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Stephen Fry meets a ‘reparative therapist’

Gentle bemusement and delicate debunking ensues.

The question I always want to ask these people is whether the reverse is possible: whether with the right psychological tinkering, they themselves could be switched from heterosexual to homosexual. They always seem to be so certain that their conventional sexuality is such an intrinsic and essentialist part of their identity, yet the premise of their therapy is that sexuality must be so much more fluid.

Comments

  1. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Very interesting. It’s too bad that most people won’t even start to think of the shoe being on the other foot due to a combination of low empathy and Inherent Rightness.

  2. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Well isn’t that why some of the homophobes don’t want to be near gay people, they think they can catch the gay off them. (Yes, it’s a very stupid idea. But homophobes aren’t known for clear thinking).

  3. ekwhite says

    Reparative therapy reminds me of the bad old days when being gay was thought to be a psychological disorder. Those of us who live in the 21st century realize that the sexual spectrum is much wider than that, and that being gay is just as normal as being heterosexual.

  4. Brian says

    The question I always want to ask these people is whether the reverse is possible: whether with the right psychological tinkering, they themselves could be switched from heterosexual to homosexual. They always seem to be so certain that their conventional sexuality is such an intrinsic and essentialist part of their identity, yet the premise of their therapy is that sexuality must be so much more fluid.

    Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would accept that readily. They seem to view heterosexuality as being like an expensive vase, and homosexuality as a vase with a terrible crack in it. Right? Thus the “repair” in “reparative”. It’s much easier to break something than it is to unbreak it, I imagine they would say.

  5. Khantron, the alien that only loves says

    ‘Have you ever had a heterosexual attraction?’ ‘Well, when I was thirteen years old there was this little girl in school,’ ‘can you feel a little something?’ ‘Well…’ ‘Good. Triangle of containment, hold a picture of that girl, stay with your body, stay connected to me, stay with it.’

    Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, ew.

  6. chigau (違う) says

    I know they had the power of editing but I really enjoyed the look on his face when Stephen pointed out that he could pass for a gay man.

  7. TxSkeptic says

    ping … ping … ping … ding ding ding ding. Stephen pegs the guys quickly as a metro-sexual, and seemingly, no response. I love anything Fry does.

  8. marko says

    @Brian

    It’s much easier to break something than it is to unbreak it

    Piece of cake then, surely? Just a gentle nudge should do it.

  9. says

    I’m not sure how I feel about that bit where he called into question the sexuality of Dr. Nicolosi. And, a lot of his questions are leading.

    Not that I disagree with the general outcome. I just think I’m becoming hyper-sensitive to some of these things, especially when I do agree with the outcome.

  10. says

    I couldn’t stomach watching the entire interview, but I doubt Fry asked Nicolosi about the irony of the late Charles Socarides (Nicolosi’s fellow NARTH co-founder) having an out gay son, despite Socarides’ stated professional opinion that male homosexuality forms in the first two years of the child’s life and can be blamed on the parents (particularly on the father), and also despite the fact that the elder Socarides took an interest in post-Freudian “blame the parents” explanations of homosexuality very early in his career (before his own gay son Richard Socarides was born).

    I also doubt Fry pointed out the incongruity of reparative therapy being built on discarded Freudian concepts (e.g. the Oedipus complex) that, uh, “politely disagree” with Christian concepts of sex and lust… nevermind that the Freudian psychosexual development model did not survive empirically and is flatly contradicted by modern psychology and psychiatry.

  11. spiralling says

    Sigh. Freudian pseudo wank designed to make you hate yourself as the cause of your so called ‘affliction’.

    @5 bricewgilbert

    Discussing female sexuality, especially teenage, is almost as much a taboo as being gay is within that sort Christian conservative ideology.

  12. anuran says

    The question I always want to ask these people is whether the reverse is possible: whether with the right psychological tinkering, they themselves could be switched from heterosexual to homosexual.

    Very much so. They believe that a homosexual experience can make you gay. So can a domineering mother and absent father, wearing the wrong clothes, engaging in activities that are too masculine (if you’re female) or vice versa, listening to the wrong music, exposure to the wrong religion, atheism, insufficient warm supportive gender-normative experiences, too many close emotional activities with people of the same sex and a host of other things.

  13. anuran says

    Oh, I forgot. They also believe masturbation can make you gay. I think it was Focus on the Patriarchy which once explained that masturbation was sex with yourself which was by definition homosexual. If that’s true I’m amazed there’s a single straight fifteen year old boy anywhere on this planet.

  14. petrander says

    We believe it’s about the parents. The boy does not disidentify with the mother and bond with the father.

    Wow! Classic Christian guilting with a hint of misogyny. Probably the mother’s pampering is to blame…

  15. Ragutis says

    I dl’d and watched this last night. I strongly recommend it to anyone that can find a way to watch it. Much of the program is distinctly uncomfortable viewing*, but of the kind that needs to be seen nonetheless. Prior to this segment, Stephen was in Uganda, and the juxtaposition of the terrifying, potentially deadly circumstances there and their ridiculous** birthplace in this type of idiotic thinking is shocking. I really wonder if these hucksters and like-minded politicians have any idea of the real, actual violence their self-serving rhetoric is breeding.

    *And that’s just watching it. It appears that the filming of this coincides with Stephen’s sttempted suicide last year.

    **FFS, Stephen has seen college aged Emma Thompson nekkid. [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tpCGvcqO1U]Repeatedly.[/url] If there was any straight in him, it surely would have made itself known then. ;p

  16. spandrel says

    America has gone so right wing and reactionary that it’s surprising and refreshing to hear it called “the land that gave birth to gay liberation.”

  17. Ragutis says

    Dammit. Apparently my comment has been swallowed by the ether… Attempt #2:

    I strongly recommend watching the entire program if you can find a way to. Not the easiest viewing experience, even full of Fry as it is. But definitely something that should be seen. The clash between this segment and the previous one in the program where Stephen visits Uganda and faces the deadly consequences this ridiculous* thinking has bred is chilling. I’m not surprised that Stephen’s attempted (thank the stars) suicide last year coincides with the filming he was doing for this program.

    Also, NPH interview and I’m jealous of Elton John’s library.

    *FFS, Stephen was repeatedly confronted by a naked Emma Thompson. If there was any straight in the man, I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t have shown itself then.

  18. Great American Satan says

    I pretty much take any statement of “gay is a choice” as an admission of bisexuality. As a bisexual, I say, “Welcome to my world, chappies. Now get out of my face with that shit.”

  19. tiphphin says

    Many of these reparative therapies depend on the assumption that the person’s father was distant when the person was a child. I have a few questions that some of you may be able to answer:

    – Are there any studies that show what percentage of men feel that their father was distant?
    – Do any of these studies show any difference between the general population and conservative Christians (who, I assume, are the reparative therapy organisations target market)?
    – Are there people who believed that they had a reasonable relationship with their fathers until the reparative therapy people told them that the only reason they are gay is because their fathers were distant?

    My understanding is that the distant father argument has been abandoned by (most?) mainstream psychologists, so I’m wondering why reparative therapy organisations still use it. Is it a fairly safe bet when cold reading somebody? Does the argument strike a note of recognition in most men?

  20. abewoelk says

    All this discussion about whether people can change mostly misses the point. Let us suppose, for sake of argument, that being gay is a choice and people can turn it on and off like a faucet. So what? I always thought one of the great things about America is that people can make their own choices about such things, even if the majority makes different choices. In most other contexts we view the freedom to choose as being something to celebrate, not something to be suppressed.

  21. Louis says

    A famous piece of graffiti seen in UK public toilet reads:

    “My mother made me a homosexual”.

    Underneath some wag has added:

    “If I gave her the wool, would she make me one?”

    Makes about as much sense as reparative therapy, but luckily is a lot funnier.

    Louis

    P.S. I have found Mr Fry to be one of those humans who rarely makes an error of thought…{Pauses while people remind me of those instances I am already aware of}…and is usually amenable to correction. No human being is perfect, but Mr Fry does a damned fine job of getting near-ish on occasion.

  22. says

    abewoelk: “I always thought one of the great things about America is that people can make their own choices about such things”

    The rep therapy practitioners reply that they agree, and that includes the choice of gays who don’t want to be gay to enrol in their therapy.

  23. Anri says

    anuran @ 16:

    Oh, I forgot. They also believe masturbation can make you gay. I think it was Focus on the Patriarchy which once explained that masturbation was sex with yourself which was by definition homosexual. If that’s true I’m amazed there’s a single straight fifteen year old boy anywhere on this planet.

    Well, y’see, the Devil stuffed SO MUCH LUST into women not even self-love turns must poor, frail, victimized boys away.

  24. says

    Well worth wibbling iPlayer into showing the whole programme if you can, not to mention that there’s a part 2 next week. The segment on Uganda was entertaining in a repellent way, or vice versa: the sight of a government official earnestly warning Stephen Fry not to try converting him to homosexuality at the beginning of his interview was hilarious. (…And I now know more about Stephen’s sex life than I was really keen on knowing.)

  25. jamessweet says

    I was somewhat struck by the asshat’s “third-third-third” claim: That a third of patients show no change, a third of patients show some improvement, and a third are cured. I suspect he’d have no qualms about skewing the numbers, and of course self-reporting is going to throw that all off… but I wonder if there exists some fraction of people who show just enough legitimate “success” in these programs, that it clouds the issue for those who are already predisposed to believe this bigoted bullshit. I mean, I know multiple people who self-identify as bisexual, but as they age and settle down with one partner they kinda become de facto heterosexual or homosexual. The potential for sexual attraction is still very much there, it’s just they end up spending most of their time thinking about one gender or the other. If a similar person were to undergo “reparative” therapy, it’s conceivable that he or she could strongly appear to be a “success” case, without significant trauma. To be clear, there would have been no benefit to the “treatment”, and tremendous amounts of risk involved.

    On the other hand, while I think all that seems plausible, the high-profile “success” cases chosen by these “reparative” quacks don’t tend to resemble what I just described at all. So probably that’s all just hogwash. It just got me thinking, I wonder if some fraction of the people he sees already have a significant attraction to women, and so they appear to be successes even though they are not…?

  26. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    Caine @137:

    They always seem to be so certain that their conventional sexuality is such an intrinsic and essentialist part of their identity, yet the premise of their therapy is that sexuality must be so much more fluid.

    Those I know, or have been exposed to, who inhabit the far right on the religious or political spectrum tend to be very deficient in empathy. Putting themselves in someone else’s position is damn near impossible.

    anuran @16:

    I think it was Focus on the Patriarchy which once explained that masturbation was sex with yourself which was by definition homosexual.

    Wouldn’t that be unisexual?

    Which sounds like having sex with a unicycle.

    Not going to Google that one.

    abewoelk @24:

    In most other contexts we view the freedom to choose as being something to celebrate, not something to be suppressed.

    The freedom to choose can only be celebrated if the person makes the correct choice. To RWA’s — religious, political, or both — the only correct choice is the one that agrees with their views. Any other choice shows that the person is morally or mentally deficient, has been seduced by Satan (or (as it is sometimes spelled in right wing rants) Satin), is trying to overthrow Amercuh!, or has been corrupted by public schools. Freedom to choose can only be celebrated if the person or group makes the choice that agrees with authority. Otherwise it is anarchy.

  27. says

    The whole show was a revelation. It really made me appreciate living in the west and the privilege we take for granted. I’m the first one at the gay Pride parades and I’ll rant about gay rights at the drop of a hat, but I suppose that’s because I’m in a society that grants me those rights. Stephen Fry met people who are working in Uganda looking after the sexual health needs of the gay community out of a sense of morality and duty, even though they face persecution both legal and illegal, of the most extreme sort. That’s real bravery. Would I join a gay Pride march if I was in a country that vilified, persecuted and outright banned them (ie. the countries that need them the most)? To my shame, I’m not sure I have that kind of courage, and I salute anyone who does.

  28. ledasmom says

    abewoelk@24:

    Let us suppose, for sake of argument, that being gay is a choice and people can turn it on and off like a faucet.

    Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that people are really flesh-puppets being operated by aliens from the planet Diptron.
    You know, you can suppose anything you want, but if what you’re supposing is contrary to fact then you’re much less likely to reach a conclusion that fits with reality.
    NB: Nevertheless, if one does suppose as you suggest, I still don’t see the rationale for telling people they’re wrong and bad and evil simply because they prefer one sex over the other for romantic/sexual purposes. In a logical and decent world, if being gay were a choice people could turn on and off like a faucet (apparently a faucet that requires months and months of work and lots of money to turn), you’d have both gay-to-straight therapists and straight-to-gay therapists, and nobody would really care what you were or what you were changing to.
    However, what’s the point in arguing something that’s contrary to fact? There’s no faucet, and this is not a logical and decent world, and this “reparative therapy” is a scam that’s founded on hate. If you really can’t see that, may I suggest that you’re not looking too closely?

  29. says

    Ledasmom @32, did you read beyond abewoelk’s first sentence? They really didn’t say what you seem to think was said. The gist was, even if one’s sexuality was a choice, it still shouldn’t matter. In a liberal democracy, one should still be able to choose who to dock one’s genitals with.

  30. says

    In my research on the effects of internet pornography I have heard many cases of people who were addicted (spending all night looking at porn, losing jobs/relationships, etc) who felt they had to move onto ‘harder’ stuff over time and ended up aroused at things they found disgusting, including pornography that was not of their sexual orientation. A more common story is a person who cannot get aroused by an actual human being and prefers pornography. There are lots of message boards about stopping pornography (secular ones, even) for people who want to look into it further…

    I’ve also read about sexual abuse causing arousal at abusive images/stories, it is deeply disturbing to many survivors. In all the situations I know of, sexual responses are ‘re-wired’, but orientation isn’t. I have concluded that if sexual response can be rewired it isn’t by any means that could ever be considered therapeutic. I almost wish it could be rewired therapeutically- it would mean actual treatment for pedophilia (also, why aren’t these reparative therapists ever concentrating on that problem???? if they can change orienation why the hell are they wasting their talents on gay people instead of child molesters?)

    I wouldn’t care if you *could* change orientation with a therapy, being gay would still be a perfectly valid way to live. I don’t really appreciate the arguments about how gay people can’t choose their orientation in light of that- so what if they could? what would be wrong with choosing gay?

  31. says

    I was somewhat struck by the asshat’s “third-third-third” claim: That a third of patients show no change, a third of patients show some improvement, and a third are cured.

    I wonder how many have attempted suicide after the program. These programs are notorious for causing suicide.

  32. crocodoc says

    The question I always want to ask these people is whether the reverse is possible: whether with the right psychological tinkering, they themselves could be switched from heterosexual to homosexual.

    Of course not. You can’t be something that’s not in your nature.

  33. gussnarp says

    Back before he stuck his foot in his mouth and his head up a certain someone’s ass, Brian Keith Dalton did a rather brilliant video on your concept, PZ. You probably saw it. Basically a therapy center with the purpose of correcting people’s straightness. Pretty funny, but I won’t link to it. Anyone who can still enjoy it can find it, I’m sure.

  34. gussnarp says

    @Skeptifem #34:

    (also, why aren’t these reparative therapists ever concentrating on that problem???? if they can change orienation why the hell are they wasting their talents on gay people instead of child molesters?)

    My first thought on reading this was that it was brilliant, and so true. Shouldn’t they be fixing the people whose sexual predilections actually have victims who are harmed?

    *Trigger warning for some of the strong descriptions I’m about to use*

    Then I realized there’s a clear answer, one that only shows just how odious and ignorant these “therapists” actually are: They think all pedophiles are gay. They assume that no one rapes little boys unless they’re gay and being gay is the problem, rather than getting off on raping little boys. One could point out to them that there are also female victims of pedophiles, but they probably also think that pedophiles who target girls are actually gay too, otherwise they’d want adult women. And you know, they probably don’t care as much, particularly when the girl is a teenager, she probably seduced them.

  35. scriabin says

    If individuals’ sexual activity ever comes under societal scrutiny, the only criteria up for discussion should be age and consent.

  36. vaiyt says

    Many of these reparative therapies depend on the assumption that the person’s father was distant when the person was a child.

    That’s trivially easy to verify. How many orphans or children of single mothers turn out to be gay?

  37. nrdo says

    Looking for evidence or logic in these “therapists” is really a futile endeavor. Even if sexual orientation were caused by a specific childhood events, given what we know about how the brain fixes pathways throughout development, it would not logically follow that it is changeable.

  38. anuran says

    *FFS, Stephen was repeatedly confronted by a naked Emma Thompson. If there was any straight in the man, I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t have shown itself then.

    You make a very convincing case. There is no straight in that man, and there never will be.

  39. John Phillips, FCD says

    NelC, part 2 is actually airing tonight, BBC2 Wednesday 2100 BST, and not next week. It should be on iPlayer usually within 30 minutes or so of the end, i.e. around 2230 BST. It is repeated on Thursday at 2320 BST.

  40. David Marjanović says

    If there was any straight in him, it surely would have made itself known then. ;p

    Dude, what that video describes is sexual harassment. Perhaps that’s why he’s so horrified (exaggerated for laughs, but still) instead of just shrugging.

    And stop assuming everyone’s taste is the same provided just that their sexual orientation is.

    - Are there any studies that show what percentage of men feel that their father was distant?

    And how distant exactly?

  41. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Fry tackles the “distant father” thing himself – he acknowledges that his father was distant. But he points out that his brother (who had the same father) is straight. So…

  42. ledasmom says

    I must apologize for my earlier comment; I wish I could blame a lack of sleep, but the truth is that I apparently just wrote something stupid. Got home late last night, only just got back on computer this morning.