Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Circling the Wagons

I had the opportunity and privilege to go to the "Circling the Wagons" conference put on by Mormon Stories. I flew in from California on Friday night and made it to the session amid the snow the next day. The conference was by far better than I even imagined.

Ten years before, just after turning 18, I went to the Evergreen International Conference with my Dad, around the time of September 11th. We had to drive because there were no flights available. This was my first experience being a "Gay Mormon" and meeting other "strugglers." Evergreen has it's place. I feel like many that it is unfair to talk totally negatively of the experience of for the first time in your life having a space to talk, to vent, to share with others.

The problem is the misinformation there. See at this conference "experts" like A. Dean Byrd told me that homosexuality was in fact a mental illness, that if not curable, was treatable by therapeutic means. Research had been done that showed that homosexuality was most likely caused by several factors, but possibly by an absent father, an overbearing mother. He and other panelists waxed on and on, peddling their wares about how they could change us, help us "diminish our unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction", help us to get married heterosexually, etc.

What a contrast, to step into Salt Lake, ten years later, in the early snow of Autumn, to the First Baptist Church, and meet my true brothers and sisters, straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, SSA, whatever they preferred to identify as, and simply be with them, in the open, talking openly and freely about our feelings, our worries, our pains, was incredible. We talked about the real pain that we had felt being gay and Mormon, seeking to bridge understanding between allies and LGBT members. In reality it isn't an us and them thing. We were all there together questioning, thinking what can we do, right now, to make our lives and the lives of those around us better.

Carol Lynn Pearson's gave a talk about the hero's journey, how we as gay members of the church or just gay people in general had been called to a journey, refused the call, been initiated or forced to adventure, and then to take home what we said. For those unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell's work that was the source for the talk, think of it as being Luke Skywalker, on the desert in Tatooine, unaware that an adventure was to be had. Lucas followed Campbell's model and created Star Wars. We as gay men and women are like Luke Skywalker, thrust out onto an adventure we didn't choose but that we have to face all the same.

As Lee Beckstead put it, you all prayed and fasted to overcome being gay. Let them pray and fast to cure their Homophobia. Homophobia is curable. Homosexuality is not. People are often too afraid to learn the truth about homosexuality, deal with their own inadequacy or their own fear of difference, their homophobia (fear of gay people: let's call it what it is).

The other talks and panels were helpful as well. Lee Beckstead's talk was about bridging and navigating conflict with our communities and with our families, and this was an important theme and one that carried into the panel discussion. As Carol Lynn Pearson said, the truth is that people should not have to choose loving their son or daughter or the church, that this needs to end and stop immediately.

I was inspired. The musical numbers, the visiting bishop's testimony, the testimony's/testimonials at the end. There was an amazing spirit of love, tolerance, and true Christian worship there in a Baptist church in Salt Lake. And that's something I can be proud of when I say I'm Mormon. And it's something that can lead me to say I'm proud that I'm a gay man. I'm grateful that I have so many wonderful brothers and sisters who love and support me in being who I am. For not having to hang my head or be ashamed for existing, or loving or being attracted to people who happen to be of the same gender as me. It was....wonderful.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reparative/Conversion Therapy

I watched this video and it made me cry. It was available on a link from the Huffington Post.

This case is extreme. I doubt very few parents would do this to their children simply because they are gay. I doubt very many therapists would do this to their client to cure them. But in the 1970s and apparently in some rare cases today, these techniques are used to "cure" individuals.

This is the heritage of NARTH, Evergreen, and other groups. The beginning of reparative therapy is Electroshock techniques, torture, and violence. Evergreen and NARTH et. al. want to forget the history of their craft, to change and convert sexual orientation. The history of violence against people because they don't fit the mold. This is the reason the APA took homosexuality out of the DSM-IV, not because of the political pressure as A. Dean Byrd and others claim. Homosexuality is a variation of normal. Deviancy, crime against nature, this is the rhetoric used to attempt to force bodies and psyches into conformity with a norm. But it doesn't work. And even if it did work, if we could find a cure to homosexuality, it would be unethical to force or coerce children, or anyone, into a therapeutic program they didn't want.

No one listened to me. I told the therapists when I was 17 I was gay, I wanted to be with a man, but not one of the LDS therapists my bishop sent me to and paid for listened to me. But at the time, unsure of what to do, unsure of how to handle telling my parents, I continued. I eventually told my parents, they took over paying for therapy, and I continued to suffer being told over and over I wasn't gay, I was going through a phase.

I found Evergreen. I thought I'd found an answer. But I found instead empty promises, testimonials, and confusion.

It's unethical to lie to people to promise a cure. Notice that everything that Evergreen does is anecdotal. No reputable journal will support reparative therapy. Why? Because there is some sort of liberal bias that wants to show that homosexuality is normal?

Hardly. I suppose there is a bias, a bias that LGBT people are normal and not freaks or deviants. But that's a bias that I can get behind. I suspect however that if the techniques were effective, there would be a much different debate around the issue. But they don't work. This is complicated, but Lee Beckstead's research (see ldsresources.info, google or look up his articles otherwise) shows that it is usually harmful.

Since many people operate if not totally objectively, then according to reason, scientific evidence, psychology, the world at large, not some oligarchical liberal conspiracy as Byrd and others claim, is responsible for helping people accept homosexuality as a variant of normal.

And to Evergreen's anecdotal evidence of change, I offer my own counter evidence. Case histories are a valid means for establishing social work/therapeutic techniques. But there are thousands of case histories of LGB individuals in therapy because of religious bashing, trying to pray the gay away, trying to undergo a psychic transformation. I tried it. It hurt me emotionally. It hurt my faith, my relationship with my family, the relationship with my now ex-wife, my relationship with friends. It hurts to be told over and over again that something is wrong or broken with you, to pour your soul out before God to heal you make you whole. But I was never broken. I was just me. I was just different, not deviant, evil, wrong. It isn't my fault that I'm gay. It isn't a choice. It isn't a whim. It isn't something I just woke up one day and said, you know what, I'd like to ruin my parent's dreams and my own of who I want to be and what I want. I'd really like to screw up my life now. I'd like to according to what I believe condemns myself to damnation, suffering, spirit prison, an eternity less than exaltation.

But that isn't true. Neither does it fit LDS doctrine nor any conception of a loving God. I'm healing. I'm not broken. I'm hurt because of the way I've been treated. But I will overcome. I'm just grateful to have others to talk with, others to share the burden with, and a loving God to pray to to help me overcome years of emotional abuse simply because of who I am.