Friday, June 24, 2011

Therapy, homosexuality, religiosity, hypocrisy

That's the theme of a recent New York Times maganize article entitled, "Living the Good Lie." I think the title belies (ironically) the article's profundity in dealing with extraordinarily complex issues. Read flippantly, the title sounds like nothing more than a cynical statement about homosexuals who have trouble coming out of the closet due to religious beliefs. In reality, the article deals with these problems in a very open-minded, truth-seeking, non-judgmental way (sorry to string together all those hyphenated phrases). Both homosexual activists on the Left and religious activists on the Right have had to learn that when it comes to religious people dealing with homosexual impulses, there is no simple answer. In particular, the conclusion of the American Psychological Association is rather fascinating:
In the final document, the A.P.A. clearly stated its opposition to conversion therapy and unequivocally described homosexuality as normal. But it also offered a nuanced view of religious gay people who did not want to come out. The A.P.A. considered the kind of identity therapy proposed by Throckmorton and Yarhouse to be a viable option. No effort needed to be expended trying to change a client’s religion or sexual orientation. Therapy, in fact, was to have no particular outcome either way, other than to guide the client closer to self-acceptance, whatever the client believed that to be. The difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity was microscopically parsed. “Acceptance of same-sex sexual attractions and sexual orientation may not mean the formation of an L.G.B. sexual-orientation identity,” the report stated. “Alternate identities may develop instead.” It further stated that acting on same-sex attractions might not be a fulfilling solution for everyone. ...

The chairwoman of the task force, Judith Glassgold, remains pleased with the outcome. “People might want to adopt an identity that fits with what their religion proscribes,” she explained. “Or they might want to be celibate rather than identify as a gay person. Some people prioritize their religion over their sexuality, like priests and nuns. That’s an identity.” The goal was to help the client come up with an identity that worked for them. “The dialogue has changed in the last decade,” she continued. “Among therapists — both among gay activists and the religious — we can have a discussion. We all agree that arousal and orientation are not under someone’s volition. What we can work on is self-acceptance, integration identity and reducing stigma.”
Perhaps the dominant factor here is a common acceptance of pragmatic virtues: let's all just agree to be moderates on the issue. But I think the naysayers on both sides of the issue should seriously consider what I think is the principle virtue underlying this position of A.P.A.: personal responsibility. It's easy to see therapists as just blithely affirming whatever preferences their clients may have--and perhaps that is a constant danger--but surely the struggle to establish a sense of personal identity is about more than mere preference. It's about conscience, after all. For some, the words of Scripture are too important to ignore, no matter how impossible it seems to live without acting on certain sexual impulses. For others, the fact of one's own sexual orientation is too important to keep hidden. And we shouldn't be surprised if many seek out more nuanced identities, as they do their best to make sense of the world.

This new position of the A.P.A., in my opinion, expresses a good and proper kind of individualism, which sees the individual not as merely entitled to personal preferences, but in fact obligated to his own conscience and to seeking the truth. It contrasts both with the conformism of the religious Right, which tends to be exclusive towards homosexuals, and with the hyper-individualism of the Left, which sees affirmation of personal preferences as paramount. Maybe this will create some room for dialog on this important issue. Facts being what they are, it's probably not going to just go away.

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