OPINION: by Dr David van GendNews Weekly
Shuffling deck chairs on the gay 'Titanic'
, June 5, 2004
Recent findings that gays can go straight radically alters the debate on gay marriage, says David van Gend.The Titanic of Gay Rights, leaving all in its wake, is about to founder on a large and immovable fact.
My concern is not for the glamorous first-class passengers - the prominent doctors and judges - or for the Mardi Gras exhibitionists leering and lurching across the deck, but for the unknown homosexuals down in their lonely cabins feeling sick.
These are the ones who want to stop the ship and get off. The homosexuals who do not want to be homosexual, but who are told that change is impossible, and that any talk of change is disloyal to the Gay crew, even mutinous.
The iceberg of clinical fact looming up in the dark is this: that homosexuals who want to become heterosexual can and do change, as authoritative medical research has now demonstrated.Best news
Given the will, and skilled therapy, there can be an end to the nightmare of same-sex attraction. That is the best news for our heartsick friends down below deck, but it is doom for the complacent triumphalists of the Gay Titanic.
Doom for the tall tale that being gay is like being black, an immutable inborn identity. Doom therefore, in the debate on gay marriage, to false analogies with apartheid and Aborigines, since blacks cannot stop being blacks, but gays can stop being gay.
Homosexuality emerges in its truer light, not as a minority "genetic identity" but as a complex conditioned behaviour, which can and does change.
As to the exact causes of homosexuality, the medical jury is still out. But the baseless claim, promoted by Justice Michael Kirby and others, that gays are just born that way, is given no support by the American Psychiatric Association. Their Fact Sheet on Sexual Orientation (2000) sums it up: "There are no replicated scientific studies supporting any specific biological etiology for homosexuality".Ability to change
As to the ability for homosexuals to change, late last year a remarkable research paper was published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour
by one of America's senior psychiatrists, Dr Robert Spitzer.
Significantly, this was the same Spitzer whose reforming zeal helped delete homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's manual of mental disorders back in 1973. Now he has published a detailed review of "200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation". He writes of his research:
"Although initially sceptical, in the course of the study, the author became convinced of the possibility of change in some gay men and lesbians".
In his structured analysis of homosexuals who claimed to have changed their orientation through "reparative therapy", he concluded that the therapy had been genuinely effective: that "almost all of the participants reported substantial changes in the core aspects of sexual orientation, not merely overt behaviour".
Against critics who say that attempts to change sexual orientation can cause emotional harm to homosexuals, he notes: "For the participants in our study, there was no evidence of harm".
So our seasick travellers down below in the Titanic can take heart: the desire to shake off sexual disorientation can be, in this eminent and gay-friendly doctor's opinion, "a rational, self-directed goal", and for some it can be successful.
To our shame, some of these enforcers are health professionals. To them Spitzer says:
"Mental health professionals should stop moving in the direction of banning therapy that has as its goal a change in sexual orientation. Many patients can make a rational choice to work toward developing their heterosexual potential and minimising their unwanted homosexual attractions."
Gay activist Rodney Croome thinks back to the Aborigines and accuses the Prime Minister, who opposes same-sex marriage, of denying gays "the full humanity of a disadvantaged group"."Apartheid"
Former AMA President Dr Kerryn Phelps likewise accuses the Prime Minister of "apartheid" against the gay "minority" in denying them marriage rights. But turning from that bogus racial minority model to Spitzer's therapeutic model, we see that gays can in fact marry, and in Spitzer's study many were married - but first they had to become biologically marriageable by successfully reorientating from homosexual to heterosexual.
The titanic illusion of homosexuality as a fixed inborn identity will take time to sink, but Spitzer's therapeutic iceberg will be more liberating than destructive.
Below decks are the passengers I care about, and they need to know that it is OK to want to escape the suffering of same-sex attraction, and possible to do so. And our health professionals, who alone can man the life rafts, owe them a duty of care in aiding that escape.
- Dr David van Gend is a family doctor in Toowoomba, senior lecturer in the School of Medicine, University of Queensland, and a medical adviser to the Australian Family Association.