You may or may not be aware of the dramatic turn of events at a major intersection of psychiatry, religion, and culture. Truth be told, plenty of complaints were registered asking for a stop sign at that specific intersection, but no one heeded the warning. And like a skunk loosed in an elevator, everyone was sprayed. “Bless me father, but I can’t change…”
Reparative therapies, sometimes referred to (and that would be limited to unscrupulous attempts to deceive) as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), are the manufactured efforts of religious “clinicians” to assist homosexuals “in conflict” with their perceived sexual orientation, to change; to “reorient” themselves as heterosexuals. Most importantly, they claim a significant success with these therapies. While I will return to this, I have always felt the accusation that homosexuals “recruiting” our young into their ranks because they themselves cannot “reproduce” – and thereby establishing that sexual orientation is a learned, and perhaps “coerced” behaviour – would promote an amicable, technical collaboration between sides: those who teach “to be” might occasionally be willing to assist those who teach “not to be.” Once the numbers have been met on both sides.
I have written extensively my thoughts regarding homosexuality – thought it would seem equally fair to say I have written more extensively on what I have not thought – and I may re-post those thoughts here. But for purposes purely historical and to provide context, I will note that the longest held modern theories of the etiology of homosexuality rest in an extensive psychoanalytic system provided by you-know-whom, and are summarized in a single word: parents. Specifically, a mother with a lack of appropriate emotional boundary – the invasive and humiliating “mother in the sky” of Woody Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks” in NY Stories, and the mother of renowned Standford Professor Irvin D. Yalom, MD’s Momma and the Meaning of Life; coupled with a cold, emotionally distant, and detached father. All told, it is not a sexual problem, but a psycho-attachment mashup of Harry Chapin and John Mayer. And, in the fullness of time, homosexuality found itself included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders One , the playbook/“paybook” of the American Psychiatric Association until 1973, until Robert Spitzer, MD.
Robert Spitzer is an eminent retired Professor of Psychiatry from Columbia University, influential, often-quoted, and well-respected. In 1973, Spitzer led the committee responsible for revising the DSM, and is generally credited for leading the movement to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder by coining a concept “ego-dystonic homosexuality” 1 While it should be noted that this decision of the American Psychiatric Association has been the source of a rich and often aggressive dissension – the intersection I described above – it is not particularly pertinent to my discussion, other than to appreciate the drama that is Dr. Spitzer.
On May 9, 2001, a preliminarily report of a study entitled, “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” was presented at the annual meeting of the APA being held in New Orleans. What was newsworthy was not the topic, but who delivered it: Robert Spitzer. Conclusion: “This study provides evidence that some gay men and lesbians are able to also change the core features of sexual orientation.” This was a “bombshell” in that while it was not unusual to claim success in behavioural therapies – which Spitzer later referred to as “controlling their homosexual behaviour, which made it possible for them to live more in tune with their own value system” 2 – Spitzer was reporting actual change in attraction, arousal, and fantasy. For practitioners of Reparative/SOCE therapies, this was like waking up to Christmas morning, your birthday, the last day of school, and your first kiss (with whomever) all rolled into one, and they utilized it as a hundred times its weight in gold.
Spitzer did not actually publish the study until October, 2003, in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, at the time edited by his friend, KJ Zucker, himself an acknowledged expert in the area of Gender Dysphoria. Oddly, the paper was not “refereed” in the traditional sense (distributing submissions anonymously to qualified researchers who, quite literally, dismantle in search of methodological error, demanding clarification and/or correction, often repeatedly, before it would ever see the light of publication), but Zucker chose to attach twenty-six detailed “comments” – most harsh, some brutally so – focusing on faulty methodology: lack of any control group, but much more importantly, two years after the last face-to-face contact, Spitzer was relying solely on the “truthfulness” of a patient’s self-report in a single 45-minute phone interview. Given the enormity of the potential impact of the study findings, as well as the weight of the reputation of the investigator, I found this quite amazing. Apparently in the time between delivering his preliminary report and actually publishing, Spitzer appears to have heard the rumble:
NEXT: What else can I be? All apologies.
- Distinct from a disorder being “ego-systonic,” where there is no conscious acknowledgment of conflict e.g. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is distinguished from Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder in that the former is a conscious source of distress. If you are distressed over your homosexuality, you’re out of the book, and good to go. ↩
- Video interview attributed to W. Throckmorton dated 2004 ↩
- Spitzer, RL. Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003, p. 412 ↩