uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

'Ex-Gay' Therapy: Just Another Right-Wing Denial

Reaction to the news that Michele Bachmann’s husband Marcus ran a clinic that engaged in “ex-gay therapy” – directing gays and lesbians to God and prayer to “cure” them of their sexual orientation – has been predictable. While a large swath of the country is understandably shocked and suspicious that a candidate for president would be connected to such a medieval practice, her defenders have instead blamed criticism of the practice on – you guess it! – the media, liberals, homosexuals, and Washington.

As reported by the Minnesota Independent, which has been out front investigating this issue from the beginning, several right-wing groups responded to the controversy with the standard tropes born from their persecution complex. Thus Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, flatly bore false witness while defending the controversial therapy: “Apart from Washington, D.C., and homosexual interest groups, the majority of the country will view Marcus’s work for what it is, a ministry of hope,” he said. “Pointing men and women who struggle with same-sex attractions to God isn’t ‘a discredited form of therapy,’ it’s the path to sexual healing.”

It’s amazing to me that so many in Perkins’ camp will simply state something demonstrably, factually untrue to defend their position. In point of fact, so-called “ex-gay” therapy is, indeed, a discredited form a therapy, according to all professional associations that deal with it, because none of them consider homosexuality a condition that needs curing. The American Medical Association “opposes the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” The American Psychiatric Association has declared that homosexuality “implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities,” and urges all countries to decriminalize private, consensual relations among same-sex adults, and further calls on them to help “decrease the stigma related to homosexuality wherever and whenever it may occur.” The American Psychological Association likewise states that “psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed,” and further asserts that, “The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.” Regarding Marcus Bachmann’s brand of therapy specifically, the APA, like the AMA, explicitly denounces it:

“Some therapists who undertake so-called conversion therapy report that they have been able to change their clients' sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Close scrutiny of these reports, however show several factors that cast doubt on their claims. For example, many of these claims come from organizations with an ideological perspective that condemns homosexuality. Furthermore, their claims are poorly documented; for example, treatment outcome is not followed and reported over time, as would be the standard to test the validity of any mental health intervention.

“The American Psychological Association is concerned about such therapies and their potential harm to patients. In 1997, the Association's Council of Representatives passed a resolution reaffirming psychology's opposition to homophobia in treatment and spelling out a client's right to unbiased treatment and self-determination. Any person who enters into therapy to deal with issues of sexual orientation has a right to expect that such therapy will take place in a professionally neutral environment, without any social bias.”

It’s here that we get to the crux of the matter. In both the AMA’s and APA’s positions on this matter, what discredits this kind of therapy from the start is the socio-cultural bias from which its practitioners approach homosexuality. In the APA’s words, these therapies just so happen to be connected with organizations “with an ideological perspective that condemns homosexuality.” The AMA likewise notes that it is “based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” In short, these are professional organizations engaging in and reflecting the peer-reviewed, scientific consensus of their disciplines, as opposed to traditionalism with a gendered ax to grind. In any professional organization in the modern world, beginning any examination of an issue with an ideological presupposition automatically discredits it. So why do Perkins et al. simply reassert that this is not a discredited form of therapy?

The same reason many of his ilk also flatly assert that the theory of evolution is somehow shaky science, when in fact the scientific community is in consensus about it. The same reason they claim that climate science is in doubt, when that same community has also reached consensus about that.

The same reason they often claim that the Bible is literal, historical, fact, as opposed to the consensus in the scholarly field of Biblical criticism (not to mention any mainline denomination), which has ably demonstrated it is anything but. It’s the same reason they claim that the Founders of America were fundamentalist Christians cut from the same cloth as they are more than 200 years later, and that Washington, Jefferson, and Adams no doubt subscribed to the same social, cultural, and political mentalities as they do now, despite the gulf of years that makes the past a foreign country to any legitimate, professional historian. It’s the same reason many of them claim that marriage and family are the same static institutions they’ve always been, despite a host of sociological and anthropological observations to the contrary.

Do people on the Left subscribe to narratives that conflict with scholarly consensus? Most certainly. But it is hardly as widespread or lockstep a phenomenon. On the Right, meanwhile, this trope of denial is such a major aspect of their overall machinery that Perkins can comfortably make a statement in defense of Marcus Bachmann that is diametrically opposite from what the reality is, without any real fear of contradiction from his compatriots.

After a while, one would expect them to ponder why it is that their ideologies are so often in conflict with the professionals who practice and study the matters around which they define themselves. One would expect them to grow tired of constantly forming elaborate reasons as to why their ideological framework is correct and the facts and evidence presented to them are wrong, especially considering how often they defer to professionals in every other matter of their lives (what to do about a broken-down car, how to file their taxes, what medicine they should take for heartburn, etc.).

The APA has literature on that as well: under its entry on cognitive dissonance.