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Needs a Cure? Not Gays and Lesbians!
Even though there is no scientific basis for generalizing that LGBTI
people are diseased, medical practice has for many decades tried to transform
these people into the social norm of a heterosexist gender binary. Using whatever
techniques are available or fashionable, medical practice has aimed to "cure"
diseases that don't exist, thereby violating the Hippocratic Oath and abusing
the human rights of a diverse people. Specifically, therapists have tortured
gay and lesbian people with a technique called aversion therapy. The person,
say a gay man, is brought to the clinic, exposed to erotic photographs of nude
men, and then punished for any signs of arousal. In theory, the man is supposed
to associate the erotic photograph with pain and learn somehow not to be aroused-much
as a mouse is trained with rewards or punishment in operant conditioning. The
punishments used can only be described as diabolical. In the 19605 the drug apomorphine
was administered to induce vomiting (or hypnosis might be used to cause uncontrollable
nausea); in the 1970S electric shock therapy was added, sessions sometimes lasting
thirty minutes, repeated twenty or more times over several months. People were
not only traumatized but physically burned. Even worse, electroconvulsive shock
therapy (ECT), administered by either delivering shocks to the head or giving
the drug metrazol, induced epileptic seizures with side effects of memory impairment
and depression that could last for years.
After years of study,
however, behavioral scientists have failed to come up with a theory or a cure
for gayness; indeed, they have gradually thrown in the towel. In 1973 the
American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental
disorders, but psychoanalysts persisted in describing homosexuality as a perversion
well into the 19905. Finally, in December 1998, the American Psychoanalytic Association,
in its annual meeting in Manhattan, acknowledged its "own past homophobia,"
in part because of the coming out of a prominent Atlanta psychoanalyst.
scientists have also now gone on record that therapies attempting to convert gay,
lesbian, and bisexual people to heterosexuality do not work and do more harm than
good. In Denver in 1998, the board of the American Psychiatric Association voted
unanimously to reject therapy aimed solely at turning gays into heterosexuals.
The American Psychological Association had made a similar decision the previous
But does this mean the spectre of a "cure"
has disappeared? No. It's latest guise may be the promise of selective abortion
of gay babies. A quotation from Time illustrates how claims of medical virtue
can camouflage a social agenda: "Parents can use preimplantation genetic
diagnosis to avoid having kids with attention-deficit disorder, say, or those
predestined to be short or dull-witted or predisposed to homosexuality."
Notice the clever-and dangerous-juxtaposition of homosexuality with dull-wittedness
and attention-deficit disorder. Hollywood, too, has taken up the issue of aborting
a supposedly gay baby in the popular movie Twilight of the Golds, starring Faye
Dunaway. Selecting babies to fit political specifications could fire competition
among various biological constituencies, each with its own genetic agenda. If
anti-gay groups breed gayness out of babies, pro-gay groups might breed gayness
back in, thus conserving, or even expanding, the presence of gayness in the human
gene pool. Thank goodness there isn't a simply gay gene.
be clear: you can't cure homosexuality because there's no disease to cure. But
I hesitate to become overconfident, assuming that the standing of our gay sisters
and brothers as normal people has been permanently enfranchised by the vote of
psychologists. What can be won by a vote can be lost by a vote. The value and
naturalness of homosexuality must be as scientifically clear as the fact that
the earth is round. Then the acceptance of homosexuality will not crumble when
the political pendulum next swings.
-Roughgarden, Joan, Evolution's Rainbow:
Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, University of California
Press Ltd : London, 2004
Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information
about the previously held theory that homosexuality was a disease that needed
a "cure". Write three case study examples regarding how you might use
the content of this section in your practice.
What is an example of aversion therapy that has been used to "cure"
gay behavior? To select and enter your answer go to .