Sunday, November 30, 2008

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom, Part II

In the last post, I talked about the conventional wisdom about homosexuality and the obscure evidence that it needn’t be a lifelong orientation. Of course, there’s a list of mental health professional associations whose members strongly object to the idea that homosexuality can be “cured”—nay, that it even needs curing. Since many of these people are in positions to determine who gets research funding and who doesn’t, it’s safe to say that proposals to research alternative explanations will ordinarily find their way to the bottom of the priority lists … if they ever get added to such lists.

How can we be sure that homosexuality is dysfunctional? After all, the reparative therapists may simply be finding precisely what their Christianity tells them to find, to give their narrow-minded bigotry an electroplating of respectable science, just like the scientists who backed the racial theories of the Ku Klux Klan and Adolf Hitler in times past.

Besides the odious comparisons, though, the concept of reparative therapy for homosexuality isn’t based only on the Bible; nor should we be blindly lumped with the God-hates-fags crowd. The conventional wisdom tells us that the higher rates of emotional distress, suicide attempts and risky behavior among gay and bisexual youths is created by social marginalization and bigotry. But what if the homosexuality is itself a symptom of a dysfunctional home environment, caused by disordered relationships with one’s parents? Wouldn’t the distress, suicidal depression and risky behavior be better explained by the failure of these primary relationships? If so, then isn’t creating an atmosphere of loving acceptance for youthful homosexual behavior a grave failure to treat the real problem?

Let’s look at the basic correlation of gay behavior and higher rates of risky behavior. The Fred Phelps type of homophobe commits a classic form of logical fallacy in assuming the homosexual orientation causes the risky behavior. The gay apologist correctly detects the error and postulates an underlying cause; drawing from the experience of African-American health problems, he quickly concludes that lack of social acceptance creates the risky behavior.

All well and good. There’s just one tricky point: African-Americans can’t stop being African-Americans, but to whether a homosexual can stop being a homosexual … that’s not as obvious.

Understand what I mean: The gay apologist predicates his conclusion on the belief that homosexuality is innate, that a person is basically either straight or gay from cradle to casket. If it’s something you’re born with, then it’s something you have no control over, and you therefore have no ability to fix it. Moreover, if you’re born with it, then it’s natural to have it, and you therefore have no obligation to fix it. A cultural demand for restraint from expressing that innate desire is therefore unfair and unjust.

BUT, if the homosexuality isn’t innate, then it’s not just that the gay person has the ability and obligation to seek effective therapy and mental health professionals to provide it. Rather, it means that the analogy to the health problems associated with the black experience in America is a false analogy: loving acceptance of youthful gayness won’t make the distress, risky behavior and suicidal tendencies go away. In other words, the Wise People of the mental-health professions would be solving the wrong problem.

If we take the usual percentage given of homosexuals in the American population, then we have thirty million people whom the mental health professions have basically told, “There’s nothing wrong with you; you’ve just been oppressed by a benighted society. Go and be kinky with our blessing.” But if certain theories are correct, then many if not most of them bear the psychic scars of traumatic conditions in their childhoods that not only impair their social maturity but support the riskiness of the gay community’s lifestyle. Gay marriage, or the functional substitute of domestic partnership, would be no more effective at stabilizing the gay community than a Band-Aid would at healing a cancer lesion.

Now, let me restate the question minus the anti-Christian blather: How can we be sure that homosexuality is a dysfunction?

Sex exists for one reason: procreation. That’s not Catholicism talking, that’s Darwinian biology. Because this method is a notoriously inefficient way to transmit gametes from one body to another, we have nerve endings in our genitals that, when stimulated, produce a form of pleasure unlike any other. This pleasure, in turn, encourages us to copulate more frequently and, as a result, have higher rates of reproduction. The act of sex also reinforces pair-bonding, which aids the development of stable social units (families) capable of raising offspring to maturity. What we generally know as the “sex drive” should be more rightfully named the reproductive drive, without which we might have had some difficulty getting out of the trees. Encoded into the oldest structures of our brain, arousal pushes us to attempt reproduction even when it’s not our intent, even when our capacity for reason tells us the time, the social context and/or the prospective partner isn’t right.

(This is not to say we have no choice in the matter, although—as, I’m sorry to say, I’ve learned from experience—sexual arousal does tend to depress clear thinking and thus good judgment.)

The irony of the search for a “gay gene” is that, genetically, homosexuality is a dead end. Whatever other genes a homosexual may have which may benefit the race in the long run, he’s inherited a trait that redirects his procreative efforts into a non-procreative path. It would still be possible for him to reproduce … if, that is, he goes through the denial stage long enough to marry and beget (or just beget in one of many futile efforts to “go straight”). Otherwise, he’s effectively out of the gene pool.

How pathetic to spend so much time looking for a gene that’s responsible for a trait with a negative survival value.

This assumes, of course, that the “gay gene” operates as gay apologists require, making not only homosexuality but homoerotic liaisons inevitable and uncontrollable. In fact, it’s more probable that such a gene would make homosexuality more likely, given certain environmental factors, but would not automatically create a homosexual orientation strong enough to act on.

Homosexuality may be “natural”, in the sense that it crops up without needing any intervention or intent to produce … if we accept the premise of its innateness. But in that sense, spina bifida, psychosis, kleptomania and Chicago Cubs fandom are also natural. “Natural”, in this sense, is then no help in determining what is healthy or good. On the other hand, if homosexuality is one symptom of a psyche damaged by a traumatic series of childhood events, then homosexuality can’t be considered “natural” even in such an ambiguous sense.

If, instead, by saying “homosexuality is natural”, one means that everything is working as it was designed to work, we can only shake our heads and wonder how that person came to such a surreal conclusion. Since homosexuality pushes the reproductive urge into a form of expression where reproduction is patently not possible, the person’s sexuality is definitely not operating “per spec”.

From this, we can form a valid negative syllogism: 1) A healthy sexual orientation facilitates reproduction; 2) Homosexuality does not facilitate reproduction; 3) Therefore, homosexuality is not a healthy sexual orientation. The best we can say is that it serves as a demonstration of natural selection in action.

My point in taking this tone is twofold: First, the Catholic Church came to the same conclusions long ago; if the language is different, it’s because the conclusions came from a different source. An institution that has had the opportunity to study the human condition for 2,000 years is one we ought to listen to respectfully. Second, those who appeal to Darwin on every other topic can’t abandon him as irrelevant the second he threatens their pet social goals. Whether we say gay sex is “disordered” or “dysfunctional”, the fact remains that homosexuality frustrates the biological imperative.

Despite the rhetoric, gay people know homosexuality is unnatural. The push for same-sex parenthood and gay marriage is an attempt to reconstruct the appearance of normality using the symbols of heterosexual happiness: the house with the white picket fence, two-car garage and toys in the yard. But if the reparative therapists are right—a conclusion the conventional wisdom forbids us from reaching—then having the symbols of normality won’t effect any healing, won’t create any stability, and will needlessly endanger the children by exposing them to an unhealthy lifestyle and threatening their own sexual identity.

One more post should suffice for this topic. When I come back in Part III, I’d like to examine the conventional wisdom on homosexuality within the context of the culture wars.