When he leaves his tidy apartment in an ocean-side city somewhere in America, Aaron turns on the radio to a light rock station. "For the cat," he explains, "so she won't get lonely." He's short and balding and dressed mostly in black, and right before I turn on the recorder, he asks me for the dozenth time to guarantee that I won't reveal his name or anything else that might identify him. "I don't want to be a target for gay activists," he says as we head out into the misty day. "Harassment like that I just don't need."Aaron sets a much brisker pace down the boardwalk than you would expect of a doughy 51-year-old, and once convinced I'll respect his anonymity, he turns out to be voluble. Over the crash of the waves, he spares no details as he describes how much he hated the fact that he was gay, how the last thing in the world he wanted to do was act on his desire to have sex with another man.
One of the few people who knew that Aaron was gay showed him an article in Newsweek about a group offering "reparative therapy"—psychological treatment for people who want to become "ex-gay."
"It turns out that I didn't have the faintest idea what love was," he says. That's not all he didn't know. He also didn't know that his same-sex attraction, far from being inborn and inescapable, was a thirst for the love that he had not received from his father, a cold and distant man prone to angry outbursts, coupled with a fear of women kindled by his intrusive and overbearing mother, all of which added up to a man who wanted to have sex with other men just so he could get some male attention. He didn't understand any of this, he tells me, until he found a reparative therapist whom he consulted by phone for nearly 10 years, attended weekend workshops, and learned how to "be a man."Aaron interrupts himself to eye a woman in shorts jogging by. "Sometimes there are very good-looking women at this boardwalk," he says. "Especially when they're not bundled up." He remembers when he started noticing women's bodies, a few years into his therapy. "The first thing I noticed was their legs. The curve of their legs." He's dated women, had sex with them even, although "I was pretty awkward," he says. "It just didn't work." Aaron has a theory about this: "I never used my body in a sexual way. I think the men who actually act it out have a greater success in terms of being sexual with women than the men who didn't act it out." Not surprisingly, he's never had a long-term relationship, and he's pessimistic about his prospects. "I can't make that jump from having this attraction to doing something about it." But, he adds, it's wrong to think "if you don't make it with women, then you haven't changed." The important thing is that "now I like myself. I'm not emotionally shut down. I'm comfortable in my own body. I don't have to be drawn to men anymore. I'm content at this point to lead an asexual life, which is what I've done for most of my life anyway." He adds, "I'm a very detached person."
The article goes on to talk to gay activists who argue that admitting that they are capable of change is bad politics. It also gives a surprisingly fair presentation of the work of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and admits why the APA removed homosexuality from DSM-III:
Freud was pessimistic that homosexuality could be treated, but doctors abhor an illness without a cure, and the 20th century saw therapists inflict the best of modern psychiatric practice on gay people, which included, in addition to interminable psychoanalysis and unproven medications, treatments that used electric shock to associate pain with same-sex attraction. These therapies were largely unsuccessful, and, particularly after the Stonewall riots of 1969—the clash between police and gays that initiated the modern gay rights movement—patients and psychiatrists alike started questioning whether homosexuality should be considered a mental illness at all. Gay activists, some of them psychiatrists, disrupted the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association for three years in a row, until in 1973 a deal was brokered. The APA would delete homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) immediately, and furthermore it would add a new disease: sexual orientation disorder, in which a patient can't accept his or her sexual identity. The culprit in SOD was an oppressive society, and the cure for SOD was to help the gay patient overcome oppression and accept who he or she really was. (SOD has since been removed from the DSM.)UPDATE: Eric at Classical Values comments about this article, and links to a YouTube video:
The APA cited various scientific papers in making its decision, but many members were convinced that the move was a dangerous corruption of science by politics. "If groups of people march and raise enough hell, they can change anything in time," one psychiatrist worried. "Will schizophrenia be next?" And their impression was confirmed when the final decision was made not in a laboratory but at the ballot box, where the membership voted by a six-point margin to authorize the APA to delete the diagnosis of homosexuality. It may be the first time in history that a disease was eliminated by the stroke of a pen. It was certainly the first time that psychiatrists determined that the cause of a mental illness was an intolerant society. And it was a crucial moment for gay people, at once getting the psychiatrists out of their bedrooms and giving the weight of science to Kertbeny and Ulrichs' claim that homosexuality was an identity, like race or national origin, that deserved protection.
This video shows an effeminate gay man with a complaint I've heard before: "mainstream" straight-acting gays are intolerant of effeminate gays. (Which almost mimics the position of "straight society" that gays are effeminate and therefore repulsive.)Warning: While Eric's posting is (as usual) completely worksafe and civilized, the YouTube video he links to is rather awash in a couple of the words that you can't say on television.