay, change their mind, say they’re not gay, change their mind again, say they’re gay again. It has nothing to do with their perceptual feelings – because people who call themselves gay don’t have all the same sexual feelings, and people who call themselves ex-gay don’t have all the same sexual feelings either. These are just labels.”
But towards the end of the article, where Fourcher discusses the APA’s task force to examine conversion therapies, he gets this whopper from NARTH president Joseph Nicolosi:
“We do not want to diminish the rights or civil liberties of gays or lesbians — they have a right to pursue their lives, their happiness, their dreams; those rights should not be limited in any way,” (Nicolosi) counters. “But for those who are unhappy for any reason, for those who want a conventional sexuality, a conventional marriage, we want to help them achieve that.”
That stated position may not be completely supportable; as of this writing the top article on NARTH’s homepage is titled, “Marriage as Culture: The Case Against ‘Same-Sex Marriage'” – a clear indication that NARTH is embroiled, at least philosophically, in more politically-charged issues surrounding gay and lesbian rights.
“People such as Joseph Nicolosi might today claim that they do not take a pathologizing perspective on homosexuality,” (Clinton W. Anderson, Director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office) agrees. “But if you look at the history of their careers and what they have advocated, that’s just not a credible position. They do seem to bring a prejudiced attitude towards homosexuality to the table.”
This is turning out to be one of the best articles I’ve seen on conversion therapies in a long time.
Do These Folks Agree With Cameron’s “Solution”
May 14th, 2007
Dr. Warren Throckmorton has also posted about Paul Cameron’s disturbing views expressed in Cameron’s article, “Gays in Nazi Germany.” Dr. Throckmorton concludes:
Suffice to say that Dr. Cameron is not simply ideologically opposed to homosexuality, he is fixated on “solutions” that I find abhorrent. I call on fellow social conservatives who still refer to the Camerons’ work to take a hard look at these posts and reflect on whether someone with such extreme animosity could possibly approach social science data with sufficient objectivity to be trusted.
I wonder how many of these individuals, organizations and publishers agree with Paul Cameron’s Solution for those who live “parasitic lives”?
E-mail me or leave a comment if you find someone who is using Cameron’s “science” and I’ll add them to the list.
American Family Association:
- Targeting Children, Part Four: Access to children: Homosexuality and Molestation — Ed Vitagliano, June 2001.
- Targeting Children, Part Three: Activists Encouraging Experimentation — Ed Vitagliano, May 2001.
- Homosexuality in America: Exposing the Myths (PDF: 299 KB/24 pages) — Robert G. Howe, 1994.
Americans For Truth:
- Study Shows “Gay Married” Lifespans Average 24 Years Shorter than Hetero Marrieds in Norway, Denmark — Peter LaBarbera, April 5, 2007.
- Canadian Research Suggests only 1.4% of Adults Homosexual — Peter LaBarera, March 27, 2007.
- Stanford Nurse Details Lethal Consequences of Engaging in Promiscuous Anal Intercourse — Kathleen Melonakos, Dec 2, 2006.
- Living In Truth: Unsure Of Your Sexuality? — unsigned, 2000
Concerned Women For America:
- Indianapolis Rejects Domestic Partner Benefit — Robert H. Knight, Aug 2, 2002
“The author of the bill was very articulate and tried to come after me for using a Paul Cameron study (although I did not cite him. I cited Adolescence journal).”
- ‘Sexual Orientation’ and American Culture — Robert H. Knight, July 10, 2002
Rosie and the Docs Peddle Bad Medicine (PDF: 62 KB/7 pages) — Robert H. Knight, May 2002.
- Pediatrics Academy Joins Crusade for ‘Gay Parenting’ — Robert H. Knight, Feb 7, 2002
Ears To Hear:
- Myths, Facts, and Consequences of the Homosexual Lifestyle — unsigned, April 30, 2007.
- Gay Identity and the Gay Rights Movement — Jason Park, 1996.
- Behavior (FAQ) — Jason Park, 1996.
- Why Am I Attracted to Men? — Jason Park, 1996.
Family Research Council:
- Homosexual Parenting: Placing Children at Risk — Timothy J. Dailey, undated.
International Healing Foundation (Richard Cohen):
- Changing From Gay To Straight Is Possible, Chapter 2: Definitions and Causes of Same-Sex Attractions — Richard Cohen, undated.
- Canadian Research Suggests only 1.4% of Adults Homosexual — Unsigned, March 27, 2007.
- Expert Research Finds Homosexuality More Dangerous Than Smoking — Unsigned, April 3, 2007.
- US Sexuality Survey Shows Gays 107% More Likely To Engage In Criminal Activities — “JJ,” June 13, 2005.
- Yet Another Study Confirms Gay Life Expectancy 20 Years Shorter — “JJ,” June 6, 2005.
- Same-Sex Parenting is Harmful to Children Says REAL Women of Canada — Unsigned, March 2004.
- The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage (Originally published in Crisis magazine) — Tim Leslie, January 2004.
- Homosexuals Declare War On Boy Scouts — Unsigned, August 23, 2000.
National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH):
- Joseph Nicolosi e Linda Ames Nicolosi, OmosessualitÃ . Una Guida per i Genitori, (PDF: 174 KB/5 pages) (Italian: Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames Nicolosi. Homosexuality. A Guide for Parents) — Roberto Marchesini, October 2005.
- Conversion Therapy Revisited: Parameters and Rationale for Ethical Care — Christopher H. Rosik, Spring 2001.
- RevisiÃ³n de la Terapia Teparativa: ParÃ¡metros y Fundamento Para el Cuidado Ã‰tico (PDF: 280 KB/18 pages) (Spanish: Conversion Therapy Revisited: Parameters and Rationale for Ethical Care ) — Christopher H. Rosik, Spring 2001.
- Pediatrician Says Childhood Gender Identity Disorder Requires Treatment, Not Sex-Change Surgery — Ross Olson, undated (updated April 20, 2006).
- Father-son Relationships and Male Sexual Development — Gregory Dickson, undated (Updated Sept 30, 2002).
One News Now:
- LA Fertility Clinic Provides for Homosexual Parent Candidates — Ed Thomas, April 5, 2007.
- Attorney, Group Blast Bishops Over Sex Ed — Matt C. Abbott, August 21, 2005.
- Sometimes, Where There’s Smoke, There’s the Fired — Selwyn Duke, February 11, 2005
- Expert Research Finds Homosexuality More Dangerous Than Smoking — “David Virtue,” April 4, 2007.
- 1.4% of Adults Homosexual? — “David Virtue,” March 23, 2007.
Let me know if you find any others.
Part 4: “Love Won Out”: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
April 12th, 2007
In the weeks leading up to the February 10 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, Focus on the Family and Exodus put up a billboard off of I-17 that proclaimed, “Change is possible. Discover how.” Meanwhile, Love Won Out’s web site promoted the conference, saying, “Focus on the Family is promoting the truth that change is possible for those who experience same-sex attractions.” Then, three weeks before the conference, Melissa Fryrear, Director of Focus on the Family’s Gender Issues Department was quoted in a press release, “We want to let people know that change is possible for those who are unsatisfied living as gay or lesbian.” Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, told an NPR reporter on the day of the conference that homosexuality “is a condition that people have found freedom from, they have changed.”
Earlier I described how most of those who spoke at Love Won Out used a very carefully crafted language to impart a particularly narrow view of homosexuality. It is a view that separates one’s sexuality from one’s sense of self, which is very different from how most people experience their sexuality whether they are gay or straight. Instead, for gays and lesbians only, their sexuality is treated as an exception, as something foreign or as an external “issue” that they “struggle with”.
But as precise as everyone was in how they defined homosexuality, they were startlingly imprecise when it came to defining “change.” Just when you thought you understood that “change” meant one thing (a change in one’s sexual attractions), you were suddenly presented with another concept of change (a change in identity only), or maybe it meant something else (a change in behavior only).
As I said before, there were remarkable few gay people attending Love Won Out. Most of those who were there were relatives or friends of gays and lesbians, and many of these relatives were parents. And in my conversations with them, it was clear that they saw their loved one’s homosexuality as a terrible tragedy, as something awful that happened. Some were quite desperate in their hope to see their loved ones changed.
During the lunchtime hour, Love Won Out set aside a room where parents and loved ones could gather together in fellowship. There, they shared their experiences, consoled each other, and spoke words of encouragement and hope, and they held hands and prayed together that their loved ones would experience “freedom from homosexuality.
The hope for change was paramount in the minds of these parents. As it was, many of them had a very strained relationship with their children. For some, their relationships were at or near the breaking point. And so it seemed to me that Love Won Out had a special responsibility to do two things to meet the needs of these parents. The first thing they needed to do was to provide practical advice on how to maintain their relationship with their loved ones. Love Won Out did that much better than I thought they would, although there are certainly areas I found wanting. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
But the second responsibility that Love Won Out had toward these parents and relatives was to set realistic expectations for what change was all about and how likely that change would be. And here is where I think they failed in that responsibility. And they failed for two reasons: 1) They didn’t provide a coherent definition of change, and 2) without a coherent definition, they couldn’t provide a realistic basis for an expectation for change.
What Is Change?
For a conference to advertise itself as proclaiming that “change is possible,” then one reasonable assumption might be that this “change” would refer to a change in one’s sexual attractions or orientation. This was certainly the base assumption that was rigorously reinforced throughout the first part of the day.
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was the lead-off speaker, and as far as he was concerned this sort of change was the only thing that mattered. In both of his talks that day, he consistently drove home the point that changing one’s sexual orientation — as defined by one’s sexual attractions — was possible for anyone as long as they followed through with his program. And in some of his examples, that change was complete and unambiguous. Just as his talk was getting underway, he described one client this way:
He just told me in our last session, he said to me, “I have no more homosexual attraction.” There’s a lot of talk about how it diminishes but that it never goes away. Just today, in my last session with him, he said, “I have no more homosexual attractions.”
And how does this change occur? According to Nicolosi, when a gay man’s sense of masculinity is restored, when he no longer looks to other men for the parts of his masculinity that is missing in himself, then his same-sex attraction “disappears”:
The healing of homosexuality is “I want a man to see me as a man,” and to have that experience repeatedly until it becomes internalized. And when it becomes internalized there’s no more mystique and there’s no more eroticization.
Sometimes this disappearance of same-sex attraction was very dramatic according to Nicolosi’s descriptions. During a breakout session later that afternoon, he claimed that a teen client’s sexual attractions experienced a virtually instantaneous change. This change reportedly occurred when the boy and his father made an emotional breakthrough during a therapy session. With this connection between the father and the son, the son’s homosexuality became “nonexistent.” And what was Nicolosi’s evidence for this change? He asked the son to do an impromptu experiment:
I said, “Let’s try an experiment. Right now,” I said to him, “try to have a homosexual fantasy.” And only a fourteen-year-old boy would do this because, you know, your mother and father are there, you think he’d say no? So he does it. This is what he does … Now, this is what I said to him. “Try to have a homosexual fantasy” and this is what he does. … [silence] … He can’t generate it. He can’t generate. And that’s the whole therapy. If you make emotional connection, the homosexuality is nonexistent.
That’s right. Dr Nicolosi’s “evidence” was the failure of his teenage client to enact a command performance to conjure a sexual fantasy — in a doctor’s office with his parents present, parents whom the boy would probably like to please since he’s getting along with them so well at the moment.
Exodus board chairman Mike Haley’s testimony immediately followed Nicolosi’s talk that morning, where he reinforced Nicolosi’s message about a change in sexual orientation. While he didn’t directly address his own sexual attractions to the Love Won Out audience, he left little doubt that it had changed when he ended his testimony with pictures of his wedding and his two beautiful children. Alan Chambers also talked about his wife and kids, as did Joe Dallas (founder of Genesis Counseling and former Exodus board chairman) and John Smid (executive director of Love In Action and Exodus board vice-chairman).
While the other speakers could hint at the extent of their change by referring to their wives and children, Melissa Fryrear, who is single, had to be much more direct if she was to remove all doubt. She humorously described all of the things she had to learn in order to become a heterosexual woman (clothes, make-up, panty hose, etc.), and she even went so far as to describe her ideal man — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — as a photo of her sitting beside a Ronald McDonald mannequin bounced comically onto the multimedia screen behind her. Yet through all the laughter, her message was unmistakable: she was thoroughly heterosexual.
By the time Melissa Fryrear’s talks concluded at 11:00 that morning, there had been only one type of change discussed in all of those morning sessions: the change of sexual attractions from same-sex to opposite-sex attractions. And each speaker up to that point was absolutely unambiguous on that point as the audience heard one success story after another. All that was needed was a re-connection with the father (for gay men, according to Nicolosi) or with the mother (one of many theories according to Fryrear), and a deep commitment to Christ (according to Haley and Fryrear).
A Magic Blessing
But the strangest example of change was given by Dr. Nancy Heche during one of the general sessions that everyone attended soon after lunch. Dr. Heche is the mother of Anne Heche who, you may remember, was the partner of comedian Ellen DeGeneres from 1997 to 2001.
Dr. Heche used her testimony to talk about her own change of heart, from what she describes as her “hard heartedness” after having endured the humiliation of her husband’s death from AIDS and her daughter’s “public lesbian affair.” She described her anger at the “gay community” and for gay people in general during that period. But over time, through reading scriptures and much prayer, she said she was able to set aside her anger as God changed her “hard heartedness” to a soft heart. But her talk, which might have been a very good talk on how to come to terms with life’s difficulties, instead ended up becoming something of a formula for changing her daughter’s sexuality, at least in the minds of some of the parents.
Dr. Heche described how she learned about blessing from reading her Bible while flying on a small plane to Nantucket. She read Acts 3:26, which says, “When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” She then described a blessing as asking “God to interfere, … to take action in one’s life to bring them in the desired relationship with Himself, so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied.” She took that to mean that when Jesus blessed her, He turned her from her ways to His ways. And she also took that to mean that she could also bless others, and in blessing others, she could be a part of God’s plan in doing the same:
Now that I’ve been blessed, and turned from my way to God’s way. I could be part of God’s plan to bless her [Anne] and maybe turn her from her way to God’s way. I could bless her now.
So in that little plane with my Bible on my lap, I confessed my hard heart. And I blessed her, and I blessed her friends. And as God would have it, that was the weekend she ended her lesbian affair.
Sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story because it sounds like “ooga-booga!” Like, poof! I sent up a magic blessing and they broke up. Well, there’s no “ooga-booga.” And the real magic or mystery that was revealed in that little plane was the work that God did in my heart.
Now I need to acknowledge two things here. First, I must acknowledge that she did not literally claim credit for her daughter’s relationship breaking up. In fact, she explicitly denied it. I also must acknowledge that Nancy titled her talk “It’s All About Me,” to reinforce the idea that as a parent, she needed to change herself and overcome her own anger rather than focus on changing her daughter.
But it is also true that even though she said “sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story,” she nevertheless goes ahead and tells it every single time she speaks at Love Won Out. It’s even on the DVD of Love Won Out testimonies that Focus on the Family sells on their web site and at the temporary book store they set up that day. She’s been a part of Love Won Out since June of 2005, and as far as I know, she has never omitted this detail from her testimony.
She really doesn’t seem to hesitate at all. And the fact is, her testimony would be just as valuable to those parents and family members without throwing in the hope that if you change your heart and bless your child, your child will change. But since “change” is the very central theme of the entire conference, it magnifies the significance of Dr. Heche’s inclusion of Anne’s “change” to everyone in the auditorium. And even though she explicitly denies this direct connection, what other conclusions would the audience draw? That Anne just “happened” to have left Ellen on the very same day her mother blessed her?
Remember, this isn’t an audience that is given to believing in coincidences. It’s an audience that is predisposed to believing in miracles. And this is exactly the kind of anectdote that many audience members will likely cling to in desperate hope for many days or even years.
That is very unfortunate, because Anne Heche’s side of the story is decidedly different:
This Nonsense about my mother praying for me is really making me angry. My mother never approved of my relationship with Ellen. Her hatred for our relationship is one of the many things that ultimately led to my breaking off all communication with her. (My mother, that is, not Ellen.)”
… The fact that my mother is using my name to promote this movement makes me even sicker…. I do not believe that homosexuality is something that should be brainwashed out of someone. I do not believe that homosexuality should be anything but celebrated if that is the thing that makes an individual feel good about their life. I believe, as I have always said, that people should love who they want to love.”
As far as I can tell, Anne is still estranged from her mother despite all her mother’s blessings. And because many of those parents in that audience were also experiencing different levels of estrangement from their children, friends and relatives. holding out hope for such miraculous conversions doesn’t bode well for them when their gay or lesbian loved one dismisses the possibility. And to consider that these estranged parents are listening to advice from a mother who is still estranged from her daughter, that also doesn’t bode well for those families’ futures. Messages like these are only more likely to more firmly entrench these family members in their ongoing estrangement.
After Dr. Heche linked her self-described change of heart to her daughter’s ending “her lesbian affair,” she encouraged the audience to participate in the same two-step formula with a closing prayer:
So I close by saying now it’s all about you. I invite you into the heart of God. You and I are not going to wipe out homosexuality, but we can wipe out hate and fear and anger and confusion. We have the ultimate winning strategy. Love trumps everything. So will you hold out your hands to receive a blessing?
I ask God to bless you, to interfere in your lives, to bring you into the right relationship with Himself so that you are truly blessed and fully satisfied regardless of your circumstances. I ask God to release His power in your lives to change your character and your destiny.
And now, reach out your hands to give a blessing to your loved ones.
Father, we ask You to bless our loved ones. We ask you to interfere in their lives, to take action in their lives, to bring them into the right relationship with Yourself. We ask You to bless them, to release Your power in their lives to change their character and destiny. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
What Other Kind Of Change Is There?
During the afternoon as people attended various breakout sessions, some cracks started to appear in the presumption of change. But those cracks were only evident to those who happened to attend the right workshop. And with different speakers running different workshops simultaneously, it was often the luck of the draw as to which explanation for change one would hear.
For example, when Melissa Fryrear held her question and answer session on lesbianism at 3:45 in the afternoon, someone in the audience was still confused about “change” and asked for clarification. As he did so, it was obvious that he had been paying attention — notice how he framed his question using Love Won Out’s dialect. But learning that dialect didn’t’ bring him any closer to understanding change. Melissa tried to clear it up as she read the question off of an index card:
“Do people still struggle on this journey?” And I appreciate the honesty of that question. And we try to be genuine about our own stories. I think it’s important to mention that it looks different for every person, and that if we consider that continuum again, that individuals have fallen in every place and in every place in between.
I know some people that God — and it’s their testimony — that God did an instantaneous work, and they never have had a homosexual thought or temptation or idea again in their lives, and moved on to heterosexual… heterosexuality, and that identity — marriage, children — and it was an instantaneous moment for them.
The majority of the people with whom I’ve talked, it’s been a journey and a process, that we didn’t get involved overnight, often don’t get out overnight. And so it does look different for different people. Many have moved on to marriage and families, and I know some individuals that, much of the contributing factors have been resolved, and opposite sex attraction hasn’t fully blossomed, if you will, in their lives. It may never, or may come further down the road. But their commitment is to the Biblical sexual ethic, and that they want to live chaste and celibate lives.
It’s clear here that she’s still describing the “struggle” in terms of sexual attractions, but now the certainty of “change” is starting to crack. It doesn’t always occur. In fact, it often doesn’t. And it’s important to note that her acknowledgment wasn’t exactly a grudging one. During two of her workshops where she addressed change, she was reasonably candid that this change in sexual attractions wasn’t necessarily in the cards for everyone.
And yet, she remains ambiguous about both the nature and the likelihood of change. Here, she also reinforces Nancy Heche’s possibility of a miraculous “instantaneous work” — she said she knew these people herself. Again, I wonder how many in that audience clung to that part of her answer in hope that a miraculous change may come to their son or daughter as well.
But whatever unrealistic expectations Fryrear may have reinforced among some, she did also include an acknowledgement that change in sexual attractions doesn’t always happen. She also mixed her notion of a change sexual orientation with a change in a commitment to behavior. In Fryrear’s talk, it was much more evident that the more important change was a change in faith and a commitment to what she described as a “Biblical sexual ethic.” And under this understanding of change, it didn’t matter so much of a person’s sexual attractions changed much. The more important question was whether that person’s behavior changed in response to a religious conversion
So whoever posed that question to Fryrear was very lucky to have heard at least that much of an answer. Imagine if he had instead attended Nicolosi’s “Prevention of Male Homosexuality,” which was being held at exactly the same time as Fryrear’s Q&A. His understanding of change would certainly have been very different because Nicolosi only talked about one kind of change: a change in sexual attractions. And to hear Nicolosi describe it, likelihood of change seemed rather high and had very little to do with faith. It was all about clinical therapeutic outcomes, not a commitment to Christ.
And as I said, he was very self-assured about the prospects for change. He described only two cases of failure in his workshop. The first case was because the young man “did not continue” with therapy. The second case was because the father didn’t follow through with Nicolosi’s instructions. Not only are father’s responsible for their son’s homosexuality according to the theory Nicolosi espoused first thing that morning, but this particular father was also blamed for the son’s failure to be cured. But aside from those two cases, examples of change abounded, lending further encouragement for those family members in his audience.
One Candid Exception
While I believe most of the descriptions of change were neither clear nor realistic, there was one candid exception that I wish more parents could have heard. During the first set of breakout sessions just before lunchtime, Alan Chambers gave an excellent talk entitled, “Hope for Those Who Struggle.” As far as I was able to hear, he was the only one who set out to establish realistic expectations for change, and he was the only one to thoroughly and accurately describe what change really means. But only about 75 people attended his session, and that is very unfortunate. It should have been one of the general sessions for all 700 attendees to hear. Instead, only a tiny fraction of the overall conference heard what he had to say.
I was going to include his talk in this post, but it is already running quite long. And besides, I believe his talk was so important that it deserves a separate post. Just as he gave his talk to a small group of people, it was almost like attending a completely different conference. It shouldn’t have been that way. Because what he had to say was far more candid and useful — and far more realistic — than any magic blessing or hopes for an instantaneous work that anyone else had to offer.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Part 3: “Love Won Out”: A Whole New Dialect
March 6th, 2007
One of the first phrases that we learned in high school Spanish class was how to say that you like something. In English, it’s a simple three-part sentence: “I like ice cream.” I, the subject, does something, namely, like. And the object of my affection, called the direct object, the thing that receives the action, is the ice cream. It can’t get much simpler than that.
But in Spanish, there is no word for “like.” The word they use instead, gustar literally means “pleases”. So instead of saying “I like ice cream,” I would say, “Ice cream pleases me.” Notice how this turns everything around. In English, if I don’t like something, it’s up to me to explain myself since I am on the acting part of the verb — Why don’t you like it? But in Spanish, if something doesn’t please me, it’s not my problem. You need to look to the ice cream to understand what’s wrong with it.
I’ve often though about that example and wondered if that subtle difference — do we like something or does that something please us? — influences how I see the world around me, and in what ways that influence might be different for someone who’s a native Spanish speaker. If it’s true that language shapes how we view the world — and I join Madison Avenue and political spin doctors in believing this to be true — I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the particular language that I heard at Love Won Out.
For me, attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix was very much like being an anthropologist on Mars, as Oliver Sacks once put it. I observed a culture with its own vaguely familiar language and customs. And learning its language was key to understanding the framework and worldview from which Love Won Out operated. But as is true with many cultures, it almost requires a total immersion inside the culture of Love Won Out to pick up on the nuances of those terms and customs.
There’s nothing particularly odd about this. Every group of people has its own version of “inside baseball.” And at Love Won Out, much of their dialect is built upon the common theological expressions that are a part of the Evangelical Christian movement. But what was spoken at Love Won Out went beyond the language of Evangelical Christianity. The language of Love Won Out represented a particular dialect of the larger Evangelical Christian culture.
The Study of Language
Focus on the Family and Exodus, among others, exercise an amazing degree of message discipline, and they construct their messages differently according to the particular audience they’re addressing. This is why their messages have been so effective. Mike Haley, director of gender issues at Focus on the Family’s Public Policy Division talked about this during a morning plenary session, and he gave a good example of how this lesson might be used:
You know, in the year 2004 when I was doing the research for my book, I found that we spent twenty billion dollars that year in the United States for the work of missions. And what do we do with that money? Well what we do with that money is we take individual’s lives — they are committed to a people group — we set them aside, we support them, we pray for them, we pour money into their lives. We help them get to that people group. We help them study and learn another language often so that they can reach a people for Christ. Those people will take the time out of their own lives and study the social nuances of that people group they want to reach, so that when they become a part of them, they won’t offend them. Instead what they’ll do is they will draw them to Christ.
And my challenge for us is how much money, effort, and energy are we putting in to reaching what one of my friends calls “the unwanted harvest” known as the gay and lesbian community? And there’s some things that we do within the Body of Christ that are incredibly offensive, and let me just offer you one, the use of the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” …
And what are we saying ultimately when we use that phrase? Well what we’re saying to someone is “I love you, but I hate what you’re doing.” But you have to see it from a gay person’s perspective. They see themselves as defined by the very thing that they’re doing. So they believe that when you hate what they’re doing, you hate them to their very core. We have got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary. It does not translate in the marketplace.
I think Mike Haley only has it about half right in explaining why the phrase is offensive, but that’s not the point. The point is really this: you probably haven’t noticed this — because the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin” is used so often among anti-gay Christians — but it turns out that neither Focus on the Family nor Exodus use this particular phrase much anymore. They’ve moved far beyond “love the sinner and hate the sin,” both in nuance and in sophistication. The sentiment is still very much there, but it’s expressed in a very different way. They are extremely conscious of how words are received by their target audience, no matter who that audience may be. It’s just that their audience is almost never the LGBT community. If it were, you can bet their choice of language would be very different.
Focus in the Family and Exodus have expended a great deal of resources to develop the phrases and the terminology they use. In doing so, they’ve crafted an entire language, complete with its own lexicon and syntax. For example, the terms they used for describing gay people were very different from yours or mine, and Mike Haley’s problem with “love the sin, hate the sinner” provides a glimpse into that difference. Their language is specially designed to treat people and their sexuality as if they were two completely separate entities, as if sexuality were a separate thing outside of the person. As Melissa Fryrear put it in a breakout session, they constantly work to “separate the ‘who’ from the ‘do’,” or, as others have put it more crudely in Mike Haley’s example, “the sinner” from “the sin”.
And since we’re only talking about sexuality and not romantic yearnings or affairs of the heart, this separation of gays and lesbians from their sexuality appears reasonable to Love Won Out attendees. If we included romance, then we would have to introduce such notions of soulmate, the yearnings of the heart, the love of all one’s might — all of these things which involve the whole person, which poets cannot separate and compartmentalize.
But at Love Won Out, gay romance, love or relationships are treated as evidence of a pathology. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality), describes gay relationships in men as an attempt to capture the masculinity of another man that is missing in oneself because his own sense of masculinity is broken. This reduces all notions of romance to “a reparative drive.” He sums it up later in a breakout session by saying, “Heterosexuality is complementary, homosexuality is compensatory.”
Since homosexuality is seen as something that “happens” to someone due to poor parenting, sexual abuse and other factors, then it’s not the child’s fault. When they boy grows up, he tries to “fill” his damaged masculinity with other men. Similar explanations are offered for lesbians. Following this lead, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, and Melissa Fryrear of Focus on the Family both refer to gay relationships as an “illegitimate way of meeting a legitimate need.”
Another way of saying this then, is that the problem is not that I, as a gay man, like other men. The problem is that other men are pleasing to me. Using language to separate the person from his or her sexuality is one of the most important concepts in Love Won Out’s dialect.
“No Such Thing As A Homosexual”
Since the language of Love Won Out represents a distinct dialect of Evangelical Christianity, the first order of business for the day was to teach us the elements of that dialect. First up was Dr. Nicolosi. He began his talk by proclaiming that “there is no such thing as a homosexual.” Knowing this was a head-scratcher to most people there, he repeated it again: “There is no such thing as a homosexual… He is a heterosexual, but he may have a homosexual problem.”
So here’s the first lesson: the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” aren’t nouns; they’re adjectives. And even as an adjectives they are never used to describe a person. There are no gay teenagers, there are no homosexual men, there are no lesbian women. Instead these adjectives are always used as modifiers to something else: a problem, a struggle, an identity, or an issue that is separate from the person. This is important because it’s very different from how these terms are normally used in the broader culture. It is also very different from how these terms are used even by other anti-gay activists.
If this sounds confusing, believe me, I felt the same way during the first few hours that morning. These words and phrases sounded odd or stilted — as is true with the first words we learn in any new language. But by hearing them repeated over and over in the very particular ways they were used, they started to become second nature. By the second hour, their “oddness” started to wear off and by the time the conference was over, it was easy to forget that these words could be used any other way.
All of the speakers at Love Won Out clung to this grammar with incredible consistency, reflecting a highly evolved discipline that comes from discovering the particular phrases that have had an impact in the past, and sticking with them from then on. And if a speaker somehow slipped up and use these words “incorrectly,” he was usually very quick to correct himself — as Nicolosi did during his breakout session, “Prevention of Male Homosexuality” later that afternoon:
From our own case studies, we see three types of fathers who are the fathers of homosexual men… Again, when I say “homosexual,” I don’t mean he’s intrinsically homosexual. He’s a heterosexual with a homosexual problem…”
You see, he almost used the word “homosexual” as an adjective to describe men — a no-no in Love-Won-Outeese. Slip-ups like this happened occasionally — Mike Haley did the same thing when he used the phrase “gay person” in my earlier example — but they were rare.
So having laid this groundwork, it’s time for me to give you some real examples of how this worked. Love Won Out speakers had very specific ways to describe gays, lesbians, and anyone else who experienced sexual and/or romantic attractions for others of the same sex. (Bisexuals and transsexuals were largely left out of the discussions.) Generally speaking, these descriptions fell into four broad categories, and each category was described using adjectives to reinforce the separation of “the ‘who’ from the ‘do’.”
Those Who “Struggle With Homosexuality”
The definition for this group was rather unclear. Mostly, this expression was used to describe someone who experienced “unwanted same-sex attractions”, another phrase that made an occasional appearance. (Alan Chambers often went even further in separating the “who” from the “do” by using the phrase, “those who struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” making homosexuality itself even more abstract.) For the most part, “those who struggle with homosexuality” described anyone who believed that homosexuality was wrong, but found themselves to be sexually attracted to others of the same sex.
But the odd thing about “those who struggle with homosexuality” is that believing that homosexuality was wrong wasn’t always a requirement to be a part of this category. This mean that those who “struggle with homosexuality” sometimes included relatives of conference attendees — sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so forth — who weren’t at the conference and most likely weren’t struggling at all — including gay friends and family members who were completely out to their family and coworkers, often in relationships, and who felt no conflict about their sexuality. Many comments were addressed to parents (“If your son or daughter is struggling with homosexuality…”) that assumed that being gay required that there be a struggle. If my mother had attended the conference, she might have understood that I was among those they were talking about when they talked about those who were “struggling with homosexuality.”
But if the conference speakers were really careful, they might concede that I’m not struggling. They would instead put me into the second group where I would be described as “gay-identified.” (A woman would be “lesbian-identified.”) Again, notice the separation of the “who” from the “do.” I’m not gay, I just have a gay identity. I am, at most, gay-identified. All notions of intrinsic orientation, healthy relationships or romantic attachments were ignored, except as aspects of pathology. And if indeed there is no such thing as a homosexual, then it must also be true that there no such thing as a gay or a lesbian. Our identity is just something like a coat that we put on, a coat that can be taken off as well.
Anyone who is “struggling with homosexuality” is seen as being at a crossroads of sorts, and there are two directions he or she may go from there. One direction is to accept the “Biblical sexual ethic” and begin a “journey out of homosexuality.” Failing that, the other direction is to fall into the world of the “gay-identified” or “lesbian-identified”.
This second option, of course, is considerably more tragic since the “gay-identified” and “lesbian-identified” were generally regarded as less reachable. Because they were “gay-identified,” they were, by definition, involved in the gay community and the gay “lifestyle” — a lifestyle that was fraught with all sorts of dangers and misery: sexual addictions, drug addictions, emotional addictions, impossible relationships that never lasted. The idea that gays and lesbians could be satisfied, happy and stable was a foreign concept to Love Won Out. And just as there are tribes in the tropics that have no word for snow, Love Won Out spoke no words to describe people who didn’t fit their notions of someone who was “gay-identified.”
“On The Journey Out Of Homosexuality”
When someone who is “struggling with homosexuality” decides he or she doesn’t want to be “gay-identified”, then that person is said to have embarked on a “journey out of homosexuality.” This is where the poorly-defined concept of “change” comes in. This “change” was much talked about, but never really defined except in its most important aspect: a new identity in Christ.
Exodus sometimes provides something of a non-religious public face, although that face is never entirely a secular one. Focus on the Family, however, is unabashedly evangelical in the public stage. At Love Won Out, both groups were free to be who they really are with the like-minded audience. Everyone who spoke did so from a plainly religious perspective. Even Joseph Nicolosi, the “secular scientist” closed his plenary session on male homosexuality saying, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy,” and arguing that “good psychology is compatible with good theology.” Melissa Fryrear’s personal story (known as a “testimony” in evangelical circles, and was labeled as such on Love Won Out’s published agenda) was not so much a clinical struggle to change her sexual feelings as it was an unabashedly emotional religious transformation.
And this appears to really be the only transformation that matters. As the day wore on, it became clear that Love Won Out wasn’t there just to convince us that gays and lesbians needed to become heterosexuals. The goal was actually much, much higher. Mike Haley alluded to it earlier when he described gays and lesbians as “the unwanted harvest.” In his personal testimony that morning, he attributed his “journey out of homosexuality” and, ultimately, his marriage and career to an irrevocable calling from God. Alan Chambers reinforced the religious theme by repeating that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” And throughout the day, everybody thanked the Lord, prayed with and for one another, and supported each other through Scripture and fellowship.
Love Won Out wasn’t a tent revival meeting, nor was it a day-long church service. But it was a day-long series of seminars that were firmly rooted in the theology of evangelical Christianity with Dr. Nicolosi providing scientific cover. As such, the “journey out of homosexuality” isn’t a journey from one sexual orientation to another, it’s a journey toward accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and with that, the faith that with Christ, all things are possible from there, including inclusion in the fourth group.
Those Who “Found Freedom From Homosexuality”
Several of the speakers at Love Won Out placed described themselves as having either “left homosexuality,” “walked away from homosexuality” or having “found freedom from homosexuality” — as if they had been released from prison, as one commenter put it. (My favorite was “walked away”, as if someone had just stepped out for a coffee.) And indeed, the testimonies of those who “found freedom” followed the familiar trajectory of all great salvation stories, of having been lost but now found.
The stories began in the misery of “struggling with homosexuality”, the misery that presumably was a common experience of everyone who “struggles,” including the “gay-identified” — a misery of broken relationships, of drug and alcohol abuse, of sexual abuse and absent fathers or mothers, and a misery of an unrelenting longing for something that is clearly missing from their lives, that their “reparative” impulse was unable to fill.
But at the end of these stories comes triumph. After all, it’s theologically impossible for a story to end otherwise after having put their faith in Jesus Christ. And evidence of that triumph was often found in references to wives and children. As far as the audience was concerned, what better proof is there that they had “left homosexuality behind?” Mike Haley’s testimony closed with a wedding photo and pictures of his beautiful children. (And his children really are adorable. No wonder he’s such a proud husband and father.) Joe Dallas and Alan Chambers also spoke of their wives and families. The only speaker who “left homosexuality” but wasn’t married was Melissa Fryrear. Since she didn’t have any wedding photos or adorable children to talk about, she was reduced to describing what her ideal man would look like — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — while joking, “Is it hot in here?”
And while these speakers mentioned the wives and children that came along after they “found freedom”, they were just as cautious to discourage the idea that anyone should get married to either prove they were no longer gay, or to hasten their “journey out of homosexuality.” Alan Chambers and Melissa Fryrear in particular warned against that during their breakout sessions as they described the dangers this brings to the spouses of “those who struggle with homosexuality.”
And yet, every good story has to have a happy ending. And as far as Love Won Out is concerned, that happy ending comes only after accepting Jesus as Savior, and through that, finding “freedom from homosexuality” — whatever that freedom may mean.
Why “Love Won Out?”
In the end, the dialect of Love Won Out actually served not just one, but two purposes: to separate the gay and lesbian from his or her innate sexuality, and to deliver that person to Christ. Or more accurately, the goal of Love Won Out was to encourage the pastors, teachers, youth group leaders, parents, and other relatives and friends to bring the message of redemption through Christ to their gay and lesbian loved ones, since so few people who were “struggling with homosexuality” were actually there.
From a faith standpoint, this is all well and good. Christ’s Great Commission was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the corners of the earth. It’s hard to expect that a Christian organization would not evangelize, or that they would discourage others from doing so — especially where wayward family members are concerned.
And if an Evangelical Christian was truly struggling with his or her homosexuality, there is, all too often, a stark choice which must be made: to either embark on the long “journey out of homosexuality” and find acceptance in the Evangelical community, or to forsake that community and join the ranks of the “gay-identified.” As far as Love Won Out is concerned, there is no other way.
Life is full of choices, and each choice brings rewards and consequences. We don’t choose our sexuality — everyone at Love Won Out was in full agreement on that. But we do have a choice in how we deal with our sexuality in our daily lives. If someone concluded that the best thing for them was to join an ex-gay ministry to conform their behavior with their religious beliefs, then that is their right.
But most of those who attended Love Won Out weren’t in the position of making that decision. They were there to try to figure out how to convince their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to make that decision. And since their loved ones didn’t appear to be interested in such a decision — most of them weren’t there after all, except for a few teenagers dragged there by their parents — I’m not sure ultimately what useful purpose Love Won Out served, except to offer some sort of hope to the families and friends of gays and lesbians.
But what kind of hope is it? Is it grounded in realistic expectations? Did they get a better perspective on the possibility of change? Did the friends and relatives leave that conference any better equipped than they were when they arrived that morning?
Given Christianity’s mission to proclaim the Truth with a capital “T,” it’s fair to ask how much of these “truths” with a small “t” we learned at Love Won Out are really true. I will explore that some more next week with the meaning of “change”.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
Part 2: “Love Won Out” — Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
February 22nd, 2007
Note: In this essay, I will try to talk about the theories of homosexuality that were presented at Love Won Out. For the time being, I will avoid a detailed critique of these theories. That may come later time. Instead, I want to delve a little deeper into the theme I began in Part One of this series by looking at Love Won Out through the eyes and ears of the parents of gay sons and daughters who attended.
As I describe my conversations with Love Won Out participants, I have changed several important details in order to protect the anonymity of those I talked to. The individuals who talked to me have a right to expect that their stories not be made individually recognizable. Nevertheless, the situations I describe are fully accurate in their substance.
I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Love Won Out ex-gay conferences before I finally attended one in Phoenix on February 10. Some of the awful things I thought I would see, I didn’t. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find some good things to report on, which I promise to tell you about later. There were some moment of thoughtfulness and encouragement which, to me as a gay activist, were surprising.
But there were other things that I didn’t expect to encounter that shook me to my core. And before I can move on to anything, I have to get this out of the way. This is a long essay, but it’s the most important one that I will write about Love Won Out. So, please, I ask for your indulgence on this.
The parents who attended Love Won Out seemed to have a lot of questions. Based on what I heard in the Q&A sessions and in casual conversations, most of these questions revolved around two specific themes: 1) “Why is my child gay?” and 2) “What can I do about it?” The Love Won Out organizers made sure there was plenty of information on hand to answer these questions. This essay will focus on the first question.
The first session of the day was conducted by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). He was there to provide a non-religious and scientific argument that homosexuality is “a developmental problem.” In his address, entitled “The Condition of Male Homosexuality”, he provided his theory of how gay men come into being, a theory based entirely on family dynamics.
Dr. Nicolosi began his talk this way:
Homosexuality is not a sexual problem, it’s a gender identity problem. And this is the foundation of our understanding. Gender identity is one’s sense of oneself as male or female. Homosexuality is not about sex. And homosexual apologists will say it’s only about sex. But rather, we understand homosexuality to be about a person’s sense of himself, about his relationships, about his past hurts, about childhood wounds, self-image, personal shame, and his belief in his ability to establish and sustain relational intimacy.
Homosexual behavior is always — my wife says when you speak publicly you never speak in absolutes, always and never — I’m telling you homosexuality, homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness. It’s not about sex.
He’s barely three minutes into his talk, and already he’s laid out several defining qualities of homosexuality from which he emphatically allows no exceptions. And yet, I knew from my own experience that clearly there were exceptions. He said that “homosexual apologists will say it’s only about sex”, but I had to wonder which “homosexual apologists” he was referring to. While I’m sure somebody somewhere has probably said such a ridiculous thing, I had never heard it. Everyone I’ve heard of speaks it as being about his or her personal sense of self and his relationships. More specifically, it’s about affection, love, and a particular way of caring for and relating with one another.
And when Dr. Nicolosi follows that absolute with another, that the “homosexual impulse is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness”, I’m afraid this leaves a lot of room for doubt. When I see one absolute being absolutely false, I can’t place too terribly much faith in any other absolutes which immediately follow. I guess he should listen to his wife more often.
But that was my reaction. For the parents who attended, the reaction was very different. He was the expert after all, a man whose psychotherapy clinic in Encino “specialized in the treatment of men with unwanted homosexuality” for more than fifteen years. And because he has treated so many men and speaks with such confidence of his clinical experience, the audience hung onto his every word. He couldn’t have been more convincing if he had channeled Freud himself and spoken with an Austrian accent.
Dr. Nicolosi described the “pre-homosexual” child’s development in terms familiar to anyone who has read classic Freudian theory. He began with the first eighteen months of a child’s life, during the “androgynous phase,” in which the child is unaware of differences in gender. During this phase, he is naturally closely bonded with his mother. Then, at about the age of eighteen months to three years of age, the child enters what Nicolosi called the “Gender Identity Phase.” Here, the child acquires language, and with that a greater awareness of the world around him, which includes differences between male and female. At this stage, the child, who already has a close with his mother, is now supposed to recognize that he is a boy and that Dad is a boy, and that Dad is supposed to become the masculine role model for the little boy. When this “dis-identifying” with the mother and the identification with the father takes place, a heterosexual man is the guaranteed result.
But if his father is cold, rejecting, weak, or physically or emotionally unavailable, or conversely, if his mother is overprotective, domineering, or shows disdain for the father, that boy may not detach from his mother and identify with his father. If that happens, if the boy doesn’t identify with his father, he’ll experience what is called a “narcissistic hurt.” And this leads to all sorts of things:
And that’s why we see narcissism in the male homosexual. Narcissism is a preoccupation with oneself. It’s a high sensitivity to being hurt, being rejected, sensitized to people not liking me. It’s a defensive posture, what we call a shame posture. This boy was shamed for his masculine strivings, and so he abandons his masculine strivings.
…And that narcissistic injury produces an adult, a homosexually-oriented adult, who is cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective — that is what we call the shame posture. If men get to see me they’re not going to like me. There’s something inferior about me.
All of this is because the father did not bond with his boy. Either that or the mother wouldn’t let him. I began to wonder how the parents in the audience were taking all of this. I didn’t have to wonder very long, because that’s when Dr. Nicolosi let loose with this broadside.
We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.
With that, a very painful groan rose from the audience. This was probably the second-most effective line delivered that day (I’ll get to the most effective one in just a little bit). I looked around and saw heads shaking, couples looking at each other, and a general sense of horror filled the room. My cheeks flushed as I wondered how many of those groans came from fathers and mothers themselves who made up a sizeable chunk of the audience.
Nicolosi threw in several more absolutes as he went along. And with each absolute that he conveyed with such clinical certainty, his credibility seemed to grow with this audience. In the end, it would be the absolutes that everyone would remember:
If there is an older brother, Freud said a hundred years ago, if a homosexual has an older brother, it’s a feared, hostile relationship. I have never seen an exception to that. I have never met a client who is dealing with homosexuality who had a salient older brother.
The guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men. When he begins to trust men, his homosexuality disappears.
His cold, clinical descriptions of homosexuality, while alien to much of what I know to be true in my life, seemed to resonate with everyone else in that audience. After all, it matched everything else they had heard from their pastors and moral leaders. What’s more, it matched some of the more personal memories that every parent has about raising their children. What father cannot say he wished he could have spent more quality time with his son? What mother could say she was never overprotective or overly assertive? This is the story of every parent.
As I sat there listening to his lecture, I was reminded of that old joke about person A saying something terrible about person B, when person B speaks up and says, “Hey you do realize I’m in the room, don’t you?” These parents were right there as Nicolosi talked about how their failures produced a “Gender Identity Deficit” in their son, and that drove their son to be hugged by another man.
Later that morning, Melissa Fryrear, a gender issues analyst at Focus on the Family and a regional representative for Exodus International, spoke on the causes of female homosexuality. It’s odd that she would present a talk that was intended to be the female counterpart to Nicolosi’s clinical descriptions of male homosexuality. I say it’s odd because she doesn’t have a degree in psychology or the social sciences. Her degree is in Divinity. But nobody in the audience seemed to mind or even notice. Her credentials as an expert were accepted just as readily as Nicolosi’s, and because her talk was considerably warmer and more sympathetic to the parents, they seemed to take her messages more to heart, according on conversations that I had afterwards.
Her presentation was also somewhat more chaotic than Dr. Nicolosi’s “Maybe because women, we tend to be complex sometimes,” she explained. But her Freudian explanation for lesbianism was similar to Nicolosi’s, except here it was the mother who was cold and distant, while the father was stern, frightening, or even abusive. Unless, of course, the mother was exceptionally close and had a “best friends” relationship with her daughter and the father was distant. Fryrear’s mix of causes for female homosexuality was a Mulligan’s Stew of many different factors: lesbian chic, fashion, peer pressure, feminism, sexual abuse — the list was very long and occasionally contradictory.
But in very stark contrast to Dr. Nicolosi’s talk, Fryrear’s was much more sensitive to not blaming the parents for their child’s homosexuality. She peppered her talk with reassurances like this:
And I want to visit specifically with Moms and Dads, that if you have a daughter who is struggling with lesbianism, that you’re not to blame for her particular struggle. … Those of you that have children, and have especially more than one child, you know that your children are unique and their perception of the world and how they take the world in, their perception of themselves and you and the family dynamics. You know as parents that one thing you cannot control in your child’s life is his or her perception.
I don’t know what’s worse, parents blaming themselves or blaming their child’s “perceptions”. I later heard both, and it appeared that the parents who internalized the message about perceptions had a calmer sense of “what happened.” They didn’t appear as personally burdened as those who hadn’t internalized the message. In that context at least, her reassurances were a blessing. But as long as these parents are encouraged by self-described experts to look for something that “went wrong,” they will — either in themselves or in their child. There was a lot of that going on throughout the day, an activity that I can’t imagine to be very productive or healthy. I also can’t imagine it contributing very much towards family reconciliation.
But if parents found some comfort in the idea that it wasn’t all their fault, that comfort was rocked by another “cause” of homosexuality that Melissa Fryrear spoke about. Remember when I mentioned Nicolosi’s second-most effective sound-bite of the day? Melissa Fryrear came up with the grand prize:
I can draw anecdotally from having been a part of an Exodus member ministry for almost a decade, and in those years having met hundreds of women with this struggle, I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life. [Emphasis mine.]
The audience sat in stunned silence as Fryrear, her voice shaking, went on to talk about sexual abuse in greater detail. She later described her own sexual abuse as a child, and her talk had just followed a testimony by Mike Haley in which he described having sex with another older man beginning at the age of eleven. As far as this audience knew, there were no exceptions. This went a long way toward reinforcing Nicolosi’s admonition, “if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.”
So this is the point where I have to stop describing all of the so-called “causes” of homosexuality. Enough is enough. And I’ll save the examination of the social science literature for another day. There’s something much more important here that I need to get out of the way — and off my chest.
I said earlier that parents’ questions could be grouped into two themes: Why, and what do I do? I’ve described just a few of the lectures and breakout sessions which focused on the “why”, on what when wrong in the child’s life and what (and sometimes who) was to blame for that child’s homosexuality. The conference speakers were very clear: there is no biological basis for homosexuality whatsoever. Instead, they offered as a variable this uncontrollable built-in quality in the child called “temperament”, a “temperament” which helped to form the child’s “perceptions.”
This “temperament, when explained in more detail, sounded suspiciously like some sort of an in-born quality or trait that was somehow intrinsic to the child. And even though this can have a biological or an otherwise in-born basis, the conference speakers were clear in repeatedly conveying another absolute: there was no biological basis for homosexuality. (There was one exception. Mike Haley, during a Q&A breakout session attended by about a fifth of the participants, allowed that there may be a combination of biology in the form of “temperament” and developmental forces coming together. But he was otherwise dismissive of biology playing a role.)
So that pretty much left the fathers and mothers at the center of all of these discussions of “what went wrong.” While I heard some parents blame themselves, at least a few were able to “blame” their child’s “false perceptions” of them as a bad mother or a bad father.
But when Melissa Fryrear spoke so forcefully that she had never met a lesbian or a gay man who did not have some sort of experience with sexual abuse, that message would become a much-repeated refrain in conversations later that day.
It’s not fair to say that the parents and relatives were rife with suspicions, but I was surprised at the number of suspicions that did come up — and the circumstantial nature of the “evidence” which prompted many of them. I heard ex-boyfriends and babysitters suddenly come under suspicion where there had been none before. It seemed as if many of these relatives, taking Melissa Fryrear at her word, turned several possibilities over in their minds — dismissing some, but holding others for future consideration.
Sometimes, these suspicions got the better of them. Before that day, it had never even occurred to one mother that her son might have been molested. Now after Fryrear’s talk, she was momentarily certain of it. “There’s no other explanation!” she exclaimed. But as she thought about it, she remembered that she had no reason to suspect this, and that the only “evidence” she had was Fryrear’s statement. She was finally able to calm herself down after those around her reassured her that it probably didn’t happen.
Besides, she already had so many other reasons to think about for her son being gay. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that this mother’s burden was unnecessarily heavier now. Her long list of things she heard experts describe that “went wrong” in her son’s life — a list that she already blamed herself for as a mother — was now longer because of a hideous crime for which there is no reason to suspect to have happened in the first place.
Child sexual abuse, as we well know, is an all-too-tragic reality in our society. Those who have gone through it know the pain and terrible toll that it exacts on the child, especially in his or her ability to trust another human being. And every parent of a violated son or daughter goes through a period of tremendous guilt and shame over their “failure” to protect their little boy or girl. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish that these parents must feel.
But I saw at least one parent at Love Won Out feel that same anguish for the first time. And afterwards, I felt as if I was carrying a lead weight around in the pit of my stomach for the rest of the day. I wondered what sort of conversations would be taking place the next time these parents talked to their sons and daughters (those who were on speaking terms, anyway, as most of them were.)
And I wondered whether these parents would even believe their children when they deny having been molested. After all, they had heard the “experts” describe gays and lesbians as having been universally abused. And according to these “experts”, this made them “cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective” and incapable of being honest with their feelings. This is a terrible setup for dialogue and familial reconciliation.
And I also wondered how many coaches, teachers, boy scout leaders, and neighbors fell under an unwarranted cloud of suspicion, all because Melissa Fryrear said she never met a lesbian or a gay man who had not been abused or threatened. There was tremendous cruelty in the “nevers” and the “always” that were thrown around with such ease at the conference. It’s a cruelty that these parents didn’t deserve. And what’s more, this cruelty is without merit. I will talk more about that in a later post.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”
September 1st, 2006
The wide-ranging condemnations of Dr. Joseph Berger, the NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member who recommended “ridicule” as an effective treatment for young children with variant sexual identity and expression, has had an effect. Warren Throckmorten notes that not only has Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, President of NARTH disavowed Dr. Berger’s advice, NARTH pulled the offending post from their blog and offers this statement:
We have pulled the discussion on gender variant children in Oakland. The article contained comments that were deemed offensive to many readers and failed to accurately express the overall views of the physician who expressed them.
We apologize for publishing the article without getting proper clarifications first about how children with gender identity disorders should be treated by parents, teachers, and counselors.
NARTH President Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D. has issued the following statement related to gender variant children and remarks made by Dr. Joseph Berger:
“NARTH disagrees with Dr. Berger’s advice as we believe shaming, as distinct from correcting, can only create greater harm. Too many of our clients experienced the often life-long, harmful effects of peer shaming. We cannot encourage this.”
I think that a lot of this is nonsense and is being pushed by people who have an agenda to disrupt society in order to further some perverted goals such as the acceptance of pedophilia, and, of course, the attempted “normalization” of homosexuality.
From a medical/scientific perspective, the notion of a child of five being “transgendered” is absolute garbage. This is a child wanting attention and wanting to play “dress-up,” with an added layer of unhappiness.
That essentially is the issue for most of these children. They are unhappy. They don’t have a “biological” based “gender identity disorder.” They are unhappy; they have an envy of certain aspects of the opposite sex role — and wish to pursuit it for as long as they can.
Tolerant parents, tolerant schools, tolerant societies, might let them get away with it. No one should be surprised that avant-garde California or sun-drenched Florida should be places where the tolerance is highest.
The notion that a person is really someone of the opposite sex “trapped in the wrong body” is poetic stupidity. It doesn’t exist in reality. A person wishing to change their external manifestations to appear to be a person of the opposite sex is someone very unhappy with being their “real” sex and/or believing in some idealized fantasy of how much better it is to be of the opposite sex.
We don’t treat distorted fantasies with mutilating surgery.
Here in cold Canada, I often talk with mothers of small children who routinely complain about how difficult it is to get their children dressed in the winter in the multiple layers of clothing they need to go off to school. I suggest to them that they make it clear to their children that they will leave home — or that the school bus will come — at such-and-such time, and they will go whether they are ready or not. I suggest that going just one day in their pajamas or underwear will be enough to “cure” them of their procrastination.
I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex — but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.
On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.
It is a mistake for various interfering, ignorant, and biased busybodies to try to “counsel” the other children into accepting the abnormal. It is very healthy to be able to draw the line between what is healthy and what is sick.
I am sure that if we looked carefully, we could find some significant personal issues and aberrations in the parents of these children. These children don’t have such problems without there having been some groundwork laid by their parents in some way.
Dr Joseph Berger, FRCP, DABPN, DLFAPA
No word yet on whether NARTH intends to maintain Dr. Berger’s position on their advisory committee. It seems that following his advice can lead to a lot of hot water.