Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Explaining the ex-gay movement, what it is, what it isn't.

I was reading an interview recently with Lady Gaga where she was asked, "how gay are you?"  For some reason this question stayed with me and I later realized it's significance, the reality that a public claim of being "born this way," becomes a pubic liability if the person later changes their mind, as in the case of Ricky Martin coming out, and then talking about a "genuine" relationship he had had more recently with a woman.  It reminded me of something a friend of mine had said some time ago.  She had struggled with same sex attraction for years and was commenting that it was interesting to her to "observe dynamics within the gay community, how some people self-identify as homosexual, they're comfortable with it, and then there are others..." The point I'm leading up to here is what some of us have thought for a long time, that the issue of sexual identity is not as neat and tidy as current public discussion will allow to be said.

Why is that? Why is the politically correct version of this issue that homosexuality is always static and always inborn?  I think it's because it is seen as necessary in the struggle for equal rights to maintain this claim.  I don't see why it should be. The foundation for basic human rights is that someone is a human being, is it not, regardless of how they choose to define themselves? As another example religion is sometimes thought to be cultural or inherited, while for other people it is a choice. Regardless, we recognize freedom of religion as a basic human right.  Why should a person's sexual orientation be any different?

The reason why I think it's important to talk about this however, is because the limitations put on the current discussion, I believe could be leading to discrimination in other ways. The reality is that we simply do not know that homosexuality is always inborn and always unchanging.  How on earth could you prove such a claim?  It sounds much more reasonable to me to say that this is a complex issue, that it varies from individual to individual, that there could be both genetic and environmental factors.  Isn't that what social science says about everything else?  So may I politely ask, where is the nurture factor in this discussion?  And may I also humbly ask, what about the individual's right to choose?

And so what about the "others," my friend was referring to?  What about another man I knew, that was going to counselors who repeatedly told him that this was just something he had to accept about himself, that was "unchangeable" even though  he wanted to change?  What about the person that says that they were bullied so much in the schoolyard that they began to believe the things that were said about them, later to realize as an adult that those things weren't true? What about the woman that told me that her early life left her longing for something that she went looking for in a relationship with another woman?  Do their stories count? What about the statistics that show that homosexuals are significantly more likely to have been abused as children? What about the rights of the counselor or researcher, etc. that disagrees with the standard therapy? Do they have a right to their medical or professional opinion? Or the thing that concerns me most, that young people may be labelled as being homosexual for feelings that are more often than not, just a normal part of growing up. I'm also concerned that those same young people are being told that all lifestyle choices are equal, without being told the medical risks.  I mean this in a very general sense.

And finally, the issue of faith based ministries who are reaching out to the gay community, do they have a right to exist?  Do homosexuals have the right to choose to be part of such a ministry? Why can't we just say that there are different options out there for different people?  Why are such ministries being black-listed and mis-labelled by the gay community? ( Or to be fair, are these ministries actively engaged in stifling the gay rights movement? Is it a fair assumption that they are? That's another question.)  I have heard people say that their lives were transformed by such ministries.  I've heard other people say that they walked away from similar ministries.  Again I ask, why can't we just acknowledge that there are different options out there for different people? Ex-gay ministries (let me know if you know of a better term) are not being forced on anyone.  They are there for the person who wants them.  Ex-gay ministries are not trying, in any way to diminish the fact that same sex attraction is a very real struggle for some people. I think this is where a lot of the misunderstanding comes in. The homosexual community appears to perceive that the term "ex-gay" somehow de-legitimizes their struggle.  I don't think religious ministries would see it this way.  From the perspective of a religious ministry the emphasis is spiritual.  From a Christian perspective (not all ex-gay ministries are Christian), the emphasis is that as Christians we find a new identify in Christ, and so this is how we choose to self-identify, as Christians. What is a lifelong struggle for some people, who have a greater hope in Christ. To be clear however, I'm also not de-legitimizing the work of ex-gay ministries in saying this either because I think the results speak for themselves, that this seems to work for some people.  Perhaps some of these general methods could be adopted by secular counselors even.  I'm not a counselor, I'm just suggesting that perhaps different streams could learn from each other rather than a one size fits all approach. And that is ultimately what I'm advocating for here, that we respect the autonomy of the individual in the self-identifying process, and that we search these issues with respect for the whole person, including the individual's personal beliefs. Thanks for listening.

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