CPT_Doom provided a lot of the info and some of the writing for the following. Thanks, CPT. — Mike A.
Jeffrey Satinover, one of the leading ex-gay therapists, testified to the Massachusetts legislature against the movement to recognize gay marriage or civil unions. (Strangely, Satinover dates the testimony April 28, 2003, but NARTH and a Catholic antigay site date the testimony April 28, 2004.)
His testimony begins by misquoting “claims” allegedly made by mainstream clinicians and gay rights advocates.
He falsely asserts a universal claim that homosexuality is “genetic,” when few individuals have made such a claim.
He falsely asserts a universal claim that homosexuality is immutable, when there is agreement that sexual attraction is somewhat fluid in some individuals — though not by conscious choice.
He asserts a universal claim that the disadvantages of homosexuality are derived solely from social disapproval. I can think of several gay equality activists, gay health advocates, and personal friends who would disagree with that.
Finally, he asserts a universal claim that a society raised by gay couples will not differ undesirably from a society of “traditional family units” which he declines to define. He is insinuating that gay-marriage advocates seek to replace heterosexual marriage with homosexual marriage, not simply join the ranks of the married.
Proceeding from those wobbly strawman arguments, Satinover then attempts to refute some of these claims using politically selective data from poorly identified studies, some of which do not appear to be peer-reviewed.
Early on, Satinover mentions one peer-reviewed scientist, Dr. Robert Spitzer. Satinover notes that Spitzer encountered strong objections to his study of 200 ex-gay activists. But Satinover falsely overgeneralizes these objections as political rather than clinical, simply because he disagrees with the objections. And he neglects to note that Spitzer has objected to the misuse of his study by antigay political activists — like Satinover.
Strangely, Satinover seems to argue that it is so easy to change one’s sexual attractions that there is no need for ex-gay therapy:
Furthermore, just as locking onto a “choice versus genetic” dichotomy obscures reality, so, too, does locking onto “unchangeable versus therapeutic change.” For it is also the case, well-documented but unobserved and unremarked upon, that the majority of “homosexuals” become “heterosexual” spontaneously, without therapy.
His evidence for this? That a lot of men (few women are cited in this data) have same-sex encounters before age 18, and never again. He assumes, without evidence, that the men who cease homosexual activity by age 25 ever considered themselves predominantly same-sex-attracted. He neglects to distinguish between “change” in attraction and “change” in behavior, neglects to address bisexuality or acknowledge sexual experimentation. And he further harms his argument by asserting that the briefly-popular belief that 10 percent of people are homosexual originates in Satinover’s own bizarre assumption that roughly 10 percent of men have had sex with other men at some time in their lives.
Among his many other arguments:
A review of the research over many years demonstrates a consistent 30-52 percent success rate in the treatment of unwanted homosexual attraction. Masters and Johnson reported a 65 percent success rate after a five-year follow-up. Other professionals report success rates ranging from 30 percent to 70 percent.
Satinover does not offer specific references — study names and dates — to support these numbers. Was some of this research, in fact, pre-1970 data, when both electroshock and chemical “aversion therapies” were used? Which therapies does Satinover support, and which does he oppose as immoral and harmful, even if they are “successful”? And why doesn’t Satinover define “success” in his testimony?
Interestingly, in the entire spectrum of “ex-gays” that the anti-gay political movement likes to trot about, only a handful are from this pre-1970 period. Yet from Satinover’s and others’ statements, one would have to assume there are thousands of these people roaming our country, all silent.
Here’s another argument by Satinover:
But the American Psychiatric Association, like most other professional-practitioner associations, is not a scientific organization. It is a professional guild and as such, amenable to political influence in ways that science per se must not allow itself to be. Thus, the decision to de-list homosexuality was not made based on scientific evidence as is widely claimed. As Simon LeVay (cited above) acknowledges, “Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality.”
Instead of addressing the predominant body of scientific data that contradicts his choice of references, Satinover — whose own political biases are quite clear — accuses mainstream clinicians of bias. In other words, he attacks their professional character. Unfortunately, his accusation is a blind one — he does not provide actual evidence of political bias.
The APA may be a professional association, but the decisions regarding the DSM manuals are made on scientific bases. And while the focus on homosexuality in 1973 was certainly a result of political activism, the decision to remove it from the list of mental illnesses was not political; according to many who were there, it was both clinical and personal.
DSM decisionmakers became acquainted with gay medical professionals and their friends and families, and confirmed from both clinical discussion and personal experience that there was nothing mentally “ill” about these people. Antigay clinicians’ claims at the time were based on poorly tested assumptions, broad overgeneralizations, flawed data sampling and political agendas of their own. They did not hold up under professional scrutiny, and until their claims could be substantiated, they did not merit inclusion in the DSM. Unfortunately, since 1973, Satinover and his antigay colleagues have declined to substantiate their theories through the scientific peer review process.
Satinover argues that many scientists who have done research showing natural or biological factors in homosexuality are either themselves gay, or are aligned with the gay rights movement, so by implication cannot be trusted because they are tolerant. Furthermore, his character attacks extend beyond the professional community. He quotes critics (including me) on his personal web site here. But instead of quoting criticisms accurately and responding to them, he mangles what they said in order to provide readers with a laugh. This is what I actually said about Satinover last year.
A quick review of the rest of Satinover’s web site finds a broad and healthy range of interests in literature, music, travel, the armed forces, and a highly unconventional “quantum physics” approach to investing — nothing necessarily wrong with that.
But one also finds, under his link for homosexuality, an endorsement for the ex-gay P.A.T.H. coalition that has advocated legal harassment against tolerant school systems.
Under his link for “liberalism,” Satinover endorses an article titled “Does Liberalism Cause Brain Damage?” The article conjures up an embittered stereotype of “liberals” before proceeding to criticize the imaginary liberals as “mentally retarded” due to the influence of schools and the media.
Under his links to “Fam. Inst. CT” and “Politics,” Satinover advocates discrimination against gay couples in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Satinover’s most useful links, under “Psychiatry,” will be reviewed by XGW in the future.
Thus far, I think it’s safe to say that Satinover’s lack of objectivity and balance, his poor handling of criticism, and his political agenda, damage his clinical credibility. His professional work would benefit from collaboration with less biased clinicians — ones with no ulterior political or religious motives — or with clinicians with opposing biases, in order to establish areas of common scientific agreement.