Tag Archives: reparative therapy

I’ve been reading Gabriel Blanchard’s stuff over at Mudblood Catholic, a site of which I’m newly and extremely fond. I don’t agree (I don’t think) with Gabriel on all points, but I love his clarity of thought, his humor, and his honesty.

Given the whole Exodus thing, orientation change has been the obsession du jour in the Gershom headspace. It’s a subject I don’t relish but can’t not think about, although thanks to some mixture of maturity and meds, it’s something I can stop thinking about when I feel done with it.

My position on the whole thing is something like this:

  • Gay people (and everybody else) can and should seek competent help in looking closely at the things that are causing them pain.
  • They should do this not in response to some kind of moral imperative, but just because suffering, although it can be offered up, is itself an evil.
  • Yes, suffering is an evil and should be avoided if reasonably possible. I can’t believe this is controversial. Even Jesus didn’t want to be crucified.
  • I do think it’s possible that, as a kind of side effect of emotional healing, some people with SSA sometimes see a diminution of same-sex attraction and an increase of opposite-sex attraction.
  • But! Making this kind of shift the whole point of therapy, or of addressing one’s issues in general, is stupid and dangerous and, on the part of those offering the therapy, incredibly irresponsible.

Whether we’re able to relate to other human beings in healthy ways matters a zillion times more than whether we fancy a roll in the hay with them. If you’re focusing too much on the second thing, you’re not going to get the first.

In other words, Seek ye first His healing and His sanity, and heterosexuality will be added unto you as well — or actually, it almost definitely won’t, but by the time you’ve achieved some measure of sanity, you’ll begin to discover that heterosexuality matters very much less than you had supposed.

So yes, as you were, I’m going to take a few breaths and keep drinking my coffee. Why the !@#$ did I quit smoking again?

My friend B. is a body psychotherapist. She’s explained what this means more than once, but I never quite get a handle on it.1 I gather that, where traditional psychotherapy is focused on talking, body psychotherapy treats us as the soul-body composite we are.

One of the tenets of the discipline is that past trauma can manifest itself, not only in our thought patterns, but in our patterns of movement. So the therapist is trained to tune in on the body language of the client, to sense when his movements reveal something his conscious mind would rather avoid, or when his body is somehow trapped in a pattern it learned from some disaster.

As with most things B. has introduced me to — stevia, glossolalia, aikido — it sounded kooky at first. Due in part to my my father’s inveterate intolerance for any and all forms of bullsh★t, I’ve spent most of my life with my kook-o-meter turned up to eleven. It’s been a tricky business, learning to turn the thing down notch by notch: learning to keep an open mind, as the saying goes, but not so open that my brains falls out.

I owe so much of my kookiness to you, B., and I’m forever grateful.

Like traditional psychotherapy, it seems to me that body psychotherapy is something that anybody could do, but that some people have a natural gift for; a gift which can of course be sharpened by training. We’ve all had (or been) the friend who is always on the receiving end of intense personal revelations, from friends and coworkers and even from strangers on airplanes. That friend is a kind of therapist, or maybe every therapist is a particular kind of friend.

B. is gifted. Her native sensitivity makes it impossible for her to ignore the energy, good and bad, that radiates from people. If I’m in a horrible mood and my roommate C. walks into the room, he’ll be completely oblivious (God bless him). But for B., walking in the door will be like stepping off a lead-lined Chernobyl tour bus. Her Geiger counter is finely tuned, and the gain is all the way up.

I was explaining all this to my dad once (sorry, Abba,2 it may have been a sort of passive-aggressive act of rebellion; I’ve noticed that I seem to enjoy doing things in front of you that I imagine flout the Gershom code) and concluded by saying something like “It seems like a good idea to me. I bet it helps people.” He replied: “Yeah; I think pretty much anything does.”

My father is always lamenting his inability to hand out fatherly words of wisdom. It’s true that when he tries to come up with sage advice, it usually amounts to the Gershom family motto: It could always be worse. But he doesn’t realize how often, when he isn’t trying at all, a phrase of his will stick in my mind, slowly dissolving over the next five or ten years.

It’s fun to talk about our chronic problems as if they were monsters, or maybe dragons: it lends an air of heroism to things that, for anybody on the outside, would seem achingly mundane. It’s also comforting, because a dragon might be big and scary, but one well-placed sword-thrust and the thing is conquered for good.

Solving real problems, or anyway the big ones, is rarely like that. It’s less like killing a dragon and more like kneading3 a huge, heavy lump of dough. You can stop and ask yourself whether you should be using a rolling pin4 or just your hands, or whether you should be wearing gloves, or whether it’s got enough flour, or whether maybe you should buy a special as-seen-on-TV kneading implement. Those are okay questions, but kneading is by its nature a slow process: there’s no such thing as flash-kneading. And the lump is huge, huge.

The best thing is to try one approach until it stops working, and then try another. One approach might work better than another, but nearly anything helps. And nearly everything teaches you something worth knowing.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about reparative therapy, and why I don’t put too much stock in it, at least no more stock than I put in any single solution to any complex problem. I’ll probably always be attracted to men, but — O listen well, 18-year-old self — I’m no longer frantic, no longer miserable, no longer desperate.

When people ask me how I got from there to here, I want to tell them: Everything. Family, friends, meds, therapy; praying to God, cursing Him, threatening Him and making up with Him and just sitting still; writing, reading, laughing, crying, living. It all helps. Life helps, reality helps.

The one sure way to stay miserable is to do nothing at all.

1 Won’t stop me from talking about it, though. Heck no! So please take all this with a grain of salt.
2 Gershoms are Jewish by descent, if not by creed. We say grace in Hebrew, celbrate Passover and Chanukah, and call my parents Ima and Abba. It’s always made certain Scripture passages particularly poignant for me. I sort of enjoy the band, too, but it’s not pronounced the same way.
3 Or, come to think of it, leavening.
4 Do people even use rolling pins for kneading or is that for something else? I don’t know anything about body psychotherapy OR baking.

Br. Gabriel, OP asks in the comments:

I want to ask a really, really, controversial question. Your post made me think about it because you didn’t say anything about it explicitly but I felt it might be lurking in the background. The question is about the inner fear of not doing everything to “fix this” issue. What if part of the fear of and ostracism of reparative therapy is that it partially restores the notion that SSA is a mental disorder even though the clinical community has formally dropped SSA from the official list of mental disorders and diseases?

You’re right, Br. Gabriel, that’s a whole can of worms!

I’d like to write a cohesive, coherent, exhaustive post on the topic, but I’m not ready to do that yet. So I’ll just reply, more or less off the cuff; let’s see where that gets me.1

To begin with, I don’t see how it is possible for anybody to simultaneously hold these two positions:
(1) Homosexual sex is an intrinsically disordered action.
(2) The desire for homosexual sex is not a disordered desire.

Those two positions couldn’t be more contradictory. If gay sex is okay, then desiring it is okay. If gay sex is disordered, then desiring it is disordered.

Or maybe someone would argue that gay sex isn’t intrinsically disordered, but that God has somehow forbidden it anyhow? That seems even more absurd than the first set of propositions. God doesn’t forbid things arbitrarily.

Notice that I’m talking only about the act of homosexual sex. I’m not saying that SSA is solely and simply the desire for gay sex. Far from it (see below)! And I do think there are many aspects of SSA which are good in themselves. Exactly what those aspects are, and how they are to be integrated into the rest of the personality — well, I’m still working that out.

Melinda Selmys has a really excellent post on the topic here. I still don’t know how much of it I agree with, but there’s a lot to think about. Here’s an excerpt:

Gayness is not reduceable to homosexual sex, or the desire to have homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality.

I love that last sentence. SSA isn’t the final word or the whole word about who I am, but I don’t think it can be thought of as a discrete part of my personality, either. Whatever it is, there are threads of it running through most of what I call myself. Some of ’em are good are some of ’em are decidedly bad.

Some of the bad ones: envy, insecurity, a sense of irreconcileable difference, a sense of shame. Maybe those things are intrinsically connected with SSA and maybe they aren’t, but they are absolutely central to my experience of the phenomenon. During periods of my life when I’ve felt secure in my own identity, happy with who I am, and grateful for the thing in my life, my sexual attraction to men has all but disappeared. That can’t be an accident.

Some of the good ones: a certain appreciation of masculinity as masculinity; a certain openness to same-gender emotional intimacy. Neither of those things are necessarily present in people with SSA or absent in those without it, but again, those things are very closely tied to the way I’ve always experienced SSA. And, unlike my sexual attraction to men, these things don’t disappear during the good times.

Oh boy, that was longer than I meant it to be. I don’t have any answers, but I’m interested in what y’all have to say about it.

1 Probably in trouble.

A reader recently asked what I think of reparative therapy — therapy aimed specifically at getting the gay out, so to speak.

I’m not too sure. I’m not a fan of the name, first of all. All therapy is reparative therapy, ‘cuz we’re all broken,1 so calling this kind reparative therapy is a little like saying: Yeah, but you’re a mess! You like dudes!

There’s also such a thing as too much self-improvement. For a long time, I focused so much on fixing my faults and idiosyncracies — I don’t mean the SSA, I mean other stuff — that I was wearing myself out, twisting myself into unnatural positions.2 I didn’t stop short, for example, at facing my fears: I’d do things like going to play basketball just because it scared the poop out of me, or trying to develop a friendship with a man just because he was kind the man who I find intimidating.

Facing your fears is good and necessary. I’ve faced a lot of them, and it has helped me live more freely. But it isn’t what life is about, and it is easy to get hung up on the process. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from playing basketball — unless you just plain don’t like basketball. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from finding a new friend — unless you don’t particularly like the guy. It can be a hard balance to find, and I’m still struggling with it.3

Now that I’ve got the disclaimers out of the way: there are therapists and organizations out there who have a balanced view of the issue. I think People Can Change is one of them.

They, and the healing weekend they run, focus on dealing with what they see as the root causes of SSA: isolation, father-hunger, shame, rejection. They are geared towards dealing with these things. Whether or not you believe that these issues play a part in the development of SSA,4 I don’t think anyone will say that dealing with them is unhealthy.

So, seriously, check them out!5 I don’t like everything about them, but take a look and see what resonates. Once I get around to adding a “recommended resources” section — hey, I have a full-time job, and this ain’t it — they’ll be first on the list.

1 There is a crack, a crack in everything; / That’s how the light gets in. — Leonard Cohen
2 Cut it out. Dirty mind.
3 I recently told my older brother that Sure, I’d come play basketball with him, but/because I’m kind of terrified of it. He said: You’ll have plenty of opportunities in life to deal with being terrified. No need to invent them. Then he asked if I’d like to come to dinner; his wife was making enchiladas. “Unless, of course,” he added, “you’re terrified of enchiladas.” See, this is what older brothers are for: wisdom and mockery, within a sentence of each other.
4 And whether or not the phrase “the development of SSA” makes sense to you at all. Cue, I suppose, Lady Gaga.
5 If you heard this in Strongbad’s voice, then can we be friends?