Wayne Besen and James Barber both point me to an excellent Apr. 3 article in the Guardian (London).
Using Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out” ex-gay expo in Nashville as a focal point, Going Straight explores the conflicting views of ex-gay researchers Ariel Shidlo and Robert Spitzer, and the confused arguments of ex-gay therapy guru Joseph Nicolosi.
The whole article is well worth reading. Here are key quotes and my reactions…
On the biased data sample provided by Exodus and NARTH to Dr. Robert Spitzer:
It had taken Spitzer more than 18 months to find just 200 or so people willing to describe themselves as successfully converted. He found his interviewees by advertising through ex-gay organisations. Almost half were recruited through ex-gay ministries, and nearly a quarter by Narth. Religion was “extremely” or “very” important to 93% of them. One in five was a mental health professional (Cohen, for example, is a high-profile reparative therapist) or director of an ex-gay ministry, and more than three-quarters had previously lobbied for sexual reorientation. These are people who get paid to say that therapy works.
On Spitzer’s disinterest in followup research — or, for that matter, fresh research upon ex-ex-gays:
“Some people have suggested I ought to do a follow-up study.” The idea would be to see if anyone had fallen off the wagon. “But if you were doing an evaluation of the treatment of cocaine addiction, say, and someone had a relapse, you wouldn’t say that the treatment was of no value, would you?”
You would not. But there is a crucial distinction here, one that undermines the analogy Nicolosi and others frequently like to draw between ex-gays and addicts. A recovering alcoholic will always be an alcoholic; successful treatment can only sustain his willpower. But to suggest an ex-gay can “relapse” implies that sexual reorientation is only ever a triumph of willpower, never a conversion of authentic desire.
On a more methodical study that used a broad data sample:
“We interviewed 182 people who tried very hard to change,” Dr Ariel Shidlo told Newsweek. “The stakes were really high for them. Some really thought that if they didn’t change, they would literally find themselves in hell… And they still failed.”
On reorientation therapy guru Joseph Nicolosi’s (mis)definition of successful cure:
“Using the general definition of cure,” he continues, “the diminishment of problematic behaviour is a cure. I would consider that a successful case.”
We seem to have travelled a long way from the radical claims being made so confidently on stage at Love Won Out. And we are about to depart even farther. “Let’s say,” Nicolosi suddenly suggests, “you work with a man for six months. Let’s say he acts out once a week in the beginning, but when he acts out he tortures himself, beats himself up, thinks he’s a pervert. After six months in therapy, he understands why he acts out. He’s still acting out once a week, but it’s more like a hollow ritual. He’s not as upset with himself, he’s more hopeful of change in the future. Now, his behaviour is still the same. Would you consider that a success?”
“Yes,” Nicolosi replies, “I would consider that a success.” Even the most successful ex-gay, he adds casually, is always going to have to keep an eye on himself, to make sure he “doesn’t fall”.
Nicolosi proceeds to misdefine “the gay lifestyle” as a means of contrasting a client’s pre- and post-treatment activities. In his view, apparently, “ex-gay” describes neither sexual attraction nor sexual behavior with the same gender. Instead, Nicolosi defines “ex-gay” as a lifestyle consisting of opposite-gender marriage and children regardless of one’s attractions or extramarital sexual activities.
Nicolosi’s definition of “ex-gay” is better suited to affirmation groups for gay and bisexual men married to women– discussed here by Ex-Gay Watch — than it is to the pro-chastity and gender-role-modification groups that seek referrals through Exodus and Focus on the Family.
The Guardian article’s closing anecdote is emotionally wrenching, as a family is driven to confusion and despair over Love Won Out’s contorted definitions of change — and spiritual damnation.
The family’s torment is all too familiar to ex-ex-gays, such as this one profiled Apr. 1 by the Winston-Salem Journal.