Strangers and Friends
By Michael Vasey
Hodder & Stoughton (London), 276 pages
Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth
By Jeffrey Satinover
Baker, 281 pages, $17.99
The Truth About Homosexuality
By John F. Harvey, OSFS
Ignatius, 368 pages, $17.95
Straight and Narrow?
By Thomas E. Schmidt
InterVarsity, 240 pages, $10.99
Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far
By Charles W. Socarides
Adam Margrave, 321 pages, $27
By Mona Riley and Brad Sargent
Broadman & Holman, 209 pages, $12.99
Craving for Love
By Briar Whitehead
Monarch, 320 pages, Out of Print
It’s not that unusual a sight: demonstrators gathered outside a meeting hall, protesting the treatment of homosexuals. The curious thing about the protests at the American Psychiatric Association’s 1994 meeting in Philadelphia, however, is that the demonstrators were a group of ex -gays, demanding that the delegates recognize the right to therapeutic help for those who wish to cease to be homosexuals.
During the early 1970s, gay activists had made a number of disruptive demonstrations at professional meetings, placing considerable pressure on psychiatrists to revise their designation of homosexuality as a disorder treatable by psychiatry. In 1973, the board of the American Psychiatric Association voted to change the classification of homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The members of the APA who specialized in treating homosexuals protested the board’s decision, but immediately before a general referendum on the issue, a letter went out in the name of the board, urging APA members not to reverse the board’s decision. It was not known until after the vote that this letter was in fact written and paid for by the National Gay Task Force, and the final tally in the referendum upheld the board’s decision to reclassify homosexuality. The 1973 decision was based not on any advance in scientific or medical knowledge. It occurred instead as a result of successful gay lobbying—and a considerable body of psychological data on homosexuality was dismissed as no longer relevant.
There is a certain irony in the fact that gay activists and their supporters now often claim the authority of the APA for the view that homosexuality is not a psychological problem. Michael Vasey, for instance, in his new work, Strangers and Friends, insists that the reclassification was “not the result of some ‘liberal’ conspiracy,” but instead “represents the recognition that there is nothing intrinsic to a homosexual orientation that makes it psychologically disordered.” On both points he is mistaken. The APA decision was in fact far from unanimous, and it was arrived at largely on sociopolitical grounds.
This pattern of pressuring institutions and researchers to produce results favorable to homosexuals and then claiming the results as objective evidence occurs again and again in pro-gay literature, and is perhaps one of the most curious features of scholarship in our times. Vasey acclaims, for instance, the late John Boswell, who suggested in his work Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe that Christian liturgies once included rites for the celebration of same-sex unions. Despite their dismissal by serious historians (see Robin Darling Young, “Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History,” FT, November 1994), Boswell’s conclusions are often cited in pro-gay circles, where they are proclaimed as evidence of longstanding Christian endorsement of homosexual relationships. The material on which Boswell built his case is the little-known “sacrament of brotherhood” of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which provides a blessing of friendship for persons of the same sex or opposite sexes. Of course, by declaring the persons to be siblings, the ritual actually succeeds in prohibiting sexual contact as incest. But neither accuracy nor logic is much the point of a book like Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Boswell’s revisionism was driven first by a desire to find the acceptable result, and has been subsequently proclaimed as independent proof—even by someone like Vasey, a tutor in liturgical studies who ought to know better.
One place to go for help in sorting out the good scholarship from the politically driven is Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, by psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover. Satinover wisely distinguishes his reaction to homosexual politics from his reaction to homosexuals, who require compassion in their emotional pain and their loneliness. In gay politics, however, Satinover sees “disregard for others and disregard for the truth.” He asserts that “too often gay activism follows the dictum that desired ends justify all means,” as even conscientious disagreement with the claims and tactics used by gay activists is dismissed as “homophobia.” On three particular propositions of the gay activists—that homosexuality is biologically innate, psychologically irreversible, and sociologically normal—Satinover concentrates his attention.
Recent claims for a biological origin of homosexuality essentially began in the summer of 1991, with Science magazine’s publication of Dr. Simon LeVay’s study of variations in the brains of deceased homosexuals. LeVay’s work received enormous attention, even though the prevailing scientific view had been against a biological origin. (The sex researchers Masters and Johnson declared in 1979 that homosexuals are “homosexually oriented by learned preference,” adding in 1985, “The genetic theory of homosexuality has been generally discarded today.”) Satinover notes that LeVay’s conclusions are far from substantiated. The fundamental criticism is of LeVay’s methodology in classifying his dead subjects, for, as Satinover rightly points out, cadavers cannot be interrogated about their prior sexual activity. Satinover might have made the point even more forcefully by observing that LeVay had no way even to know that the heterosexuals in his control group were in fact heterosexuals. In an endnote, LeVay admits as much: “They are assumed to have been mostly or all heterosexual on the basis of the numerical preponderance of heterosexual men in the population.” But much popular and even scientific reporting of LeVay missed the point. (As it was also missed in reporting about a second brain study in 1992 by Allen and Gorski, who themselves noted of their study, “Heterosexual orientation was only assumed, rather than specified . . . . Clearly, subjects who were classified as heterosexual may not have been.”)
Similarly, Satinover shows the flaws in recent studies that claimed a biological origin for homosexuality by analyzing the behavior of twins. He points out the obvious shortcomings of Bailey and Pillard’s 1991 and 1993 studies of twins: the identical environments in which the twins were raised, the unrepresentative sample, the fact that the sexual orientation of the nonrespondent twin was often assessed by report of the sibling, rather than by self-report. Even the results that Bailey and Pillard reported—an approximately 50 percent concordance for homosexuality in identical twin pairs, when genetic characteristics in monozygotic twins would seem to require a 100 percent concordance—means that media accounts were seriously exaggerated. The 1992 British study of King and McDonald found even lower rates of concordance, and Satinover notes their conclusion that “genetic factors are insufficient explanation of the development of sexual orientation.” King and McDonald’s work suggests the importance of early experience and subsequent repetition, especially childhood incest, in fostering later homosexuality.
Satinover offers analysis of many other points relevant to the biological debate on homosexuality. His book is a fine resource for all who wish to assess and respond to the claims made by “gay science.” He does perhaps rely too much on the argument which suggests that if it can be shown that homosexual orientation is not innate, then it must be a choice. Satinover is aware of the alternative view that homosexuality is a non-innate development, caused by early trauma and the breakdown in bonding between the child and the same-sex parent in the early years of life. But he does not distinguish it sufficiently from homosexuality as chosen.
It seems inappropriate to speak of choice for a child hurt by early abuse or emotional rejection. A two-year-old boy who loses his father, or a five-year-old boy who is molested, will carry his unmet need for masculine love and affirmation into his adult years. With biological maturation, this need for love may be inappropriately eroticized—with a pre-adult developmental lack carried into adulthood and inappropriately met with sexual activity. The adult homosexual does, of course, have choices—to remain celibate, to engage in sexual activity, or to seek therapy to resolve the unfinished business of childhood. But the homosexual orientation itself, though not innate, remains something the adult may not have chosen.
Beyond his biological discussion, Satinover has much to say about secular and religious treatments for homosexuality, reporting that the rate of success in treating homosexuality is comparable to the rate in treating every other psychological condition. There is good (if somewhat incomplete) discussion of such organizations as Homosexuals Anonymous and Exodus International, and of the courageous work of Andy Comiskey and Leanne Payne. He includes a welcome chapter on homosexuality and Judaism, and a lengthy concluding discussion of values and society, with a particular contrast between ethical monotheism and the contemporary resurgence of paganism—which affects so much in our society besides the issue of sexuality.
A hero of the ex-gay movement is Father John Harvey, author of The Truth about Homosexuality. A Roman Catholic priest for over fifty years, Fr. Harvey is the author of an earlier book, The Homosexual Person (1987), and the founder of Courage, a steadily growing support group for Roman Catholic homosexuals. With a primary focus on abstinence from sexual activity (rather than change of sexual orientation), the meetings of Courage are heavily imbued with Catholic spirituality, with prayer, sacraments, and spiritual direction of great importance.
With some supplementary material by other contributors, Fr. Harvey’s latest work is a helpful resource for understanding the various issues involved in ministries to homosexuals. Excellent appendices were prepared by Drs. Maria Valdes and Rick Fitzgibbons, both of whom have many years of experience in helping homosexual clients. A chapter by Father Jeffrey Keefe—critiquing recent biological studies on homosexuality and outlining some of the psychodynamic factors in homosexuality—emphasizes that hundreds of mental health professionals continue to believe that homosexuality is a condition of emotional woundedness that deserves and responds well to voluntary therapeutic intervention.
Fr. Harvey’s book surveys the work of various lay counselors and Christian therapists. The two most prominent ministries to homosexuals—Homosexuals Anonymous Fellowship Services, Box 7881, Reading, PA 19603 (610-376-1146) and Exodus International, Box 77652, Seattle, WA 98177 (206-784-7799)—are both nationwide networks of Christian ministries to homosexuals. The book is a veritable roll-call of those involved in ministry to homosexuals. The Dutch psychologist Dr. Gerard van den Aardweg focuses on issues of self-pity and feelings of inferiority. Dr. George Rekers comments on childhood gender nonconformity. Mention is made of Drs. Ismond Rosen, Charles Socarides, Joseph Nicolosi, and Lawrence Hatterer. Within the Christian community, there is Leanne Payne, who utilizes healing prayer for homosexuals; William Consiglio, who shows how homosexuals may respond to emotional triggers and set-ups; and Exodus leaders such as Bob Davies, Lori Rentzel, Joe Dallas, Frank Worthen, and Alan Medinger.
Fr. Harvey’s otherwise admirable work emphasizes the Roman Catholic view that homosexual orientation itself is “objectively disordered,” which may strike non-Catholics (such as the present reviewer) as an unfortunate blurring of the distinction between conditions and behaviors. But his book remains enormously helpful for anyone interested in the topic, covering in encyclopedic fashion many issues of homosexuality—devoting, for instance, a chapter to women’s issues, critiquing pro-gay authors and studies, dismissing Boswell as having only a “facade of scholarship,” and discussing important issues of religious freedom.
A recent evangelical contribution to the homosexual debate is Thomas E. Schmidt’s Straight and Narrow? Schmidt’s opening chapters in particular are marked by his deep concern and empathy for the human beings caught in homosexuality, avoiding the judgmentalism that sometimes mars evangelical perspectives. He makes a credible attempt to do justice to pro-gay arguments, while clearly disagreeing with them.
Schmidt gives helpful critiques of Boswell and the revisionist view of the Sodom story (making the rounds in theological circles) that sees inhospitality—not attempted rape—as the sin involved. (As one commentator tartly remarked in a midwestern radio interview, it certainly is inhospitable to rape one’s guests—but the issue is still rape, and not just lack of hospitality.) He comments on the mistaken Kinsey statistics, promiscuity and health problems, theories of biological causation, and offers a limited survey of recent Christian literature on homosexuality.
When Schmidt comes to discuss the recruitment of homosexuals, he correctly identifies the influence of values and culture. He relies too heavily, however, on the fact of childhood molestation. Molestation may add to the development of a homosexual orientation, but the primary factor seems to be rather the relation to the father. For instance, child molesters are known to have a flair for picking out children who are lonely and hungry for affection, and a boy with an inadequate relation to his father is thus vulnerable to molestation. But in these cases the breakdown in the father-son relation precedes the molestation, and the molester’s recruitment of the child is secondary. The question of “recruitment,” I believe, tends to be raised on the basis of inadequate information-and sometimes as a deliberate scare tactic by unscrupulous anti-homosexual activists. If the possibility of homosexuality appears when the boy’s early relationship with his father breaks down, there will be those who (as a result of their own condition) try to take advantage of the situation by molesting the child. But this does not constitute a deliberate attempt at recruitment, and it is addressed not by attacks on homosexuals but by strengthening the bonds of the family.
Subtitled “A psychoanalyst answers 1,000 questions about causes and cures and the impact of the gay rights movement on American society,” Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far is the latest work by the distinguished psychoanalyst Dr. Charles Socarides. Socarides’ outstanding contribution is in the area of the politics of homosexuality, the politics that has moved us, as he mordantly observes, “from the love that dare not speak its name to the love that can’t shut up—in barely twenty-five years.” Socarides is able to give a detailed and insightful discussion of gay politics, and his book stands as a must-read resource for everyone concerned with the homosexual issue.
Offering his insights into the impact of homosexuality on education, AIDS, the military, and much else besides, Socarides naturally has a great dealt to say about the origin and treatment of homosexuality. His analysis, however, remains a little disappointing, for his views have remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. Like other earlier clinicians, he focuses primarily on the mother-son relationship of the male homosexual: “Their unconscious fears are fears of women”; “An obligatory homosexual has a deep fear of women, fears of engulfment by his mother’s body”; “So many of my patients had over-controlling, suffocating mothers.”
Socarides does acknowledge that “given a good father-son relationship, no boy develops a homosexual pattern.” But he settles for an essentially secondary role for the father: “If the father is around and asserts himself, that will inhibit the influence of an over-controlling mom.” More recent therapists working in the field have made a major shift of emphasis away from the “mother fixation” of standard psychoanalytic theory from Freud onwards. The mother-son bond is what is left when the father-son bond has been disrupted. But the disruption of the father“son bond is what results in homosexuality.
Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far has a similarly old-fashioned understanding of “reparative therapy,” which strictly speaking should only be applied to therapy based on the belief that same-sex love is an inherent reparative drive and that a same-sex therapist should focus on same-sex issues to resolve the underlying gender identity conflict. Socarides tends to apply the term more loosely to any form of therapy that seeks to modify a homosexual’s sexual identity. In general, however, his book remains an interesting and helpful guide to the conflicts between the (somewhat dated) views of the psychoanalytic establishment and the gay activists who brought their political muscle to bear on them.
Brief mention should be made of another helpful and sensitive Christian study: Unwanted Harvest? by Mona Riley and Brad Sargent. It takes its stand on “compassion without compromise,” and offers encouragement and helpful guidelines for Christians to reach out to persons with homosexual concerns. Insisting that the nature of one’s response is “critical to encouraging their healing and walk with God,” it is a valuable addition to any library on homosexuality.
I want also to mention a book—Craving for Love, by the New Zealand writer and journalist, Briar Whitehead—that appeared in England in 1993 and never found an American publisher. Standing head and shoulders above many other recent works on homosexuality, it is indispensable reading for anyone concerned with the homosexual issue, and should be brought back into print as soon as possible, especially in North America.
Homosexuality continues to be one of the major issues of the late twentieth century. We have a number of valuable contributions to the debate, but I wish to challenge everyone concerned to ground their analyses on two essential principles: respect for truth and respect for people.
By “respect for people,” I mean the refusal of vilifying or demonizing. People on both sides of the debate need to make strenuous efforts to defuse their hostility and to demythologize their understanding of each other as “hate-filled bigots.” This implies no loss of moral seriousness. It is entirely likely that major disagreements will remain. But the atmosphere of the debate urgently needs to be imbued with a deep respect and concern for all the people involved.
By “respect for truth,” I mean that the debate must consider truth a higher principle than politics or expediency or fashion. Neither side should make inflated claims or distort data. Both sides need to be frank about their own shortcomings. Truth-seeking also implies an essential concern not to misrepresent others, and not to withhold research grants or publication from persons who hold other views. Genuine and principled disagreement needs to be respected, not dismissed as homophobia or bigotry. This debate is not an easy one. But if we all seek to act with integrity—if we promote truth-seeking and show real respect for those with whom we disagree—then we may realistically hope for the future.
Elizabeth Moberly is retired from ministry to homosexuals as Director of Psychosexual Education and Therapy for BCM International. She is the author of Psychogenesis and Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic. Dr. Moberly is currently working full-time in cancer research.