Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Harms and Benefits of Reparative Therapy: You Decide

People have differences of opinions. We hear those differences each day in our conversations with family, friends, coworkers, fellow churchgoers, strangers, and see it and hear it on television in the shows that we watch, in the news, and in speeches from our elected politicians. We each get it into our minds that one thing or another is more right than something else. We each look at certain thoughts or opinions of others to be more wrong than our own. We each like to believe that what holds us together in our thoughts and actions are right. This is true most of the time whether we actually are in the right or not. Most people don’t like to be wrong. This can inevitably cause a lot of heated exchanges between people. We get frustrated in our lack of understanding, or angry at the opposing views that just don’t make sense to us. But, do we have to have such heated exchanges in order to present our ideas or beliefs to others? No. If we get into such conversations, we can do so with a sense of civility. If we are willing to keep our hearts and minds open to the concerns of others, to actually listen and attempt to understand their views, and be respectful to them in this process, then such heated exchanges should not take place. And if they do take place, forgiveness can always be offered and asked for.

I like to understand. I don’t like being wrong about something. It is the very reason why I have changed my mind on so many things throughout my lifetime. And there have been a lot of things I have been wrong about (and will probably continue to be wrong about). I can admit that.

Having such a mindset, it doesn’t bother me to engage in debates or arguments with others (I do try to keep them as civil as possible though, because those sorts of exchanges are the best to learn from). When I do that, I’m not doing it in order to prove anyone wrong, or to set myself up as being right. I just want to know if I’m wrong so that I can stop promoting stupidity on my part. The reason I don’t like to be wrong about something, is because I know if I am wrong, that could have some influence on someone else and cause them to be wrong or hurt somehow. I’ve never liked the thought of leading someone astray. And so, at times, I test my thoughts by trying to better understand those who oppose me.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that reparative therapy is wrong. I can fully understand why so many people would say that it’s a very terrible thing and should never be used or promoted. If you read my last post carefully, you will see that it is not something I would ultimately promote as a best course of action for anyone struggling with their sexuality. There are alternatives that can help so much more in the grand scheme of things.

I know a lot of people have been hurt in some very drastic emotional and physical ways because of certain reparative therapy techniques. People have undergone electric shock treatments, hypnosis, been given drugs, and even experienced religious exorcizing to remove the demons that cause homosexuality. Some people have even been beaten or whipped, food deprived, and sleep deprived in attempts to rid them of their “wicked thoughts/ways”. There have been a lot of such abuses. And I would call all of these things abuses, because they really cannot do any good whatsoever for a person experiencing any sort of struggle with their sexuality. These only cause harm to a person’s emotional and physical well-being. That being the case, I would wholeheartedly agree that any of these forms of reparative therapy should be banned and never promoted in any fashion whatsoever. I would find it hard to believe anyone wishing to free themselves of homosexuality would ever consider or give much thought to these techniques anyway. Even if they did, they should be discouraged.

But, these are not the only forms of reparative therapy.

Some techniques simply involve helping homosexual men who feel different or cut off from straight men to realize that they are not that different. This can include teaching a sport to homosexual men who may never have engaged in sports before because they felt pushed away or not good enough to participate in any of them. And I can tell you, when a homosexual adult man or teen learns to play and realizes they can play just as good as any straight guy, maybe even better than some of those straight guys who called them weak or pussies, that can make all the difference in the world to them. It builds self-confidence, a sense of belonging, and that sense of acceptance for themselves as a valid person/man. And it can teach that man is not necessarily their “other”.

Another technique may be to help a very effeminate man to realize that his effeminacy does not make him less of a man. A lot of straight guys are effeminate. And so, to teach this, gender roles and how society looks at such roles (including the changing mindsets of such things over time) fairly or unfairly may be discussed. That effeminate gay teen may realize he is no less a man and not gay simply because he is effeminate. He may become more comfortable just being himself.

Some techniques simply involve helping a person to trust God, and to fully accept His will over their own. Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to abstain from something you physically and/or emotionally want. So, learning to pray for strength, for a way out of certain situations, and learning to ask for forgiveness if you do fall, can help a person a whole lot.

And then there are personal pains. Everyone has them, but not everyone handles their pain in the same way. I personally believe I became gay not just by genetics, but also because of certain environmental influences. Reparative therapy can be focused on dealing with those environmental influences. If you believe you became gay, in part, because you were, in a sense, rejected by those of your own gender, or because you reacted wrongfully in certain ways to being physically or emotionally abused, or because you rejected your own gender or the roles defined to your gender for certain reasons, then there is probably going to be a great deal of pain associated with that. Certain reparative therapies simply work at helping a person to deal with that pain in better ways than maybe he or she did in the past.

Teaching in itself is a form of therapy. Teaching people to love themselves as God loves them. Teaching people better ways to resist sinning. Teaching people better, more healthier ways of relating to others. Teaching people to forgive. Teaching people that their past doesn’t have to define them. All of these things can be very good for a struggling person.

People have differences of opinions. And that is okay. Some people believe all reparative therapies should be banned. I do not. I think if allowing a person the opportunity to do something that they believe will help them to grow in their faith in God and be a better person, then that should be allowed (so long as they aren’t hurting others). Some people who have undergone reparative therapy has hated it and wished that they’d have never participated with it. Other people have undergone it and believed it was the best thing they ever could have done. Who is right and who is wrong? Can they both be right?

I said in my last post that I am stubborn at times. I know this is true about me. And it was very true concerning one issue a few years back. I believed it was a sin to be gay. I didn’t trust anyone who said otherwise. I didn’t change my beliefs until I sought out and underwent reparative therapy. I don’t say that because the therapy didn’t help me. I say that because a lot of the therapy did help me. It allowed me to see that I’m not as different as I thought I was. It allowed me to feel more comfortable in my own skin. It allowed me to deal with a lot of pain I’d kept bottled up for many years. It allowed me to grow in my Christian faith. And it allowed me to eventually come to a conclusion that God isn’t as concerned about my sexuality as He is having a relationship with me. It helped me to better understand.

I thank God for all those people who helped me. First and foremost, I thank my Exodus counselor, Paul. He was a friend, first and foremost. He was always willing just to listen and to let me make up my own mind. And when he did push me, he pushed me to worry more about healing from past pains, relating better to others, and building my faith than on trying to change my sexuality. He was honest enough up front to tell me up front that even though it was possible for my sexuality to change, there was no guarantee that it would.

This was my experience with reparative therapy. And this is why I think it would be very bad not to allow people an opportunity to change. We allow people to try to change nearly whatever else they dislike about themselves, from hair and eye color, to the shape of their teeth and facial features, to weight, and so forth. And on some of those things, people realize, over time, that what they had to begin with really was best. The brunette trying to be a blond may decide after a few years that being a brunette really is what’s best for them. But how would that person know if they’d never tried being something else? If they’d never tried, they may have at the very least always had it in the back of their mind what could have been. I think it is the same for people who wish to change their sexuality. And what is worse, to allow people an opportunity to change something they dislike about themselves, something that may be very emotionally devastating to them for one reason or another, or to try to force them to accept something about themselves that they may just never be able to fully accept? I think it is better to let them make up their own minds. Let them try if that’s what they think is best for them. If it turns out to be something they like, then that should be looked at as great for them. If it turns out to be something they don’t like, then they can then work to accept how they are and realize their lives can still be good.

Looking back, I know I wouldn’t have been able to accept my homosexuality had I not first sought out help to no longer be homosexual. I really don’t think anyone could have helped me to accept that fact in any other way. I had to go through what I did to reach that conclusion on my own. And I know it is the same for many others. I also know that a lot of others have undergone reparative therapies and have liked whatever changes they have experienced (even if it means they only live as a heterosexual and do not actually become one). These are the reasons why I believe reparative therapies should continue to be allowed. Can they produce harm? Yes. I think in the wrong hands, just about anything can produce harm though. But can they produce something good? Yes.

People have differences of opinions. If a person wants to attempt to undergo reparative therapy, then I think they should be allowed to. This doesn’t mean that we should promote or encourage those techniques that have been used in the past and that have been proven very dangerous though. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t continue to try to show them there is a better way, and that it really is okay if they are attracted to members of the same sex. But if a person thinks changing his or her sexuality will improve their life somehow, then I think it really should be their decision to make. In time, their decision to attempt sexual orientation change will either be proven right, or they will prove themselves wrong. Either way, they should learn what is best for them.

1 comment:

Neo said...

Your experience with attempting to change your orientation sounds a lot like mine. I was never formally involved with Exodus or reparative therapy, but I did undergo some counseling and worked on a lot of things that the ex-gay movement said I needed to, like my gender identity and all. Like you, I found it to be a very positive and helpful experience but did not find my orientation had changed.

I do still believe that same-sex relationships are outside of God's will, and I've always been bisexual, so that's not as hard for me as for others like yourself.