Friday, August 21, 2009

Heterosexism and Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

Two weeks ago the APA finally announced "The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation." The APA has long " opposed stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and has taken a leadership role in supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals."

It wasn't enough when the APA took homosexuality out of the DSM in 1974. Many folks were still convinced in the deviancy of homosexuality. Current reactions to research don't promise much improvement. Too many churches and too much money depends upon enforcing heterosexism. NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality), Exodus International, and many other religious groups are denouncing the APA report. They state that any research affirming the queer people is bogus.

Indeed, research from the 1970s clearly found that:

[S]exual orientation (i.e., erotic attractions and sexual arousal oriented to one sex or the other, or both) was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Some individuals appeared to learn how to ignore or limit their attractions. However, this was much less likely to be true for people whose sexual attractions were initially limited to people of the same sex.
Research shows that homosexuals cannot be changed into heterosexuals. As a matter of fact, an email I received from Soul Force this morning states: "Based on a rigorous review of 83 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007, the APA advised psychologists to avoid telling their clients that therapy or other treatments can change them from gay to straight."

Despite research findings, unfortunately, heterosexism absolutely infuses our culture, and yet many heterosexuals are blind to it. They say to me, "don't flaunt your homosexuality in front of me," and yet, as discussed in my earlier blog regarding Mother L, don't think it's a problem to prohibit me from holding hands with my loved one. Indeed, heterosexist attitudes, behaviors, and practices subordinate queer people simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Prejudice against queers and heterosexual privilege dominate every spectrum of society. Just as racism kept white people in power and patriarchy keeps white men in power, so does heterosexism keep heterosexuals dominate. Our media flaunts sexuality between men and women. Our movies portray it. Our songs declare it. Our newspapers and magazines portray. Simply singing "I kissed a girl and I like it" creates controversy. In innumerable ways each day, our society idealizes straightness and ignores or devalues the existence of any person or family who identifies otherwise.

According to the APA, those who attempted sexual attraction reassignment reported increased depression. When treatment failed, they also reported significant distress and negative self-image. Well, duh....

In addition, their resolution affirms "that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity." The benefits promised by groups pushing reorientation can be gained without going through their programs, encouraging inclusive organizations to meet social, spiritual and educational needs.

All I have left to say is: When was the last time you heard a debate about whether therapy and prayer can change a straight person to gay?


  1. gee, like we havent' known that all along..

  2. According to the old joke, what's the difference between a straight guy and a gay guy? A six-pack of beer! No need for prayer or therapy to cause that transformation!

  3. Um..Dreamweaver? Please correct me if I am wrong, but it was my belief that the DSM was written by the other APA....The American Psychiatrist Association? Not the Amaerican Psychologist Association. The latter has no impact on the writing of the DSM as far as I know.

    There were protests recently at the former's meeting in SF where they were discussing changes to the DSM. The changes (or lack there of) being discussed was the way Transgender/Transsexual is listed. It is still considered a disease with no cure. And while trans people may qualify for surgery to 'ease' there discomfort, they are not considered cured by it.

  4. Neither Dreamweaver or I like the listing of Trans and GID in the DSM. It took until 1973 for the folks in charge of the DSM to get homosexuality out of there and stop classifying it as a mental illness. In the 60's and traveling backwards in time, people could be and were forcibly committed by family members for homosexuality! And here we are with them STILL circling the subject and having to pronounce the obvious in this article - that homosexuality cannot be changed by volition or "cured", when in fact, that is implicitly implied in the removal of it from the DSM 36 freaking years ago! If it isn't an illness, why change it or cure it? *head-desk-thud*! The mill of the gods grinds slowly...

    Transgenderism - and in your case, I am aware that you have considerable knowledge on this, but for others reading this comment and post - is different from homosexuality. It gets lumped under the same umbrella as gay and lesbian but there are major difference. Words that get used interchangeably all the time actually have very different meanings: sex means the physical assigned sex you are at birth (which is not remotely as clear cut as people innocently think it might be!) Then there is gender - this word refers to traits, that are assumed culturally to be "masculine" or "feminine" and lumped into these two categories. It's a poor fit. Most humans on earth are a blend of traits from both categories. Orientation is who you are attracted to sexually and whom you form intimate relationships with. That breaks down predictably into straight gay or bi or pansexual. (Sitting on my Scottish sheep jokes.) So...may I offer up my favorite Psych teacher as an example: assigned sex at birth - female (which she does not dispute in the slightest) Orientation - totally enthusiastically straight. Gender?? She considers herself to be male gendered. Having met her, I agree. So when presented with one of those silly politically correct forms that uses the word Gender, when they really mean sex, Dr.M marks "male" just to screw with people and make the point. (Continued...)

  5. (Continued from above comment...)Transgenderism is - as I understand it from my own personal journey - experiencing the scenario of being a different sex from the assigned sex of one’s body. Gender and orientation set aside, for a minute. In my case, I am a female bodied individual (no ambiguities there) who is and feels and experiences life as a male. My gender traits are a blend of masculine and feminine to the point of being androgynous. And my orientation is distinctly split...I feel like both a lesbian, and a straight male, in my attraction to women. So as a woman, in a female sexed body, I am a lesbian. (And I LIKE it!*grin*) And as a man, albeit in the wrong body sexually, I would be and am a straight male -a straight transman. (And I like that too!) I affirm all of the above blend of identities and honor everything about myself. A person could be a female to male transman who is attracted to men - effectively a gay man in orientation.
    A male to female transwoman who is attracted to women is effectively a lesbian. So, the above article addressing the fact that you cannot change someone’s orientation is speaking to the orientation of gays and lesbians, not to Transgenderism and is a good thing, because there are a lot of Trans gays and lesbians out there who do not need idiots trying to adjust their orientation on top of everything else!!!

    Given the medical models in this country, the DSM does give some aid in getting help for us Trans folk to some degree, despite gate keeping policies and misconceptions and the incorrect stigma of illness. Eventually - eventually, Transgenderism will find its way out of the illness model. There is no way to put a time limit on that. All we can do is work towards it by education, information and activism. We'll check on the DSM authorship and get back to here on that. I know that I posted nothing you don't already know and that you perhaps have far more knowledge and research to hand than I do - but writing it out is good for other people commenting here, and it clarifies my thoughts on it a little more, every time I write it out and look at it! So perhaps I wrote it out once again for myself.

    So thanks for your patience! Be well...

  6. Giggles...Um..(second one in a row?) Cameron? Why do you seem to be apologizing to me? Don't...ever, for this sort of post. You are giving information that the casual reader would not know. The amount of research one has to do to figure out the rules, laws, legal treaties, medical opinions,costs...OMG it goes on and on.

    So don't apologize.

    And another um.... I was only possibly correcting the comment on which group writes the DSM. Having two APA's which have similar functions is very confusing.

    Now I hope you have gone into snuggling mode as I write this.

    hmmm perhaps writing at 1 am isn't the best idea...giggle.

    Again, nothing to apologize for. You filled in the blanks admirably. Thank you.

    And DW, the original post was wonderful.

  7. The APA is to be much commended for its report. The very idea that homosexuality is an illness that needs to be cured by aversion/conversion or "reparative" therapy is absurd. The APA has taken a solid step in the right direction. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, a large segment of society still regards gay men and women as second-class citizens - or worse. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at

    Mark Zamen, author