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    What are little fags made of?

    Via the Washington Blade , MSNBC has this article that starts as a summary of the Love Won Out conference sponsored by Focus on the Family but ends up summarizing several of the different views of the origins and mutability of homosexuality.

    What’s fascinating is that everyone comes off looking more moderate and live-and-let-live than usual. Queer activists prone to hysterics are quoted in austere single-word bites about how “hateful” groups that advocate change are. The representative of Focus on the Family, Bill Maier, emphasizes tolerance for homosexual behavior. This isn’t to say the reporter is being disingenuous, only that the side of each party is different from what’s usually shown. You might start hallucinating that people with strong opposing opinions can live together in a free society without rancor.

    BTW, Focus on the Family’s official take (I assume, since the piece was written by James Dobson) on the origins and malleability of homosexuality is here. There’s much to agree with: gay activists do engage in propaganda, and the evidence should not be suppressed that people who are troubled by their homosexuality to the point of being non-functional are capable of and better off not acting on it.

    The narrative to explain how homosexuality ripens is internally coherent and doubtless appeals to Dobson’s constituency, but calling it “definitive” is a bit much. Even if you accept that homosexuality starts with a genetic predisposition toward certain traits plus some kind of emotional dislocation in infancy, which seems like as good an explanation as any to me at this point, that doesn’t indicate it’s still fundamentally in flux until late adolescence. Dobson calls a dawning awareness of the sensuality of one’s own body and a more-pronounced sense of difference from other boys a stage on the way to homosexuality; most of us who are out would say that we experienced it as the emergence, under the special pressures that start for everyone with puberty, of what it’s clear in retrospect had been dormant all along. Neither has been proved, but what would help the pro-change side would be evidence that a high percentage of gays change successfully.

    Unfortunately, radical gays, egregiously screechy though they be, have no monopoly on exaggeration. Dobson doesn’t screech and, in fact, comes off as sincere and humane in intent, but in his hands Robert L. Spitzer’s carefully qualified finding that some homosexuals with unusually high motivation can learn to function heterosexually mutates into the blanket statement “Change is possible.” Parents and teenagers are assured, “Prevention is effective,” without information about success rates. (After all, if Joseph Nicolosi has data to support the contention that 75 percent of boys with “untreated” gender issues become homosexual, isn’t it reasonable to figure he’d know more about those who get treatment and are thus within the ken of psychologists? I suppose that kind of information could be elsewhere in the book, but it strains credibility to figure that Dobson wouldn’t have cited it–he’s advertising preventive therapy, isn’t he?)

    And the footnotes there are are suspect: Dobson refers to gays’ “shorter lifespan” and cites William Bennett’s “Clinton, Gays and the Truth” from the Weekly Standard (not on-line, AFAIK). William Bennett has many virtues–especially with respect to the field of education–but he is not a statistician. In fact, he was working from Paul Cameron’s notorious “study” of gay life expectancy, which Walter Olson eviscerates here. Bennett himself later conceded that Cameron’s survey was not a reliable basis for generalization about the gay population.

    The average-lifespan-of-43 figure is not the crux of Dobson’s argument, I know. I bring it up because it illustrates a willingness to accept uncritically arguments with which one already sympathizes–a problem that everyone in this debate seems to have in spades but, naturally, only notices in others. It matters even on small points because anyone drawing conclusions on a murky topic like the origins of homosexuality is going to have to look at the fragmentary evidence, make a lot of judgment calls, and ask readers to trust them. Lack of rigor hurts everyone whose primary interest is the truth.

    For the foreseeable future, there are going to be a multiplicity of approaches, and we’ll all be appalled at those that go against our views. Myself, I ache for gay kids whose parents think their brains have to be rewired for their own good–if they think they were setting the children faulty gender-identification signals, shouldn’t they be signing themselves up for brainwashing, too?–but that doesn’t make “reparative therapy” programs a special kind of social emergency. Parents do all sorts of things to screw up their kids (and adults do all sorts of things to screw up their own lives) that aren’t legally punishable. Outsiders can criticize them but not interfere. What we can all do is work to strengthen our arguments as dispassionately as possible. And lead the sort of responsible, happy lives that make people want to emulate them.

    Added on 1 July: Well, sheesh. I would’ve e-mailed Mike, but I thought it was Daniel’s cage we were supposed to be rattling now. :) In any case, Ex-Gay Watch doesn’t have its own post up discussing the MSNBC piece yet, but commenters are already starting to debate its weird even-handedness at the short one linked to in the last sentence. Should be interesting; I’ll be looking forward to reading what Mike has to say, too.

    Added on 7 July: Mike Airhart’s post is up.

    2 Responses to “What are little fags made of?”

    1. PBCliberal says:

      Thank you for the link to Dobson’s piece Bringing Up Boys. It was tremendously illuminating not in what it said in its rehash of NARTH, Nicolosi and denial, but in the glimpse it gives you of Dobson’s own sexuality.

      Doesn’t Dobson’s belief in the mutability of sexuality in those he counsels suggest that he believes there’s an equal mutability in his own sexuality? Can he “think himself gay” if he chooses to? Is his relationship with his wife, any deep love that he feels for her, the product of a switch he threw someplace between training bikes and bible school?

      When I look through these guys’ pontifications and see the shadows of their own personal sexualities, I see passion as limp as a dishrag. Couple this with what appears to be a higher percentage of LGBT sons and daughters in the offspring of these self-appointed experts and I wonder if perhaps they should be the subjects of some of these studies they’re interpreting for us.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      “Doesn’t Dobson’s belief in the mutability of sexuality in those he counsels suggest that he believes there’s an equal mutability in his own sexuality? Can he ‘think himself gay’ if he chooses to?”

      Well, he and those with similar theories have given themselves an out: the idea is that everyone is heterosexual from birth and that some trauma drives homosexuals toward our own sex at the start of puberty. Considering how developed my fantasy life was at 13, I find the line that I was still in some narcissistic-inward-turning phase that wasn’t yet “about” sex pretty untenable. But all this stuff is, in practical terms, difficult to falsify reliably at this point. I do wish people such as Dobson would occasionally get around to acknowledging that their view of how sexuality develops is as convenient for their worldview as ours is for ours, though I’m not holding my breath.

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