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February 1997

On the Origins and Treatment of Homosexuality

~ Change is Possible ~

AUSTIN T. WELSH, M.D.

FOR about a century now, homosexuality has been not only what someone practices, but what defines that person, The fruits of this construct are apparent, with gays now seen as a minority group in the civil rights paradigm. This belief is bolstered by the perception common today that homosexuality has been proven to be somehow genetically based, fundamental and unchangeable. Pundits from William F. Buckley to Dear Abby accept it as fact, and homosexuals often say in defense "I didn't ask to be gay." But that is not the same as claiming "I was born this way."

In truth, there is no sound proof for an inborn homosexuality; there is much to the contrary which shows it can be quite mutable. Perhaps the most telling sign of this is the exit of thousands of 'ex-gays' from their life-style and orientation. There is a growing body of research which finds homosexuality to stem from deficits in the child's early psychological environment and treatable subsequently with therapy. There is much hope for the homosexual unhappy with his feelings and behaviour.

GENES NOT RESPONSIBLE

The biologic theories are based on experiments performed over the past 20 years in animal and human models. These are exhaustively critiqued in a recent article by William Byne and Bruce Parsons, psychiatrists at Columbia University. They show that investigations of hormones, neuroanatomy, and genes have all been inconclusive, and they assert "there is no evidence at present to substantiate a biologic theory .... The current trend may be to underrate the explanatory power of extant psychosocial models." Such models find the family milieu critical in the formation of sexual orientation. Bynes and Parsons repeat others' discovery that "many, perhaps a majority, of homosexual men report family constellations [with] overly involved, anxiously overcontrolling mothers [and) poor father-son relationships." Other summaries of the evidence against a biologic basis can be found in Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality by Nicolosi and Exploding the Gene Myth by Hubbard and Wald.

Last summer yet another paper supporting the biologic theory appeared in Science, to much fanfare. A team at the National Cancer Institute claimed to have found genetic material on the X chromosome which seemed connected with male sexual orientation. They found that 33 of 40 pairs of homosexual brothers shared certain sequences of DNA. The article was stuffed with statistical analysis but essentially flawed, and Ruth Hubbard, professor emerita of biology at Harvard, responded to its publication with a withering assessment:

There was no control experiment checking for the presence of the marker among heterosexual brothers. It is surprising that the correlation found in this research warranted publication, especially in as influential a journal as Science.

Publication may be a bit less surprising after one learns that the chief author practices homosexuality himself but was told by at least one editor at Science to hide it from the public.

One wonders why money for cancer research is spent to fund this research, and how much spurious data has been published for political reasons over the, past generation. There is of course among those practising homosexuality an almost tribal outlook which encourages such falsehood and constitutes the greatest barrier to rational research and treatment.

Homosexuals readily confirm the difficulties they have with their fathers, and some believe these follow from the father's rejection of the son's inherited traits. It seems more likely, though, that an emotionally or physically absent father never allows his son to develop the salience necessary to be a man. Richard Isay is a leading homosexual apologist and psychiatrist, and he finds the homosexual personality deeply rooted in family dynamics:

The manner in which homosexuality, like heterosexuality, may be expressed is influenced by a variety of early experiences.... Like all forms of love, it is a longing for a lost attachment. That longing, for gay men, is usually for the father.

There are extensive references in homosexual literature to the parents' importance. Gay writers from Truman Capote to David Leavitt show conflict with the absent father and cloying mother to be constant themes.

HOMOSEXUALS CAN CHANGE

It has been out of favour with the behavioural science establishment for a while, but there is an established tradition of transforming homosexual orientation with psychotherapy, weakening significantly any argument for its being predetermined. One of the earliest studies on the subject was headed by the psychiatrist Irving Bieber in the 1950s. He reported on 106 homosexuals who had been treated by a research team of 77 psychoanalysts for various durations over a nine year period. Twenty-nine of the clients became exclusively heterosexual.

Although this change may be more easily accomplished by some than by others, in our judgement a heterosexual shift is a possibility for all homosexuals who are strongly motivated to change.

In 1979 Bieber added:

We have followed some patients for as long as 20 years who have remained exclusively heterosexual. Reversal estimates now range from 30% to an optimistic 50%.

Another pioneer in the field of reversal therapy is Charles Socarides at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and president of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality. He reports reversal rates of nearly 50%:

While I can minimize neither the hard work and resoluteness required of the psychoanalyst in treating this serious disorder, nor the courage and endurance required of the patient, a successful resolution brings rewards fully commensurate with their labors.

Gerard van den Aardweg is a psychotherapist who sees in homosexuals an unconscious addiction to self-pity; 'bitching' is a common trait. He has the patient practice hyperdramatization (exaggeration) toward the goal of taking oneself more lightly. Calling this Anti-complaining Therapy, he has had success using it with other techniques since 1968, reporting an overall improvement rate of 84% in his long-term therapy patients, with 65% completely or nearly completely changed. He explains:

Since relatively few homosexuals seriously try to change and few therapists encourage them to do so, the notion that homosexuality is irreversible is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If nobody tries, nobody will succeed.... Working at one's self, let alone fighting one's undesirable, self-centered habits and attachments is not a popular issue in our permissive and overindulgent age.... The specious exhortation "accept yourself" becomes tantamount to surrender to immaturity on the one hand and repression of one's "better me" on the other... The alternative, to work at yourself, is more difficult but it is the only way to inner happiness and peace of mind.

Bieber, Socarides and van den Aardweg are only three of the more outstanding in a long and growing line of researchers who have discovered that homosexuality can be treated. The most comprehensive recounting of this discovery can be found in Joseph Nicolosi's recent books, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality and Healing Homosexuality. He details the dynamics of the homosexual personality and the heroism of what he calls "non-gay homosexuals," i.e., those who reject their tendencies and the subculture and seek reform. Nicolosi has treated over 200 men at the Thomas Aquinas Clinic with remarkable success; many clients had complete reversals of orientation with reparative therapy.

By no means does the healing of homosexuality come only at the hands of professionals. There are articles documenting the spontaneous reversal of homosexuality, often accompanied by religious experiences. The burgeoning ex-homosexual movement typified by Courage and Exodus ministries depends as much on divine power as human learning, and there are thousands making their way out through prayer and study - the insights of behavioural scientists supplementing Scripture and faith in God.

The mysteries and illusions of homosexuality are clearing in the light. The enormity of the parent's responsibility toward the child becomes accentuated by the discovery that homosexuality stems from unhealthy and sometimes subtle father-mother-child interactions. It is a handicap forced on the child which the adult has the burden and the freedom to overcome. We have an obligation to extend a hand to these people, many of whom live tortured lives, and to know how much they deserve our love and respect. For to be gay is not to be happy, and there is a healthy way out of the closet.

Thanks to Dr. Welsh and Social Justice Review.



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