Shedding Light on the Gay Issue
It has become increasingly common in the Orthodox community for young men to turn to a therapist because of concerns regarding their “sexual orientation.” Sometimes, even if they give other reasons for their interest in therapy, the concern over same-sex attraction (SSA) later emerges as an underlying concern that permeates their subconscious mind.
Sometimes the concern over SSA relates only to their fantasy life. At other times the impetus for their concern is the fact that these young men have acted out sexually with others of the same gender. In the past, when this happened the participants “only” had to struggle with guilt feelings over sinful behavior. Since the advent of the “gay revolution” and its fabrication of the concept of “being” gay with its attending supposition that people are born this way, many youngsters react to such events with the alarming fear that their actions prove that they are indeed gay - a fear that overshadows feelings of guilt. The anxiety over “sexual orientation” touches off many secondary problems of difficulties concentrating, depressed mood, poor self-esteem, etc.
The Fallacy of the “Gay Gene”
Due to the highly effective public relations efforts of the gay activists, many people find it difficult to believe that there is an absence of credible scientific evidence for the existence of a “gay gene,” since it flies in the face of what is presented as fact in the world at large. There have been a few attempts by self identified gay scientists to present evidence of genetic causes of homosexuality, but these endeavors have never withstood scientific scrutiny, a point that some gay activist researchers now concede. Most people are unaware of the fact that gay rights advocates have often written in their internal documents that it advances their agenda to popularize the concept of a “gay gene” (in spite of the lack of scientific evidence).
The manner in which the question of being “born gay” is framed in the popular culture is in itself a political ploy on the part of gay activists. The public is presented with two possible ways to understand homosexuality; that people are born gay or that they “choose to be gay.” Since it is very far-fetched to assume that someone would choose in a conscious, deliberate manner to be gay, it forces reasonable people to conclude that gay people must be born that way. When they are told that the cause is genetic, they see this as part of the advance of science, i.e., uncovering the specific mechanism of being “born that way.”
This choice, however, is a false dichotomy. The third, unacknowledged possibility is that factors in a person’s developmental environment bring into being the emotional, subconscious basis for homosexual feelings. Genetic determination is not the sole explanation for what many gay people experience as having “no choice” other than homosexual attraction. These same types of compulsions are also experienced by many people for purely psychological reasons.
Those who grew up in a very abusive home may feel compelled to distrust everyone. Or they may feel compelled to assume that they will fail in everything they do. Or they may experience uncontrollable anger at the slightest provocation. Does the great difficulty they would experience in trying to change these mind sets compel us to conclude that they must have been “born that way”? Or can we understand that powerful psychological forces can also create compelling drives?
Even if evidence of a gene associated with homosexuality were to be found (which has not actually happened), it would be grossly inaccurate to describe such a gene as “a gene for homosexuality.” The popular image of “finding a gene” for a disorder or a human attribute is that having that gene dictates that the person will definitely develop that disorder or attribute. This is simply not so. It is almost universally accepted by serious researchers that biological factors that influence human attributes do so only in ways that are significantly shaped by environmental factors (Dar-Nimrod, I. & Heine, S.J., 2011).
As a researcher in the field of stuttering emphasizes (Starkweather, 2002): Genetics do not determine behavior in the same way that they determine physical traits, such as eye color. With behavior, the environment itself is substantially involved in genetic transmission, even when the proportion of variation attributable to genetic influence is high…. Genes do not produce behavior; they do not even determine behavior, they only influence the probability that behavior will occur, given a specific environmental influence….[p. 275] Caution is warranted [even in interpreting twin studies that purportedly shows evidence of genetic influences since] the difference between monozygotic and dizygotic concordance overestimates heritability to an indeterminate degree [p. 274]. The overly simplistic picture drawn by the popular press of a gene that “makes” a person gay is only partially a result of the gay activists’ propaganda. It also reflects the very American tendency to oversimplify complex matters (a la “Kabbalah for Dummies”). In a recent article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a researcher decried the “Gene Talk” prevalent in both the lay and professional writings about psychiatric disorders and other complex behaviors, misleadingly implying a direct link between a gene and a trait or disorder (Kendler, 2005). Likewise, a noted genetic researcher stated in a special issue of Science (Mann, 1994): …the interaction of genes and environment is much more complicated than the simple “violence genes” and “intelligence genes” touted in the popular press…. The same data that show the effect of genes, also point to the enormous influence of non-genetic factors [p. 1687].
The following true incident illustrates the overriding impact of environmental factors (e.g., parental attitudes), even when dealing with behaviors with a genetic base (Neubauer & Neubauer, 1990): [Identical twin] girls were separated in infancy and raised apart by different adoptive parents…. When the twins were two and a half years old, the adoptive mother was asked a variety of questions. Everything was fine with Shauna, she indicated, except for her eating habits. “The girl is impossible. Won’t touch anything I give her. No mashed potatoes, no bananas. Nothing without cinnamon. Everything has to have cinnamon on it. I’m really at my wit’s end with her about this. We fight at every meal. She wants cinnamon on everything!” In the house of the second twin, far away from the first, no eating problem was mentioned at all by the other mother. “Ellen eats well,” she said, adding after a moment: As a matter of fact, as long as I put cinnamon on her food she’ll eat anything” [p. 20].
The preponderance of scientific evidence indicates that environmental factors play the dominant role in causing someone to experience same sex attraction (SSA) with any possible biological factors playing a minor role of making some particular people more vulnerable to environmental influences. Some people find this difficult to accept, because they have felt SSA from a very early age. This fact is seen by many as conclusive evidence that such feelings must be “hardwired.” One wonders if they would feel the same about those who have always felt a sexual attraction to children (or for bestiality, for that matter), or those who always felt an impulse for promiscuousness. Are we to assume that they are also hardwired to feel this way, and if so, do we then conclude that it must therefore be a normal variant of human sexuality? The abundant evidence from the rigorous scientific research on Attachment Disorders makes it clear that the earliest interactions between a caretaker and child have a profound impact on the developing child, so there is no reason to doubt that it can also impact gender identity and sexual orientation. We have seen that the dominant and most direct causes of SSA are the environmental ones. Let us now discuss these factors.
Environmental Factors in SSA
When discussing the environmental factors that can lead to SSA, it is important to keep in mind the dangers of overgeneralization inherent in discussing the cause of any psychological symptom. There are many factors that can, for example, cause poor self-esteem. Still, it most often involves having been overly criticized. Likewise, we can say that SSA is most often a result of problems with gender identity, where a young boy fails to identify with his father’s masculinity. This, in turn, is most often the result of a distant, uninvolved or overly harsh and punitive father. The impact of this dynamic is often exacerbated by an overly involved and intrusive mother.
Obviously, this explanation does not fit every case of SSA, nor does every child raised in such an environment develop SSA, as there are many variations and complexities in the lives of all individuals, both regarding the temperament they are born with and the environmental forces they are exposed to (Whitehead, 2011b).
It is certainly plausible to suggest, for example, that the parents of a boy who has a “sensitive temperament” may find it more challenging to help him develop a comfortable masculine gender identity. This is no different than the challenges faced by parents of a child who is more easily distractible. The more emotionally healthy the parents are individually and the family is as a unit, the more likely it is that the parents will have the capacity to help their child develop normally in spite of these obstacles.
A boy, who, for whatever reason, has not been successful in developing a comfortable masculine gender identity, will face many challenges in his emotional development. He may feel alienated from other boys and their interests. When the other boys reach the age of feeling attracted to girls, he’ll be interested in boys. This is not the result of some inborn sexual desire for males, as the problem of gender identity starts before the age of sexual interest. In fact when his age mates were at the stage where they disdained girls he only wanted to play with girls.
SSA is a symptom of a disorder and not the disorder itself
In my understanding, SSA is a symptom reflecting an emotional disorder and not in itself a disorder. Since SSA is reflective of an emotional deficit, it is usually accompanied by other emotional difficulties. Poor self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, excessive concern for the approval of others etc. are often part of the larger picture. The particular same-sex others the person will be attracted to are usually those who have qualities he so desperately wants for himself (e.g., looks, assertiveness, confidence). The desire for physical closeness is often a magical wish to physically incorporate these admired qualities into one’s self.
In my clinical experience there is often a substantial difference in the very nature of the search for a partner among heterosexuals and homosexuals. Heterosexuals generally tend to look for other-gender partners who complement them. A heterosexual male could feel very adequate in all that he feels he is supposed to be, yet he needs to find a partner who, by design, possess qualities he isn’t supposed to have in order to complement his masculinity. My male patients with SSA, in contrast, tend to seek out other males who they feel are very accomplished in areas they have always felt themselves to be inadequate, in order to compensate for their own inadequacies. Since they are trying to compensate for what they believe is missing in themselves, (usually qualities they identify as masculine) they need to attach themselves to someone of the same gender. In addition, since they are driven by the negative and painful emotion of inadequacy, the interest they take in their object of interest often has an obsessive quality.
In evaluating the nature of a specific family’s dynamics it is important to keep in mind that people often present a less than accurate picture of their familial relationships, so that they may paint a much rosier picture of their relationship with their parents than is factually true. I cite abundant research evidence for this in my article “Chemical Imbalance or Problems in Living?”
Many who support the gay agenda do so in the name of compassion. The first question we need to ask is if it is compassionate to pretend a symptom is not reflective of an emotional disorder if it truly is? If someone has a medical condition that required urgent care but he is in denial, would it be compassionate to join his denial? Of course, gay activists claim that homosexuality isn’t reflective of an emotional disorder. That is a scientific question that should be explored via research and not political rhetoric. If it is indeed reflective of an emotional disorder then it certainly wouldn’t be compassionate to pretend otherwise. As mentioned above, there is evidence that emotional disorders are more common in the homosexual community.
Shaping the debate by attaching the label “homophobia” on anyone who believes that homosexuality is reflective of a disorder is another example of the political genius of radical gay activists who invented this term in order to delegitimize anyone who dares question any aspect of their agenda.
In addition, it is important to remember that the gay community is not asking for compassion or even acceptance. They are demanding that society accept their view of homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality. In the earliest years of the gay movement they only demanded protection from harassment and discrimination (i.e., compassion). They reacted with great indignation when anyone suggested that they will eventually demand gay marriage. Yet from articles written by gay activists for internal consumption it is clear that full equality - including gay marriage - was their ultimate goal from the beginning.
One component of compassion is being non-judgmental. It is unfortunate, though, that many people equate refraining from being judgmental with avoiding forming a judgment. So, if someone forms a judgment that homosexuality is undesirable - either for religious reasons, since the Torah explicitly prohibits homosexual behavior, and/or for mental health reasons, because there is evidence that homosexuality is associated with higher incidents of emotional disorders – the person is accused of being judgmental, or worse a “homophobe.” This is, of course, nonsense. In fact, it is a deliberate misuse of a scientific term for political gain. A phobia refers to a fear that is patently irrational. Whatever one thinks of the belief that the Torah forbids homosexual acts or that it is indicative of emotional distress, it certainly doesn’t qualify for irrational.
A gay acquaintance once insisted that I “must be” judgmental of him since I believe that homosexuality is not a normal variant of human sexuality. I responded that I could prove that he was judgmental of me. He protested vigorously, as being a self-proclaimed liberal, he sees being judgmental as a major sin. I reminded him that he was a vegetarian who believed that it was unethical to eat meat. So, by his own criteria, he must be judgmental of someone like myself who eats meat (he might even label me as “vegi-phobic”). I, on the other hand, believe that one can have a judgment without being personally judgmental of the other person.
It should go without saying that we should treat all human beings, regardless of their condition, with respect and compassion. That is not the issue. The question of how to relate to homosexuals as individuals should not be confused with the question of how to deal with homosexuality.
Is Change Possible?
The popular notion that SSA is unchangeable (“because it is genetic”) is also part of the gay political agenda. Here again, even if a genetic/temperamental factor is found to be associated with homosexuality, it would still not necessarily mean that it is unchangeable.
There is often a tendency to assume that, if a behavior pattern is related to a biologically based temperament, the pattern is unchangeable…. The fallacy of this assumption is well documented in many areas of psychology…. changes in a child’s psychosocial context can clearly alter how his or her temperament is manifested. (Frick & Loney, 2002 p. 122)
The fact that overcoming SSA is indeed difficult and is often only achieved imperfectly, with incidences of relapse, is also cited as evidence of the unchangeable nature of sexual orientation, thus making the apparent change not authentic. This claim is absurd! All psychological problems are difficult to change. Is it easy to help someone improve his self-esteem? Is it easy to help someone develop confidence? Or to overcome years of abuse? When the person makes progress, do we belittle his progress because he is still struggling? And if he improves with his issue 90 percent, do we not see this as a tremendous success even though vestiges of his problem remain? 12-step programs are considered by many to be the gold standard for treatment of addiction, yet they are very far from 100 percent effective and there is significant relapse. Why is the treatment of SSA held to standards so ridiculous, illogical and dramatically different than the standards to which other areas of psychotherapy are held to? Only because of a political agenda, it seems.
This political agenda has become obvious in the reaction of radical gay activists to scientists who report research findings contrary to the gay agenda. Dr. Robert Spitzer, the prominent Columbia University psychiatrist, was the architect of the 1973 American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders. This decision was based, to a large degree, on the belief that homosexuality was an unchangeable part of the person’s basic makeup. Recently, Dr. Spitzer restudied the issue, interviewing many people who successfully underwent therapy for homosexuality. He then made the following public statement:
I am convinced from the people I have interviewed, that many of them… have made substantial changes toward becoming heterosexual… I think that’s news… I came to the study skeptical. I now claim that these changes can be sustained.
The gay activists responded to this statement, not with reasoned debate, or by challenging his findings on scientific grounds. Rather he was maligned and vilified by gay activists and the politically correct. Therapists have had as much success helping people overcome SSA as they have had helping them overcome other psychological problems. The probability of success with treating SSA is dependent on the same factors (motivation, hope, support, resources, insight, etc.) that success in psychotherapy is always dependent on. So, while it would be inaccurate and unethical to suggest that overcoming SSA is easy, it is equally inaccurate and unethical to say that it is impossible.
One important factor that I find contributes to the difficulty of helping someone overcome homosexuality is the degree to which he has become involved with gay organizations. My understanding of this is that many people with this issue had always felt rejected by their overly critical parents (for reasons unrelated to SSA). The yearning for acceptance had therefore become a primary motivator in their life. When they began to experience SSA they had begun to feel like even bigger outcasts (even if no one else knew about it), intensifying the need for acceptance. When they “came out” and most often experienced even more overt rejection, or at least disapproval, the longing for approval became focused almost exclusively on being accepted as gay, since in their own minds this was their most glaring defect. When the gay community embraces them with an unconditional acceptance that they may be experiencing for the first time, the pull can be intense and very resistant to any intervention even when the SSA is primarily unwanted and egodystonic.
Liberals against Self-Determination
Many people in the general community are unaware of how far reaching the radical gay agenda is. Not satisfied with achieving gay marriage in some states, there has been a movement in many mental health organizations to declare it unethical for a therapist to treat a client who requests help in overcoming SSA! It is amazing that those who are usually the most passionate advocates of self-determination suddenly reverse roles and decide that an adult can’t be permitted to decide how he wants to be helped! Even more amazing is that most of the activists who don’t trust a male client to decide to try and change the object of his attraction from male to female have no problem with permitting a male to decide to undergo a sex-change operation! The power of political correctness!
Same-Sex Attraction: Clinical Observations
I would like to share some clinical insights gleaned from psychotherapy with patients struggling with same-sex attraction. These observations highlight the importance of understanding the specific psychological meaning of symptoms and the necessity of resolving problems regarding the patient’s sense of self before attending to gender identity issues.
David was a 26-year-old single, religious male struggling with same-sex attraction. David’s father was critical and rejecting and his mother was over-involved. David was also expected to mold himself in a matter that met his parent’s unmet emotional needs rather than have his parents adjust themselves to meet his unique developmental needs (Broucek, 1991; Miller, 1996).
During one session David expressed amazement that his friend Samuel had to struggle not to lust after pretty women. The cause for David’s amazement wasn’t that someone could lust after women. Rather it was the fact that Samuel was not particularly good looking. “What makes him think that a pretty woman would ever agree to be intimate with him!?” he wondered. This amazement reflected the superficial nature of the attitudes and relationships in David’s family. There was neither emotional depth nor an appreciation of the multifaceted nature of human motivations, needs and emotions. In such an atmosphere, the idea that someone might very well like you for internal, non-superficial reasons, such as personality, character, sense of humor etc. seemed impossible. (David’s mother once reacted to my suggestion that her daughter sounded depressed by showing me a picture of her daughter. “How can she be depressed? She’s beautiful!”) Likewise, growing up in a very critical family makes it very difficult to imagine that someone would overlook minor flaws because of their appreciation of other qualities.
Not surprisingly, David’s ideas regarding attraction to others were also totally superficial. In spite of being intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate, years of criticism and rejection by his father made it difficult for him to believe that anyone would be interested in him for anything other than his body. (As a result he became extremely anxious over the earliest signs of thinning hair.)
David couldn’t lust after females, but not because he inherently wasn’t capable of desiring females. Rather, it was because he couldn’t imagine them desiring him. The source of this belief wasn’t, at its root, gender related. In fact, as a result of his father’s lack of interest in him (as a separate individual) it was difficult for him to believe that anyone would be interested in him. However, since he had some same-sex sexual experiences in high school, he could imagine males being interested in his body.
Another interesting feature in David’s same-sex attraction was the underlying motivation for his sexual interest in males. What “turned him on” was the fact that he could get them to desire him, rather than his desire for them. (The sexual component was necessary because he needed concrete evidence of their interest in him.) For someone who never felt cared for by his parents, being desired for any reason could be quite a powerful experience.
A related feature of his attraction was that he was primarily interested in males whom he perceived to be (based on their external appearance) very religiously devout. The subconscious reasoning went as follows: This very religious person obviously has no sexual desires (!). If he, none-the-less, is willing to have a sexual relationship with me, it must be that he really cares about me. The fact that, in David’s imagination, someone was more concerned with his (David’s) needs than his own was in sharp contrast with his experience with his parents.
At times David found himself attracted to low status, disheveled looking males. This surprised him, especially since he was so focused on external appearances. Further exploration revealed that when David was feeling particularly unlovable, he would be convinced that a high status, good-looking person would never take an interest in him. He would then have to settle for an object of interest that he considered a “safe bet.” The primary purpose of David’s sexual acting out was to feel wanted by someone – a feeling he was sorely lacking. The enhancing of his masculine identity was secondary.
Joseph was a 16-year-old student in an all-male religious high school. It was later revealed that, at 9 years of age, an older male had sexually molested him. Since then he has had ongoing sexual contact with a number of males. At first, it was always with peers, but then he molested a boy 4 years younger than himself. He was discovered and referred for psychotherapy. Joseph related that by the age of 11 he realized that there was something wrong with his sexual acting out. When I inquired why he didn’t ask his parents for help, he exclaimed, “I would rather have killed myself!”
I explored with Joseph the reason for this reaction. We eliminated the usual culprits. He wasn’t afraid that they would react punitively or that they wouldn’t be supportive. Rather, since 7th grade he had become a star pupil and a source of tremendous pride for his parents. In fact, his father described him as having been the “apple of our community’s eye.” He was seen as the model that the children of their tight-knit religious community were encouraged to emulate. Joseph couldn’t tolerate the thought of disappointing his parents.
In his younger years, Joseph was a mediocre student while his two older brothers were highly accomplished in their academic studies and in their level of religious observance. In retrospect it became clear that his parents required the success of their children in order to counteract their own feelings of inadequacy. It became Joseph’s subconscious goal to also bring pride to his parents. His motivation for academic success was not the healthy internal drive for accomplishment and growth. Rather, it was the need to satisfy his parents’ unmet emotional needs. This led to the “quest for perfection” where any evidence of imperfection has to be disavowed (Sorotzkin, 1985, 1998). Since his sense of self depended on bringing pride to his parents, the thought of losing this status was intolerable.
Lest someone thinks that this scenario is far-fetched, let me share with you a conversation I had with Joseph’s father many months into the treatment. I commented that it would have been helpful if Joseph had felt comfortable enough to confide in his parents regarding his sexual acting out. “That would have been reflective of a lack of honor for one’s parents to cause them such aggravation,” he protested. He totally rejected my suggestion that giving parents the opportunity to help you solve your difficulties is more honorable to them in the long run. Is it any wonder then that Joseph felt that “killing” his “self” was preferable to causing aggravation to his parents? If he hadn’t been discovered, Joseph’s need to serve as a “selfobject” (Kohut, 1997) for his parents – i.e., to exist for the purpose of satisfying their emotional needs - would have prevented him from seeking help and thus he would have most likely become actively homosexual as an adult.
These two brief vignettes underscore the importance of attending to deficits in the sense of self, in addition to the deficit in gender identity, when helping patients who suffer from same-sex attraction. Despite the objection of some therapists to what they term “self-pity,” it is insufficient to merely exhort patients to “move forward” and “don’t dwell on the past.” It is imperative that they work through the rage and grief resulting from existing for the purpose of gratifying their parents’ narcissistic needs rather than their own developmental needs.
The three tenets of faith regarding homosexuality demanded by political correctness are that homosexuals are born that way, that it is unchangeable and that it is a normal variant of human sexuality. We have seen that these beliefs are neither compassionate nor scientifically valid.
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