My previous article describing my path out of homosexuality generated much comment. Many posters asked valid questions not answered by the first article, which told a personal story:
- How common is this experience?
- Do these perceptions accurately reflect gay life?
- How does this story jibe with what "everybody knows" about homosexuality?
I'll try to address these questions in this response.
One amazing thing that has already emerged from this article's publication is the breadth of Aish.com's audience, and the depth of that audience's commitment to their Jewish heritage.
Aish.com provides a forum for perspectives drawn from our common heritage -- Jewish perspectives that may challenge you with voices not always heard elsewhere. These efforts are motivated by the core value of Ahavat Yisrael -- love and respect for all Jews -- and are an open invitation to explore our heritage and shared values. It's important to remember this, especially when dealing with "hot-button" issues.
A Call for Tolerance
It seems that the existence of an ex-gay was received by some readers as a challenge.
While many commenters addressed the issues thoughtfully, a large and vocal group wrote unreasoned, curt dismissals of opinions they disagree with, essentially denying the validity of my own story.
Ironically, many of them seem to think that their bluster somehow strikes a blow for tolerance and acceptance:
(207) H. Landau
As a Reform Jew with an open mind and an open heart, I can't believe you would highlight such an anti-gay and hateful portrayal of one man's "journey." I was startled and saddened to read such bigotry on this website! It's cowardly to post a first-person account of "denying homosexuality" when you're clearly representing it as though it were the official Jewish stance against homosexuality.
Actually, my article was presented as one man's journey. In fact the editors removed passages in which I generalized from my own story to those of other men.
And yes, there is a conflict between the Torah's teachings and the modern pro-gay agenda. Our challenge as thinking, committed Jews is to explore and engage Torah perspectives with full intellectual openness.
Repeatedly, these angry posters used labels like "bigotry" and "hateful." We were told we should be "ashamed" -- of what shall I be ashamed? My life's story?
We should explore the issues without silencing positions that we may find challenging and uncomfortable.
Why do people so obviously concerned with tolerance display such intolerance?
In my first article I spoke of those who, having accepted false premises, must struggle to keep contradictory reality at bay. That's what I see here: people slamming the door shut on aspects of reality that contradict cherished beliefs, resulting in a new sort of "progressive fundamentalism."
What do brittle my-way-or-the-highway "tolerance" and argument by labels and decibels say about the validity of underlying claims? As other commenters remarked:
(165) Anonymous, 6/10/2008
The intolerance [displayed in the comments] is startling. The bashing, the venom, the absolute intolerance of another's opinion or journey. Wow. This further cements my feeling that all is not as they say in the gay world.... Some of these comments to an article about one's personal journey have been absolutely incredible, and deeply revealing.
(113) Seth, 5/10/2008
David writes about his own experiences overcoming SSA (Same Sex Attraction). Why is that reason to attack him? Why since he chose to overcome his homosexual urges does that mean he is not being true to himself? Why does it mean that he must have only been bisexual to begin with? Why does it mean that his wife and family must be miserable? ...Why do we have the right to attack David for writing about his own experiences?
There are various points of view concerning homosexuality's causes, and whether it is subject to change. Unfortunately, political correctness has resulted in only a gay-affirmative point of view being discussed in the media.
Everyone has the right to believe as they wish and not be discriminated against for their viewpoint. Including me. As mature adults, we should be able to explore the issue of Judaism and homosexuality without stifling debate and silencing positions that we may find challenging and uncomfortable.
Some of these angry posters seem not to have read the entire article -- or to have missed important points -- and respond to straw men of their own conjuring. So, for the record:
We are happily married with children. Our marriage is, thank God, almost 15 years strong, and has survived the career, social, and emotional upheavals of our move to Israel. We recently celebrated our oldest child's Bar Mitzvah.
I have never been unfaithful to my wife, nor have I had to fantasize about men or use other "tricks" or medications to perform intimately.
Yes, I was "really" gay. Despite attempts by posters to disqualify my story after the fact -- asserting I was "never really gay" or "probably bisexual" -- my story parallels that of most out-and-proud gays. I was raised in New York, and drifted into the gay scene throughout junior high and high school, cruising for encounters in the suburbs, and journeying into Manhattan's gay epicenter in my evenings and weekends. During six years of college, I had full, direct access to the New York gay "community" from dorms and residences in Manhattan, where I was open about my behavior.
Yes, there are many causes of homosexuality. My path is one that is common -- the triadic family and detachment from father, the missed opportunity to bond with other men. Other formative experiences common to those with same-sex attractions include physical or sexual abuse, and peer rejection. Others are responding to what they perceived as threatening relationships with mother or other women.
The men in Jonah's support groups have a broad range of experiences -- some come to healing after years of trying to make the gay lifestyle work; others have lived double lives as married men with unresolved issues. Many are young teens experiencing normal adolescent "crushes" on other men, but confused by the gay-affirmative rhetoric that is pressed upon them in today's hyper-sexualized culture.
And no, I am not promoting a lightweight "pray it away" approach based on suppression or wishful thinking, as suggested by some posters:
(92) Michael E, 5/10/2008
While I wish no ill will toward "David" and others like him, it beggars belief that the solution for most gay Jews is to pray enough.
(167) Russ Klein, 6/10/2008
All that's missing from this story is the "the love of Jesus turned me straight" part.
My first article described the healing path I embraced -- deep counseling work to uncover and resolve longstanding issues and distortions of perception, supported by group therapy. I also described the difficult -- and sometimes distant -- relationship I still have with God.
These posters are addressing their own perceptions, not what I wrote.
Mainstream Gay Life
My article spoke about the unhealthy pattern of compulsive promiscuity I observed in the gay world. Some deflected my story's implications by asserting that my experiences were not typical. As one commenter wrote:
(159) TFD-NYC, 6/10/2008
I appreciate your struggle. But your history does not reflect every single gay person's.... It sounds like you sojourned in the main-stream-gay (MSG) climates which you have accurately portrayed. But you did not mention the wide array of homosexuals who live happily in committed, monogamous relationships for whom the MSG culture is an embarrassment.
The reason why it's called "main stream gay" is because that's the way most homosexuals live. Study after study confirms this:
In their study of San Francisco's gay community, Bell and Weinberg (Homosexualities, 1978) determined that 75 percent of white gay males had 100 or more sexual partners, and 43 percent had 500 or more sexual partners. Ninety-nine percent of white male homosexuals reported they had sex with strangers, 79 percent reported over half their partners were strangers, and 70 percent said over half their partners were men with whom they had sex only once.
The data confirms my perception that most gays I met were living lives of compulsive promiscuity, as was I.
Almost 30 years later, this pattern was confirmed in Holland by AIDS researchers who found that over 80 percent of new AIDS cases were occurring in "steady" gay relationships. Despite the availability of legal marriage, the most "steady relationships" lasted no longer than 23 months in most cases, and accommodated 16-28 sexual partners in a year. (Xiridou, 2003 -- online here.)
I'm happy that so many people posting here seem to be exceptions to these appalling statistics. But the numbers don't lie -- and in the current cultural climate, they can no longer be blamed on homophobia. The data confirms my perception that most gays I met were living lives of compulsive promiscuity, as was I.
I don't regret choosing to examine the deeper issues that drove my behavior. A less healthy solution is to turn away from facts and create an alternative reality. For example, a gay synagogue recently issued a new prayer book including a prayer for "unexpected intimacy" -- that is, anonymous one-night stands. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, a gay-sympathetic Orthodox Rabbi commented:
" ...while the motivation for the liturgy is understandable, it nevertheless "contorts" the idea of holiness, if applied to anonymous sex. The more common reality of anonymous sex is that it is a form of mutual objectification and so must be the opposite of holiness."
And the Conservative Rabbi who authored that denomination's ruling permitting same-sex marriages said:
"A one-night stand is officially an act of prostitution in the Jewish tradition. It's not just that it's not ideal, it's that it really is seen as being something that a Jew ought not to engage in."
And JTA points out that the prayer runs counter to the Reform movement's critique of modern sexual practices:
The Sha'ar Zahav prayer may reflect the behavior of some Jews, but it appears to run counter to the call for renewed emphasis on Jewish sexual ethics by the leader of the movement with which the synagogue is affiliated... at the Reform movement's 2005 biennial in Houston, Rabbi Eric Yoffie railed against the teenage culture of "hooking up," which he described as a "social ethic ... that severs sex from any pretense of a relationship."
The Torah-observant families and communities that welcomed me provided a living reproof of this sort of tortured justification of dysfunction. The Torah's insistence that emotional and physical intimacy must come together is healthy, humane, and ennobling. I don't feel that I have to apologize for questioning the human validity of anonymous hookups. Once again, I see those caught in a world of denial and fantasy attempting to justify the unjustifiable.
The Gay Mosquito Flea Circus
The New York Times once gave front-page space to an article about laboratory-induced homosexual behavior in mosquitoes. These mosquitoes had 24 brain cells, and lived for two weeks.
So what relationship did this experiment have to the rich, emotionally lived experience of human sexuality?
The researcher herself didn't think there was much relevance at all -- and said as much in a letter to the editor. But the Times didn't publish her letter.
What was the gay mosquitoes story -- or the gay penguins story, or the gay-polar-bear-in-the-Berlin-zoo story -- doing on the front page of your newspaper?
These news items create an impression that homosexuality is natural and widespread. It is then much easier to legitimize the behavior.
Gay rights activists are using techniques of marketing and media influence to influence opinion on this issue.
And so gay activists originally claimed that 10 percent of the population was gay -- a number still quoted in the comments on my article, even though most reliable studies say only 2-3 percent of the population are homosexual. A bigger number casts homosexuality as a natural human variance -- how could one-tenth of the population be deviants?
As the New York Times reported:
Gay leaders have contended that the number of gay and lesbian Americans was around 10 percent, a figure that many of them suspected to be inflated. But they repeated the number often, they said, as a way of encouraging the nation's large population of closeted homosexuals to be open about their sexual identity.
Half a dozen studies in the last five years have put the gay population in the single digits... "They tend to be in the range of 2 to 2.5 percent," said Robert C. Colodny, medical director of the Behavior Medicine Institute in New Canaan, Conn., and a consultant to the Masters and Johnson Institute, which studies sexual behavior.
The push to "mainstream" homosexuality has resulted in 22 shows on network TV with 35 gay main characters.
And despite those small numbers, the push to "mainstream" homosexuality has resulted in 22 shows on network television this season with 35 gay main characters. Viewers are far more likely to encounter a homosexual on TV than in real life.
As with other "products," the aura of scientific authority is used to mainstream homosexuality. In the early ‘70s, gay activists targeted the American Psychological Association -- but not with new scientific data: they staged sit-ins and disrupted meetings. The APA accommodated these activists, resulting in the landmark decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM, the APA's diagnostic guide to psychological disorders.
Not a single new piece of scientific evidence was presented. The change was the result of political arm-twisting.
The APA's new stance was then used to by activists to leverage similar changes in other professional organizations. The rhetoric of "inclusion" -- and the threat of protest -- sidesteps discussion of the medical facts.
In this way many well-meaning people accept as scientific fact assertions that are unproven, or even disproved by actual scientific and statistical evidence.
Born that Way?
We can see how the assertion that homosexuals are "born that way" fits this pattern: it may sound scientific, but is political. The human genome has been mapped -- but no "gay gene" has been found.
Maybe that's because that's not how genes work: only a handful of rare diseases are caused by a single gene. All scientists agree that complex behaviors -- like human sexuality -- involve a mix of inborn temperament, environmental factors, and individual choices. As a gay researcher says of his work:
"It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work..." (David Nimmons: "Sex and the Brain," Discover Vol. 15, no.3, March 1994, pg. 64-71)
Another famous gay scientist, Dean Hamer, similarly discusses the findings of his 1993 study:
"These genes do not cause people to become homosexuals.... the biology of personality is much more complicated than that." ("A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation" reported in Science magazine, July 1993)
And gay author and columnist Andrew Sullivan puts it quite clearly, in a moment of candor:
The complexity of the roots of homosexuality, the fact that it may be a condition both imposed upon and created by homosexuals themselves, means that it cannot simply be debated like the color of a person's hair. Gay people would doubtless like the hair analogy to be accurate, because it would enable them to avoid the wrenching and often painful self analysis they would otherwise have to embark upon. But, alas, it isn't. ("Love Undetectable," 1998, pg. 164)
Some studies of identical twins, who share the same genetic makeup, have tracked the incidence of homosexuality. In the most recent such study, researchers found 73 pairs of identical twins in which one twin was gay -- but of those, the other twin was gay in just seven cases. In 64 cases the other twin was not gay.
The twin studies are a good example of how the gay-affirming media blitz can obscure the actual scientific facts. Most commenters here, like many laypeople, think that the twin studies prove the exact opposite of what the numbers reveal.
The pseudo-scientific authority given to the "born that way" claim can close like a shackle around many young people who are struggling with their urges, and feed the sense of powerlessness that often drives them. Unchallenged, the aura of certainty in these assertions can cause many to surrender hope. We have seen in the comments how those who have accepted these assertions as fact cannot see the Torah as anything but oppressive for its insistence on change and growth.
The profile of gay dysfunction is similar to that for anorexia and bulimia -- in both cases a normal, healthy appetite is hijacked by a skewed self-image. But nobody argues that anorexia is a lifestyle, to be accepted because "that's just the way they are" (well, nobody except the anorexic herself). There is clear perception of dysfunction, and clear expectation that the sufferer surrender their broken worldview before it leads to their destruction.
I wish I had been addressed by the "experts" with as much clarity, painful though it would have been. There is no compassion in accommodating dysfunction.
In my personal struggle, the debates about gay genes were less important than my growing impression that the gay "community" was not a very happy -- or healthy -- place. I had to choose how I wished to live my life. As a poster wrote:
(89) Garett Benson, 5/10/2008 Innate or Acquired? Who Cares?! As I read through these comments, I started wondering whether homosexuality is really innate or acquired, but then I stopped myself. Who cares? Is there a genetic predisposition for alcoholism? Probably, but again, who cares? Maybe the question is helpful in terms of prevention or treatment strategies, but for the most part it's a moot point. The real question is whether homosexuality is undesirable. The Torah says it's very undesirable.
What I saw in the gay world confirmed the Torah's view.
The Torah's path of growth empowers people to master their characters and natures, rather than surrender to them. From that position of self-knowledge and self-respect, the Torah's ethical and sexual guidelines led me to a life enriched by authentic bonds with others -- bonds of friendship, intimacy, and love.
Healing involved hard work. But it was worth it.
The paths of growth and return can be difficult. The Jewish communities I lived in were sources of strength and positive reality checks, but healing also required therapeutic work to uncover the old wounds -- the suppressed anger, shame, fear, and yearning that fueled my sexual urges. It then took more work to renegotiate my relationships with the larger world -- especially the world of men.
The therapeutic techniques used are similar to those used with anorexics, bulimics, and in rehabilitation for substance abuse. And the outcome is roughly the same: one third drop out before completing therapy, one third gain partial insight and control of their behavior, and one third are cured -- that is, they have begun to form a new self-image and are satisfying their authentic needs in a healthy way.
An individual may not be emotionally ready for therapy and drop out. That doesn't mean they are "born that way" -- any more than an anorexic or alcoholic is born that way. Most people require several passes through therapy to gradually integrate a new self-image and learn new modes of behavior.
The path of Torah living has helped me to heal the sense of unworthiness and unmanliness that drove me to seek homosexual contact. I am now far more aware of my worth as a child of God, my power as a man, a lover of others. I started out feeling weak and fatherless, and now I am a loving husband and father. I have grown to realize my own capacity to give.
The psychologist who presided over the APA's normalization of homosexuality now agrees that "some people can and do change."
Homosexuality has become more or less accepted in the Western world. Yet there are many homosexuals who only reluctantly turned away from heterosexuality, and still yearn for trusting, committed relationships. Many wish to have a family, and to feel the spiritual wholeness that it brings. Most who seriously commit to change can be helped to move toward that goal, as was I. The first step is to overcome the perception that "there is nothing you can do about it."
In fact, the psychologist who presided over the APA's normalization of homosexuality in 1973 now agrees that such therapy can be successful. In a study published in 2003 (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5), Dr. Robert Spitzer interviewed ex-gays and found -- to his own surprise --that most had achieved significant change, with more frequent and satisfying heterosexual interactions.
"Like most psychiatrists, I thought that homosexual behavior could be resisted, but sexual orientation could not be changed. I now believe that's untrue -- some people can and do change."
Spitzer noted that subjects reported improvements in general psychological well-being and functioning, beyond sexual changes. As Spitzer writes in his conclusion:
"The American Psychiatric Association should stop applying a double standard in its discouragement of reorientation therapy, while actively encouraging gay-affirmative therapy to confirm and solidify a gay identity... I believe patients should indeed have the right to explore their heterosexual potential."
I hope my personal journey gives encouragement to those who sincerely want to explore the possibility of change.
The following sites provide more background and in-depth discussion of the scientific and statistic aspects of these issues.
www.narth.com - the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is an organization of psychologists and psychiatrists questioning the pro-gay agenda.
www.mygenes.co.nz - two research scientists analyze the scientific evidence linking genetics and sexuality.
www.jonahweb.org - Jews Offering New Approaches to Homosexuality, a support group for Jewish men and women struggling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.