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Article No. 173

Changing homosexuals to heterosexuals

I was very interested to read yesterday that an official survey has just been completed and it has been found that a number of medical professionals in this country are still seeking to ‘cure’ their patients of homosexuality. This was also a matter for comment on the Sunday programme today.

What this result indicates is that some patients have asked for help in overcoming/getting rid of/being cured of their homosexual tendencies. Apparently about sixteen per cent of the medical professionals have said that at some point (or maybe frequently!) they have attempted to fulfil their patients request. Such an attempt however is contrary to the official views of the medical profession about homosexuality.

Officially they do not think that homosexuality is a disorder and they do not think it can be ‘cured’. Professor King of University College, London who carried out the research says that there is nothing pathological about being lesbian or gay . I expect some gay people and possibly some gay organisations will be up in arms about what has been uncovered by this research. But do we need to be concerned?

I am not surprised that some people who have homosexual feelings seek medical help to ‘become heterosexual’. I think there can be several reasons why they may have a desire to change their sexuality in this manner. One may be that they have experienced some expression of homophobia. Despite the huge strides made over recent decades, the fact is that being gay can and does sometimes subject one, at the very least, to being put in the spotlight. At worst of course it can lead to persecution, injury or even death.

Another reason why such people may want to become heterosexual is that they don’t feel comfortable about it - perhaps they think that it could affect their promotional prospects. Or maybe they want to marry and settle down and have children. They think that if they were ‘normal’ their prospects of happiness would be better. So they want to switch sexualities.

Yet another reason why they may want to switch to heterosexual is that they are under pressure from family and friends - perhaps especially from parents and grandparents - to marry and produce offspring. This may seem an unimportant pressure, but I have heard of it being voiced by some gay men that such pressure is a fact of their lives.

So these gay people come to the medical profession in order to try to change their sexuality - to become heterosexual.

The fact that they sometimes find a sympathetic hearing may mean that there is a residual resistance in some professionals to the latest findings about homosexuality. It now widely held in the medical profession that it is impossible to switch sexuality. It is generally agreed that any attempt to change sexual orientation is not a regular procedure - that it flies in the face of all they now know about human sexuality. Furthermore, they hold that there is nothing wrong about being homosexual. Why then do something like 16% of them get involved in this sort of therapy?

I think there are various reasons why medical professionals try to help someone who comes to them wanting to change their sexual orientation.

The first reason is that some of the professionals may even have a resistance to the idea that homosexuality is a perfectly natural and benign condition. This might be especially so if they happen to be religious people. They might prefer to think that a switch between sexualities is possible. Maybe these professionals were trained several decades ago when the thinking about homosexuality was somewhat different - when it was considered a sickness or disordered. The understanding of homosexuality has changed enormously over the past twenty or thirty years. It may be that some professionals are still stuck in the old thinking.

The second reason why they may be prepared to help a patient who comes with a request that they want to change their sexual orientation is that they may be aware that some improvement can be obtained in some cases. Maybe they have had past cases themselves where some change has taken place. So they are prepared to start to treat the man complaining of his homosexuality.

And it is the case that some people are helped when they want to change what they see as their homosexuality - so that, in their eyes, they ‘become heterosexual.’ However, when a person is largely or exclusively homosexual by nature (a number six on the Kinsey scale) it is accepted as a medical fact that it is virtually impossible to change their sexual orientation. They may have good reasons for wanting to change - perhaps, for example, they have come under persecution. In some foreign countries gay people are liable to be locked up for being gay or just for meeting together. But even in the West there can be fierce persecution against gay people. Think of the bomb let off in the Soho pub a few years ago simply because it was a place known to be frequented by gay people. Or this gay man may have other reasons for wanting to change his sexual orientation.

However good his reasons, the exclusively gay man will not be able to change his sexuality, although he can of course amend his lifestyle. He can be helped to act more as a heterosexual man. His desire for this may be so strong that he persuades himself that he has become heterosexual. He may even marry and have children. But all the evidence is that the suppression of his natural sexuality will affect his life adversely, and may lead to severe trauma later on in his life. So a therapist trying to help this man will not succeed in helping him change his sexuality. If he is homosexual, he will remain a homosexual.

As distinct from the true homosexuals, there is a second group - the bisexual people - that is, people who are able to relate sexually and emotionally to either sex. Some bisexuals do that sequentially - that is, they have a period when they may relate in this way to their own sex, and then they may have a long period when they relate to the opposite sex. They oscillate in their sexual orientation. On the other hand there are some bisexuals - whom I call simultaneous bisexuals - who are capable of relating sexually to either sex at any time. They may fall in love with someone of their own sex, and immediately afterwards fall for someone of the opposite sex.

Clearly, if one of these bisexuals (of either category) approaches a medical professional for help in dealing with their sexuality then there is much more scope for them to be helped. It is not so much a case of changing their sexuality as of managing it. It is not an impossible task to help them deal with ‘their homosexuality’. There may be an element of success in dealing with someone from this group. To the man concerned it may seem that he is attempting to change from being homosexual but in effect it is a case of dual sexuality, and of attempting to emphasise the one aspect and minimize the other.

There is a third group. This consists of heterosexual men who have become involved in the gay lifestyle but now want to change their way of life.

Such a man may have become involved in homosexuality for any of a number of reasons. Maybe curiosity, or the example of a close friend or brother. Or maybe he was simply attracted into perversion - that is, he has deliberately gone against his own natural instinct for the purpose of pleasure and, perhaps, excitement. Or he may have been confused as a young man and thought (or been persuaded) that he was gay when, in fact, he was merely going through some of the sexual confusion that young men go through.

For whatever reason, he has become embroiled in some aspect of the gay lifestyle - and now he wants out. That in itself is not surprising because although he may get a certain pleasure for a time out of ‘being gay‘ and having good gay friendships, basically he is heterosexual and so may well tire of what he is doing. You cannot be false to your nature without consequences! So he seeks help to change. He wants out but is finding that he is more deeply immersed in the gay lifestyle than he realised.

The medical professional who seeks to help someone to re-examine their life and see what can be changed is surely doing the helpful thing. It may be possible for changes to be made which will assist the person to find greater happiness in his life. No one is talking of changing the sexual orientation of the person, but of helping the person understand why he acts as he does and what he can do about it.

There is however a group of organisations that acts in this field and that is the ‘ex gay movement‘. These organisations try to reclaim homosexual men (it is mainly men!) from their homosexuality. They are often rooted in churches or religions that abhor homosexuality, they may offer them a religious experience at the same time. Mostly these ex gay organisations believe that homosexuality is a choice. They do not see it as an orientation that is fixed in the person. They may see homosexuality as the device of the devil.

If a bisexual or heterosexual man who is engaged in the gay lifestyle is helped by an ex gay organisation he may be able to change from his homosexual lifestyle. They may give him friendship and counselling and fellowship - and they may help him towards a religious experience in a similar way to Alcoholics Anonymous. They may keep watch over him until he is weaned off his gay lifestyle. Such men are able to change their actions - but of course they do not change their sexual orientation. Unfortunately the change is usually celebrated by the ex gay organisations as a change of orientation and this confuses the whole picture for many people.

So let us repeat - the best medical view is that sexual orientation cannot be altered at will. What we do with our sexuality is of course open to our own beliefs, values and moral and spiritual strength.

Human sexuality is a very complex subject! We have some way to go yet before we fully understand it. Needless to say, I am no expert on the matter - or only as much as we all are! We all know the pull of sexual temptation. We all know what it is to fall in some way or other. The glorious news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our human condition fully. He is one of us! But more importantly even than that is the fact that his love and forgiveness amply cover all our sin. He understands why we sin and he forgives us as we turn to him. Thank God for that!

Tony Cross
March 2009

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