Could Reparative Therapy be a Choice to Protect?

We all have an image of Reparative Therapy: miserable, conflicted gay people get shamed and harassed by their friends, family and religious community into undergoing ineffective, torturous therapy designed to turn them straight which only serves to make them hate themselves more until they can re-closet themselves for the purpose of entering a loveless marriage to churn out children so that they can keep their rabbi/pastor/imam happy. That sounds pretty awful.

But in theory, does it have to be? What if it worked? That is, as Matt Foss pointed out, it didn’t just repress same-gender attraction but also instilled different-gender attraction? It made it possible for someone to feel sexually and romantically fulfilled with a different-gendered partner. Then what would the skeptical, humanist response have to be for informed, consenting adults who experience a conflict between their sexual orientation and their religious lives? We might obviously prefer that they change the latter rather than the former, but how is that for us to say? We can claim that religion is untrue, we can show the inefficacy of the programs, but if they did work, even just for some people, even with a lot of pain and suffering, could we really claim that it is not right for any of them to choose to change their sexual orientation?

We might say that sex and love are are more fundamental to a person’s identity than religion, and cite Born this Way as evidence. But that’s not necessarily true for everyone, and again, that’s not our call. There are almost certainly people who would claim the opposite; would we deny them the choice? As Natalie Reed says,

Themes like the way that the “born this way” argument, while initially convenient to the gay rights movement has become a destructive, harmful dogma, positioning us as only being deserving of rights in so far as queers are unable to live heteronormative lives. Suggestive that our rights should be conferred on the basis of pity, helpless as we are to overcome our deviant natures.

In our ideal, cyborg, Singulatarian world, wouldn’t people be able to choose their sexual orientations? Probably their appearances, genders, and everything else, too.

Ok, you say, but then there will basically be no more religious gay people, and those communities will become more insular and homophobic and it would hurt the queer movement. Sure, I totally agree, but does that justify us disallowing individual queer people from making the choice that is best for them and their life? That makes them the most happy? That allows them to enter satisfying companionate marriages? Or would we force them to abandon their communities and recreate their lives because we think it’s important that they help make religion less homophobic. That would essentially put humanists in the position of sacrificing the desires and wishes of queer people to the amorphous ‘queer movement,’ something I’m certainly not prepared to do.

Then, you say, we just have to fight heteronormativity and religion until people can do whatever they want. I agree with this, too, kind fictional interlocutor, but you haven’t answered the question. What do we do in the meantime? Do we fight for the eradication of Reparative Therapy? Do we shame those who choose it as a path for themselves as queer traitors? Do we nod knowingly to ourselves, assuring each other that their desires aren’t real, they’ve just internalized homophobia, it’s not to be taken seriously, as they struggle and grapple with the sincere desire to be straight and remain in their religious community?

What do we do before we get to utopia? I certainly don’t know the answer, but here would be my initial game plan:

– Keep fighting homophobia, transphobia, heteronormativity of all kinds, and especially in religious communities.
– Strengthen humanist communities and also LQLF groups so that there are places for queer people to go that will support them, with and without the religious community similar to the one they are used to.
– Encourage scientific and government agencies to speak harshly against ineffective or harmful reparative centers, but do not outlaw them for consenting adults, unless the evidence shows that an overwhelming number are coerced by religious or other communities (this is a complicated caveat, and I’m really not totally sure about it. Help me out).
– Do not encourage the creation of more effective reparative centers, since at this point I think they would do more harm than good (this is not the same as shaming people for going to them if they existed).
– Do encourage the creation of less harmful centers, if they do indeed cause harm, or fight on a social (not political) level to eliminate the ones that cause harm or do not work.
– Learn from the feminist movement how to criticize institutions and movement and oppressive systems of thought without shaming people for their choices.
– Learn the nuances of why a person might choose to go to reparative therapy, and figure out which choices we may not agree with but can understand versus those we think should be criticized.

This is a tough one. What do you all think?

This has been Post the Tenth of Blogathon

2 thoughts on “Could Reparative Therapy be a Choice to Protect?

  1. Kate Donovan says:

    I’m glad you made the point about companionate marriages–I’d missed the connection Leah makes to other instances of companion marriage.

    In a dev. psychopathology class, we once tossed around the idea of theoretically successful reparative therapy as an ethics problem. The overwhelming conclusion was that, were such a thing to exist, any therapist who was able to see RT as something that could reduce self-distress in a consenting adult (ie, not distress caused by others’ pressure or behavior), would be under obligation to offer it as an option.

  2. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I agree with that conclusion, even if it’s a difficult one to accept.

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