The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit today accusing a New Jersey organization of consumer fraud for offering conversion therapy services – a dangerous and discredited practice that claims to convert people from gay to straight.I knew a man who, when he told his parents he was gay, his mother said "we'd rather be burying you today than hear this." For them he had already undergone shock treatments and intense psychological therapy. For them he had gotten married and had fathered five children. Yet he still could not deny who he was.
He was honest with himself ... and lucky: he weathered the depression that comes with failure to change something innate.
The Self-Loathing Industry
Whether it's listed as legitimate "reparative therapy" or (more to-the-point) "pray away the gay" counseling, an attempt to "cure" a person's sexual orientation is part of an industry that is very real, very forceful, ... and very harmful. Like forcefully banging one's head repeatedly against a stone wall, it eventually results in damage that can be life-threatening. It can be fatal: attempts at suicide are common among people who undergo such therapy.
And yet there is irony in the damage: therapists often point to suicidal attempts as a "symptom" of being gay: the Family Research Council often cites depression as a part of homosexuality and that gays are "naturally" prone to depression because they know they are not right (with God). The Self-Loathing Industry promoted by "family values" groups can be self-sustaining, feeding upon the very depression it creates.
The kingpin of the Self-Loathing Industry is undoubtedly one Joseph Nicolosi, founder of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), while the wikipedia entry for Dr. Nicolosi has been considerably cleaned up in the last year, the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) has had some choice words for Nicolosi - "endlessly confrontational" - and roundly disputes NARTH's other "experts" and "researchers":
"In 1995, for example, NARTH featured Scott Lively, co-author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, at its annual conference. Lively’s book argues that the Nazi Party recruited gay men because of their inherent savagery and that gay men largely orchestrated the Holocaust — a claim roundly rejected by all reputable historians. NARTH has also promoted the work of Paul Cameron, who remains director of the Family Research Institute despite being ejected from the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association (ASA). The ASA declared, “Dr. Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism.”Nicolosi's patent blaming of homosexuality on parents ("Fathers, if you don't hug your sons, some other man will") has caused the APA to chastise him repeatedly and he has had some time keeping his APA membership as well as memberships in other professional organizations. Like Paul Cameron, his approach is often referred to as 'junk science.'"And like junk food, junk science can be harmful - even violent: some "therapies" involve confrontational beating of objects representing both parents. Beating your mother, it seems, has therapeutic value.
Preventing More Damage
While the Self-Loathing Industry has been around a long time (remember all those "self-help" books?*), it did not reach its zenith until the Christian Right settled on it as a means to "eradicate" homosexuality while claiming that its concern was for the homosexual. Organizations like NARTH and Exodus sprang up, clinics like Marcus Bachmann's suggested that there was a "cure" through prayer and "cured" couples were advertised in all media. The web of fraudulent claims, however, began to unravel when "ex-gay" poster boy John Paulk was discovered in a gay bar. Then Exodus admitted that homosexuality is not a "choice" and that there was no "cure." Compounded with reports of increased client depression, suicides and warnings from the APA, the stance of the Self-Loathing Industry became rocky.
Now lawmakers are stepping in to prevent kids from going into dangerous therapy, egged on by their unaccepting, desperate parents: California recently passed a law that no one under 18 may be subjected to reparative therapy. And now:
"In response to tragic examples of the harmful psychological abuse inflicted on young people through dangerous sexual orientation conversion practices, also known as reparative therapy to convert or “repair” an individual’s sexual orientation, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) will introduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution on Wednesday, November 28. At a 10:00 a.m. press conference, she will discuss the resolution and her efforts to investigate whether taxpayer funds have been used to reimburse therapists for this discredited and ineffective practice through the federal Medicaid or TRICARE healthcare programs."Along with the ground-breaking lawsuit brought on by the SPLC (above), it appears as if the Self-Loathing Industry may be on its last legs. But appearances in cases of social acceptance can be deceiving: the Christian Right is putting its full weight against such legislation and cries from the pulpit will be heard for a long time.
The Battle For The Self Loathing Industry may have just begun.
* The most classic response to self-help mania came from Calvin & Hobbes:
Calvin: "I'm writing a self-help book! There's a huge market for this stuff. First, you convince people there's something wrong with them. That's easy because advertising has already conditioned people to feel insecure about their height, their weight, looks, social status, sex appeal and so on.
Next, you convince them that the problem is not their fault. Finally, you convince them that with your expert advice they can conquer their problem.
Hobbes: Ingenious. What problem will you help people solve?
Calvin: Their addiction to self-help books! My book is called "Shut Up And Stop Whining: How To Do Something With Your Life Besides Think About Yourself." The trouble is...if my program works, I won't be able to write a sequel.