2121 Commonwealth Avenue
Brighton, MA 02135-3193
To The Editor:
A recent opinion piece by Dale O’Leary entitled, “Insights on same-sex attraction” purportedly attempted to clarify a “mist of confusion” about the public policy debates regarding same-sex marriage by appealing to what is known scientifically about same-sex attraction. Instead of clarity, however, her words contribute to the confusion by citing as science positions which have received no acceptance within the broader scientific community and by perpetuating prejudicial myths and discarded psychobabble about homosexuality.
Let me address several of O’Leary’s most egregious errors point by point.
1. O’Leary states that claims about the biological nature of same-sex attraction and the fixed nature of one’s same-sex orientation have been “thoroughly discredited.” To support this she writes, “no ‘gay gene’ has been found” and scientific inquiry regarding this has “largely been abandoned.” O’Leary is wrong on all accounts.
First, O’Leary attempts to discredit what is known about same-sex attraction by taking it out of its proper context, namely an understanding of human development and sexual orientation. Both the scientific literature and the experience of individuals (gay and straight) tell us clearly that one’s sexual orientation is a relatively fixed, stable part of one’s personality; it is a “given” about who we are, just as is the color of one’s eyes or whether one is left or right-handed. It is not a “choice” or a “preference,” but rather is one expression along the continuum of orientations that individual human persons experience. While an individual may choose the behavior he/she engages in, one does not choose one’s orientation. Just as no heterosexual man can identify when he “chose to be attracted to women,” no homosexual man can say that he “chose” to be attracted to men. Both might speak of a growing awareness of their sexual feelings and attractions during adolescence, but this would be an awareness of a pre-existing, God-given reality.
A 1999 joint statement from several of the most prestigious professional medical, educational, and mental health societies in the United States (including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, and National Association of Social Workers, among others) declares “Sexual orientation is one component of a person’s identity … an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction that a person feels toward another person,” (http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justthefacts.html).
Second, a simple search of the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database yields almost 2,000 citations when searched for the combined terms “genetics” and “sexual orientation.” One result, for example, is the study by Dr. Qazi Rahman of the University of East London. That 2005 study, “The neurodevelopment of human sexual orientation” was published in the journal, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. The publisher’s abstract states: “Behaviour genetic investigations provide strong evidence for a heritable component to male and female sexual orientation,” (cf. http://www.uel.ac.uk/news/press_releases/releases/s_or.htm). Clearly the scientific interest in this area of research continues to be strong and promising. To state it has “largely been abandoned” is simply wrong.
2. O’Leary appeals to a study by Dr. Robert Spitzer in support of the view that one can change one’s sexual orientation. O’Leary gives no details of the study, published in the Oct. 2003 edition of the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study received much press and was widely reviewed within the medical and mental health communities. It was universally and sharply criticized both for its faulty methodology (e.g. participants were all self-selected and there was no randomization or control group involved; interviews were by telephone and not anonymous; there was no objective psychometric assessment of their sexual orientation; there was no assessment of any intervention which purportedly effected the “change” [i.e. no pre-test/post-test]; all participants had been treated by or had contact with a “Christian reparative therapist” [reparative therapy has not only been discredited as ineffective, but also condemned as potentially psychologically harmful]); and its overreaching conclusions. The journal’s own abstract for Spitzer’s study clearly states: “The participants were 200 self-selected individuals … who reported at least some minimal change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least 5 years… Reports of complete change were uncommon,” [emphases added]. Even taken uncritically, this study gives no indication that changing one’s given sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual is either possible or even desired by the vast majority of homosexual persons who are psychologically well-adjusted and for whom their sexual orientation is not problematic.
3. After claiming to demonstrate that individuals with a same-sex sexual orientation are not “born that way,” O’Leary goes on to ask what the cause of same-sex attraction is. She discusses at length a book by Elizabeth Moberly which supposedly “combines the findings of therapists with insights gained through healing ministries.” O’Leary says the book’s “conclusions have been confirmed by subsequent research,” though no such supporting research is identified. As one reads O’Leary’s account of Moberly’s “findings,” one is presented with what comes across as an even worse remake of a bad B-movie. Apparently Moberly trots out the view, long-abandoned in scientific and mental health circles, that homosexuals are homosexuals because they did not have enough “love and acceptance from the same-sex parent” during childhood. The myths of the “absent father” and the “cold, distant mother” are apparently to blame. (It is noteworthy that Moberly has no formal training in psychology, yet at one time worked as Director of Psychosexual Education and Therapy for the fundamentalist group, BCM [Bible Centered Ministries] International.)
4. The worst error in O’Leary’s piece is theological. She perpetuates Moberly’s notion that gay men, having missed out on the love of their fathers during childhood, should now look to Jesus or God the Father as a replacement. Gay women, on the other hand, should look to Mary as the mother-figure whose absence during childhood was the apparent cause of their lesbianism. The only possible reaction that a thoughtful and intelligent person could have with such ridiculous assertions is, “Huh?? Are you kidding me??” To suggest that a strong relationship with God the Father or the Blessed Mother will make gay people straight is not only absurd, but is also insulting to the millions of gay men and women who take their faith seriously and have strong and devout spiritual lives. This O’Leary/Moberly assertion is an example of the strange places one ends up when the starting point is wrong. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the long-abandoned Freudian notion that the behavior of parents causes their children’s sexual orientation.
The Pilot does its readers a tremendous disservice by publishing the writings of someone who seems not to know the difference between science and science fiction. While O’Leary’s commentary did nothing to clarify confusion, it did a wonderful job of perpetuating ignorance. I pray that if The Pilot wishes to inform its readers on these issues from the perspective of science, it would engage the services of someone who knows what he/she is talking about.