This post is a temporary step away from normal (gay) parenting posts for National Coming Out Day.
I just finished reading the highly recommended article from John Smid, former director of ex-gay group Love in Action a longtime Exodus International affiliate (Exodus International pushes ex-gay therapy). (full article here) Smid says that of all the people he has met, he has never met anyone who has been able to change their attractions. They may change their behaviors and beliefs, but never their attraction to the same sex.
Yes, there are homosexuals that make dramatic changes in their lives as they walk through the transformation process with Jesus. I have heard story after story of changes that have occurred as men and women find the grace of God in their lives as homosexual people. But, I’m sorry, this transformation process may not meet the expectations of many Christians. I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.
I was thinking about how this applies to the Prop 8 case. During the trial, experts listed 3 major components when characterizing or defining “sexual orientation”: behavior, attraction, and self-identification. The proponents of Prop 8 claimed that all 3 must fit for someone to be called “homosexual,” and since this is not easy to do, homosexual people cannot be formed into a legal class worthy of heightened scrutiny. In the article mentioned above, Smid is demonstrating that people can change 2 of the 3, but the one thing that never changes is the attractions. This is apparently good enough for Christian groups pushing ex-gay therapy, but it doesn’t discount the underlying factor.
Now, I want to flip this around. In order for the sexual orientation label of homosexual, Cooper’s team claimed all 3 must be homosexually oriented. On the other hand, using the same logic, all 3 must be heterosexually oriented in order for someone to be classified as straight.
There is a group of people who keep their “attractions” the same, but their behaviors and label might change at any given moment in time: bisexuals. They are attracted to both sexes (for the sake of argument, just both generally; not saying definitively 50/50). At any given moment in time–and discounting anything beyond one partner, which consists of separate arguments–behavior is usually strictly “heterosexual” or “homosexual.” The self-described label might change with each relationship, though many more people are becoming comfortable with the “bisexual” label. The constant through all this is the attraction, which doesn’t sway because of attraction to both sexes.
Michelle and Marcus Bachmann’s friend, Janet Boynes, is one of the latest figures in ex-gay propaganda. Boynes has claimed that she still has attractions for women from time to time, yet she makes the broad claim that she was once a lesbian and is now straight. She has attractions for both men and women, so she is really bisexual in this category. The behavior and self-identification factors are the only things that have really changed.
There is also a 4th category that people can fit in: asexual. Asexuality simply means no sexual attraction to either sex. However, what can still change is behavior and self-identification. Asexual people are still capable of behaviors of either sexual orientation, and they can still self-identify one way or the other, or both. A good example of self-identification is entering into a marriage. This may be because of social pressures to marry, but that doesn’t change their attractions. Yes, asexual people exist and don’t deserve any ridicule, either.
So, given this method of labeling someone, where do ex-gays really fit? According to Smid, they don’t change their attraction to the same sex, but they can still change their behaviors. Smid himself is a gay man (what he identifies as now), but he is married to a woman. He loves this woman dearly, but he is not attracted to her sexually. If the couple is open with each other, and they have come to their own agreement, then I wouldn’t work to take that away from them. But, how can one really classify an ex-gay as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” when they fit neither model?
There are plenty of examples of gay people who kept their attractions a secret who have gone and passed themselves off as straight. They are neither straight nor gay following the above strict classification. They also don’t really fit in the bisexual model unless they really have attractions for the opposite sex, too. Behavior alone is not an indicator for this as history has shown.
There are also cases of straight people who have kept their attractions and self-identification were heterosexual, but they may have changed their behaviors at some point. “Gay for pay” porn actors are a great example of this. Many might assume that these people are bisexual, but they could very well be straight in the “self-identification” and “attraction” categories. How should these people be labeled?
The point of all this is the one underlying factor that does not change: attraction. This is the hand that is dealt in life that does not change. Social and religious pressures may force someone to not accept their attractions, but that doesn’t change the fact that this person is gay or bisexual (or straight). I think the qualifications are ok for a beginning point when studying a group, but it has no relation to real life outside of the sociological and psychological microscope.
Focusing on the attractions someone may have helps drive the wedge between attractions and behaviors that many religious groups like to harp about. This is where the debate should be argued. We were given these attractions by luck of the draw and had no choice in them. The only choice we have is what we do with these attractions and if we want to try and force ourselves into a heterosexist norm, or accept that we cannot change them and act as who we really are, out and proud Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Straight, or Asexual people. Laws should not discriminate against us because of our behaviors, because those of us who have accepted and are comfortable with our attractions are people first and should not be defined by our behaviors.
I have said it many times before, but it can always bear repeating: I am gay, but I am a person first. I am also a dutiful husband, supportive brother, loving son, hard-working employee, watchful neighbor, and comforting friend; I hope to add protective father to that list soon.
Happy National Coming Out Day. Or as Harvey Milk once said, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”