• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Somewhere deep within / Hear the creak that lets the tale begin

    What would you think if you read something like this from a professional psychologist (via Eric Scheie)?

    Personally, I’m skeptical about turning gay people straight. But shouldn’t the client be the one to choose, not the APA? The APA has decided that the answer is no.

    Not only did the APA deny CE (Continuing Education) credit to professionals attending the annual NARTH conference in November, stating that “The program content is not consistent with APA policy” but the APA is attempting to declare therapy to modify sexual orientation unethical (National Psychologist, March,April 2006). Nicholas Cummings and Rogers Wright, authors of Destructive Trends in Mental Health,talk about the APA’s attempt to silence those who disagree with their positions.

    There are plenty of possible responses to Dr. Helen here. For example, despite the APA’s generally liberal political bent, perhaps it has honestly noticed that “reparative” therapists don’t seem to be able to produce much beyond Carol Gilligan-level anecdotal evidence that their conclusions are grounded in reality. At the same time, she is clearly taking the position that people should be free to pursue happiness their own way without paternalistic interference. Bully for her for championing individual self-determination and raising thorny questions about a subject a lot of people reflexively avoid, right?

    Well, not if you’re downtownlad. If you’re downtownlad, Dr. Helen should be named in a class action suit. She’s a closed-minded conservative. She should also have another heart attack. And everyone who agrees with her is not only a moron but a stupid moron. There are probably a few more gems in his avalanche of comments there, but you get the general idea.

    I’ve had downtownlad blogrolled for a while; I miss New York, and his posts about the City are often good reads.

    Not so his stuff about gay issues.

    His coming out was pretty recent and, by his own very moving account, rocky. As far as I’m concerned, people who haven’t been out long get some leeway if they’re a little touchy and extra-combative about gay stuff. But no one in his mid-30s gets enough leeway to accommodate looking forward to someone’s next heart attack. I don’t care whether you just came out ten minutes ago and were driven from your parents’ house by your entire knife-brandishing extended family–if you’ve been an adult for over a decade, you are supposed to know how to handle yourself in public, and if you’re not up to it, you keep still until you’ve regained your equanimity. When you cross a line or two–I’ve certainly been known to–you apologize and discipline yourself not to do it again.

    Would that it were only his tone that was objectionable, but the content doesn’t entirely wash, either. There are few beliefs propagated by some of my fellow homos that drive me up the wall more than the idea that the pain and isolation we experience up until we come out exhausts our full lifetime ration of misery and that, therefore, it’s society’s job to make us feel good about ourselves from that point on. No, no one ever actually puts it that way, but the implicit belief that any questions raised about gay life are in and of themselves anti-gay or [yawn] homophobic seems to govern a lot of the public debate.

    But life doesn’t work like that for ANYONE. Fat people, Mormons, and folks with Appalachian accents who move to the big city come in for their share of callous judgments, and they’re expected to deal. If they decide they’d like to change, no one goes bananas trying to prevent them, even in cases in which it seems they’d probably be happier just accepting themselves.

    Homosexual behavior only began to be decriminalized very recently. No one should be bowled over by the fact that a lot of people still have strong positions against it. Or by the fact that some people are unhappy being homosexual themselves. Or by the fact that parents who wish their kids weren’t homosexual will try everything they can to remold them–the same way pushy parents who want their artistic kids to become lawyers or want their bookish kids to play on the football team do. One need not like such situations to acknowledge that bureaucratic fiat is a bad way to try to address them, especially when it’s alloyed with identity politics. As Eric sensibly says:

    The issue was once whether there’s a right to be gay. Over the years that has morphed into the crazy idea that if you are gay, you must always remain gay because it is your identity, and that the slightest disagreement with this idea constitutes the direst threat, and actually causes harm. This makes no sense, and I think it’s a form of intolerance motivated by a type of insecurity similar to (although not as extreme as) what we’ve been seeing in the case of people who went ballistic over the Muhammad cartoons.

    A settled mind is generally a resilient one. People who have chosen their way of life by working candidly through their own inner conflicts and making peace with the elements do not, as a rule, get all edgy at the very idea that someone else might find happiness by making the opposite choice. As gays, we’re a population that’s almost impossible to study without sampling biases, so people have to do the best they can with fragmentary information. That’s life. It is infantilizing to try to insulate people from reality rather than encourage them to meet it head-on. Is this what our elder brothers and sisters broke their heads against convention for three decades ago?

    19 Responses to “Somewhere deep within / Hear the creak that lets the tale begin”

    1. Toby says:

      Well said – i have sparred with DTL a couple of times on his penchant for calling people bigots just because they oppose his leftist views on homosexuality (eg when he said that to oppose gay marriage one must be bigoted, andd that it was a theocracy when a private redstate cinema decided not to screen some bluestate propaganda) .

      I wondered at the what might be called Freudian aspects of his views on being gay – but wondered whether it was civil to blog about it as I wondered what people might say about me behind my back! You are right though – he is too old to be taking this late-teens queer theory nonsense so to heart – especially when it is at odds with his general conservative commonsense on everything else. That just makes him a hypocrite.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks, Toby. I try to stay focused on people’s arguments, but sometimes the attitude they strike is just as (appallingly) eloquent. My one run-in with downtown lad was once at Gay Orbit when he referred to me as an anti-gay bigot–no, I believe he said that I was a bigot and didn’t know it, which would make me both bigoted and ditzy. (I think I’d deployed the word fag, as I am wont to do.) Someone had to very gently point out that I’m, you know, gay.

      Anyway, he wouldn’t bother me so much were he not so prolifically, tenaciously obnoxious. But he likes to dig in and get more uncharitable with every succeeding comment on a given thread, so he’s exactly the sort of person that sticks in people’s memory as “what gays are like” if they don’t know any.

    3. Keeping cluelessness in the closet

      I was looking at an old picture last night, showing me at my 1982 law school graduation. Three of my closest friends are there — two in front of me, one behind me. One was to die in 1986, another…

    4. Connie says:

      A New Yorker who is obnoxious??? Impossible!

    5. Toby says:

      Is DTL even from NY? Sure he lives there, but the way he goes on about the place leads me to wonder whether in fact he is out-New Yorking the New York cliche becasue he is in fact an outsider. His rabbiting on about bigotry is infuriating.

      The whole NY thing is ridiculous anyway – they go on about how great it is, and how they can go out to amazing things any night of the week, but unless they are loaded (in which case anywhere in the world is great), they merely get a DVD and go back to their pokey little apartment every night, before commuting to overwork the next morning.

      The place has some good art galleries and museums, but what else in truth? Texas has amazing art galleries and it would sure be nicer to live there in many ways…The whole NY thing speaks more about the psychological needs of those pushing the bandwagon to prove their self-worth than about the city itself.

    6. Toby says:

      Kundera calls it “addition” in Immortality.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      Let’s not go overboard on the harshing on downtownlad, okay, dude? I also get the impression that he grew up somewhere in North Jersey or Westchester County or Long Island, though I’m not sure. In any case, does it matter? Granted that he could stand to be less tendentious about it, he chose a city that suits his personality and loves it. That’s one of the benefits of living in a free, mobile society. After all, on a larger scale, both your country and ours benefit immeasurably from the enthusiasm of non-natives who have moved in and assimilated.

      As for New York itself…well, I’m kind of a Northeast Corridor jingo. I can’t help it. I grew up in eastern PA; our family day trips and school field trips were usually to historical sites or to the big Northeastern cities. I’ve never traveled anywhere in the States I couldn’t find a way to like, but the Mid-Atlantic is home, and New York is its big, flaky, riotous center. I love the place, even when it drives me nuts.

    8. Toby says:

      Don’t misread me – only my first para was about DTL. The rest was a riff about New York-centrism.

      The mere fact that we live in countries of immigrants does not mean that we have to accept silliness about cities, though. You are what you make of yourself – and the city in which you live has nothing really to do with it. A backwoodser can be moral and more cultured than the most sophisticated inhabitant of the biggest megalopolis, but the backwoodser will tend not to be conceited about it.

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      “The rest was a riff about New York-centrism.”

      No, it was a contemptuous riff about why you think the trade-offs people make to live in New York are silly. It was also ignorant. If, in your experience of New York, you didn’t look beyond the expensive, glitzy diversions to find all the (many, many) fun things there are to do on the cheap besides huddling around the DVD player, you’re a fine one to be accusing others of elitism.

      I’m more than happy to acknowledge that there are cultured people just about everywhere, but if you think the best response to smug, sneering Blue State boosterism is smug, sneering Red State boosterism, please take it to Gay Patriot, where they get off on that sort of thing. I don’t.

    10. Toby says:

      Disagree – my point stands. Most of the people who go on about NY (and they do it about London too and even Sydney) hardly do any of these attractions for which they so laud the city (and by implication, their status of being in that city).

      Many of those things that can be done on the cheap can be done anywhere – and are not really unique to a big city. The cheap things that can’t be done elsewhere are very often cliches spread by the likes of Woody Allen or Madonna in her fake-British accent mode.

      In any event, whatever those things are, they do not make the doer a morally better person merely by doing them. I think it is clear that the doer claims some moral worth out of doing those things (cf Kundera). In reality, as I said, they merely go home, get a DVD, and then go back a hard job the next day (which is identical to the rest of us drones who do the same thing outside NY and London and Sydney).

      On that basis, falling into Kundera’s addition fallacy is just that – a psychological trick of what Nietzsche called slave morality or ressentiment.

      I find many interesting things to do in NY and London, for example, both cheap and expensive. That does not mean that those who pretentiously style themselves “Londoners” or “New Yorkers” and rabbit on about how cool the city is (and therefore by extension how cool and more discerning they are) are therefore better people than those who choose to live elsewhere.

      Statistically, this behaviour is more prevalent in migrants to the city than in natives, which makes it even more bogus (although I do appreciate that Australian culture, being more English than the US, might frown on this sort of immigrant boosterism in a way that US culture wouldn’t).

      Most of the thrill of being in a big city like NY is in fact due to the individual’s ability to reinvent himself along the lines of Stadtluft macht frei, rather than having anything to do with the city per se. In fact, the act of styling oneself so is itself bogus – because it is an attempt to differentiate themselves from other citizens of their country.

      Not exactly sure how this could be elitist redstate boosterism, but them’s the breaks I suppose. I would more have called it incipient Stoicism myself.

    11. Alan says:

      DTL turned me off the first time I read him. If I hear one more thing about that armoire… And now I learn he’s in his 30s?? No excuses!

    12. Sean Kinsell says:


      “In any event, whatever those things are, they do not make the doer a morally better person merely by doing them. I think it is clear that the doer claims some moral worth out of doing those things (cf Kundera).”

      And I think you’re gussying up your snideness about how other people choose to live. The common-sense point that some people hang too much of their sense of self-worth on status and its trappings (either achieving it for themselves or walking the same streets as those who have it)–and that cities such as New York attract such people–can be made perfectly well without citing Kundera or anyone else. And snobbery is bad. I’m not sure whom you think you’re arguing with because I’m not sure who would disagree with that.

      What I’m disagreeing with is the way you go from deploring snobbery to airily declaring, “Most of the thrill of being in a big city like NY is in fact due to the individual’s ability to reinvent himself along the lines of Stadtluft macht frei, rather than having anything to do with the city per se.” So a lot of people who live in New York don’t go to MOMA every weekend or see every production at the Met–who cares? Maybe they just like knowing that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is right uptown if they happen to have a free afternoon. Maybe knowing there are a lot of people making world-scale decisions on the same little island inspires them to work harder at their own less-glam jobs. Or maybe it’s saving for one little indulgence per season at Bergdorf’s that inspires them. Or the presence of so many immigrants from so many places who are obviously thrilled to be there. Maybe they enjoy finding resourceful ways to make small, odd-shaped apartments warm and inviting. Maybe they just take pleasure in living in a city with so many beautiful buildings and lights and people. Why take such a crabbed view?

    13. Toby says:

      S – re your last paragraph (since I think we agree on the rest) – why is it crabbed? The fact of thinking oneself morally superior to other people simply because an unvisited MOMA is down the road is precisely the problem I was identifying.

      I do think it is wrong conduct that ought to be criticised, or certainly at least not right conduct that should be praised. Perhaps you have a point that it is wrong but it is not worth getting excited about, and that may be fine, to a certain extent, but still a cop-out.

      This last point seems to be the only point where we disagree. I do have a real problem with people who view themselves as better than others on such flimsy grounds – usually people who are morally better never think it and are rather humble.

      A well brought up person who in fact went to MOMA lots would certainly never rub it in to those who do not live in the city.

      I mentioned Kundera only on a humble basis – ie most thoughts have already been better formulated by someone in the past (but understand that a reference to Kundera might trigger unintended alarm bells of pretentiousness!).

      A – what does armoire mean in these circumstances? Am familiar with it as a cupboard – does it mean closet or something else?

    14. Sean Kinsell says:

      Again this sentence: “Most of the thrill of being in a big city like NY is in fact due to the individual’s ability to reinvent himself along the lines of Stadtluft macht frei, rather than having anything to do with the city per se.” And this one: “The place has some good art galleries and museums, but what else in truth?” Since you didn’t qualify those statements, I can only read them as applying to what New York offers people in general, and not just to the specific sub-group of people you think are pushily NY-centric.

      And yes, my dear man, that is crabbed.

      If you’re a city person, there’s a great deal of stimulation and sheer sensory delight to be had from the environment in New York that has nothing to do with status-seeking. I can understand why it might not be worth the traffic and the repellant air from the subway vents and the relentless liberalism for some people, or why people who are not rubes wouldn’t care for the look of the place–different strokes and all that. But your implication that people go to major cities largely to reinvent themselves–rather than, say, to tap into parts of their personalities that were always there but couldn’t flourish in their hometowns, is sententious. And uncharitable. And wrong. It applies to a certain high-strung, social-climby segment of the population, but certainly not to everyone.

      If that wasn’t what you meant to say, then, well, it’s not clear to me what you did mean to say. I can’t imagine how anyone who isn’t drunk could think he could express humility by bringing up Kundera and Nietzsche; and I still don’t think, despite the way you’ve been waving the word “moral” around as if it gave the issue more meaning, that you’re talking about anything more profound than regular old snobbery and herd mentality, which is perfectly easy to find in rural areas, too, if you don’t confine yourself to assessing what people think about the local museums.

      In any case, both our positions are here at length for people to make their own judgments about, and since we’re in my living room, I’m going to call the discussion closed.

    15. One can’t ‘spar’ with the Closeted Lad, as I affectionately call him. Tar laddy, anyone? And really, by THAT definition, I’M a lad!

    16. Sean Kinsell says:

      “Tar laddy, anyone? And really, by THAT definition, I’M a lad!”

      How many fags a day is it, honey? (Cigarettes, I mean. With you, I’d be frightened to ask about the other kind.)

      And I think it’s great that you can joke about his hypocritical stance toward anonymity/not being out and stuff. Personally, I find it nauseating. I don’t see anything wrong with making compromises that don’t involve plastering your full name all over the Internet. I do think it’s laughable to adopt a posture of morally superior fearlessness while doing so.

    17. Patrick says:

      I think that one of the big issues with downtown lad, as with many gay men who feel a certain resentment over the fact that they have come out so late in life, is a narcissism that has developed from being so focused on self before coming out. That is, there is a danger to be so interiorly focused as a result of trying to remain “closeted” that we forget that we are not the center of the universe and sole arbiter of reality. I assume this of downtown lad for two reasons. First, his posts and comments are dripping with narcissism, and I have struggled with this and try to remain aware of this in my own life.

    18. Sean Kinsell says:

      But surely, Patrick, the process of coming out pretty much puts the kibosh on any illusions that you’re the sole arbiter of reality? And at that point, it’s time to look for an approach to life that works better, even if adjusting to it takes some time. By your own account, you’re doing so. Good for you, and I wish you the best. It’s possible that in real life downtownlad is, too, but he’s not doing himself any favors in the on-line universe by constantly talking as if every unpleasant moment ever experienced by a homosexual were caused by anti-gay prejudice.

    19. Patrick says:

      But surely, Patrick, the process of coming out pretty much puts the kibosh on any illusions that you’re the sole arbiter of reality?

      Most definitely.

    Leave a Reply