SPLC Sues Conversion Therapy Provider

11.29.2012, 9:00 AM

“People who are told repeatedly that they are innately defective are being abused and traumatized. The cost of conversion therapy to gay men and lesbians may be nothing less than emotional devastation. They may spend years recovering from the trauma inflicted upon them.” -Laura Booker, LCSW

Booker was quoted in a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) article announcing that the SPLC has filed a lawsuit charging Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) of violating New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act for providing “conversion therapy” to lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients.

The SPLC’s complaint, which can be found here (PDF), details the bases of conversion therapy and methods purported to prevent and cure homosexuality including having boys shower with their fathers, having boys beat a pillow “meant to represent the patient’s mother,” having clients removing their clothing during individual and group therapy sessions, cuddling others of the same sex, and being “subjected to ridicule as ‘faggots’ and ‘homos’ in mock locker room and gym class scenarios.”

One of the plaintiffs, a former client, alleges that he suffered depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and other emotional harm both as a result of the therapy itself and when he was subsequently unable to change his sexual orientation after using these services.

In addition to restitution to the plaintiffs, SPLC is requesting the revocation of JONAH’s business license.

I’m posting this here because, as we discuss what it means to be “anti-gay” and to believe (and spread the word) that homosexuality is immoral, defective, and/or disordered, I urge folks to contemplate the quote at the beginning of this piece.


50 Responses to “SPLC Sues Conversion Therapy Provider”

  1. Matthew Kaal says:

    Fannie,

    I appreciate this, our discussions do need to be grounded in the reality that we are talking about the life experiences and beliefs of millions of our neighbors, and they are each uniquely valuable and worthy of dignity and love. It always bears repeating, so thanks for that.

    I do want to say though, I don’t recall anyone on this blog, even those who might be labeled “anti-gay” as it is broadly defined, supporting or endorsing the sort of fraudulent, vile, and destructive practices of groups like JONAH. That is because this sort of thing is unequivocally monstrous.

    This is why I think it is important to continue clarifying our definitions of key terms, because no one who regularly participates at this blog sees anything redemptive about Goldberg’s work, nor deserves to be associated with it, and bringing it into the discussion might derail what is turning into a productive conversation over at David’s post.

  2. Mont D. Law says:

    I do think that it’s important to discuss this sort of thing because people who defend conversion therapy also claim they are not anti-gay. When every one who opposes equality for gay people makes the identical claim it is worth while exploring the limits of that claim. It is particularly relevant because politically the behavior of these different groups is identical.

  3. fannie says:

    Matthew,

    I’m not understanding your defensive reaction to my post.

    I haven’t said that anyone “on this blog” supports, endorses, or is associated with JONAH’s work.

    What I do think is that various anti-gay beliefs exist along a spectrum and that powerful voices regularly telling people that homosexuality is immoral exists along the same spectrum as a therapist telling a client that homosexuality is defective. Lots of gay people have been telling religious folks especially that it’s hurtful when they tell us that we (or our actions) are immoral/sinful. And, that doesn’t really seem to get us anywhere. The stock responses seem to be “no, we think everyone is immoral” (which also seems to be somewhat… not healthy to tell people either), or “no, we love you, we just don’t like what you do.”

    Yet, many gay people don’t neatly compartmentalize our homosexuality from our identities in the way that some religious people seem to compartmentalize gay sex from the person who engages in it. So, when I hear over and over and over and over and over again, from clergy, from politicians, from blog commenters, from family members, and from anti-gay advocates that my behavior is wrong…. well, my plea at the end of my post was for people to contemplate the effect that might have on a person and to think about the consequences words have.

    That doesn’t strike me as a particularly contentious or unfair suggestion. You seem to be hurt or offended by this suggestion but, honestly, I’m not capable right now of offering you an apology that would be in any way sincere. So I won’t do you the discourtesy of offering a “sorry, but” non-apology apology.

    Secondly, what I’m wondering is how you know for a fact that “no one who regularly participates at this blog sees anything redemptive about Goldberg’s work, nor deserves to be associated with it.”

    Have you taken a poll on how people feel about the matter? Are you referring to bloggers here? To commenters?

    I don’t know, Matthew. You accuse me of associating folks here with Goldberg’s work, and then you make a pretty sweeping claim, without support, of how other people think and feel about Goldberg’s work.

    In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I think we should let other people speak for themselves on the matter. I’m inclined to believe the best about people, but I’m also inclined to remain agnostic about knowing what other people believe until I actually know what other people believe. Maybe, as a gay person, I have a different self-defense mechanism than you do when it comes to stuff like this.

  4. nobody.really says:

    Interesting. However, let’s distinguish between 1) expressing animus/distaste toward homosexuals and/or homosexuality, and 2) fraud.

    The legal issue, as far as I can tell, is simple fraud: JONAH can’t deliver on what they promise. The treatment that JONAH subjects people to only becomes relevant to the issue of damages. In essence, the degrading treatment is part of the price clients are asked to pay, and JONAH may be expected to reimburse clients for these costs.

    That said, expressions of animus/distaste are mostly protected free speech/free religion. While SPLC says that “JONAH profits off of shameful and dangerous attempts to fix something that isn’t broken,” for most purposes, what is or is not “broken” is a matter of personal choice/conviction, not a matter that a court can rule upon.

    If JONAH could actually deliver on their promise, and if JONAH had a bona fide basis to believe that the degrading treatment was a part of delivering the promise, I don’t know that there would be any basis for the suit. (Ok, maybe someone could make a credible claim against JONAH for discrimination against a suspect class? Or hostile work environment…?)

    In short, freedom of religion = freedom to hate. Freedom of speech = freedom to teach hateful things. Fraud, not hate, is the legal issue here.

  5. annajcook says:

    I do want to say though, I don’t recall anyone on this blog, even those who might be labeled “anti-gay” as it is broadly defined, supporting or endorsing the sort of fraudulent, vile, and destructive practices of groups like JONAH.

    I won’t speak for fannie here, Matthew, but I would argue that things are more complicated than “do you or do you not support aversion therapy for queer people?” The point is that whenever ANY of us use language or frame issues in ways that conceptualize homosexuality (as an identity or orientation) and homosexual sexual activity (as a practice) as “other” — as lesser, sick, disordered, sinful, etc. — we are contributing to a toxic culture wherein groups like JONAH thrive.

    Sometimes we do so without meaning to, because those associations of homosexuality with criminality or pathology are built into the very framework of our legal practices, our public health models, our theology, our sex education curriculums, our mental health teachings, our notions of citizenship, and so forth. But even when we don’t mean to draw on those prejudices and stereotypes, we are still culpable as contributors to a culture that enables such abuse to take place.

  6. Bregalad says:

    Thank you, Fannie.

    I also second Matthew.

  7. Matthew Kaal says:

    Fannie

    I haven’t said that anyone “on this blog” supports, endorses, or is associated with JONAH’s work.

    no, you haven’t, I just wanted to clarify that so that no one reading your post who is unfamiliar with the blog would think it either, because it wouldn’t be true. I did not mean to come off as offended (I wasn’t) or defensive, that is not the tone in which I was writing.

    I’m working on a response to your comment over on David’s post about definitions, I hope to get it up sometime today.

  8. Schroeder says:

    Hi Fannie,

    I’m keeping out of this particular discussion, but – just by way of being a referee – I think Matthew had in mind your last paragraph:

    “I’m posting this here because, as we discuss what it means to be ‘anti-gay’ and to believe (and spread the word) that homosexuality is immoral, defective, and/or disordered, I urge folks to contemplate the quote at the beginning of this piece.”

    when he responded to you.

    In that paragraph, it sounds like you are suggesting that this piece is directly relevant to the specific conversation about what it means to be “anti-gay” going on at David’s post.

    Maybe that’s not what you were suggesting, but I think it’s what Matthew inferred. Hence, his response.

  9. Bruce says:

    I don’t know R.R. Reno’s position on conversion therapy, but I don’t see any difference between the ideas expressed in his essay that has been highlighted here recently and that of the JONAH people. So I think Matthew Kaal’s statement that no one associated with this blog should be associated with conversion therapy is a bit of a stretch. The Roman Catholic Church sponsors a group called Courage which supposedly uses a 12-step program to help people “treat” their homosexuality as though it were an addiction. I don’t think that is too much different from conversion therapy: while it doesn’t emphasize conversion, it treats homosexuality as a pathological addiction. In my book, all these programs are frauds.

  10. Victor says:

    Hi, Matthew,

    Are you sure you can speak for every blogger here? Ms. Gallagher earlier this year denied on MSNBC that she supported conversion therapy, only to be followed up with a quote from her own 2001 column, where she even goes as far as to call for more federal research funding for conversion therapy studies. As far as I know, Ms. Gallagher has not publicly changed her views other than to deny the allegations.

    Here are the two segments (the first one has Ms. Gallagher denying the charge that she ever supported conversion therapy and the second one has someone reading her quote): http://www.thenation.com/blog/166218/w-chris-hayes-richard-kim-challenges-noms-maggie-gallagher-her-support-ex-gay-therapy#

    And here is a link to the 2001 article itself: http://townhall.com/columnists/maggiegallagher/2001/05/10/fixing_sexual_orientation/page/full/

  11. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the links, Victor. Interesting that Maggie Gallagher applauded Robert Spitzer in 2001 as a “brave man.” I wonder what she thought of him earlier this year when he apologized for the study Gallagher likes and admitted its lack of any scientific validity. The junk science on which conversion therapy rests has done irreparable damage to people. I cannot get the victims of the “sissy boy” experiments at UCLA in the early 70s that George Rekers participated in out of my mind. His touted “success” story committed suicide yet Rekers was still citing him as proof that conversion therapy works.

  12. Kevin says:

    “That said, expressions of animus/distaste are mostly protected free speech/free religion. While SPLC says that “JONAH profits off of shameful and dangerous attempts to fix something that isn’t broken,” for most purposes, what is or is not “broken” is a matter of personal choice/conviction, not a matter that a court can rule upon.”

    I don’t think it’s that simple, Nobody.

    It is an absurd notion that there’s something wrong with being gay or lesbian, whether based on a religious texts or personal animus. It is therefore an equally absurd notion that gay or lesbian people need to be fixed, even if the reparative therapy is voluntarily undergone. A therapist is perpetrating fraud, not just because there’s no need to change, but because he’s advocating a false medical premise. This is not a case of a private individual expressing moral disapproval or personal distaste; it’s a case of a health care professional (or someone masquerading as a medical professional or therapist) expressing a diagnosis.

    The fraud is not the treatment alone but the notion that treatment is necessary. It is not free speech when a health care provider formulates a false diagnosis. It is medical malpractice. Both declaring a non-ailment as an ailment, and then pretending to treat it it’s a disorder violates a basic medial ethic to “first, do no harm,” given the documented harms gay and lesbian people suffer because of institutionalized notions of their defectiveness. Any reputable therapist, if confronted with a gay patient who seeks to change, will nearly always frame treatment on the basis of coming to terms with being gay, rather than changing what can’t and shouldn’t be changed.

    Gay and lesbian people suffer harm when authority figures, whether it’s a sociology professor in Texas drawing fake conclusions about gay parents, or therapist advocates treating something that’s not an ailment. The anti-gay industry has taken to co-opting valued institutions of truth, such as academia and medicine, in order to gain traction for what are otherwise personal beliefs. It makes for more effective propaganda. We should be violently opposed to it, and not casually dismiss it as the exercise of free speech. Claims of free speech can be, and are, curtailed when they intend to harm or have the intent of harming.

    That said, sure, there’s room for the medical community to advocate cosmetic surgery, that is, stuff that’s medically unnecessary. But that’s different, because, one, being gay is not cosmetic or superficial, it’s a part of who someone is. And two, even cosmetic surgery requires the surgeon investigate the patient’s state of mind before proceeding, to avoid applying a cosmetic solution to a much graver problem, such as a husband threatening to divorce his wife unless she buys larger breasts. There’s no evidence the gay reparative therapist proceeds with similar caution by questioning the patient’s motivations, or that they turn away patients seeking to change for the wrong reasons. Because they believe that being gay is an ailment that requires treatment, no further information is deemed necessary.

    So, no, this is not a case of free speech, not when it’s a medical authority advocating an unnecessary medical or therapeutic procedure. This is at least as offensive as a state government requiring an unnecessary ultrasound before a pregnant woman gets an abortion. There the purpose is to humiliate and create shame; with gay reparative therapy, the shame is already there, ripe for exploitation, evidently by employing a heaping helping of humiliation!

  13. Diane M says:

    That sound like some pretty clearly abusive therapy practices. I hope they get their license revoked fast.

  14. Diane M says:

    @nobody.really:

    “If JONAH could actually deliver on their promise, and if JONAH had a bona fide basis to believe that the degrading treatment was a part of delivering the promise, I don’t know that there would be any basis for the suit.”

    I think there would. Degrading or abusive treatment is the kind of thing that can get a therapist’s license revoked. It might even get you in jail. I suspect that one of the problems is that the victims of abusive therapy are too embarrassed to come forward.

    I can’t help wondering if someone running the programs was truly sick themselves.

  15. fannie says:

    Kevin:

    “Both declaring a non-ailment as an ailment, and then pretending to treat it it’s a disorder violates a basic medial ethic to ‘first, do no harm,’ given the documented harms gay and lesbian people suffer because of institutionalized notions of their defectiveness.”

    Relatedly, I’d like to point out that many people believe that the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was an act of “political correctness” due to the pressures of the “homosexual lobby,” and that homosexuality is actually “still” a mental disorder.

    A few years back I got into a conversation with some folks at a now-defunct anti-gay “Digitial Network Army” blog (google that term, it was a supposedly “grassroots” blogging network whose bloggers were united in their opposition to same-sex marriage). These folks believed they were perfectly loving people (and “respectful”), they just thought homosexuality was a pathology that should still be in the DSM. I even got the you’re-welcome-here-it’s-just-your-behavior-that’s-offensive treatment.

    Despite being an incredibly offensive, condescending conversation to partake in as a lesbian, I also knew that uttering the b-word (bigot) or calling these people out in any way would have gotten my commentary banned, and that they would see me as an aggressor who was out to be mean to them. (Yes yes, call that uncharitable if you will, I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how such conversations tend to go).

    I link to this conversation not only because I’ve analyzed it at my own blog in the past, but because I wonder if people who aren’t gay, who don’t live through these micro- and macro-aggressions, understand the lived experience and realities that gay people endure on a day to day basis. If we want to participate in conversations other people are having about our morality, basic goodness, and/or mental health, we are often expected to be very polite in the face of incredible offense. If you read through the entire conversation (not that I expect anyone to!), you can see that I’m being perhaps overly-polite to these people, as they take it for granted that the alleged “abnormality” of homosexuality is a Totally Fine conversation topic to pose.

    Asking us to not call beliefs anti-gay that we believe are anti-gay is, I think, asking too much. And, I think many people who hold anti-gay beliefs are not all that mindful of how their repeated, insistent statements that homosexuality (as either a practice or identity) is abnormal, sinful, or wrong can take a real psychological toll on people even if these same folks aren’t, say, telling people to beat effigies of their mothers with tennis rackets.

    Like I said, I wouldn’t categorize all people who hold anti-gay beliefs as being like these JONAH folks, but I do think a belief that homosexuality is abnormal, sinful, or wrong does exist along the same spectrum. The difference is one of degree, not substance.

    In my experience, the view that there’s little to nothing problematic about telling gay people that our actions are pathological, unnatural, or sinful is not rare. Not only is it not rare, people espousing this belief often simultaneously tell us that this belief is the absolute moral truth.

    This belief is a key basis for the existence of conversion therapy. As offended as some people might be at any associations between their own anti-gay or anti-gay-sex views they hold and JONAH, it would be extremely difficult for me to apologize in a sincere manner for making any implied connections.

  16. As I read Fannie’s post, the point was not that anyone here is engaged in JONAH’s behavior, or that any particular person here would approve of JONAH. Rather, it is that the opening quote –

    “People who are told repeatedly that they are innately defective are being abused and traumatized. The cost of conversion therapy to gay men and lesbians may be nothing less than emotional devastation. They may spend years recovering from the trauma inflicted upon them.”

    - is applicable to any useful definition of “anti-gay.” Raising people in the certain knowledge that they are broken, even when done with compassionate intentions, is hurtful and abusive. When done to lgb people, it is anti-gay.

    I think one of the basic issues underlying defining “anti-gay” is, whose views are we centering? Are we centering the views of heterosexuals who don’t want to have their own views defined as “anti-gay”? Or are we centering the views of lgb people who want the things that systematically harm them defined as “anti-gay”?

    P.S. It’s not relevant to this discussion thread, but my father’s last lecture at his synagogue was on interpreting the story of Jonah and the whale, which is an interesting and complex story, and one that (my father argued) teaches us to avoid xenophobia. Not at all happy with these people using (abusing) the story in this way.

  17. P.P.S. I’m pretty sure what I said about “centering” is a rephrasing of something that Fannie said on the other thread, which I thought was important enough to repeat. Sorry for not mentioning that.

  18. Bruce says:

    Fannie is so right when she says, “If we want to participate in conversations other people are having about our morality, basic goodness, and/or mental health, we are often expected to be very polite in the face of incredible offense.”

    But we should stop playing that game. I like Dan Savage’s in-your-face approach, though I realize it is difficult in face-to-face conversations. I think that is why he is much more effective in his speeches and videos calling out bigotry than he was in his “coffee-table” debate with Brian Brown. Face to face, he had to be too polite. He won the debate, but he sacrificed some effectiveness by pulling his punches.

    Of course, we should all strive to be kind to each other. The problem is that opponents of gay rights (particularly those whose views are shaped by religious convictions that homosexual acts/persons are immoral) operate from a world view that gives them permission to be very impolite to homosexuals while expecting homosexuals to treat them with kid gloves. Hence, we have the meme that Christians have adopted recently that *they* are victimized whenever gay people achieve a status approaching equality. They actually believe that when someone like Dan Savage fights back by calling them names that they are being bullied even though they are the ones who struck the first blow.

  19. [...] The context is a lawsuit against a Jewish agency that claims to cure gayness, but I think the quote is applicable widely, to all sorts of marginalized people. For example, I don’t think it’s possible to understand the scope of the harm anti-fat ideology does to fat people without considering the issues brought up by this quote. [...]

  20. annajcook says:

    I’d like to point out that many people believe that the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was an act of “political correctness” due to the pressures of the “homosexual lobby,” and that homosexuality is actually “still” a mental disorder.

    As an historian, I wanted to point toward Margot Canaday’s recent (and excellent) monograph The Straight State which looks at the construction of homosexuality as pathology in relation to the construction of citizenship as something that is (or should be) rightly “straight” or heterosexual. Her historical explorations draw on records related to the military, immigration, and welfare policy throughout the 20th century and her argument about the addition of homosexuality as a disorder to the DSM is that it happened in part from pressure by the military to have a mechanism for screening suspected homosexuals out of military service during and immediately after the Second World War.

    In other words, one could argue that adding homosexuality to the list of psychological disorders had political motivations based on anti-gay sentiment in the culture at large and the military particularly, and removing that diagnosis from the DSM corrected a (relatively short) period of unprofessional classification.

    I really encourage anyone interested in how pervasive hetero-centric conceptions of citizenship and family are — so pervasive we don’t actually think of them as “anti-gay” because they’re simply how our legal-social framework has been constructed during our lifetimes — to check out Canaday’s work.

  21. fannie says:

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for the link, I will definitely read that.

    It’s really frustrating to engage with people who believe that the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was an act of “political correctness.” They take it for granted that homosexuality is a disorder and don’t seem to question how it got put into the DSM in the first place.

    Also, one of my majors in undergrad was psychology- not that I think that makes me an expert, but I do remember always being struck by the…. wishy-washy nature of some of the “disorders” placed into the DSM. If I could go back and do grad school over again, I think it could have been interesting to study how gender stereotypes (and various biases of psychologists) might influence what is seen as a disorder.

    Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl is a fascinating read (if you haven’t already read it), of how transgenderism and transexuality have been pathologized in various ways throughout US history. One example that comes to mind is when she discusses how, historically, a psychologist wouldn’t sign off on a trans woman’s gender transition unless she transitioned in concordance with the psychologist’s (who, back then, was almost always a man) conception of how a “real” woman looks and acts- which was usually very stereotypically feminine, and heterosexual.

    Also, Barry- thanks for chiming in here. Much appreciated.

  22. annajcook says:

    @fannie, yes! I adore Whipping Girl and really credit it with opening my eyes to the way I was thinking and acting in anti-trans and transphobic ways. It was a hard read for that reason, but a really important wake-up call for me as a cis, queer feminist who was trying to be a better friend and ally to my trans* acquaintances.

    * * *

    This thread and the other discussions here at Family Scholars on the topic of anti-gay sentiment and action have been really difficult (although rewarding in some ways) for me as a bisexual woman. On the one hand, I have rarely been the direct target of anti-gay abuse or distaste — in part because I’ve only been visibly queer (in a same-sex relationship; identifying as bisexual/fluid) for the past five years. On the other, falling in love with a woman and reckoning with my bisexual desires in a social-relational context meant looking back and understanding the ways in which the religious and cultural-political conservatism of the region I grew up in really contributed to my own inability to articulate my sexuality — even to myself! — well into my twenties.

    Building off of fannie’s comment about the psychological toll of telling homosexual people they’re disordered (but we like you anyway!), I’d like to briefly describe how my college experience contributed to my inability to understand and explore my sexuality in positive ways for so long.

    I attended a liberal arts college with strong Christian (Reformed Church in America) roots. While academically this was a wonderful experience, and I had many incredible faculty mentors, the social atmosphere of the campus was culturally and religiously conservative ways that made me feel marginalized. Specifically relevant to the discussion of “anti-gay” beliefs, the official college policy followed the denominational (RCA) policy in refusing to condone homosexual sexual activity. They also refused to allow students to organize an on-campus gay/straight alliance (although the group met off-campus), despite the fact that queer students were present in the student body. Queer students reported being harassed by their fellow students through such activities as groups of students praying at the door of the openly queer student’s dorm room for that student to repent their sinful ways. In less overt bullying, there were speakers invited to campus to speak in chapel who worked for ex-gay ministries and believed homosexuality was a sin and pathological sexual behavior.

    (There were many voices — though not from the higher-ups in the administration — who openly supported LGBT students and pushed back against these activities, but official policy remained anti-gay and the morality of being gay or acting on one’s same-sex desires was openly debate throughout my time on campus.)

    In such a hostile environment, I was a vocal LGBT “ally” but entirely silent in public about my own desires … which translated into a lack of language to even describe to myself what I wanted, and what would bring joy into my life. (I ultimately credit Lisa Diamond’s work on female sexual fluidity for going a long way in supplying language for my experience and helping me feel less isolated in my complex sexual and relational desires.)

    I don’t share this as a sob story; I’ve always had a fairly independent sense of myself and a strong moral center, and as I said above didn’t ever feel isolated (my family and network of faculty and student friends were always vocally anti-anti-gay), fearful of physical attacks, etc. But EVEN I was effected by the culture of an anti-gay campus to the extent that it robbed me of language to speak of my own subjective experiences, encouraged me to think of bisexuality as indecisive and “a phase,” and failed to support any exploration of more complex sexual expression.

    Therefore, anti-gay beliefs translated into social interactions and policy at an institutional level have tangible net effects that a create toxic in which those of us who are queer are marginalized.

    Another great book on this topic, specifically looking at being gay in the Bible Belt, came out this year: Pray the Gay Away by Bernadette Barton. It talks about this pervasive (and often seemingly benign) anti-gay culture and terms it “the toxic closet”.

  23. Diane M says:

    “because I wonder if people who aren’t gay, who don’t live through these micro- and macro-aggressions, understand the lived experience and realities that gay people endure on a day to day basis.”

    @fanny – Do you think any of this could have to do with people not being around each other? I know I’ve read that the percentage of gay men in cities is in fact higher than you would expect because gay men naturally move to a place where they can live and be accepted. I wonder if some of the people who are saying things like this don’t spend much time around real LBGT people and so it is very abstract to them.

  24. annajcook says:

    @Diane,

    In my experience, “being around each other” isn’t necessarily the golden ticket to empathy. The key is more actually listening to another person’s experience — whether in-person or through the internet or reading a book or however you choose to do that. Really listening. Bishop Gene Robinson writes in his recent God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage:

    When you’re trying to understand the plight of someone else, when you’re trying to understand someone’s experience that has never been your experience, you begin by truly listening to him and his stories, really listening. And then — and this is key, I believe — you believe his truth. It may not be your truth, and it may not have been anything you have experienced. But you believe that this is the truth of the other person’s experience. And you show infinite respect for him by believing him (p. 45).

    I’ve seen dis-belief in a myriad of contexts, whether it’s white folks disbelieving black and brown folks about their experience of racism or men trying to school women on what misogyny “really” looks like, or straight people blithely separating out “the sin” from the “sinner” when talking to queer people, and then wondering why we cringe or clam up or feel alienated and angry.

    I think that interaction of truly hearing another person’s experience and believing that that is THEIR experience can happen at any distance.

    But you’re probably right that geographical segregation (and closeting!!) fosters ignorance. In my own life, I’ve seen some major reversals among people who held anti-gay religiously-grounded beliefs following the revelation that a loved one was queer. Loving someone who is non-straight and seeing what helps and doesn’t help them thrive can be the greatest impetus toward personal change.

  25. fannie says:

    Hi Diane,

    I agree with Anna’s points regarding the importance of listening and believing another person’s experience. With today’s technology, I think geography is less of a barrier to listening to, getting to know, and understanding people who are different than ourselves.

    Yet, I also think that knowing someone in “real life,” often a loved one or relative, who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender can help. I remember a study (or perhaps it was a less formal survey or poll) that showed that acceptance of homosexuality correlates with people actually knowing gay people.

    And, relatedly, I’ve come to a greater understanding of people who oppose SSM through my interactions with real people on the Internet, including people who blog and comment here. That’s why I think it’s kind of sad when people use technology to create sort-of insular groups where everyone agrees, where outside opinions are blanketly and unfairly banned as “trolling,” and where the participants in the forum caricature an “other” side.

    It’s as though interacting with real life, say, gay people is far too threatening to some people’s idea of what what horrible monsters gay people are. For instance, I’ve tried to respectfully comment on anti-gay blogs and the blog owner would just outright say something like, “I respect your voice, you just can’t have a voice here on my blog” as she, frustratingly, blogged day in and day out about how awful homosexuality and “the gay agenda” is.

    Which, fine, that’s people’s right to run their blogs however they want. I just think it’s really sad that some people have no interest in getting to know the very people they think are so immoral/awful and that they spend so much of their time writing about us rather than communicating with us.

  26. Kevin says:

    Fannie,

    I think that it’s difficult for some people to even stop de-humanizing gay people long enough to engage them in a conversation, even just on the internet.

    However, the power of homophobia to create a sense of “otherness” and “less worthiness” is a force not to be underestimated. I don’t know what the proper therapy is for homophobia, which I define as seeing a gay or lesbian person as different from a straight person in some way unrelated to sexual orientation. I don’t think it can be overcome just by social interaction, though, because it’s easy enough to take whatever negative traits you experience and conflate them being gay. In other words, if you dislike gay people and think they’re “bad,” and they do or say something you consider negative, you chalk it up to their being gay.

  27. R.K. says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/jul/30/health.mentalhealth

    http://www.sexchangeregret.com/Things-Ive-Learned

    http://waltheyer.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/changing-genders-increases-risk-of-suicide.html

    http://www.sexchangeregret.com/research/suicide-study

    Not saying there’s anything absolutely conclusive about the above, but they do raise the question of consistency of principle.

    A person wants to change something about themselves which is or is believed to be inborn. There are ways offered to do it, but not only do they not truly guarantee satisfaction, in many cases they make things worse, often even leading to suicide.

    But, as best I can put it, this is how current wisdom goes:

    If the inborn condition the person wants changed is physical, and external, it is their choice, and we have no right to interfere with it, and we must allow them to change it and make sure the service is available so that they can change it, regardless of whether or not it is always successful in bringing satisfaction to the person, and regardless of the risk that it may lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and psychological harm, even suicide. And a person desiring such a change should not be second-guessed by therapy to get them to accept the condition they want changed. And any bad effects resulting from the change are just the fault of the particular doctor, or the particular bad method, not the change per se.

    If, on the other hand, the condition the person wants changed is internal and psychological (a term I’m using very broadly here to include anything relating to feelings including sexual attraction), whether biologically based or not, they are deluding themselves in thinking that it can be changed, and because trying to change it often leads to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and psychological harm, even suicide, people should not only be dissuaded from it but we should do all we can to make sure the service is unavailable in any form, and that those offering it are prohibited from doing so. And a person desiring such a change should instead receive therapy to accept the condition they think they want changed. And the bad effects resulting from trying to change the condition are the fault not just of the particular method or doctor, but of the attempt at change per se.

    Physical gender, of course, goes in the first category, while sexual orientation goes in the second.

    Do we oppose sex-change operations for minors, whether suggested by the parents or not?

    Do we support adults being allowed to choose orientation change therapy, or not?

    What is really so different, in respect to a person’s desire to seek change for themselves, about an external characteristic and an internal characteristic?

    What is the overall principle involved in allowing for sex-change therapy while not allowing for sexual orientation therapy, especially when other circumstances (age, consent, risk) are similar?

    Or is the principle involved that the cultural message of the fluidity and irrelevance of gender is of overriding importance, and is best served by allowing for the former and not the latter?

    I am certainly opposed to unethical methods being used to produce change, whether of a person’s gender, or orientation, or anything else.

  28. nobody.really says:

    A federal judge has barred enforcement of SB 1172, California’s law outlawing gay reparative therapy (also called Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy or SOCT) because the law likely violates the 1st Amendment. Because “a mental health provider’s pursuit of SOCE is guided by the provider’s or patient’s views of homosexuality, it is difficult, if not impossible, to view the conduct of performing SOCE as anything but integrally intertwined with viewpoints, messages, and expression about homosexuality.” Thus, the judge concluded that the statute was subject to strict scrutiny.

    Under strict scrutiny, a court would need to strike down the law “unless the state demonstrates an ‘actual problem’ in need of solving” and “a direct causal link” between SOCE and harm to minors. The court acknowledged that protecting minors is a compelling state interest, but concluded that the state had failed to demonstrate a direct causal link between SOCE and harm to minors.

    The state argued that the law is not designed to prohibit speech but merely to regulate the practice of medicine for the purpose of protecting minors. But if the law were truly intended to protect minors, the judge concluded, it would bar ALL people from engaging in SOCE, not merely health care providers:

    Here, SB 1172 prohibits only mental health providers from engaging in SOCE and, as defendants have pointed out, unlicensed individuals who do not qualify as “mental health providers” under the bill can engage in SOCE. If SOCE is harmful and ineffective, the harm minors will endure at the hands of unlicensed individuals performing SOCE is equal, if not greater, than the harm they would endure from mental health providers performing SOCE. In fact, the California Legislature has previously “recognized the actual and potential consumer harm that can result from the unlicensed, unqualified or incompetent practice of psychology.” [citation omitted] The limited scope of SB 1172 therefore suggests that it is likely underinclusive in its application only to mental health providers.

    H/T RonF.

  29. fannie says:

    RK,

    Let’s make a long story short.

    Are you saying you support “conversion therapy”?

    Because I seem to remember earlier in this thread someone claimed that “no one who regularly participates at this blog sees anything redemptive about Goldberg’s work.”

    Maybe you can clarify. Like, be really clear.

  30. R.K. says:

    Fannie, I stand by my last statement: “I am certainly opposed to unethical methods being used to produce change, whether of a person’s gender, or orientation, or anything else.” I know nothing more about JONAH or Goldberg than what I’ve read here. If they are using unethical methods I am opposed to them. Other than that I will further clarify my position here only if a good attempt is made to answer the questions I asked. What I’m getting at is consistency. If all people want to do is evade the questions then I have to assume that they know there is an apparent logical and ethical inconsistency involved here, and don’t want to deal with it.

  31. RK, although there is evidence in both directions, most evidence in peer-reviewed medical journals finds that gender reassignment surgery is beneficial for most patients who choose it.

    In contrast, conversion therapy has been shown to be ineffective and potentially damaging by nearly every peer-reviewed study and every professional organization review. (The single famous study in favor of conversion therapy has been repudiated by its own author for its poor methodology.)

    The principal here is not physical changes vs. “mental” changes. It’s treatment that has been shown to be beneficial for most patients, versus treatment that has never been shown to be beneficial but has been shown to be harmful.

  32. fannie says:

    RK,

    I’m not trying to play “gotcha” here, I’m genuinely interested in your belief on “conversion therapy.”

    You aren’t, by your own admission, all that knowledgable about the topic and yet your comments suggest to me that you support it. Feel free to clarify or elaborate on that point.

    I’m also finding your indirect quid pro quo here to be odd:


    “Other than that I will further clarify my position here only if a good attempt is made to answer the questions I asked. What I’m getting at is consistency. If all people want to do is evade the questions then I have to assume that they know there is an apparent logical and ethical inconsistency involved here, and don’t want to deal with it.”

    Again, I don’t find your commentary or points to be all that clear in general. But, with respect to the above-quoted comment of yours, it would be especially helpful to “people” (meaning, me) if you directly asked specific people what their positions were rather than using the passive voice to suggest that unspecified people must first make a “good attempt” to answer your questions and to suggest that “people” are trying to “evade” your questions.

    I find your suggestions about people’s bad faith motives with respect to answering your questions to be hostile, unfair, and unwelcome in this thread. This seems to be a recurring pattern with you, so I’m going to kindly request that you stay on point.

    If you want to directly ask why “people” aren’t answering your questions, just ask. Because in my case, I find it difficult to engage with you because your arguments and points are not always clear to me. That’s why I asked you a direct question and asked you if would just outright answer it in a clear, direct manner.

    Maybe that’s too much to ask of you.

  33. Matthew Kaal says:

    Fannie,

    I think your and RK’s exchange here is similar to many on this blog in that you are each asking different questions and then getting frustrated when the other party doesn’t respond along your line of questioning.

    In this case it seems that the talking past each other is leading to mutual frustration, but I’ll suggest that instead of just assuming bad faith we instead engage along one or the other line of questioning and hope that everyone’s questions will be revealed in good time.

    RK’s original post here posed some controversial framing questions about how we approach reparative therapy and sex change differently (he suggests it is an external vs internal framework). I personally didn’t read anything overly disrespectful or aggressive into his tone, and I think answering the framing questions he asks might actually shed some light on the differences between gender identity and sexual identity and why we are okay with changing one (or more accurately, changing the biological to reflect the psychological) while we see changing the other as destructive.

    You responded by asking him bluntly if he supported reparative therapy, in what I assume was an effort to show that I was wrong in my earlier comment. I can understand why he would be frustrated by this, as you didn’t really engage him. And I can understand why you would be frustrated when he didn’t answer.

    However, by assuming bad faith neither of you are really moving us forward.

    RK

    You are under no obligation to engage with anyone on this blog who asks you follow up questions or makes demands of you. However, engaging other commenters and answering clarifying questions will probably help the flow of the conversation – it is a natural part of any good conversation. Speaking as a blogger here, all we at FamilyScholars can ask is that you engage with civility and remain on topic. Again, I think Barry models this excellently above in his response to you. I suggest we continue the conversations along the line he directed it and give each other a break.

  34. fannie says:

    Matthew,

    I appreciate your attempts to mediate, but I don’t appreciate your, to paraphrase, you’re both just as bad here tone and implications.

    I stated that RK’s point isn’t clear to me and asked him a direct clarifying question in attempt to directly engage his substantive point and to relate it to the thesis of my post. He responded with:

    “If all people want to do is evade the questions then I have to assume that they know there is an apparent logical and ethical inconsistency involved here, and don’t want to deal with it.”

    That is, if people “evade” the questions he raised (hardly a neutral description of people not answering his questions), he is explicitly admitting that he will just go ahead and assume bad faith on the part of unspecified “people” here- assuming that they know they’re inconsistent and “don’t want to deal with it,” rather than taking a more charitable view that people might have other reasons, indeed quite reasonable reasons, for not answering his questions…. such as not understanding his questions, his point, or how it’s relevant to my post.

    Secondly, my question wasn’t just an attempt to prove to you that some people who participate in this blog support “conversion therapy” and that your previous claim was therefore wrong, it was an attempt to clarify RK’s position on “conversion therapy”- a position that is directly germaine to the thesis of my post. The thesis of which is not, by the way, therapy for transgender persons, but is, actually, an argument that the very existence and promotion of ex-gay “conversion therapy” is abusive to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

    Finally, on the point of your sweeping claim, without support, of how other people think and feel about Goldberg’s work, I will repeat to you (and everyone) that I think we should let other people speak for themselves on the matter.

    I’m inclined to believe the best about people, but I’m also inclined to remain agnostic about knowing what other people believe until I actually know what other people believe.

    And, if people who “participate at this blog” support “conversion therapy,” I want to know their reasons, I want to have a conversation about it, and I don’t want you or anyone else to erase their support of a practice that many people argue is abusive.

    As the author of this post, I hope you can respect the direction I’d like the conversation to go, especially since it’s directly relevant to my post. It’s also fine with me, if folks want to discuss the tangential matter of therapy for transgender people though. And, I hope RK will clarify his argument on that front, so I could more fully participate in it.

  35. Bregalad says:

    I agree with Matthew. I think Barry models a correct response. I’d appreciate it if R.K. engaged with the social science date more regarding “conversion therapy.” To his credit, R.K. did post several links which do engage the issue of sex-change operations on a more empirical basis. I don’t think R.K.’s theoretical (and controversial) framing should be ignored, however. It is odd, on the face of it, that we think of physical fluidity as no big deal, but mental fluidity as an absolute horror. I think I’m opposed to conversion therapy, but I’m apt to agree with what Matthew said in a previous thread:

    I’m reticent to say that everyone who believes in a level of sexual fluidity that allows some self-identified gay men to marry women (which could be reduced to saying that they believe one “can change” one’s sexuality) is “anti-gay.” I know a few gay men who are happily married to women (and sexually involved exclusively with their wives), but who don’t deny the reality that their primary attraction is to men and are honest about their orientation and desires, and how they came to love and be attracted to their wives. They acknowledge that their experience is rare, and not advisable or realistic for all gay people.

    I know gay men like this as well. Some seem pretty darn happy being married to women. Some not. The ones who are happy, though, admit to me that they aren’t “straight” in the conventional sense. So, they haven’t been “converted”, so-to-speak, but they do love their respective wives. Perhaps, for some people, there’s greater mental fluidity than we imagine. Maybe a gay guy can be attracted to men in general, but also attracted to a specific woman. Maybe the same could be true for straight folks. Sexual orientation is complicated and we too often think of “straight” and “gay” as binary. They’re not. You know… maybe those terms are not even helpful anymore…

  36. fannie says:

    Wow, maybe Barry can repeat all of my comments here so people will take my points seriously and see them as “correct” and worthy of discussion.

  37. admin says:

    Sky,

    Attacking other commenters violates our civility policy and will not be tolerated. This is your warning.

    All,

    This post is bringing out passionate responses – please make every effort to be civil to one another and to move the discussion forward in a productive way.

    Thanks, the moderator.

  38. annajcook says:

    Matthew, I like fannie am a little baffled by the way your comments on this thread have come across as really defensive of Family Scholars on the one hand (as if fannie’s post de facto accused all of the contributors of the blog of supporting the specific anti-gay therapy organization discussed in this post) and at the same time as if you are moderating or mediating the conversation from a disinterested vantage-point.

    I wish that instead of trying to police other peoples’ comments, you’d elaborate a little bit more about why you have such a negative reaction to the post itself, and the relationship some of us are drawing between overtly anti-gay activities (like the actions of JONAH) and the less noticeable wear-and-tear we feel as queer people in a heteronormative culture. I don’t think it’s outrageous to point out the way a low-grade anti-gay culture, however passive it might be, creates fertile ground for the sort of abusive activities JONAH is charged with having pursued.

  39. annajcook says:

    It is odd, on the face of it, that we think of physical fluidity as no big deal, but mental fluidity as an absolute horror.

    Bregalad, I’m not sure whom you’re including in the “we” here, but sexual fluidity is increasingly recognized by sexologists and articulated by those of us who experience fluctuations in desire across our lifetimes.

    There is a difference, though, between a neutral allowing of peoples’ desires to change and judging some types of desire (e.g. heterosexual) better than others, and working actively to effect a change from the less-acceptable types of desire to the more-acceptable ones.

    To take my own life as an example, my therapists have not expressed any sort of horror or disbelief at my articulation of fluid sexual desires. But neither have they pressured me to “correct” my orientation by ignoring same-sex desire and focusing my energy exclusively toward men. On the contrary, they have encouraged me to seek out relationships that give me a sense of well-being, regardless of the gender of the individual I am in relationship with.

  40. R.K. says:

    Fannie:

    Yes, I should not have responded with that last sentence in my last post. I was being overly defensive. But, to illustrate why I reacted that way, let me give you a hypothetical parallel, and ask you how you would react to it.

    Suppose I, or anyone else, was arguing against SSM.

    Suppose you, or anyone else in disagreement, responded by asking some of the commonly asked questions people often ask in response. Questions meant to examine whether opposition to SSM is consistent, like on what basis people (meaning the person you are responding to and others who agree with them) have no objection to interracial marriage but object to same-sex marriage. Or, even more commonly, on what basis they allow marriage between infertile opposite-sex couples but not between same-sex couples. Or any other argument trying to examine a perceived inconsistency in their position which they have not addressed.

    After this, suppose the person you were responding to themselves responded merely with this: “Let’s make a long story short. Are you saying you support same-sex ‘marriage’”?

    What would you think of this? What kind of an answer would this be to the points or questions you were raising?

    I acknowledge that this is not totally parallel because I do not have anywhere near the degree of support, nor the stake in, conversion therapy as you have in your support and stake in SSM. But it’s the best way of illustrating why I became defensive, and accused you of being evasive, though I should not have done that.

    Again, I don’t find your commentary or points to be all that clear in general. But, with respect to the above-quoted comment of yours, it would be especially helpful to “people” (meaning, me) if you directly asked specific people what their positions were rather than using the passive voice to suggest that unspecified people must first make a “good attempt” to answer your questions and to suggest that “people” are trying to “evade” your questions.

    No, “people” really meant everyone here including you. But yes, I should have asked you some specific questions, starting with the ones I already had asked.

    If anyone finds my posts unclear, I have no problems being asked to further clarify what I am saying. Had you asked me to do that, I would have tried to do so. Now by my count I asked five questions in my first post, which I don’t think were really that hard to understand. Barry, Matthew, and Bregalad did seem to understand them. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that when you say my post was unclear you are more likely referring to the statements I made before the questions, rather than to the questions themselves. But in any case, I wish you had just told me what in my post you found unclear, and asked me to clarify what I meant.

    For what it’s worth, I do not advocate conversion therapy. I would certainly not advise any gay person (that is, any person comfortable and accepting of their homosexuality) to undergo it. For those who are struggling with their orientation anyway, and express a desire to be comfortably heterosexual, I would inform them that from my understanding conversion therapy frequently does not succeed (how frequently I find is really unclear from the evidence), that some have found it to be harmful rather than helpful, and that they should at least be aware of the risk before making such a decision. I would advise them to research it from all sides before coming to such a decision. If they still, after researching it from all sides, wanted to try the therapy, I would advise them to really check out the professional they are receiving it from (and I would advise them not to go to anyone other than a licensed professional—more on this later), and particularly what kind of methods are used and what their real success rates are, though I know that’s a question really hard to answer because of the difficulty in defining “success” in this.

    Point is, if they still want it, I’d leave the final decision up to them.

    Lastly, Fannie, I understand why you felt angry with me, but I really don’t understand why you were also so defensive with Matthew.

    Barry, Matthew, and Bregalad, thank you for your responses.

    Barry, you link in response to an article on your own blog which is now nine years old. I appreciate it. In it you note a study (regarding efficacy of sex-change therapy) which is now 20 years old. But the links I provided at least raise questions in regard to whether that study was so conclusive after all. In particular, the 41 per cent suicide attempt rate noted in the survey conducted by the NCTE and the NGLTF. Also, you say there have been many studies demonstrating the harms of conversion therapy but you don’t link to them, and while I’ve heard a lot about individuals being harmed by it, in my efforts to locate longitudinal research studies on this matter I’ve been surprised by the dearth of such studies. The one I’ve been able to locate is Shidlo and Schroeder’s 2002 study, and the authors themselves state that their results cannot be applied beyond the specific group they selected in the study, in which those who felt harmed were specifically sought out. Of course, this does not mean that other, better studies do not exist. But do you know of any longitudinal studies which show a suicide attempt rate after “conversion therapy” significantly higher than the 41 percent after sex-change therapy? You well may, but it would simply be helpful to have that kind of information that has been scientifically measured.

    Outside of the evidence, however, I should note that what I was responding to was more the argument that conversion therapy is wrong regardless of its success rate or its rate of harm. As Fannie states, further down after my post, that “the very existence and promotion of ex-gay “conversion therapy” is abusive to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.” Fannie, correct me if I’m wrong here, but my reading of this is that you believe this would be the case regardless of whether or not conversion therapy had a high or low “success” rate, or whether or not there was a high suicide rate after it. Is this correct? If so, then comparative studies relating to the effects of either sex-change therapy or orientation-change therapy don’t really settle the issue of the inconsistency that I’ve been trying to note. Why is the very existence of sex-change therapy not also regarded as abusive to men, or women? Why is offering sex-change to a woman to become a man thus not a sexist assault on womanhood?

    (A possible response: it might be argued that the difference is that while those seeking orientation change therapy are doing it to please society, or their church, or some other people beside themselves, those seeking sex-change therapy are doing it only for themselves. Even though I understand the argument I think it is presumptuous to say it applies to all individuals seeking change on either side).

    Sorry about the long post…I’d like to address even more things related to this, particularly two likely harms which can come from prohibiting professionals from practicing orientation change therapy under any conditions, harms I’m sure would not be favored by anyone, but I’d better stop for now.

  41. Bruce says:

    RE the posting above by nobody.really about the federal judge in California issuing a temporary injunction against enforcement of California’s new law forbidding the use of “conversion therapy” on minors: the injunction applies only to the three plaintiffs in the case. It does not apply to the law itself.

    Moreover, yesterday in another case challenging the law, another federal judge vigorously upheld the law, in effect laughing the plaintiffs out of court.

    From the LA Times:

    “According to Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general, the ban on sexual-orientation therapy will take effect Jan. 1 as scheduled for everyone except two therapists and an aspiring therapist who sued to keep the ban from taking effect.

    On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Shubb ruled that the law may inhibit the 1st Amendment rights of therapists who oppose homosexuality. He issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing the ban, the first of its kind in the nation, against the three plaintiffs pending a broader ruling on its merits.

    “The reality is those three individuals are not subject to the law, so [the initial ruling] is very narrow,” Gledhill said.

    In Tuesday’s ruling, in a case brought by opponents asserting that the law violates free-speech, religious and parental rights, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said the Legislature and governor had enough grounds to enact such a law, given that multiple mental health groups, including the American Psychological Assn., have discredited the therapy.

    “The court need not engage in an exercise of legislative mind reading to find the California Legislature and the state’s Governor could have had a legitimate reason for enacting SB 1172,’’ Mueller wrote in declining to issue a temporary injunction.

    State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), author of the law, said he expects the first case to be decided in favor of it.

    “On behalf of the untold number of children who can expect to be spared the psychological abuse imposed by reparative therapy, I’m thrilled that today’s ruling by Judge Mueller will continue to protect our children from serious harm,” Lieu said in a statement.

  42. Bruce says:

    I think reparative therapy is dangerous and abusive for anyone who undergoes it. But my libertarian streak makes me glad that the California prohibiting reparative therapy is limited to its use on minors. (I wish it covered all “therapists” whether they are licensed or not.) I think minors are at much greater risk than adults of being harmed by reparative therapy. They are not usually capable of giving informed consent and they are often pressured (and sometimes coerced) by their parents to seek the therapy.

    We have testimony after testimony of the harm done to minors who have been “treated” by people who practice reparative therapy. Kirk Murphy, the great “success story” of George Rekers, which had been told over and over in his books and in the citations of other books by advocates of reparative therapy, had committed suicide years before his story had been told and retold in the closed world of “ex-gay” therapists.

    Here is a link to part one of an Anderson Cooper 360 investigation into reparative therapy. In the last of the four part series, Rekers is confronted with the news that Murphy had committed suicide years before.

  43. nobody.really says:

    Wow — thanks, Bruce!

  44. Schroeder says:

    R.K.,

    It sounds like your answer to Fannie’s question is:

    “I’m ambivalent toward ‘conversion therapy’ in theory. I think it’s rarely, if ever, a good idea in practice.”

    Is that an accurate summary?

  45. fannie says:

    Sky,

    I hope one day you can choose to participate in substantive conversations here in a civil manner, rather than choosing to snipe at me from the sidelines.

    RK,

    Your first comment in this thread contained four links without explanation on your part other than that they generally raise “the question of consistency of principle” on the part of those who oppose conversion therapy for gay people. It would have been more helpful, and made your question/argument more clear to me had you perhaps summarized these links (rather than expecting participants here to go read the content at all of those links) and then tied that into your conclusion regarding “consistency of principle.”

    I think it’s reasonable to be respectful of people’s time when it comes to commenting on blogs. People might have good reasons for not engaging you as fully as you might expect or want them to.

    Gender reassignment surgery is a really complex topic, with a lot of reasonable disagreement even within transgender communities and various complicated reasons as to why such surgery might sometimes result in negative outcomes. When I see someone who is not transgender and who doesn’t evidence that he’s much informed about transgender issues bring it up for the sake of making a side point about “consistency of principle” for opponents of abusive ex-gay therapy, I’m not super inclined to engage your inquisitions.

    And, I can tell that you’re not all that informed about transgender experiences first by the really simplistic, over-generalizing way you describe “current wisdom” (whose current wisdom?). For instance, although you aren’t too clear or specific, you seem to be referring to gender reassignment surgery for trans people when you say:

    “If the inborn condition the person wants changed is physical, and external,”

    That’s kind of an awkward way to describe transgender person’s experience. To be really general, the “inborn condition” of being transgender is that a person’s assigned sex (often, but not always, based on genitalia) differs from one’s gender identity. The inborn condition, if we’re calling it that, is both mental and physical. That’s…. kind of the point.

    You then claim that the “current wisdom” is that any negative effects “resulting from the change are just the fault of the particular doctor, or the particular bad method, not the change per se.” Again, who thinks that, specifically? Because I see you mostly creating straw arguments as though those arguments might be the arguments of people in this conversation and then expecting us to answer for them for the sake of “consistency of principle.”

    So, Bregalad, Matthew, and RK, since you all seem a bit befuddled by my reluctance to engage RK on this issue, I hope my comment clarifies why I wanted to keep things at a more simple, “do you or do you not support ‘conversion therapy’ for gay people?” level. You know, since that, rather than gender reassignment surgery, is the topic of my post.

    And, I do want to at least think RK for finally stating his position on the issue, that he doesn’t “advocate” conversion therapy, but he also seems okay with its existence.

    RK also ends:

    “Lastly, Fannie, I understand why you felt angry with me, but I really don’t understand why you were also so defensive with Matthew.”

    First of all, I wasn’t “angry” with you, and I’d appreciate you not telling me how I “felt.” I was, and continue to be, frustrated by our interactions.

    Second, this is getting off topic to talk about Matthew, but since you seem to want to “understand,” I also find it to be a conflict of interest for him to attempt to play “neutral referee” in a conversation in which he’s pretty clearly a biased participant in.

  46. R.K. says:

    Schroeder:

    It sounds like your answer to Fannie’s question is:

    “I’m ambivalent toward ‘conversion therapy’ in theory. I think it’s rarely, if ever, a good idea in practice.”

    Is that an accurate summary?

    Not quite. My position is, it’s risky, depending on the methods used, and the therapist, but (to any person desiring it), if you still want it you should have the right to try it.

    And for what it’s worth, yes, I would also support the right of a heterosexual to seek and be able to obtain therapy to change to a homosexual, if they should wish to do so. Even if that number actually desiring such a change were infinitesimal, the principle is the same. I would not regard the availability of such therapy to be an insult to heterosexuals. Of course, unethical methods should not be allowed, and methods which don’t work should be discarded. But science works by looking to separate what doesn’t work from what does and working from there, not by just giving up.

    My post on the dangers I see in absolutely banning orientation change therapy for professionals, or of saying that orientation change can never work, will have to wait till another thread.

    Fannie:

    And, I can tell that you’re not all that informed about transgender experiences first by the really simplistic, over-generalizing way you describe “current wisdom” (whose current wisdom?). For instance, although you aren’t too clear or specific, you seem to be referring to gender reassignment surgery for trans people when you say:

    “If the inborn condition the person wants changed is physical, and external,”

    That’s kind of an awkward way to describe transgender person’s experience. To be really general, the “inborn condition” of being transgender is that a person’s assigned sex (often, but not always, based on genitalia) differs from one’s gender identity. The inborn condition, if we’re calling it that, is both mental and physical. That’s…. kind of the point.

    “Current wisdom” basically is what is regarded as the accepted, informed opinion by people in the mainstream media (very broad term).

    Should I have used the terms “material and external” rather than “physical and external”? I never said that being transgender was not inborn, I understand fully that transgender people feel that it is. When I was referring to the “condition the person wants changed” I was of course referring specifically to the externaL, meaning the outward, obvious manifestations and the genitalia in particular.

  47. Bregalad says:

    Fannie:

    When I see someone who is not transgender and who doesn’t evidence that he’s much informed about transgender issues bring it up for the sake of making a side point about “consistency of principle” for opponents of abusive ex-gay therapy, I’m not super inclined to engage your inquisitions. And, I can tell that you’re not all that informed about transgender experiences first by the really simplistic, over-generalizing way you describe “current wisdom” (whose current wisdom?).

    Fannie, I think you’re being unfairly supercilious. Do you know R.K. or know whether he/she is or ever has been transgendered? You’ve done this before with people by assuming their sexual orientation when no such information was given. This kind of behavior is abusive and dehumanizing, and I respectfully ask the admin if they too see it as such. From my perspective, R.K. seems to know more than you give him/her credit for–he/she is obviously familiar with some of the empirical data on sex change therapy and the website he/she has referenced is certainly familiar with transgendered issues, though it may come from a perspective which opposes yours. As for your claim that he/she over-generalizes, I would argue that we ALL over-generalize here. None of us are writing lengthy tomes–we are writing responses to short blogposts. You, Fannie, over generalize quite a bit as well. Earlier you said, “Lots of gay people have been telling religious folks especially that it’s hurtful when they tell us that we (or our actions) are immoral/sinful,” when the opposite could just as easily be said. Each of us privileges certain narratives over and above others. I bet that when R.K. used the term “current wisdom,” he/she merely meant what he/she perceived to be the prevailing thought on the matter. That’d be the charitable way to interpret that phrase. He/She doesn’t need a mansplainy lecture from you on how it all REALLY works or how there’s various opinions on such and such. I bet nothing you said was a revelation to R.K. The odds are that you didn’t provide a perspective he/she wasn’t already aware of, because, unlike you, I read R.K and perceive him/her to be a pretty thoughtful person.

  48. Bruce says:

    R.K. writes: “Of course, unethical methods should not be allowed, and methods which don’t work should be discarded. But science works by looking to separate what doesn’t work from what does and working from there, not by just giving up.”

    There are no methods that have been shown to work. No refereed papers verifying that reparative therapies work. None. All the reports of reparative therapies working are anecdotal reports by therapists or former patients. A huge of the “patients” have ultimate later come out or qualified what they initially said. “Well, I still have same-sex attractions, but I don’t act on them. Or I am now able to function heterosexually, but my desires are still homosexual.” I don’t doubt that the Witherspoon Institute may soon try to buy some “refereed paper” on reparative therapy similar to the Regnerus study, but in all the decades that psychiatrists and psychologists and quacks have been claiming success in this field, no one has been able to replicate their successes or even to verify them. Spitzer finally admitted that his bally-hooed study wasn’t valid. Masters and Johnson claimed such a study at one time and then also disclaimed it.

    If reparative therapy were actually based on science, we would not be having this conversation any more than we would be having a conversation about many other discredited medical/psychological procedures such as the treatment of female hysteria in the nineteenth century.

    I personally think that any adult capable of giving informed consent who has been told the dangers of reparative therapy should be able to pursue a “cure.” However, I think that the reputable organizations that license psychologists and psychiatrists should disbar (of whatever the term is) any member that practices reparative therapy.

    That is, individuals have a right to be stupid and to harm themselves if they want to by subjecting themselves to exorcism or whatever quackery they want. But medical professionals have an obligation to do no harm and to abide by best practices.

  49. fannie says:

    Bregalad,

    Just so you know, I’ve interacted with RK quite a bit on Internet, including via his involvement at the anti-LGBT, anti-equality “Opine Editorials” blog, several of whose members are banned from commenting here. I don’t know if you’re new to Internet commenting, but believe it or not, the world and Internet is bigger than this one comment thread.

    So, while I certainly never stated that I knew RK’s status as a transgender person, I have called him “him” in the past without him correcting me, so I’m pretty confident that he’s a man. And, given his involvement with Opine, I’m also pretty confident that he’s not a transgender man, as that space has historically been really hostile toward trans people.

    Now, I’ve already requested that you not contact me personally via email, give your relentless accusations, and I’m unbelievably close to requesting that you avoid commenting on my articles here altogether. I’ve been through many a kangaroo character court on Internet, and I don’t have much interest in dealing with these petty inquisitions time and time again.

    Please stay on topic if you’re going to continue commenting and mansplaining in this thread.

  50. RK writes:

    But do you know of any longitudinal studies which show a suicide attempt rate after “conversion therapy” significantly higher than the 41 percent after sex-change therapy?

    41% is for all people in the survey, which – contrary to what your argument assumes – was a survey of transgender people in general, not a survey of people who have had sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Not all transgender people want or get SRS, and even among those who do, not all have already had SRS.

    The National Transgender Discrimination Study found very similar rates of suicide attempts between transgender folks who haven’t had SRS and those who have had SRS (39% versus 43%). Moreover, because their question covered the entire lifespan of the person, they can’t say if the suicide attempts among those who have had SRS occurred before or after the surgery.

    In short, nothing about this study is able to determine what you think it determines, and nothing you have concluded from it has any validity.

    (By the way, the study authors found enormous differences in suicide attempt rates based on factors like employment status, race, income, and history of discrimination. The study authors wrote, “The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that most suicide attempts are signs of extreme distress, with risk factors including precipitating events such as job loss, economic crises, and loss of functioning. Given that respondents in this study reported loss in nearly every major life area, from employment to housing to family life, the suicide statistics reported here cry out for further research on the connection between the consequences of bias in the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people and suicide attempts.”)

    As for the rest, I agree with what Bruce just posted. The enormous difference between a treatment that has sometimes been shown to be successful in legitimate studies, and a treatment that has never been shown to work in legitimate studies and which every professional organization has rejected as ineffective and potentially harmful, more than justifies seeing SRS and anti-gay therapy as entirely different creatures.