Monday, January 28, 2008

Former "Ex-Gay" Shares His Experience of NARTH

In the lead up to tomorrow night’s CPCSM-sponsored event, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH,” I’d like to share with you a very informative and insightful testimony by Daniel Gonzales (pictured above), a young gay man who attempted to change his sexual orientation under the “guidance” of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality (NARTH).

As has been noted previously on The Wild Reed weblog, Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, the incoming archbishop of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese, is a supporter of both Nicolosi and NARTH. For this reason, he has been invited to tomorrow night’s presentation. He has yet to respond to CPCSM’s invitation.

NARTH is also endorsed by
Courage, the only “support” group for homosexual people that is officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.

For me, the most insightful aspect of Gonzales’ five minute-long testimony is when he highlights the “two biggest lies” that drive people into any form of “ex-gay” therapy. These “lies” are that a person cannot live their life as a gay person and be a good Christian, and that being gay is not a viable or fulfilling way to live one’s life.

The saddest part of Gonzales’ story is how his experience of the ex-gay movement and thus reparative (or conversion) therapy, contributed to the loss of his faith.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
“Conversion Therapy” and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH
Far from “Innocuous”
From Rome to Minneapolis, Dialogue is What’s Needed
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
The Many Forms of Courage
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Catholic Gay Men - A Discussion Guide
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
“Gaydar,” “Gendermaps,” and the “Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality
When Quackery Goes Mainstream

Recommended Off-Site Links:
About NARTH - from the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Fixing Frank
Ex-Ex-Gays - a collection of posts (including several written by Daniel Gonzales) from the Box Turtle Bulletin weblog.
What the Science Does - and Doesn’t Say - About Homosexuality - information about a great Soulforce-produced resource.


CDE said...

NARTH is also endorsed by Courage...

What is your evidence of this?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for your question.

In the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit (the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis), Fr. Jim Livingston who is the chaplain for the local Courage chapter (known in this archdiocese as “Faith in Action”) endorsed NARTH by citing the organization as a useful resource and encouraging people to visit its website “to learn . . .about the emotional root causes of homosexuality.”

Fr. Livingston also recommended an audio CD of a talk given by Joseph Nicolosi, an individual whom Archbishop Nienstedt, when he was bishop in Detroit, invited to speak as an “expert” on homosexuality.

Perhaps on the official Courage website there is no explicit endorsement of NARTH, but a number of Courage folks I’ve spoken to refer to this organization in ways that clearly indicate that they look to NARTH's findings and many of its ideas (such as the phrase “same-sex attraction” instead of “gay”) for support and validation. They certainly endorse NARTH and many, perhaps all, of its positions

Shouldn’t the leadership of Courage dissuade this, given NARTH’s non-standing in the scientific community? And if not, why?

If Courage only agrees with some of NARTH’s ideas, shouldn’t it make the appropriate distinctions?

Why isn’t there a strongly worded statement on the Courage website disavowing the discredited science of NARTH - especially its support of reparative (or conversion) therapy?

Why do priests and bishops feel at liberty to refer people to this organization? Are they mistaken in doing so?

And finally, given all the horrendous aspects of NARTH mentioned in particular post and in Daniel's video testimony, I find it somewhat surprising that the only thing you seem to want to comment on and question is Courage's support and/or endorsement of NARTH.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Here’s an interesting snippet from a post on CourageMan’s weblog.

Someone asked him the following:

Can you explain why the focus [of Courage] is allegedly on being chaste, yet there are links throughout the Courage website to NARTH, Exodus, PFOX and other reversion therapy advocates?

To which CourageMan responds:

Because some of our members pursue this path. But it is not a requirement or an official goal of the organization. Here are the five goals of Courage, said at every meeting, and orientation change is not one of them (#1 pretty strongly implies otherwise). Here are the description of the apostolate and the article on the Website linked to what is chastity. Neither contain any reference to orientation change. So anyone whose primary description of Courage is “an attempt to change orientation” simply doesn't know what he’s talking about.”

Hmmm, well, I’m not saying that the primary description of Courage is “an attempt to change orientation,” but I do find it disturbing and problematic that the apostolate doesn’t, er, come out and refute the pseudo-science of reparative therapy that groups like NARTH advocate. From all I’ve read and heard about reparative (or conversion) therapy, it’s clearly a discredited, demeaning, and ineffective exercise.

Yet Courage is fine about allowing its members to pursue this “path.” That seems reprehensible to me.

So, Courage is basically saying to it’s members that the unhealthy and damaging practice of reparative therapy is okay, but, hey, don’t even think about a loving committed same-sex relationship – relationships which, incidentally, as recent reputable studies have shown, are not “atypical, psychologically immature, or malevolent contexts of development.” In other words, they, like heterosexual relationships, have the potential to be healthy, or as I like to say, “life-affirming and life-giving.”



CDE said...

Courage does not endorse NARTH. Courage and NARTH operate in different domains -- Courage is a spiritual support group, and NARTH is an approach to psychotherapy. The Church doesn't officially endorse forms of psychology any more than it endorses political parties. Members of the Church may endorse the work of NARTH, and are free to do so, but this should not be construed as some kind of Magisterial stamp of approval, as Michael seems to suggest.

So Courage telling us what to think about NARTH is like a priest in the pulpit telling us to think about a particular Presidential candidate... Just doesn't make sense.

CDE said...

I'd caution against your dismissive assessment of NARTH. It would be wise not to receive the testimony of disgruntled people who have abandoned reparative therapy after a bad experience as the last word about the methodology. That the method, and the anthropological/moral presuppositions of the method, are a stumbling block to some is no surprise because it calls into question the lifestyle of those who have chosen to be genitally active with members of the same sex.

If some people are unhappy with reparative therapy, and will write scientific papers to justify their displeasure, does that really discredit the method?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

You do realize that it’s not just my “dismissive assessment of NARTH” that you’re cautioning against but that of every professional mental health association?

Would you caution scientists at an astronomy conference against dismissing the “presuppositions” and “methods” of a group of flat earth theorists? That’s the equivalent of what you’re doing, my friend. And I’ve got to say, it comes across as sounding pretty embarrassing and pathetic.

Clayton, from the perspective of the credible health professions, when it comes to homosexuality, there is no disorder to cure or repair. Hence reparative (or conversion) therapy is totally unwarranted. It’s quackery. And for Courage to quietly sit back while its members pursue such “therapy” is not only unethical, but morally reprehensible.

Also, we’re not talking about a few “disgruntled” people who failed at this “therapy,” but the vast majority of people who had the misfortune of getting involved with it.

My friend, you need to get acquainted with what the scientific community actually says on this issue . I recommend you start by visitinghere and the “Resources” section here.

You come across as very uninformed. Also, you seem to be saying that the only scientific papers exposing the ineffectiveness of reparative therapy have been written by those who failed at it and who are accordingly “disgruntled.” Actually, far from disgruntled, they’re relieved and happy to be finally about to accept themselves for who they are and to be living their lives in a healthy way! Check out, for instance, the testimonies contained in the DVD, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement. (I’m curious to know where you’re getting your information that it is those people who have experienced attempts at reparative therapy who are writing the scientific reports on the damage and ineffectiveness of such “therapy.”)

I’ll say it again: “reparative therapy” is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. That’s my starting point in any discussion about reparative therapy. It is one that is informed by the experiences of gay people and the data and insights offered by the “major health and mental health professions” in this country and elsewhere. If that’s not your starting point, then this conversation about “reparative therapy” is a waste of both your time and mine.



Anonymous said...

Clayton, what are you reacting to? It sounds like you are reacting to Michael's indignation about the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis endorsing NARTH. First you say that the endorsement of one archdiocese does not mean the "church" endorses NARTH. Okay, he should have been more specific.

But isn't indignation justified when the officials in a diocese offer psychological treatment for something that is not recognized as a psychological problem? Are you saying that "same sex attraction disorder" is recognized by mainstream associations of mental health professionals as a pathology? If not, no therapy is warranted.

As you have said, the church does not have its own list of psychological pathologies. The "magisterium", not just one archdiocese, in its philosophical analysis calls same-gender sex acts "intrinsically disordered" because they do not have procreation as an end. That does not refer to a psychological pathology.

If Courage is strictly a spiritually oriented program to help Catholic gays and lesbians in their spiritual lives, why does the Archdiocese link its program with NARTH in the Archdiocesan paper? You see the problem?

And speaking of spiritual growth, do you think people who believe their basic human desires for sexual union with another are disordered can become spiritually mature? Or religiously mature? What ideas of God underlie that belief?


Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I’d like to address some of the issues raised in your second comment.

First, I’ve never suggested that there’s been “some kind of Magisterial stamp of approval” given by the wider Church to NARTH.

I still maintain, however, that Courage, in a number of different ways, endorses NARTH. And since I’m writing a blog entry and not a dissertation, I’m not using the word “endorse” in a legalistic sense, but in the way that it’s generally understood, i.e. meaning to “approve, support, and acknowledge.”

Related to this: your analogy of a priest endorsing a presidential candidate. Clayton, we’re not talking about a rogue priest in a pulpit endorsing a political candidate, but an international apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church, via many official representatives and publications, consistently highlighting and drawing upon the “research findings” and terminology of the pseudo-scientific organization, NARTH, to support its sexual theology as it pertains to homosexuality.

Second, I find your separation of the “domains” of spirituality and psychology problematic, to say the least. I question if you can separate these two aspects of the human person and remain a healthy, whole person. Yet you seem to do just that by implying that a “spiritual support group” and “an approach to psychotherapy” are incapable of working together – for good or ill.

Yet aren’t spiritual directors expected to have at least the most rudimentary understanding of human psychology? I would hope so!

If Courage and NARTH operate in such different domains, why is the chaplain of the local Courage group here in the Twin Cities given the very public platform of the official archdiocesan newspaper to tout the “research findings” of NARTH as support for Church’s teaching on homosexuality? Why is he, and others within the priesthood, directing folks to the NARTH website for what they claim is credible information about homosexuality?

Furthermore, why did the founder of Courage, Fr, John Harvey, see fit to invite NARTH member and leading reparative therapist, Peter Rudegeair, to be the keynote speaker at the annual Courage conference in St. Paul in the summer of 2003?

Why did Harvey ask Rudegeair (tragically killed last year in a car crash) to accompany him on a speaking tour of Australia earlier in 2003?

Here’s how the Sydney-based Catholic Weekly described the coming together of the “domains” of spirituality and psychotherapy demonstrated in the partnering of the Courage founder and the NARTH therapist:

Fr John was accompanied on his Sydney mission by a practising clinical psychologist and Catholic, Mr Peter Rudegeair, who “makes a real effort to integrate Catholic theology and spirituality with psychological insight.”

They worked in tandem: First Fr John presented the theological arguments against homosexual acts, plus information on Courage; then Mr Rudegeair shared his observations from his clinical practice on the possible causes and potential treatment of homosexual orientation.

“One thing we have to be careful to avoid is the idea that we do the same thing,” says Fr John.

“Some people ask us for professional help (in overcoming their same sex attraction); we refer them to people like Peter Rudegeair.”

Of course, on one level Harvey’s right. But on another, he and Rudegeair are doing the exact same thing: both are pushing what former “ex-gay” Daniel Gonzales describes as the “two biggest lies” that drive people into any form of therapy to either change or repress their sexual orientation and/or its expression: 1) that a person cannot live their life as a gay person and be a good Christian, and 2) that being gay is not a viable or fulfilling way to live one’s life.

You say NARTH is solely in the realm of psychotherapy. Not according to John C. Gonsiorek, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, one of the speakers at CPCSM’s January 29 program, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH.” Gonsiorek noted that the vast majority of those involved with NARTH are religious conservatives of one type or another. (So much for spirituality and psychotherapy operating in different domains!)

Given all of the above, only the most legalistic of thinkers would object in the nitpicking way that you’re doing to my stated view that Courage endorses NARTH.

Yet what I find most disturbing and problematic is that such legalistic nitpicking avoids addressing the bigger and more important issue – the Church’s use of pseudo-science to support its sexual theology.

I’m sorry, but you come across as disingenuous. I mean, I have no idea why you’re so upset about the idea of Courage, or the wider Church, endorsing NARTH. Is it just the word “endorse” that you object to? Or is it the idea of the “domain” of the spiritual being sullied by any type of psychotherapy? Either way, you come across as being extremely hostile to the very thought of a relationship between the Church and NARTH. The Church clearly isn’t the problem in your view, so it must be NARTH. Yet I’m yet to actually hear you criticize NARTH.

So I’m left to wonder: what is it about NARTH that Clayton finds so objectionable?

Whatever it may be, I question if you’ve written to the founder of Courage and asked him not to have representatives of NARTH at national Courage conferences and international Courage speaking tours.

Have you written to Fr. Livingston and Archbishop Nienstedt and requested that they cease referring to NARTH, stop directing people to its website, and halt doing anything that might give the appearance of “endorsement”?

Until you can provide answers to these questions, I’m not sure if this dialogue is worth continuing.



P.S. I see you’ve written something about CPCSM’s program “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH” on your weblog. I’m sorry, I tried to read it, but I really can’t take any of it that seriously, especially when you begin by declaring: “Homoactivistism Continues in the Twin Cities.” Do you realize how dismissive and demeaning that sounds? Does your choice of words mean that you’re also a type of activist – an “anti-homo activist”? See how ridiculous such name-calling gets.

P.P.S. As to David McCaffrey’s description of Courage as an “ex-gay” ministry, here’s my take: It’s not how I would describe Courage. However, on further reflection, it’s not an altogether inaccurate description. After all, in its encouragement of people to disavow the term “gay” (which, according to Courage, implies “ideological commitments”) and instead embrace the NARTH-coined phrase “same-sex attracted” (which, of course, implies its own set of “ideological commitments”), Courage is indeed facilitating a type of “ex-gay” ministry. Courage member David Morrison has even written a book about his journey from “gay” to “same-sex attracted,” entitled “Beyond Gay,” which, when you think about it, is a poetic way of saying “ex-gay.”

For more of my writings on Courage, click here and here.

CDE said...

Did I touch a raw nerve?

I'll respond when I have an hour or more of free time to address your lengthy comment.

My point was not that the domains of spirituality and psychology are separate... but merely that they are distinct, while complementary. In the same way that clerical and lay vocations are distinct while complementary. And the way that the roles of men and women are distinct while complementary.

Until you can provide answers to these questions, I’m not sure if this dialogue is worth continuing.

Fair enough. I will need time to go through your questions point by point.

Maybe I am mistaken and there is a de facto endorsement of NARTH. That wouldn't bother me particularly, as I am not convinced that NARTH's methods are pseudo-scientific. (What seems to me pseudo-scientific is the positivist claim that the methodology has been definitively debunked. That appears to be a claim based on faith, not science.)

I was ultimately reacting to the lazy approach to defaming Courage by association, which I described on my blog here:

CDE said...

Michael -

Agreed that the title of my post was inflammatory. I've changed it.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for changing the title of your post.

You talk about your reacting to "the lazy approach to defaming Courage by association."

What's so "lazy" about documenting the various ways that Courage (and, in some cases, the wider Church) highlights and relies on the "findings" of NARTH to support its sexual theology?

In other words, I was simply giving concrete examples of what the late NARTH therapist, Peter Rudegeair, noted was his and Courage founder John Harvey's efforts to "integrate Catholic theology and spirituality with psychological insight."

The problem, as many have noted, is that NARTH is not a credible resource for "psychological insight."



CDE said...

The problem, as many have noted, is that NARTH is not a credible resource for "psychological insight."

That is your opinion, and the opinion of some in the scientific community... and everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, the claim that NARTH is completely without credibility is not an objective fact. The scientific community might want to consider sticking more closely to its domain, rather than making faith-based claims... faith in the infallibility of the scientific method. The method itself does not support such positivism.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Some in the scientific community?

Clayton, it seems as though you're attempting to minimalize the reality that NARTH’s views on homosexuality are contradicted by every professional health and mental health association in the U.S.

Furthermore, these same associations also consider the practice of reparative (or conversion) therapy, advocated by NARTH, to be unethical.



Anonymous said...

Clayton, how do you refute this syllogism: If there is no psychological problem, no treatment is appropriate. Same-sex attraction is not per se a psychological problem. No treatment is, therefore, appropriate for same-sex attraction.

But NARTH is an association formed for the treatment of same-sex attraction. Doesn't that make NARTH suspect? Now, of course, it is always possible in the future for science to find some pathology in same-sex attraction and then treatment would be appropriate. However, at this time there is a consensus of health care professionals that same-sex attraction does not present as a pathology. If it ain't broke, you can't fix it.

There is a certain amount of faith involved in the presupposition that humans are reasonable; I'll give you that.


CDE said...

Paula and Michael,

What you both seem to be ignoring is the fact that some men -- maybe, in your mind, a negligible number of men -- find their experience of same-sex attraction to be ego-dystonic.

While the same-sex attraction, in itself, may not be the cause of the ego-dystonic experience, a number of men experience it this way. Are you saying their experience is not valid, and they just need to change their minds and hearts to believe that same-sex genital relations will be their ticket to paradise? That seems awfully narrow-minded, and rather bigoted, to be honest.

I know some young men who have chosen to engage in reparative therapy. Among these, there are some who did not go with the goal of orientation change, but simply because the experience of promscuity, sexually obssessive behaviors, etc. were troubling for them. And they found significant relief from this and happiness, which they associate with their reparative work.

Are you saying their experience is not valid?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Clayton, I’d be happy to respond to your questions concerning the validity of different people’s experiences. But first, I think we need to address the issue of “narrow-mindedness” and “bigotry.”

Accordingly, I wonder if you could respond to the following:

I know some people (men and women, young and not-so-young) who have chosen to express their sexuality through the building and sustaining of loving committed relationships with another of the same gender. Some of these people chose to pursue such relationships because they were weary of engaging in futile and promiscuous sexual encounters. Now, these people have found significant relief and happiness, which they associate with their choosing to be in a stable, loving, and committed relationship.

Are you saying their experience is not valid?

CDE said...

Of course their experience is valid.

I think there can be more than one experience of same-sex attraction, and there can be more than one way of responding to it. (I'm speaking anthropologically, not morally).

This is not a viewpoint I hear from you. I hear that your message is one of liberation for those with same-sex attraction. Some may experience it that way. But there are many who would disagree, based on their experiences. So your proposed version of freedom does not ring true as freedom for many people. They are not as vocal in the culture, partially because they do not consider their attractions to be synonymous with their identity. But their perspective should not be overlooked. Organizations like CPCSM do not represent this population. Do you believe they have a right to a voice in the culture? If so, how can you be so dismissive of NARTH and reparative therapy?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I’m glad we can agree that the ways that different people experience the expression of their sexuality are equally valid.

Contrary to what you think, both I and CPCSM have always supported a person’s ability to choose how to express their sexuality. (Mind you, we do not support or advocate expressions of sexuality that are exploitive and/or violent).

Clayton, on a number of occasions I have publicly stated that I fully support a person’s choice to be celibate. If this is how they feel called to live, and if this is how they experience God’s transforming love, then good for them. I also support and celebrate the relationships that people (gay and straight) feel called to pursue and through which they experience God’s transforming love.

I do not label a person’s desire to refrain from sexual activity (gay or straight) as an “intrinsic disorder.” I have no problem if a person wishes to abstain from sexual activity because they find their sexual attractions (be they toward the opposite or same sex) to be at odds with their deepest self. I also don’t consider this pursuit of abstinence to be “reparative therapy.” And neither does NARTH.

NARTH is very clear in its beliefs that homosexuality is preventable in childhood and treatable in adulthood, and that most gays and lesbians can successfully convert to heterosexuality through what it labels “reparative therapy.”

I find it interesting that you only ever talk about and equate the expression of “same-sex attractions” with some pretty unhealthy and desperate activities (“promiscuity, sexually obsessive behaviors, etc.”). In your view, are there healthy and wholesome ways of expressing “same-sex attractions”?

And no, I’m not saying that “same-sex genital relations will be [anyone’s] ticket to paradise.” Similarly, I wouldn’t say that opposite-sex genital relations would be a guarantee of paradise. Yet are you saying that such relations (gay or straight) can never be experienced in a way that some might describe as “paradise”?

Of course, if the only experience a person has of sexual relations is promiscuity and sexually obsessive behaviors, then I can understand why they might experience “ego-dystonia” and wish to pursue abstinence. However, I question if avoiding the pursuit of healthy sexual relationships solely because of past unhealthy experiences is wise. Wouldn’t it be better to ascertain what is fuelling the desire to engage in such unhealthy activities? And in order to ascertain such awareness, would not one seek help from credible, mainstream psychological practitioners? If it were physical discomfort you were experiencing, wouldn’t it be important that the doctor you seek be credible and mainstream?

Why is it that groups like NARTH never attempt to help gay people seek and establish healthy same-sex relationships? I’m sure a similar organization for straight people would do that and not simply encourage abstinence or the development of relationships with the same gender (i.e., a reverse “conversion therapy”!)

I think you’re being disingenuous when you breezily say you’re “speaking anthropologically, not morally.” Are you telling me that questions of morality do not in any way figure into the lives of those “young men”* you refer to who experience same-sex activity as “ego-dystonic”?

Regardless, such “young men” are free to pursue lives of abstinence. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, is not declaring such pursuit an “intrinsic disorder,” and its fulfillment “a grave evil.” Neither are elements within the Church attempting to support such moral contentions with non-mainstream psychological perspectives.

The bottom line is that both NARTH and the Roman Catholic Church have an extremely narrow understanding of the healthy options (psychological and moral) available for gay people. NARTH insists that homosexuality is a psychological disorder and that gay people are capable of changing their orientation. The Roman Catholic Church insists that all gay people, because they’re gay, are called to live lives of sexual abstinence and must do so in order to live a moral life.

The mission of CPCSM is to discern and celebrate the transforming presence of God in the lives and relationships of all – though, in particular, in the all too frequently discounted and maligned lives and relationships of LGBT persons. We do not consider this mission to be discounting or excluding of the experiences of those who choose to be celibate. Many of our members and supporters, after all, are celibate priests, sisters, and brothers (gay and straight). They’re not turned away from our events, but welcomed to attend and share their perspective.

We’re all about expanding the circle, not narrowing it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about NARTH or the Courage apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church.



* I find it interesting that your example relies on the experiences of “young men.” It's not uncommon for young people to experience uncertainty and/or confusion around their sexuality and its expression, especially if they experience homosexual feelings and have been raised with a narrow and rigid moral framework regarding homosexuality and its expression.

Also, in our patriarchal society, men, much more than women, are pressured to conform to a certain heterosexual ideal. Not surprisingly, there are many more men in the “ex-gay” movement than there are women. (That's also been my, albeit limited, experience of Courage.) In the sexist eyes of the ex-gay leaders, a gay man is much more of a threat to the patriarchal social order than a lesbian woman.