Good headline, huh? But I’m not talking about Eliot or David, but Robert and Paul. They both have had a major impact on the discussion of homosexuality. Spitzer is an extraordinarily accomplished psychiatrist with an ornery streak. He published a study lending some legitimacy to reparative “cure” therapy for homosexuals, depending on their own self-descriptions. He’s now apologizing for the study’s sloppiness. Here it is:
Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: “can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?” Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, “how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?” – a not very interesting question.
The Fatal Flaw in the Study – There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.
I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.
Cameron acknowledges having been raped as a child and “overcoming” sexual feelings about men as he approached his adolescent years. “I reacted to my environment,” he said. “As you’re probably aware, I was seduced, or raped, as a child … I was raped homosexually. Had that continued, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up.”
The longer I am in this debate, the more something emerges. Most people don’t really care much about gays. The subject doesn’t come up; and most adjusted straight men do not feel passionately on the subject one way or the other. And so you notice patterns. You find that most of the really impassioned anti-gay activists are just as motivated by personal passion – whether as an early victim of sex abuse (Paul Cameron), or as the father of a gay son (Charles Socarides), or as a single mother abandoned by her boyfriend (Maggie Gallagher), or someone fighting to restrain their own gay feelings (Ted Haggard, Larry Craig) – as pro-gay activists are. This is a perfectly legitimate motivation for all sorts of political movements, but on the gay question, one should always be alert to the personal psychological undercurrents. (That goes for us gays as well as out opponents, and I am grateful for the odd psychological diagnoses I receive via email.)
Is it any surprise, for example, that Cameron believes that large numbers of gays are sex abusers, or that we all die young, and other canards he has spread over the years? Is it not relevant that he says he was raped as a child by a man? Any major surprise that one of the very few psychiatrists to advocate reparative therapy, Charles Socarides, blamed it on fathers, while having a gay son, Richard, who went on to become the Clinton administration’s point person on gay issues? You can go all the way up to the current Pope’s absurd obsession with the subject.
What we’re trying to do is change consciousness so that this kind of psychological panic and reaction is less potent today than it was, because that will fuck up fewer people, straight, gay and just frightened. And fewer fucked up people helps for a less fucked up debate.
Well: we’re getting there, aren’t we?