Friday, November 25, 2005

Richard Socarides is still gay

Physician, heel!

NARTH is always good for a laugh, but not the funny kind. Derision is more appropriate. NARTH is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. Its leadership consists of psychologists and psychiatrists still disgruntled that their professional organizations (the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association) no longer regard homosexuality as a mental disorder. NARTH is therefore a haven for the last of the hardcore "reparative therapists" who claim they can "straighten out" homosexuality. These practitioners provide a veneer of respectability to such operations as Exodus International, which describes itself as a ministry to those "who want to recover from homosexuality." (By the way, the ex-gay founders of Exodus International fell in love with each other and became ex-ex-gay, but that story is not featured in Exodus literature.)

Dr. Charles Socarides, M.D., is one of the grand old men of reparative therapy. A co-founder of NARTH, Socarides bills himself an advocate of homosexuals, defending their civil rights even as he works to wipe them out. Of course, he intends merely to show his clients the path to a thoroughly normal heterosexual lifestyle, so it's no wonder he thinks of himself as the homosexual's friend. Socarides recently published A Freedom too Far, in which he argues that academia and medicine have been politicized to the point that it is now difficult to speak honestly about sexual orientation. Socarides is particularly disturbed that same-sex orientation is now seen as a normal variation, like being right- or left-handed. The NARTH blurb for his book observes that Socarides adamantly denies that people are born gay:
He knows that the seeds of his patients' homosexual orientation were planted in their earliest years, usually before the age of three, and their appropriate gender-defined self identity impaired as the result of early family relationships.

We have all heard this before, of course. It's the classic explanation for why boys "turn" gay. Mommy smothers them and Daddy ignores them. (The geniuses who came up with this diagnosis never seemed to consider which was cause and which was effect. Boys may be rejected by their fathers in consequence of their being perceived as gay, rather than "becoming" gay because they are rejected.) In any case, Socarides is certain that the dysfunctional family constellation is the locus of homosexual orientation in children. And he knows how to fix it!

I gave away my punch line in the title of this entry. Dr. Socarides has a gay son. His name is Richard and he served during the Clinton years as the administration's liaison to the gay community. As you might imagine, relations are somewhat strained between père and fils. Perhaps it would be impolite, but nevertheless still appropriate, to ask the good doctor how much he neglected his son during Richard's childhood. What's more, why didn't the great expert diagnose and cure the condition?

Shades of Kinsey gray

Beating up on Charles Socarides is too easy. While some of the so-called reparative therapists are no better than charlatans, Dr. Socarides appears to be entirely serious and sincere. Is he simply so self-deluded that even the existence of his gay son has not managed to disabuse him? I think we can make a more constructive point than merely dismissing Dr. Socarides as a fool, although I admit that's tempting.

Reparative therapists have some telling evidence to support their claim that homosexuals can become heterosexuals. After all, to deny this is to deny the existence of the many ex-gays who belong to Exodus International and similar organizations. These people are telling us forthrightly that they used to be gay and now they are straight. Are all of them wrong?

Sort of.

In many cases, the supposed ex-gays are just fooling themselves. Some are desperate to conform to the anti-gay tenets of a religion or to please their families. But I doubt that this describes all ex-gays. Since sexual orientation is complex, it seems to me that humanity must contain some interesting variations. These may suffice to provide the examples that Socarides and others stake their reputations on.

When Kinsey shocked the delicate sensibilities of Americans with his published research on human sexuality, he acknowledged the complexity of orientation by promulgating his famous Kinsey scale. The purely heterosexual individual is 0 on the Kinsey scale and the pure homosexual is 6. An ambisexual person with exactly equal attraction to males and females would therefore be a Kinsey 3. Some people doubt that 3's even exist, perhaps because it's a commonplace of "coming out" literature how gay people may style themselves as "bi" before 'fessing up to actually being gay. But I see no reason to doubt that there are people in all categories on the Kinsey scale.

As with any numerical measure, the Kinsey scale may mislead by suggesting that something as complex as sexual orientation may be precisely gauged by a single number. How many decimal places should we strive for? Nevertheless, the scale is a useful starting point. Let's say you're an unhappy 4. You wish you were a 0. Your family offers to pay for treatment and ships you off to some treatment facility. Let's assume that the personnel at said facility are not complete wackos. (Unfortunately, there are entirely too many examples where outright loons run the operation.) Remember, you're a couple of Kinsey points away from being 100% gay, so with motivation you might be able to find the inner heterosexual. Who knows, you might even suppress your dominant gay side to the degree that you start to think of yourself as straight. With a little creative visualization in your head, your body might be able to act out the straight role. Hurray! You're cured!

No, you're not. You've just learned to express a different component of your sexuality. It's not really a conversion. Perhaps a Kinsey 3 or 4 could act out the straight role indefinitely, but only at the cost of denying a major component of his or her makeup. A 5 or 6 would truly be acting out a charade. The prize specimen would be a Kinsey 1 or 2 who was panicked by the occasional gay stimulus into seeking treatment. You'd expect that they would be the heralded longterm success stories that NARTH would never tire of telling.

Still, it's curious how fragile the ex-gays seem to be. Johan Paulk of Love Won Out fell off the wagon pretty badly when he was found hanging out in a District of Columbia gay bar. He said he just needed to use the rest room, which I think we may agree is a less than compelling explanation. Despite my discussion of the shades of Kinsey gray which characterize our proclivities, I do believe that we do cluster rather dramatically at the two ends of the scale. While human sexuality is diverse enough and just, perhaps, plastic enough to cover the entire range and allow a certain measure of individual relocation within the spectrum, NARTH and Exodus are sadly fooling themselves and others when they contend that it's really a choice. There are none so blind as those who will not see.


Dr. Charles Socarides died on December 25, 2005, of heart failure. He was 83.


Agius said...

Mr. Socarides reminds me of some other douschebags.

Zeno said...

Good points, gentlemen. The list of dyfunctional families with gay-hating parents is a long one. In addition to famous douchebag Alan Keyes, who is estranged from his lesbian daughter, we have anti-abortion fanatic Randall Terry who is on the outs with his gay son, and super wingnut Phyllis Schlafly, whose gay son is apparently a nice quiet boy who never contradicts his mother (his life must be hell). Then, of course, how could we forget Dick Cheney and his daughter Mary?

Anonymous said...

So it's genetic then? What is the gene? Frankly, nobody knows the truth about this issue and the discussion above shows us why: It manages to be fair-minded in about 40% of the sentences and in the other 60% it's just patting itself on the head for being politically correct. You can't get to the truth by being honest 40% of the time. Note that the Psychiatric and psychological associations changed their view not because of any new discoveries in genetics, neurobiology, or related disciplines, but as a result of political pressure. Such is the way of social sciences in general. Their claims are too nebulous to test and they exploit that to the max. The infection has spread to physical sciences too: being a "global warming denier" can put your career in jeopardy. What next? Shipment to the Hague to stand trial? Welcome to the new
Stalinist America. In fairness, it was Freud himself who jump-started the practice of seeing disagreement with his theories as a symptom of mental illness, hence as a backhanded confirmation of them. What a neat trick.

Anonymous said...

A postscript to above:
I am old enough to remember when homosexuals went on 1960s talk radio to defend the proposition that homosexuality was a disease and should be treated as such - i.e. without stigma. To be thought of as merely suffering from mental illness was a considerable step up from being viewed as immoral. In the society of those times the "it's a disease, stupid" view was probably the most humane option available. In my experience there are considerable differences between the situation of gays and straights no matter how 'tolerant' the official views of the community, and a person should feel entitled to take whatever attitude he chooses towards his sexuality. I add that the gays I've known seem to be fond of their mothers and I think they are better off for having had one male and one female for parents. So I think it is ultimately disrespectful of children's well-being to pretend that a little girl raised by two daddies or a little boy raised by two mommies is not at a disadvantage. No, it's not as bad as being raised by Charles Manson and Bernardine Dohrn, but it's not optimal.

Bob A. said...

The comment above mine is homophobic and offensive. First of all, in the 1960s, it was hetero men like Dr. Charles Socarides who advocated that gay people were psychologically sick and should be tolerated. Gay people did not advocate such nonsense but actively fought against that misguided stigma. (Shrinks of that period had quite a lucrative business trying to turn gay people straight, just like the "ex-gay" ministries of today that try to transform gay people through Jesus rather than Freud.) In fact, gay leaders of the 1960s frequently debated Charles Socarides on television (such as on The David Susskind Show) or in public forums. (It's a bit of poetic irony that Socarides raised a wonderful, healthy gay son, Richard.) Secondly, how does the creep who made the comment above this get off by saying that two mothers or two fathers aren't any bit as good or better than straight couples? Where's the data?

Zeno said...

I mostly agree with you, Bob A, about the insensitivity and obtuseness of the comments posted on 5/3 by Anonymous. His reliance on anecdotal "evidence" is also typical of the arguments that supposedly prove the inferiority of gay parenting. Worthless.

He is, however, correct about one point. There were gay people in the late fifties and early sixties who embraced the illness argument. As Eric Marcus notes in his book Making History, discussing the period after World War II, "gay people explored who and what they were; debated whether they were indeed sick, as psychiatrists claimed..." The debate had two sides, with those who embraced the illness hypothesis arguing that gay people should confess to a psychological condition that did not prevent them from functioning in society. The corollary was that straight society might then be persuaded to agree that gay people could hold jobs and fit into society as well as diabetics or other people with chronic illnesses (non-contagious!).

That position was not tenable in the long run and became a small minority viewpoint within the ranks of the gay movement. In Cures, Martin Duberman writes about his initial acceptance of the illness hypothesis and his conviction that the right treatment could turn him straight. Today's NARTH practitioners make a living by feeding off the remnants of the disease hypothesis, but their allies in the gay community have gone extinct and they now rely on fatuous religious arguments and narrow definitions of family values.

Escuerd said...

"So it's genetic then? What is the gene?"

This follows from...what exactly? I think you blew your wad a little early there. Characteristics may be innate while only being partially heritable (e.g. handedness).

Whether homosexuality is innate never came up above, though.

"The infection has spread to physical sciences too: being a 'global warming denier' can put your career in jeopardy."

To say nothing of all those poor creation scientists who are Expelled for going against the secularist, PC scientific orthodoxy. Stalinism!

If you actually care about getting things correct:

"What next? Shipment to the Hague to stand trial? Welcome to the new
Stalinist America."

You're kind of a drama queen, aren't you?

"I add that the gays I've known seem to be fond of their mothers and I think they are better off for having had one male and one female for parents. So I think it is ultimately disrespectful of children's well-being to pretend that a little girl raised by two daddies or a little boy raised by two mommies is not at a disadvantage."

Who cares what you think? Do you have any relevant data to share, or are you just blowing smoke?

Anonymous said...

Whether or not homosexuality is genetic is besides the point.Lots of aberrations or diseases are genetic.The question is,is homosexuality a developmental disorder or not.A disease or not.

Is it a form of psychopathology--no matter what the origin.

Zeno said...

So, Anonymous, would you say that homophobia is also a genetic psychopathology? If not, when did you choose to be homophobic? Is the inability to use a question mark a symptom of this psychopathology you have?

Nat Reader said...

There is an age old say...physician heal thyself and another one where someone becomes a psychologist/psychiatrist to try and diagnose themselves.

Here is a man 4 times divorced with a gay son who purports to cure being gay because it is caused by their upbringing.

Akams Razor says that this man was most likely gay trying to understand himself and the string of marriages was his attempt to "cure" himself.

I can only hope that after he left this life he looked back and wondered what the heck he was doing.....