GAY TIMES December 2003

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

A report last month opened up once more the irritating question: is being gay a matter of biology or of learning and socialisation? Are we born with our sexual orientation or is it given to us?

The study by a British research team was published in the erudite journal Behavioural Neuroscience. Just in case you have mislaid your copy of the October edition, I’ll remind you that it posits a link between eye-blinking and sexual orientation.

Spokesman for the study, Qazi Rahman, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of East London, said that for decades there had been a suspicion, but no definitive proof, that homosexuality was biologically determined. “The problems with these previous studies is that we can’t disentangle the effects of learning,” said Dr Rahman.

So then the search was on to find something that could be measured which wasn’t influenced by learning or socialisation; a response that is involuntary and instinctual. The research team settled on pre-pulse inhibition (PPI).

When humans hear a sudden noise, they respond by blinking. If that loud noise is preceded by a quieter noise (the pre-pulse), the response to the second, louder noise, is weaker. In other words, it is inhibited.

The researchers tested 59 gay and straight men and women to see what the level of inhibition was. In heterosexual women, the PPI averaged 13 per cent and in heterosexual men 40 per cent. Lesbians, however, had a PPI of 33 per cent, closer to the straight male end of the spectrum, while gay men averaged 32 per cent, slightly lower than the straight men, but not enough to be significant.

These findings seem to suggest that some lesbians have “masculinised” traits, while gay men share almost exactly the same traits as straight men.

But, you might ask, what is the point of this research? Is it to confirm that homosexuals were born that way and so discrimination against them is illogical and wicked? (Are you listening Archbishop?) Or is it so that scientists might one day find a “cure” and wipe out the “gay problem” once and for all? (Why are you smiling, Archbishop?)

The research team say that it might help “illuminate sex differences in mental health issues” – although he hastens to add that homosexuality in itself is not a psychiatric problem. No, they claim that when gay men and lesbians present themselves with psychiatric problems, they often show disorders that are typical of the opposite sex. Gay men, for instance, are more likely to show signs of depression, anxiety and eating disorders than their straight counterparts, while lesbians may be more vulnerable to substance abuse than heterosexual women.

Dr Rahman says it’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that gay men have women’s brains or that lesbians have men’s. “It’s not that the gay brain is like the heterosexual brain of the opposite sex. It seems to be a mosaic of male and female typical traits. Because we’re looking at humans, things are always more complicated than you expect.”

But the complications of the biological research are as nothing compared with the motivations of those engaged in proving / disproving the gay gene theory. There always seems to be an agenda behind research in this area.

The Independent recalled the study by gay scientist Simon LeVay some years ago that appeared to reveal that a region of the brain called the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus “is on average two or three times bigger in heterosexual men than it is in women. In gay men, however, the above mentioned region is about the same as in women.”

Another gay man, Dean Hamer, then claimed that he had found the “gay gene” on the X-chromosome of men, which they always inherit from their mother. However, this research was much derided and the suspicion arose that it was overhyped and could not be replicated. To date no “gay gene” has, in fact, been identified.

There has been other research into twins, into the number of elder brothers you have (the more you have, apparently, the greater the chance of your being gay. I’ve got two) and the length of your fingers. All seemed to suggest that homosexuality is not a learned behaviour but something that is innate, and determined before birth.

But that is not accepted by everyone. According to a story in The Independent, another study showed “some homosexual men and women are able to become ‘predominantly’ heterosexual through psychotherapy.”

The study was based on 200 men and women who claimed that therapy had turned them straight. The research cannot be dismissed out of hand (tempting though it is) because it was published in the respected journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour and conducted by Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York. Spitzer was also pivotal in getting the American Psychiatric Association to make its ground-breaking decision in 1973 to have homosexuality removed from its list of mental illnesses.

The 143 men and 57 women who took part in the study all claimed that “therapy” had altered “to some extent” the way they saw the same sex.

The Sunday Telegraph tracked some of these people down to find out their stories. Jeff Johnson, an American, says that he was a typical sissy child, running with the girls “as a peer not as a suitor” and finding the men in pornographic pictures much more exciting than the women. He seemed to be destined for a life of homosexuality, but now, at the age of 40, he is married with three sons.

“Gay, I was ashamed and afraid,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “There was a constant conflict between my Christian faith and my feelings. I always wanted a wife and children in the normal way and I was terrified of Aids. Now I have a wonderful marriage and my children, like those of every dad, are brilliant and beautiful.”

Oh yes, the Christian faith. What eventually emerges is that most of the people who took part in the study were allegedly “counselled” out of their homosexuality in Christian “reparative” groups that aren’t interested in making people happy but with making them conform to the biblical model of how men and women should live.

Dr Spitzer is convinced that these people have changed. “My conclusion is that the door is open. I came to this study as a sceptic – I believe that a homosexual, whether born or made, was a homosexual and that to consider their orientation a matter of choice was wrong. But the fact is that if I found even one person who could change, the door is open, and a change in sexual orientation is possible.”

But what are we talking about here? A change in sexual orientation or just a change in behaviour? According to the report, the “cured” homosexuals have to be constantly on guard against temptation. They have to avoid situations that might make them lapse. They are told only to mix with straight people, and to try not to fantasise about dick while eating pussy etc. The clear message is that they haven’t changed their sexual orientation at all, they have just forced themselves to have sex with the opposite sex. That’s no great achievement. How many gay men are already married with children, living an ostensibly straight life but with a head full of sexual fantasies involving their brother-in-law rather than their wife?

In The Daily Mail, a woman called Clare Campbell told the story of her own marriage to a gay man, Simon. Together they had produced a child and all seemed “normal” until the day Simon told her that he was gay and wanted to leave to live with another man. The story was terribly one-sided and critical of gay people (give us half a chance and we’re all dreadful marriage wreckers), but the upshot was that this man was living “straight” but was never anything but gay.

The gay-cure therapy is a sham. The people who claim to have changed sexual orientation have done nothing of the sort. The gullible Dr Spitzer who took all these people at their word – apparently disregarding the strong guilt feelings related to religion – made no effort to talk to people who had once claimed to have been cured by these charlatans and then found they couldn’t sustain the pretence and relapsed into their natural state.

Dr Spitzer is quoted in The Sunday Times as saying: “The whole issue of whether there is a biological underpinning to homosexuality does not necessarily answer the question of whether someone can change. The gay lib community likes the idea of a biological cause for homosexuality because it assists them in arguing that this is just the way they are. There are ll kinds of medical-biological conditions that can be changed through therapy.”

Equally, of course, the fundamentalist religionists like the idea that sexual orientation can be reversed because it assists them in spreading the fairy tales contained in their holy book.

So, The Sunday Times wants to know, what motivates the people who put themselves up for change? Dr Spitzer says: “From a gay lib perspective, what motivates them is social pressure and internalised homophobia – they hate the homosexual part of themselves on an irrational basis. But the people I spoke to say it’s not social pressure. They say, ‘Homosexuality is not what I want. I don’t like the lifestyle and this way I can save my marriage’.”

Am I missing something here? Don’t they feel that “the homosexual lifestyle” is bad because of social pressure to believe it is? Especially coming – as most of them do – from ghastly “faith communities”. Why don’t they live a homosexual lifestyle that suits them – nobody is going to force them to live in ways they don’t want to.

But even Dr Spitzer admits that “reports of complete change” were uncommon. This should tell him something about the fluidity of sexuality. He should perhaps speak to the gay porn director William Higgins who said in an interview recently that all the men who perform in his films are straight. They have sex with each other in front of the camera, take the money and then go home to their girlfriends and wives. Anyone can, theoretically, have sex with anyone else, but it’s not necessarily the sex that they want.

The gay cure “ministries” are a menace and a lie. They harm some of the most vulnerable and unhappy people in our community. Why don’t these organisations give themselves more appropriate names that would make it clearer who they are and where they’re coming from. How about: Eradicate a Fag for Jesus? No one would be confused about what’s going on then.

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