Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Newspaper Article that Changed My Life

Thursday, May 3, 1990, Deseret News

Going straight? New therapy may help gay men, women later sexual orientation - but it faces a way of opposition

In the 1970s, when gay men began coming out of their closets, Bill went deeper into his. It was one of those perfectly constructed closets, framed by marriage and children and a profession full of serious men in suits.
Way in the back of the closet, though, where nobody could see, he was living another life, sometimes having sex with as many as three men a day.But all that is over now, he says. Thanks to a new therapy, he says, he isn't gay anymore. He calls it ``coming out of homosexuality.''
`It's like Martin Luther King said,'' Bill explains. ``You know, `Free at last! Free at last!' Now I'm able to pass a man on the street and say, `Isn't he a nice-looking man. Good for him.' And keep on walking.''
You don't Have to Be Gay,'' says the brochure Bill holds in his hand announcing an upcoming conference at the University of Utah. The conference, ``Developing a Healthy Male Identity,'' is sponsored by a Salt Lake group called the Evergreen Foundation.
The theory that you can change your sexual orientation, and that homosexuality is unhealthy, is the cornerstone of Evergreen, whose membership is composed of men and women who classify themselves as ``former'' homosexuals and lesbians.
Most have, within the past couple of years, undergone a controversial therapy based on the work of Elizabeth R. Moberly, a British research psychologist who published ``Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic'' in 1983. Her theory has also given birth to other Evergreen-type groups in California and several other states.
It's a theory that touches deep nerves in Utah, where gays and their families struggle to understand sexual yearnings that run against the grain of conservative values.
It also touches nerves in Salt Lake City's gay community, which classifies Evergreen and its upcoming conference as misleading, unethical and dangerous.
At the heart of the controversy are unresolved questions about the causes _ and the meaning _ of sexual identity.
Tom Pritt, a Kaysville psychologist, had been working with homosexuals for years when he came across Elizabeth Moberly's ``Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic.'' In it he found confirmation of conclusions he had come to during hundreds of hours of therapy sessions.
Homosexuality, says Pritt, is not really about sex but about love. It's not about a man's inability to find women appealing but about his inability to form a ``normal'' bond with other men.
Most of the men he has treated, says Pritt, had similar backgrounds: fathers who were absent or distant; a feeling of inferiority to male peers; a feeling of being out of sync with typical male interests and abilities. On the one hand they felt a need for male love; on the other hand, afraid of rejection, they distanced themselves from traditional relationships with other men.
All men and women, says Pritt, have a need to feel close to and to feel accepted by members of their same sex. When a boy who has not felt that kind of bonding reaches puberty, that same-sex love need can become confused and eroticized. What he really desires is male closeness; what he thinks he wants is sex with another man.
Basically what this theory holds is that the whole thing is just a big mistake. A case of mistaken identity, or as Pritt puts it, ``incomplete identity.'' Inside, the theory holds, gay men are really heterosexuals who would be attracted to women if they just finished their emotional development _ by learning how to act in healthy ways around men.
Gay men can change through therapy, says Pritt, but not the typical aversion therapy tried in the past. Gay men can change, he says, but not simply by being counseled to get married.
Jim used to cruise Sugarhouse Park. Or he would hang around Liberty Park or walk through Crossroads Mall, hoping, with a lingering glance, to make a connection with another man.
That was after 18 years of marriage and a divorce, after he had sat in a therapist's office and trembled inside when he was asked to face the fact that three decades of fantasizing about men meant that he was gay.
``I didn't want to be gay,'' Jim remembers. ``Because of society, more than anything. And because I had children and I didn't want to explain that to them. And I didn't know how to act in that (gay) world. I hated that swishy style.''
Asked to explore his feelings, Jim finally decided that ``if I was gay, I'd be the best darn gay guy there ever was.'' He threw all his energies into finding the perfect man.
``At first it's intoxicating. Then it's addicting. . . . But it never was fulfilling,'' he says. ``You can't have fulfillment with another man. But the gay community doesn't want to hear that.''
And then, in 1988, someone gave him a copy of what at Evergreen they refer to as ``the gray book'' _ ``You Don't Have to Be Gay,'' by J.A. Konrad, a California man who describes himself as ``an EX-gay.''
``I read it in two afternoons,'' says Jim. ``And I knew it was right. Finally someone was saying, `You don't have to be trapped in it.' ''
So Jim began the therapy. He avoided his former haunts, although that wasn't easy. ``It took me eight months before I could drive by Sugarhouse Park.''
He started making efforts to mingle with every straight man he could find, and he joined Tom Pritt's baseball and basketball program for men who were struggling to change.
``I stood on second base and cried,'' Jim remembers. ``I could do it. And I was good, even though I was always told I couldn't be.''
Now, after 18 months of non-erotic relationships with other men, he says he notices a difference in himself.
``Every gay guy I knew longs for his International Male magazine,'' says Jim. ``When it used to come, I'd be in the middle of business and I'd have to stop and look at it. But last week one came to my office and I didn't have to look at it right away. And when I did, I realized that I was actually looking at the clothes. It's like total liberation.''
He says he is starting to feel attracted to women, although there is a tentativeness to his voice when he talks about it. It's a slow process, he says.
Those who find fault with the Evergreen approach are quick to point out that it ignores the latest research into the neurobiology of sexual orientation.
``The ultimate cause of sexual orientation has never been fully determined,'' notes Salt Lake psychiatrist Jan Stout. ``But most of the top investigators in the field believe that biological factors are extremely important.''
Stout, who in the early 1970s believed that homosexuality was a learned behavior that could be treated with therapy, had decided by the mid-1980s that that viewpoint was ``wrong and simplistic.''
Homosexuality is a result of a complex combination of environmental and biological causes, says Stout.
It is in the uterus, he says, that the brain begins to differentiate between male and female. In the embryo we all start out as female, until the point, in about half of us, when a Y chromosome begins to create male organs. After that, in males, the hormone testosterone creates further changes that will later lead to masculine behavior and sexual feelings.
But in some male embryos, less testosterone is produced, possibly because of maternal stress or certain drugs. Although animal studies cannot always be generalized to humans, says Stout, they have confirmed ``the crucial role'' that prenatal hormones play in later sex-role behavior.
`I've treated hundreds of homosexuals,'' notes Stout. ``Some have the pattern of weakened father bonds, but not all by any means. . . . I think it's a case of putting the cart before the horse,'' he says about the theories of male bonding and homosexuality. ``They haven't been able to make good bonds with father because of the way they feel inside. It's the effect of the biology, not the other way around.''
A few people can maybe make changes that feel right to them, says Stout, but it's more a question of willpower and behavioral changes, rather than a real shift in sexual orientation. Because of this, he finds the theories potentially dangerous.
``You're going to have young people who read anecdotes about people who have changed, and they'll say, `What's wrong with me? I haven't been able to change.' You'll increase their sense of failure. And I think you'll see more suicides. That's my concern here. . . . We should accept people the way they are.''
That conflict between ``validating the self-worth of the individual'' vs. encouraging change, says Salt Lake clinical social worker LaDonna Moore, lies behind the decision of the Utah chapter of the National Association of Social Workers not to give continuing education credit for this weekend's conference. 
Moore objects to the conference brochure's characterization of homosexuality as a sickness. ``It's sad to see the complexity of human beings' emotional and sexual state reduced to `compulsive behavior.' ''
Because the mental-health profession as a whole no longer considers homosexuality a disorder, Moore feels that it is ``unethical'' for local therapists to participate in the Evergreen conference. Five Utah therapists _ four licensed clinical social workers, a psychiatrist and a psychologist _ are among the presenters at the Friday session, which is geared to health professionals. The Saturday session is open to the public.
A group of ``concerned citizens'' _ including some mental-health workers and members of the Salt Lake gay community _ will counter the Evergreen claims at a press conference on Friday.
Local gay activists find the conference, and the concepts behind it, offensive, says Rocky O'Donovan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Utah.
Not all gays want to change, he says, although there was a time, during high school, when he fasted and prayed to do just that. But now he says, ``If you put a pill, with no side effects, here on the table that would make me heterosexual, and next to it you put a $1,000 bill, I'd say, `Absolutely not.' ''
The real question, says O'Donovan, is not why some men are gay, or whether they should be, but how to best accept them if they are.
Human sexuality has never been as simple as the birds and the bees, and homosexuality is no less perplexing or charged with emotion now, after all the studies and books and talk shows and theories that have tried to understand it.
Is it possible to change a person's sexual orientation? The debate continues.
In the meantime Jim tells this story: He was jogging down the street not long ago when, all of a sudden, a feeling of ``completeness'' came over him.
``I feel now,'' he explains with a look of relief, ``that I have the same parts and the same capabilities that every man has.''
-For more information, call the Evergreen Foundation at 535-1658, or the Gay and Lesbian Community Council at 359-5555. The names of Evergreen members used in this article have been changed at their request.

Words: 1856


  1. Fascinating. And somewhat chilling with the predictions of suicide, etc., which of course came true...

  2. Much has changed in 21 years and much has remained the same.

  3. I am curious, Ned, how this article changed your life? Which parts were cathartic for you? And, which made your heart turn cold?

    Hope all is well with you and yours. :)

    love and respect, always.

  4. Thanks, Duck. Always good to hear from you. I'm well and so is the fam. Now to attempt to answer your questions:

    Until I read this article, I thought I'd go to my grave with my homosexual secret. But I saw in this article the possibility that I could change in this life. I let the parts of the article I wanted to believe seduce me. I wanted to believe that I could, in this life, be "free at last, free at last." I bought in to the possibilities and I disregarded the misgivings expressed by the LGBT community. The article took a balanced approach, but I did not.

    I bought the Moberly and Konrad books and I bought into what they said. The upside is that I learned how to be much more comfortable in the company of men, but a few years later, I became clinically depressed and suicidal. Fortunately the darkness eventually gave way to light. I've written about that experience here.

  5. p.s. I mentioned this article and how I later felt about it in a journal entry dated May 13, 2001. It had been 11 years since I'd read the article and started my journey into and beyond reparative therapy. I was suicidal. I was irrational. But here's what I wrote:

    "I’ve been trying to keep myself busy. I have tried to be calm and have succeeded, it is just that on the inside I feel so hopeless and guilty. I know I have been the cause of so many problems and unhappiness. There is a wise part of me that says hang in there you can beat this. There is another part of me that says everyone would ultimately be better off if you were gone. That seems so stupid when I write it down, but the thing is that right now it seems true. If only I hadn’t read that newspaper article about Evergreen. If only I had been able to carry the secret to my grave. If only Evergreen had worked better. I don’t know how to sort it out anymore. It gave me great hope. Perhaps too much hope."

  6. Thank you for answering my questions, Ned- I know they were very personal.

    I am glad you no longer feel suicidal (the feelings you described in the post you referenced in your comment).

    And, I am sorry that Evergreen, and reparative (sp?)therapy, turned your world upside down. It kind of has that effect on people, doesn't it? It surely did on me.

    I was especially interested in what you thought/think about psychologist Tom Pritt's comments and ideas from the Deseret News article.

    (His wife is also a psychologist and takes much the same approach that being gay is a choice, that we all, as members of the church, are "Mormon and..." - "insert whatever behavior makes it hard to be both LDS and whatever it is we are"- (in my case, Mormon and gay). I saw her a few times professionally- I think she tried to understand my feelings about being gay and LDS, but she wanted to put me in a little box and tie up all the loose ends with simple bows and it just did not work for me. She did, however, help me deal with a significant loss with a technique she knew, so that was good.)

    I am glad you are well and that your family is happy, too. :)

    (If you get a facebook request from a ninja duck character, it would be me. :) )

    Happy night!

  7. I bought into Pritt's belief that I was incomplete, and in need of repair. I bought into the idea that my attraction to guys was a "reparative drive" to make me whole. But even after doing all I could to form multiple non-sexual bonds with straight guys, my same-sex attraction was stronger not weaker. As I became more comfortable in the company of men, I realized, I really do have a strong desire to love and be loved by men I find attractive. For a while I felt like I'd blown my chance to change, that it would work for others but not for me. Fortunately I eventually realized the problem was not with me, but with the theory. I think reparative therapy advocates see the world as they want it to be rather than the way it actually is.

    I'm curious about what Pritt's wife did to help you deal with a loss, if you're willing to share that.

  8. I was dealing with the loss of a very significant person in my life.

    Pritt's wife did a technique with me called "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing" (EMDR). Dr. Francine Shapiro is the one who "coined" this technique and there is a LOT written about it on the Internet. I was very skeptical as to its validity. But it has really helped me, so I no longer "pooh pooh" it.

    (Many years ago, when myself and another co-worker got physically assaulted at work, EMDR was the only thing that helped me process the attack and be able to "put it away", meaning, I knew the attack had happened, but it no longer held the emotional trauma any longer. EMDR helped me also process the loss of the significant person (who had been in my life many years), deal with all the emotions the loss brought up for me, and move on.)

    It really is a remarkable technique that helps wonders. I have also seen it work wonders with athletes and even children trying to process painful events in their lives.

    Happy day!

  9. Hi, Ned. I saw the response you wrote today on Beck's blog. Your generosity and compassion of spirit, to him in his hour of need, are two of the reasons I think you are such an amazing human being.

    Sending love and good energy your way. Duck