A thought I had

I am skeptical of “orientation change” therapies, but I also dislike the vilification of them and the pushes to have them banned. I don’t like how the ex-gay crowd is viewed as a bunch of hypocritical freaks. Now, I recognize that some of this stems from a genuine concern that I’d share over giving people unrealistic expectations, but there is also a repugnance of the basic idea of attempting to change someone’s sexual desires.



I’m not sure if this intrinsic dislike it is entirely consistent with the currently prevailing attitudes surrounding transgenderism.

In short, if a person experiences extreme distress over the sexual characteristics of their body, and the cultural consequences of that, and feels like they would fit better on the other side, the general consensus is that they should have access to the sort of therapy and surgery that would make such a radical change possible.

But if someone feels extreme distress over having homosexual feelings, and wants to make the far less extreme shift of trying to replace them with heterosexual ones, they’re just kidding themselves and need to accept who they are if they want to be happy.

Why is the shift in the former case considered a salutary thing, while the shift in the latter a sort of violence? I recognize that the distress over feeling that one is on the wrong side of the sexual binary is one that is deeply ingrained in a person’s psyche, whereas the distress over same sex attraction usually arises from a person’s religious/moral beliefs, which, as people like to point out, are subject to change.

But saying, “you would feel better if you stopped being a Christian” is kind of like walking up to an atheist who is feeling crappy and saying, “you would feel better if you believed that Jesus loves you.” In both cases that may actually be true! And in both cases you are also asking someone to change their convictions on the grounds that they are inconvenient, rather than that they are untrue. Which is obnoxious.

The distress over one’s sexuality need not even emerge from strongly religious or moral beliefs: someone could just want the ability to have a family and raise kids without having to go through surrogates, IVF, etc.

If we did develop a surefire method of orientation change, would the LGBT community accept it as a valid choice someone could take, or would the people who go down that route be considered traitors?

I guess this dovetails with the dreaded question of whether people are “born that way”, so I’d might as well give my thoughts on that. Basically, I doubt it. Biology probably plays a role in predisposing some people, but I think that it is how we develop that makes these desires ingrained. Now, I also disagree with the idea that there is inevitably some sort of easy Freudian explanation for same-sex attraction, and that a few sessions on the couch will set you straight. The factors that contribute to it are complex and will vary from person to person. And even if you can pinpoint them all, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be “unlearned”. It is, in most cases, almost on par with asking someone to unlearn their literacy.

On both Christian and secular sides there is sometimes a tendency towards an overly therapeutic view, where we tend to view things primarily in terms of problems to be solved rather than how we can live out our lives with integrity. I mean, suppose my same-sex desires were magicked away overnight. That would remove a difficulty in my life, but hey: my high levels of introverted awkwardness and financially dubious career path would likely still keep me celibate. And if those were somehow overcome and I found myself married, well, I haven’t ‘solved’ something so much as I have exchanged one set of circumstances for another. And, let’s face it, seeking out marriage with someone because it’ll be “easier” that way is about on par with trying to become a priest because you just can’t get it together in your romantic life – both are piss poor reasons, and you run a high chance of just making yourself even unhappier.

It probably wasn’t the case that all the people whom Jesus miraculously healed just went on to live Super Awesome lives – in fact, we know so, given that, “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death”. (John 12:10) Being brought back to life only to have people try to kill you all over again is kind of a rough deal, if you view it in terms of Jesus just trying to fix Lazarus’ problems. Beyond the fact that the raising of Lazarus was an act of love and an establishment of Divine cred, there must have been some further good, some deeper vocational purpose, that required Lazarus’ life to be extended for a bit longer in order to fulfill.

Of course a Christian life means seeking out healing; it’s just that this healing doesn’t easily map onto the therapeutic categories we may want them to.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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2 Responses to A thought I had

  1. Josh, it depends where the desire comes from. The trans desire comes from who I am, from my natural being. The desire to overcome same sex attraction comes from a culturally imposed shame, to overcome the natural being. Ex-gays are vilified because they at best fool themselves, trying to change something about themselves unnecessarily; and at worst they encourage the persecution of other gay people, and make money out of others’ suffering.

    • Josh W says:

      Well, it does depend on how you define ‘natural’, and what you’re willing to put under that category. We obviously are operating under different understandings here. If I viewed my same sex desires as being part of my ‘natural being’, then I probably wouldn’t treat them the way I do.

      Some people do operate under an unhealthy sense of shame, which is unfortunate, since self loathing is poisonous to a good spiritual life. But to say that that is the only motive at work here is a bit reductive, to say the least.

      I can’t speak for your average ex-gay, but as for myself I don’t feel ashamed of my desires, nor is my negative view of homosexuality culturally imposed – I grew up in a pretty liberal, secular milieu which was completely ok with me coming out and everything. I came around to the Catholic understanding of sexuality completely of my own accord.

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