Gay Ain't Broke; No Need to Fix It

By Cornett, Carlton | Insight on the News, December 6, 1993 | Go to article overview

Gay Ain't Broke; No Need to Fix It


Cornett, Carlton, Insight on the News


Hatred and fear are an inherent part of the human condition. As feelings they are benign, indeed healthy. However, when these feelings become actions directed at a specific group, they become harmful. When expressed through the political process they become oppressive. When expressed through the economic process they become discriminatory. And when hatred and fear are expressed toward a homosexual through the actions of a psychotherapist, they become "reparative" therapy

Because hatred and fear are ubiquitous to the human condition, it is important that they be seen in all their manifestations, and that enactment of these feelings not be legitimized.

The so-called reparative therapy movement focuses on a central premise: that homosexuals are psychologically sick and should be cured for the sake of both themselves and society. It is fascinating that psychotherapy, a process founded upon compassion and a desire to relieve human suffering, can be the vehicle by which much suffering is promulgated upon gay men and lesbians in America through attempts to change their sexual orientation.

The vehement belief that homosexuality is a form of emotional illness is predominantly an American phenomenon. Ronald Bayer, in Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, cites a letter written by Sigmund Freud in 1935 to an American mother who wanted her son "cured" of his homosexuality: "Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness." Freud believed that psychological functioning could be understood in all its rich complexities but did not believe that all development outside the cultural norms of Europe constituted psychopathology. Freud strongly supported the decriminalization of homosexuality and encouraged psychoanalytic institutes to accept homosexual students.

In the United States, psychoanalysis developed differently than in Europe. Here it was almost exclusively a medical specialty. Only recently have psychoanalytic institutes been fully opened to mental health practitioners who are not medically trained. With the emphasis on psychoanalysts being medically trained came an emphasis on diagnosis. Psychoanalysts wanted the standing that other physicians were afforded. To gain that standing they needed to be seen as treating tangible diseases. Freud lamented, "America is a mistake, a giant mistake!"

This American emphasis on diagnosis led to the labeling of all development outside the white, middle-class, heterosexual norm as pathological. However, it also gave birth to at least one major problem of practicality: how to reach uniform agreement in understanding these psychological "diseases." A system was developed whereby psychiatric diagnoses gain legitimacy through a vote of the American Psychiatric Association, or APA. Reparative therapists complain that homosexuality was dropped from the official list of APA mental disorders in 1973 for political and not scientific reasons, but all psychiatric diagnoses essentially originate or end through the "scientific" process of the APA vote.

Homosexuality was an easy target for diagnosis and became a concern of several American analysts. Their attempts to change sexual orientation, however, have been noteworthy mostly for their lack of success. In The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality, Kenneth Lewes reviews the literature regarding psychoanalytic attempts to change male homosexuals into heterosexuals. He notes that in 10 influential papers written on the topic, only five cases demonstrated a change in sexual orientation.

In 1962, Irving Bieber published Homosexuality, the results of a study conducted by the New York Society of Medical Psychoanalysts during the 1950s. The data showed that of 72 patients who were exclusively homosexual at the beginning of treatment, 57 percent remained unchanged, while 19 percent became bisexual and 19 percent exclusively heterosexual. …

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