Reparation therapy wont change gays
As a Malaysian gay man currently in a long-term relationship, I would like to provide some personal viewpoints on the recently published articles regarding homosexuality in The Star which were subsequently discussed by JJ Ray in her article.
The personal accounts of the individuals in The Star articles point to troubled childhoods, which would seem to support the proffered viewpoint that the development of homosexuality is due to environmental factors alone.
I do not doubt the veracity of these accounts as some of my gay friends have had similar experiences as well, including even the extremes of childhood sexual abuse in some cases. On the other hand, some of my other gay friends (including my partner and me) have had quite normal childhoods with plenty of love and support from our families.
Thus, a more balanced viewpoint would be that homosexuality arises from a complex mixture of genetics, environment and upbringing that is yet to be fully comprehended. The latest scientific findings would seem to tilt slightly in the favour of the genetic component.
One of the key themes in the lives of many of the gay people who choose to undergo reparation therapy is one of having experienced tremendous heartbreak in their brief gay relationships when they were sexually active. They assign blame for this emotional upheaval on an inherent defectiveness in the nature of the homosexual relationships which they subsequently try to 'heal' by undergoing therapy.
An important point that they miss is that the difficulty in their early gay relationships might have risen because they (or their partners) did not understand their emotional needs properly and failed to develop the requisite skills needed to fulfil those needs in the relationships they developed.
This is hardly surprising in light of the following factors (which are further exacerbated in more conservative societies like ours):
- lack of public role models in healthy and fulfilling gay relationships;
- lack of appropriate counselling,;
- lack of parental and social support and;
- immature behaviour in early sexual experimentation.
In many ways, a gay person faces the same issues as a straight person who encounters difficulties in his or her adult love relationships due to various childhood circumstances. Only that the straight person - or his therapist - would never think of blaming it on some inherent defectiveness in the person's heterosexuality.
For example, the Real Love Ministry in The Star articles talks about many gay men lacking fatherly love and proposes deep platonic relationships to overcome this 'vacuum' issue. While I do agree that many gay men seek to compensate for the missing childhood love in their relationships, it is not at all clear why it is 'bad' or impossible to obtain such love in conjunction with a sexual relationship with someone of the same gender.
Anecdotal evidence and numerous psychological surveys would indicate that many gay couples in happy, long-term relationships (a prominent example I can think of being Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the US) derive great mutual emotional satisfaction from each other independently of their sexual activity.
However, I do subscribe to the views presented in the Spitzer study, i.e. that it is possible for homosexuals to change their sexual orientation, and I believe that some gay people (a very small minority of the overall gay population) are capably motivated of doing so.
Edmund Smith (of The Star article) being a possible example. In line with current scientific thinking, it is probable to me that the sexual orientation in these individuals derive primarily from childhood trauma, and the resolution of such issues might allow them to develop heterosexual functioning, if they so desire.
For the majority of other gay people whose sexuality has a significant genetic component, reparation therapy might help to resolve some of the emotional childhood issues that might have been causing them to act in compulsive or destructive ways in the gay relationships that they attempt to form.
In that sense, therapy of this nature can actually be helpful (as even Spitzer notes in his study), but ultimately it cannot change the fundamental orientation of sexual desire. This is reflected in his study where most respondents indicated that they occasionally struggled with unwanted attractions with only 11 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women reporting complete change.
Amongst this group of people, many choose to stay celibate in deference to their religious beliefs and as a preferable choice to what they rightly view as emotionally non-fulfilling relationships in the gay community.
As an idealist, I believe that these individuals could actually form successful gay relationships if they learnt the correct skills to do so and had the opportunity to meet appropriate partners. As a pragmatist however, I realise that such situations are not always achievable everywhere in the world and thus celibacy would still represent the best option to the long-term happiness of the individuals concerned.
It needs to be borne in mind that such individuals might have to give up valuable emotional support from family and friends if they renounced their celibacy, and such support might not be equally forthcoming from the gay community that can sometimes be excessively sex driven.
In this sense, I am opposed to the gay rights groups and medical associations that zealously champion an active gay lifestyle as the only possible option for a person with homosexual orientations, irregardless of the background circumstances and personal beliefs of the person.
Last but not least, The Star articles make an assertion that genetics cannot be a justification for behaviour and draws an analogy between homosexuality and other 'deviant' sexual behaviours such as incest, paedophilia or bestiality.
I must point out that this analogy is only true from a conservative Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious worldview. From a secular, humanistic worldview, there is a fundamental difference in that a committed, monogamous gay relationship involves mutually consenting adult partners that does not result in harm for either partner; a criteria which is clearly violated in the case of incest, paedophilia or bestiality.