Melinda Selmys has penned a piece at Mercator.net on the California law banning reparative therapy for those under 18. She’s a firm supporter of the law, while I am firmly opposed to it. I’ve been reading the back and forth in the comboxes, and it seems that a bit of a combox war has broken out between Melinda and Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons. Both are quite zealous, and so the debate has become quite heated. I decided to write in response to the following comment by Melinda, which I felt could benefit from a reply.
The problem with the use of suicide/depression/low self-esteem related statistics concerning homosexuality is that you’re committing the cum hoc propter hoc fallacy. These statistics show correlation, they do not show causation. The most likely cause of negative mental health sequelae in homosexual men and women is early childhood bullying, rejection and ostracization, usually on the basis of gender-atypical traits. Other routinely ostracized groups – people with Asperger’s Syndrome, for example – also show elevated risks for the same set of mental health problems. The problems are not behavioural. I’ve been practicing heterosexuality for 14 years, and have exactly the same struggles with depression and self-esteem that I had when I was a practicing lesbian.
Repeatedly publishing articles and comments in which negative stereotypes of homosexual men are promulgated lends legitimacy and justification to fearful and contemptuous attitudes towards homosexuals. When parents treat their gay kids as though they are mentally ill, this seriously stigmatizes these youth and creates tension within the family. If a parent has a child with depression or low self-esteem, they should seek treatment for depression and low self-esteem. If they have a gay kid who doesn’t have these problems, then the statistics are irrelevant. Either way, the parents should be aware of their unique child and his or her needs; they don’t need you or your studies to inform them of whether their kid is happy or not.
Here is my (admittedly, rather lengthy) response:
Melinda, as always you pose excellent food for thought. I do think that one has to be careful when making accusations of logical fallacies, however. One could argue that the Surgeon General is engaging in cum hoc propter hoc because not all cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, and since not all smokers have lung cancer, all one can say is that smoking is not always causative, but seems to be correlative. Naturally, the studies revealing the links to cancer are myriad, but the way in which you are critiquing Dr. Fitzgibbons is reminiscent of the way the tobacco industry fought accusations of cancer in the twentieth century. It seems you view Dr. Fitzgibbons as a bad man, and I seriously wonder what you think his motivations are. Do you view his motivations to assist young men and women with unwanted same sex attraction as a hateful thing?
It seems to me as I read your comments in this thread, the primary reason you disagree with Dr. Fitzgibbons is because he believes that homosexuality, in and of itself, is objectively a negative manifestation in the human experience. I know that you don’t view it that way at all, and in this you are in line with the current cultural milieu, which holds as immutable an a priori assumption that, psychologically speaking, homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality. It is defending this view which seems to me to be the locus of your passion on this topic, veiled behind a desire to protect teenagers.
As to the following statement, I think you could be accused of making the same logical fallacy you are accusing Dr. Fitzgibbons of: “The most likely cause of negative mental health sequelae in homosexual men and women is early childhood bullying, rejection and ostracization, usually on the basis of gender-atypical traits.” Certainly, most anyone who is bullied will suffer depression—but because depression exists in someone who is bullied, it does not follow logically that this is the only source of depression in that person. Tossing about accusations of cum hoc ergo proctor hoc is too simplistic: there is room for discussion of cause and correlation with certain effects, and different theories of cause and effect can be legitimately debated. Case in point: your view vs. Dr. Fitzgibbons’s view. As to your view on it, let’s parse that out a bit more, and take you and me as examples to consider: Both of us live with same sex attraction, and like you, I also suffer from depression and self-esteem issues. You say that you live with those even though you have been living out a heterosexual life for the past 14 years—it is possible that your and my tendency towards depression and low self-esteem is directly linked to the fact that you have the conditions in your life which lead to your homosexual desires, and that even though you are living in a heterosexual relationship, those sources of depression still exist. Some could easily argue that your and my depression and self-esteem issues lend credence to Dr. Fitzgibbons’ viewpoint. What about your view that depression in the homosexual population comes from bullying? My experience belies your view. Perhaps you suffered bullying as a young girl, or ostracization because of gender-atypical traits, but I certainly didn’t—I was class president in the fifth grade, and then again in three of my four years in high school and was the most popular kid in school. I wasn’t bullied, and so my depression and self-esteem issues have a different root. So we’re left, in our two cases, with two very different scenarios. Why can’t they both be discussed, on their own merits, without accusing either side of logical fallacies as an attempt to shut down discussion?
Of course, it’s far too simplistic to say that one component over another is the cause of something like depression. It tends to run in my family, but I happen to believe that it is compounded because of my homosexual tendencies, (and not rooted in shame or self-loathing because of how I view myself). I don’t dislike myself because I have homosexual desires, but I happen to believe that what the Catechism says in 2357 is true about homosexuality: it has a psychological genesis, even if that is largely unknown. (But because it is currently largely unknown—does this mean it is unknowable, or that it is a mistake to research the subject???)
As a person who enjoys logic and reason as much as you, why do you reject Dr. Fitzgibbons’s arguments out of hand? Further, do you think his motivation to share these facts is done out of hatred? I think of what the Catholic Medical Association has written about homosexuality and a lot of people call this fear-mongering–but I view it as a cautionary measure shared out of love for the human person. I still remember distinctly a thread on the Gay Christian Network by a young man whose uncle died at age 25 of anal cancer. He was worried about the life he was thinking about choosing because of what happened to his uncle. Certainly heterosexual men can be as promiscuous as homosexual men, but it is a hard fact that homosexual men, as a rule, tend towards more promiscuity than most other segments of the population and that the average life of the homosexual man is much shorter than his heterosexual counterpart. Is it fear-mongering to discuss that? Is it hateful to tell a young man that there seems to be something about homosexuality that tends towards promiscuity? Is it hateful to suggest that one’s homosexual attractions may have a psychological component which is worth pursuing? Is it hateful to suggest that perhaps the motivation for promiscuity is to fulfill wounds within one’s masculinity, which are experienced in different ways than the way heterosexual men experience wounds in masculinity, and that therefore, merely working on “masculinity wounds” with a general therapist may not be as helpful as meeting with someone like Dr. Fitzgibbons?
I wonder why you rail so passionately against those who try to offer help to young men and women who want to see if change is possible. I think you believe that they’re all charlatans and quacks–but if that’s the case, and if we’re talking about logical fallacies, you are guilty of dicto simpliciter in making that sweeping generalization, e.g., because Richard Cohen has people hit couches with tennis rackets, everyone who tries to assist people with sexual orientation change are loonies, or because some therapists offer false promises, all therapists offer false promises. Just because a bad dentist exists doesn’t mean all dentists are bad, or that we should stop dental treatment in order to protect people from bad dentistry! As I have read your recent comments about all of this, you seem to have anger for anyone who even offers help, specifically geared towards changing sexual attractions. I have really wondered why this is–I don’t understand the motivations surrounding this. Surely you don’t think everyone who’s ever gone through reparative therapy has been damaged? I’m one who went through a yearlong reparative therapy program and wasn’t traumatized in the least. I didn’t see any change in my sexual attractions, but there weren’t any promises made either and if there had been, I’m smart enough to know that one can’t make promises like that. (Which brings up one of my biggest beefs about the supposed need for protection against reparative therapists: everyone who goes to a reparative therapist leaves his or her brain at the door, and they are like sheep led to the slaughter, with no ability to discern anything about the person who is his or therapist. It seems remarkably patronizing and very paternalistic on the part of the California legislature). What I did learn in my yearlong program of Living Waters was helpful in understanding my sexuality and how I had used the gift of sex in the wrong way. I’m rather agnostic on the subject of reparative therapy: if people want to pursue the possibility, I think they should have every right to do so, even if I think that in most cases, little change will be seen. But what if the person has the idea that he or she could perhaps share a life with a member of the opposite sex, even with just one person, like in your case? Shouldn’t the assistance of someone like Dr. Fitzgibbons be available to him or her? I would argue that this is something teenagers should have the freedom to do too! Even though I have never really seen any change in my attractions, (nor do I care about the subject), I know men and women who have seen significant change, and yet they don’t want to become poster children of reparative therapy, so their voice is conspicuously absent in this debate. In the case of a friend of mine, (a man in his early twenties), he tells me he has little to no attraction for men anymore. Is he lying to me and to himself? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I take him at his word, though I’ve cautioned him that in my own life, sexual attractions ebb and flow. Has he been cured? I don’t like the term “cure,” but I can say that he has been helped in changing his sexual attractions by a therapist like Dr. Fitzgibbons, and now is attracted to women. As a boy in high school, he decided he didn’t want to live with those attractions, and that he wanted to see if it was possible to change. Why should he not have had the freedom to pursue that path, as a teenager? It seems to me that you would limit his freedom to do just that, out of a desire to protect him. I view that as a violation of his freedom, and it concerns me that you are advocating for the law in California.
I am a passionate fan of your work, Melinda. I’m grateful for your voice, one of the most vocal advocating for the path of chastity. I don’t quite see eye to eye on this issue, however, and I think you do a disservice to legitimate discussion and inquiry by painting such a broad brush stroke of criticism to people who desire to help people with unwanted attractions discover if change is possible. Why is this so important to stifle, at all costs? You’ve said in this thread that there “is no cure,” and then you demand of Dr. Fitzgibbons that he put you in touch with people who’ve seen a significant change. But why should they have to submit their life stories to you, to determine if their experience meets your criteria for “a cure?” Perhaps all some of them wanted is to see if they could find sufficient attraction for a member of the opposite sex, so that they could have a family, and not be alone? Shouldn’t we have an ear of compassion for them, and say that perhaps God can use secondary grace, through a therapist, to bring that about? I would say that for most, if not all of them, they have no desire to be public about this part of their life, so thus there is a dearth of voices clamoring against the California law. Their silence does not disprove their existence! It seems to me that a God who raised Lazarus from the dead can change someone’s sexual attractions. I view it, when it happens, as miraculous, but not impossible, and certainly not as rare as a resurrection. Generally, I think God views sexual attractions in the same way he viewed the paralytic dropped through the roof: he’s less concerned with the desires of the paralytic to be healed than he is for the spiritual well-being of the paralytic, and most often, as a result, God keeps the attractions in people’s lives. But this does not mean we should seal up the hole in the roof, which is what I think you want to do. I would urge you to have compassion on those who desire change, and empathy for their views, even though their views about homosexuality are diametrically opposed to yours.