Thanks to Michelle Bachmann and her family business that offers Christian counseling, including “therapy” to help sort the gays, the media has once again highlighted ex-gay treatments and theories that say people can be “de-gayed.” Spokespeople for the anti-LGBTQ cause get on TV and spout their faulty ideas and talking points designed to legitimize their postition and convince the public that the treatments and theories are beneficial.
During this current media cycle ex-gay proponents introduced a new talking point. Dr. Jack Drescher, in his recent piece for Psychology Today, writes about the talking point and its emergence in the media.
“Why is it OK for doctors to help a person change their sex from male to female but it is not OK to try and change a person’s homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one?”
I first heard this question asked several weeks ago during Joy Behar’s interview of a so-called ex-gay man and his wife (at about 7:20 minutes into the video). Then I heard it again on NPR in Alix Spiegel’s August 1 interview of another “ex-gay” man (at about 7:30 minutes into the interview)…The questioners were either ex-gay or married to an ex-gay. But they also appear to make their livelihoods promoting and selling ex-gay “ministries” to (mostly religious) people unhappy about their homosexual attractions.
Dr. Drescher then shares the history of both transgender affirming treatments, including the specific Standards of Care that researched, designed, and regularly updated for the care of transgender individuals. These have have provided their own controversy among transgender people. In his piece Dr. Drescher juxtaposes these standards with the unregulated field of ex-gay treatment.
Standards of Care focus on important clinical issues such as who to treat, who not to treat, which treatments work, which do not, selection criteria for best candidates, and admission of errors when they occur. Selection criteria, for example, are an important way to prevent harm being done to patients who are not suitable for the treatment. However such care in selecting patients is rarely seen in the ex-gay movement. Perhaps this is because when doing faith healing, one can take all comers. Licensed medical and allied health professionals, on the other hand, are held to a different standard.
In his piece for the St. Petersburg Times, my partner, Glen Retief, also takes on the new talking point regarding unethical ex-gay treatment and medically-approved treatments for transgender folks.
The notion that ex-gays are “straight people trapped in a body with gay desires” has a certain superficial appeal. After all, who is the APA to decide that one kind of discomfort with self is more respectable than another? But this argument is based on a profound misunderstanding of gender and sexuality — and in perpetuating these misconceptions, the ex-gay movement continues a long tradition of peddling snake oil instead of real medicine.
Glen also highlights the difference in standards of care between transgender-affirming therapies and de-gaying treatments. He also points out the vast difference between motivations of pursuing these two treatments that ex-gays are trying to lump together (as they also seek to invalidate the transgender person’s experience and identity.)
To transition to another gender in our world is an act of great courage and rebellion, which requires confronting friends, family, and the world with a truth of the heart. The individual who does so takes significant risks for the sake of joy and psychic wholeness.
I’m not saying that a few rare individuals in ex-gay programs, who try to change themselves to please their pastors, parents and Bible teachers, don’t achieve peace when they try to live according to their personal interpretation of a 1,600-year-old book. But the vast majority of ex-gays are motivated by fear of punishment in this world or the next — not by brave integrity. The spiritual fruits of their quest for change tend to be terror, shame, numbness and self-hatred — a slow death of their true selves, which is to say of their souls.
I encourage you to read both pieces and share them widely. We need to challenge the talking point and not fall into the trap anti-LGBTQ people have set–one that offensively invalidates the lives of transgender people as it also seeks to legitimatize practices that ultimately harm people who are not heterosexual or gender normative. This is both an attack on transgender people and an ongoing attempt to insert ex-gay treatment into the mainstream. At its core ex-gay treatment is an attack on gender, particularly an attack on women and feminine-presenting males. It is a movement that insists on a gender binary with heterosexual males superior to females. They strictly adhere to gender norms and patriarchy. Ultimately it is an anti-fem movement.