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People are hideously vulnerable to each other - Input Junkie
February 2nd, 2010
08:44 am


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People are hideously vulnerable to each other

Patrick Strudwick, a journalist who describes himself as a happy, "out" gay man, tries three therapists who claim they can "cure" his sexual attraction so that he can report on them.
The purpose of this investigation was to find out how conversion therapists operate. What I didn't expect was that I would learn how their patients feel: confused and damaged.

I began to constantly analyse why I found particular men attractive. Does that man represent something that's lacking in me? Do I want him because he looks strong which must mean I feel weak? Did something happen in my childhood? The therapists planted doubt and worry where there was none.

My experiences, I learn, are typical. I speak to Daniel Gonzalez, one of Nicolosi's former clients. "Conversion therapy is a very complicated form of repression," he says. "It's a way of convincing yourself that your same sex attractions have some alternate meaning. It continued to haunt me for years."

I also speak to Peterson Toscano, who spent 17 years in Britain and the US trying every different reorientation treatment available. He says simply: "It's psychological torture."

I believe that what happened to him doesn't show extraordinary weakness on his part, or that it's distinctively a result of being gay in a world which is still homophobic-- it's hard to leave your natural reactions in place when they receive an extended attack on your background motivations.

I don't have a complete theory of what goes on with that sort of thing-- how much is a background desire to please people who seem to have strong opinions, and how much is that if you have a lively verbal mind, it will latch on to ideas and apply them compulsively, or if there are other factors operating that I haven't thought of.

To put it another way, "just ignore it" isn't effective advice.

Link thanks to rozk and supergee. Emphasis on the aftereffects from skye in rozk's comments, but I've taken it considerably farther.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, the conversionist culture won't shut up and go away until the scientific community slaps it in the face and tells it to. Maybe not even then.
[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
Fascinating, thank you.

I'm getting interested in repression in general, though not at all from a Freudian perspective. It's pervasive, it serves a useful function in culture - to a large extent it is what allows us all to get along - so I'm curious about this conversion business. The aspect of persuading you that one impulse points to another - that your preferences can be explained through reference to some other system - strikes me as the very basis of any kind of assessment of value.
[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
I'll be interested in anything you have to say about repression.

I'm also currently mulling the process of recovery from ideology-driven repression (both the motivation-mongering and the thought-stopping flavors).
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Link corrected, thanks.

Here's the art of the deal link again http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/4303439 it was pretty interesting. And in re repression, there's some interesting stuff about 3/4 of the way through about the importance of letting yourself feel your fear/excitement. The speaker thinks that it's a bad idea to try to calm yourself before a challenging event.

On second thought, there's probably an optimum level of arousal. I can believe that a lot of people try to push themselves too low, but that doesn't mean that calming is completely useless.

I agree with your point, but I'm learning that finding out what's really going on in my mind is a subtle process which takes care and respect. Theories should be taken very lightly, and should be kept far behind meticulous observation.

[User Picture]
Date:February 3rd, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
It's also used on women who date older men.
[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
Guided here from a friend who found your comments and linkage interesting, I just wanted to say that having been to a therapist or two in my day, the power they wield as an authority figure is generally underestimated. As a child, they can change or direct the minds of your parents; incredible power. As an adult, they have the ability to reach you in ways you may never let anyone else, simply because you're paying them to help you and that means you value, to some extent, their advice over just your own.

I would suggest then that therapists who take advantage of this power in the relationship to effectively repress gay people are just as irresponsible as those who sleep with their patients, because they are wielding a powerful force of authority and trust and using it to bludgeon as opposed to help.

Note, I have nothing against therapists. I have been a Domestic Violence counselor myself, and experienced some pretty rocking people in the therapy chair. But there are always bad apples, and with the sheer number of people more open to therapy, they are being identified in a larger waves.
[User Picture]
Date:February 2nd, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
There are some philosophies/political movements that have similar effects; the one I'm personally most familiar with is radical-leaning feminism's influence on kinky women.
[User Picture]
Date:February 3rd, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
What we are talking about is the ability to modify a behavior central to identity. That such is possible is no surprise, especially to a willing participant.

To use a different example, I compulsively overeat. I can try many different diet programs, or I can decide my weight is "natural." My doctor lectures me often on what a bad person I am to be so self-indulgent and live such an unhealthy lifestyle. I can go out and try various behavior modification programs to treat my genetic tendency to overeat. Some of these programs are likely physically and emotionally abusive, others are designed in different ways. I am likely to be responsive to some, less responsive to others.

A critical difference between sexual orientation and obesity is that the former do not appear to have any long-term health consequences, but the later does. So we are less inclined to regard efforts to alter my eating behavior as "evil" than we are efforts to alter my sexual orientation. But there are core similarities between them. Both involve behavior at the core of survival and at the core of identity. Both appear to have a genetic component. And, not surprisingly, both respond to behavior modification.

Since the behavior modified goes to the core of identity, it is no surprise that it makes people unhappy and causes conflict. Again, in the weight loss example, the behavior modification is rewarded in other physical ways that tend to reenforce the behavior modification (e.g., one feels in better shape). But any obese person can testify to the lifetime struggle to keep weight off because, over time, the genetic propensity to overeat will reassert itself unless the environment and conditioning is structured to prevent this.

The bottom line from my perspective is that any core behavior is modifiable through a variety of means -- especially when participation by the person being modified is voluntary. It is also the case that, where a behavior is deeply ingrained, linked to core characteristics of identity, and genetically based, the original behavior will continue to try to reassert itself. This is why I always come back to the argument that the genetic basis (or lack thereof) of sexual orientation is irrelevant. It is a function of freedom of identity, because any behavior is subject to modification no matter how deeply ingrained, and no matter how unhappy such modification makes you over time.
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