2 min

The ones that got away

It's hard to blame ex gays for getting what they want

Reaction was swift. The study said homosexuals could turn heterosexual if they really wanted to, and queers around the continent were ready with a host of dismissive rebuttals: tainted, highly skewed, biased, anti-gay and snake oil.

The study, released last week, was led by Dr Robert Spitzer, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University. He conducted 45-minute telephone interviews with 200 people, 143 men and 57 women, who claimed they had changed their sexual orientation from gay to straight. After 60 questions about sexual feelings and behaviour, Spitzer concluded that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at “good heterosexual functioning.”

The research methods certainly sound dubious. Who throws their name up interviewed as an ex gay, anyway? Well, the kind of politically motivated person who speaks publicly in favour of such conversions (78 percent of the respondents).

Even so, how honestly or accurately could anybody answer these questions? Is the gay lifestyle emotionally satisfying? Um… 3.5 when my boyfriend makes me rent some badly-made homo romance video. How do you rate your sexual functioning? Er… three or four if it’s a slow afternoon at the tubs.

Still, the study rings true. Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Oprah knows that anyone can do anything they set their mind to, if they want to do it badly enough.

I can give up ice cream. I can force myself to watch TV every spare moment, become an exotic dancer or move to a Nepalese border town and live on rice, dahl and tea for the rest of my life. It’s just that I’m not so interested (though I often fantasize about that last one).

The study respondents, though, were “highly motivated” to change. I’d hope so. Altering one’s sexual orientation is a lot of work: half of the respondents worked with a mental health professional, a third cited a support group. And even with all that, only 11 percent of men and 37 percent of women reported being entirely free of homosexual feelings.

These are people who have put things like their religious values (93 percent of them said religion was “extremely” important in their lives), pleasing their families or avoiding conflict with homophobic aspects of society ahead of their own personal desires.

Misguided as they seem, I can’t criticize these converts. I was a vegetarian for seven years and regularly fought off cravings for bacon – you set the priorities in your life and live by them. Openly gay people seem to prioritize being honest with their sexual desires, which seems to be solid ground for a healthy society. But I’m not going to deny other people their own options, as long as they don’t force them on me.

What I can’t understand is why a handful of “happy” ex homos is so threatening to the gay community. Some say the idea of a “shapeable” sexuality perpetuates the myth of gay men recruiting boys. So, too, myths of being turned gay by your overprotective mother, your distant father and that pink sweater you were forced to wear when you were three. Those myths have been debunked and they’re being debunked on a daily basis as gay people get on with their healthy, happy lives.

Queer people need to set an example for the mainstream and see their orientation as fundamentally legitimate. Scientific theories come and go; there’s no sense tying ourselves to any one of them. Whether it’s nature or nurture, rigid or flexible, ancient or modern, homosexuality itself needs no defence. That it exists and that it’s a fine way to live is defence enough.

And, for sure, gay life doesn’t need any defence against a handful of people who have chosen to suffer emotional and sexual turmoil because of God’s supposed will, because they think it’s the only way to have children or because daddy might be angry with them.