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Section 10
Perspectives and Gender Variations

Question 10 | Test | Table of Contents

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.
Behavioral 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 year.

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.

Let's 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

Personal 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.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
McLemore, K. A. (2018). A minority stress perspective on transgender individuals’ experiences with misgendering. Stigma and Health, 3(1), 53–64.

Puckett, J. A., Tornello, S., Mustanski, B., & Newcomb, M. E. (2021). Gender variations, generational effects, and mental health of transgender people in relation to timing and status of gender identity milestones. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. 

Weir, C., & Piquette, N. (2018). Counselling transgender individuals: Issues and considerations. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(3), 252–261.

What is an example of aversion therapy that has been used to "cure" gay behavior? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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