Written by: Elaine Silodor Berk, Co-Director of JONAH
The headline of Jay Michaelson's article (Nov.11, 2005) in the Forum section of the Forward newspaper states: "Disabuse Community of Intolerance". Michaelson, who is the Director of Nehirim: A Spiritual Initiative for GLBT Jews, makes his case that "What causes scandals isn't homosexuality, but its repression." The article discusses several rabbis who have been charged with being involved with teenage boys and blames part of this problem on the Jewish community which has kept gay men in the closet, going as far as to say "we create the very monsters about whom we later profess shock".
Quite a charge which I would think should have been backed up by hard statistics and studies showing the truth of Michaelson's contentions that where homosexuality isn't kept in the closet, gay men live normal, happy lives. Further on in this article, I will give instances where gay men are not kept in the closet ( San Francisco and Holland ) and the results do not back up Michaelson's reasoning - in fact they make his claims sound like wishful thinking.
I can understand why Michaelson wishes his claims to be true. He indicates he suffered greatly when he was in the closet and I believe him. However, his belief that coming out of the closet and joining the gay world is what we should be recommending to men and women who feel SSA is one I contest strongly and will try to show is misguided at best.
Among his many points, Michaelson tells us that coming out "enables gay people to be as healthy and loving as everyone else." Rebutting each of Michaelson's claims would take a book, so I will focus on two of his most egregious statements:
- "We need to stop demonizing what is natural, healthy and good"
- "Of course you would do everything you could to somehow "make yourself straight":
. . . maybe even the thoroughly discredited, and completely ineffective, forms of
"reparative therapy" being peddled within the religious community"
First, let me be very clear what my position is as Co-Director of JONAH. JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, takes a middle of the road position in relation to homosexuality. We believe that demonizing those who feel same-sex attraction (SSA) is as damaging and unfair as normalizing homosexuality. Neither extreme is good for SSA men and women, their families or society.
JONAH's position is that homosexual feelings, thoughts, and desires are symptoms of underlying emotional issues. They represent a defensive response to conflicts in the present, a way to medicate pain and discomfort. SSA represents unresolved childhood trauma, archaic emotions, frozen feelings, wounds that never healed particularly in the realm of gender identity. SSA indicates there is an unconscious drive for bonding between a son and his father or between a daughter and her mother.
For the last few decades, gay rights activism has attempted to normalize homosexuality saying it is just a different form of sexuality that is equal to heterosexuality. Obviously when Michaelson tells us that homosexuality is natural, healthy and good, he is telling us that he believes people are born gay and unable to change from gay to straight so we should accept homosexuality as God-made, or occurring so early in a child's life that change is not possible. Is he right?
1. IS THERE ANY SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE THAT PEOPLE ARE BORN GAY?
The quick and substantial answer to that question is NO. There are no reputable and reliable studies that show anyone is born gay. In fact, the few studies by male gay activist scientists that purported to show a genetic or biological link to homosexuality have all been debunked because they could not be replicated by other scientists. Here are the words of one of these gay scientists, Dr. Simon LeVay, who is frequently quoted by gay activists to prove their cause:
"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. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain. . ." ( David Nimmons:"Sex and the Brain," Discover Vol. 15, no.3 (March 1994), 64-71)
Another famous gay scientist, Dean Hamer, similarly discusses the findings of his 1993 study "A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation" reported in Science magazine, July 1993. Hamer's conclusion:
"These genes do not cause people to become homosexuals. . . the biology of personality is much more complicated than that." (Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy, 103-104)
One last author, Andrew Sullivan, deserves to be mentioned here because he is a brilliant and famous gay activist and one of the originators of the concept of gay marriage. Sullivan, who has AIDS, to his credit decided to review all the scientific literature pertaining to whether people are born gay and he wrote his findings in a book entitled "Love Undetectable" (1998). Sullivan's words reflect an honesty that I wish were shown by Michaelson:
". . . 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. And pain is, still, an eluctable part of the examined homosexual life." (Pg 164)
As much as we commiserate with Michaelson in his desire to believe that people are born gay, or that a gay identity becomes fixed so early in childhood that you can't change, the evidence refutes his conclusions. Let's turn to Michaelson's next contention:
2. IS HOMOSEXUALITY "NATURAL, HEALTHY AND GOOD" AS STATED BY
Just a brief review of the mind boggling statistics reflecting the mental and physical health of the gay community can make anyone question where Michaelson gets his idea that homosexuality is not only the equivalent of heterosexuality but is natural, healthy and good. Are there some gays who live normal, healthy lives both physically and emotionally? Absolutely. However, we can show that the number of gay men who suffer from damaging emotional and physical illnesses is much higher than in the heterosexual community no matter how the society they live in treats homosexuality. These statistics change little in gay-friendly cities like San Francisco or in gay-friendly countries like Holland.
Two well known statistics kept repeating in my mind as I read Michaelson's article:
- 20% of gay men have over 1,000 sexual partners in their lifetime
- 40% of gay men have over 500 partners in their lifetime.
What seems to Michaelson to be natural, healthy and good appears to me to be a life-long search for love that never materializes. Telling young men who feel SSA that their best choice is to come out early and enter the gay lifestyle to "find themselves" seems like a prescription for disaster.
In fact, the disease statistics in San Francisco appear to be higher than elsewhere in the country. Here are just a few examples: "HIV Rate Rising Among Gay Men in San Francisco," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 25, 2001; The Times reported that the rate of rectal gonorrhea among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco rose 44% during a recent three-year period, while in Los Angeles, new syphilis cases among gay and bisexual men rose more than 1,680%.
Looking at Holland, one of the most gay friendly countries in the world, should give us the best chance for Michaelson to prove his contention that if gays were able to be open and honest about their sexuality, they would lead normal lives. However, we find once again that Michaelson's contentions are not backed up by the facts. Here's the results of a comprehensive 2001 study as reported on www.narth.com:
Lifetime prevalence of DSM- III- R Psychiatric Disorders
|One or more diagnoses
|Two or more
Stanford et al. (2001) Arch Gen Psychiatry, Vol. 58.
Study from the Netherlands of 5, 898 adults of which 2.1% self-identified as homosexual.
3. IS REPARATIVE THERAPY THOROUGHLY DISCREDITED AND COMPLETELY INEFFECTIVE AS STATED BY MICHAELSON?
Here, once again, we would have hoped that Michaelson backed up his beliefs with the facts as he knows them because there are dozens of studies showing that reparative therapy is successful for significant numbers of men. I will show a few of the results of a recent study conducted by Dr. Robert Spitzer at Columbia University. Spitzer's turn around on the issue of whether gays can change ( he originally thought change was not possible) has greatly angered gay activists because Spitzer was involved in the original 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to take homosexuality out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders. Here are Spitzer's own words and then a brief review of his findings:
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, some highly motivated individuals, using a variety of change efforts, can make substantial change in multiple indicators of sexual orientation, and achieve good heterosexual functioning."
The last of the 31 studies summarized by the "Homosexuality and the Possibility of Change" project was conducted by Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, who studied "the self-reported experiences of individuals who claim to have achieved a change from homosexual to heterosexual attraction that has lasted at least five years." (This study was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in October 2003.) He located and interviewed 143 men and 57 women who had had a predominantly homosexual attraction for many years (defined as at least 60 on a 100-point scale of sexual attraction, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 100 is exclusively homosexual), and who, after therapy, had experienced a heterosexual shift of no less than 10 points, lasting at least 5 years.
Spitzer found that the average level of reported homosexual attraction among the 200 interviewees dropped from 90 (on a 100 point scale) in the 12 months before the change effort began to 19 in the 12 months just prior to the interview. Also:
- 37 (19%) of the respondents reported "complete" change, with no lingering homosexual thoughts, fantasies or desires.
- 119 (60%) met Spitzer's criteria for "good heterosexual functioning" (which included never or rarely having same-sex thoughts during heterosexual sex).
DR. JEFFREY SATINOVER:
Let's now turn to Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, one of the world's experts on the statistics of homosexuality, who wrote a book called "Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. In his book, Dr. Satinover discusses the results of reparative therapy vs. therapy for other kinds of issues. Here is what Dr. Satinover had to say:
"The record of purely secular "treatments" for homosexuality is far better than activists and the popular press would have us believe. But, in a parallel to AA, it is probably not as good as the record of these who approach the problem by attending to its spiritual roots as well. The fact that not all methods are successful, and that no method is successful for everyone, has been distorted by activists into the claim that no method is helpful for anyone. It is a tragedy that so many professionals have accepted this distortion. The simple truth is that, like most methods in psychiatry and psychotherapy, the treatment of homosexuality has evolved out of eighty years of clinical experience, demonstrating approximately the same degree of success as, for example, the psychotherapy of depression.
To set the record straight, most experts in the field of reparative therapy would agree that the following statistics are approximately correct, with some therapists showing even better results: Of those who come to reparative therapy feeling unhappy about their SSA, one third are able to comfortably regain their heterosexuality, one third make considerable improvement and feel better about themselves, one third make little change. Just think of how many millions of SSA men and women in the world could regain their innate heterosexuality if they were encouraged to try and were not being told that they were either born gay or were "fixed so early in childhood" (Michaelson's words) that there is virtually no hope for change.
4. CAN GAY MALE LONG-TERM COUPLES STAY MONOGAMOUS?
Michaelson tells us ". . . "coming out". . . enables gay persons to be as healthy and loving as everyone else." But are gay male long-term couples the equivalent of heterosexual long-term couples? The results of many studies tell us that the answer is no. Monogamy is almost unknown in the gay male world. Here is one example of the research that has been done on this important subject:
Dr. Jeffrey Satinover states: "one of the most carefully researched studies of the most stable homosexual pairs ("The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop" conducted by D. Mcwhirter and A. Mattison, 1984) was researched and written by two authors who are themselves a homosexual couple - a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Its investigators found that of the 156 couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity; of the hundred couples that had been together for more than five years, none had been able to maintain sexual fidelity. The authors noted that "The expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexuals."
Whatever the reasons that impel homosexual male couples to search for sexual activity outside of their stable relationship, we must be wary of saying that homosexual couples are "as healthy and loving" as heterosexual couples. Something must be going on in the relationships of homosexual men which render them different from the relationships between men and women.
5. WHO ARE THE MEN WHO COME TO JONAH TO TRY AND CHANGE?
JONAH is a founding member of PATH, Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality, which is an international coalition of ex-gay organizations representing many religious, scientific and secular groups dedicated to educating the public that no one is born gay and that change from gay to straight is very possible with the right help. Can everyone change? No. Should we therefore say that no one can change? No, that would be untrue. Do we tell other people with problems that they are born "that way" with no ability to change their long-held damaging habits, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, heterosexual promiscuity, obesity, etc., etc., etc.? No, of course not. Why do we tell SSA men and women they have no hope for change? Because gay activists have convinced too many people that they are unique among all people with a problem - gays alone have no ability to change.
As we see, despite the wishful thinking of many gay activists that their situation is unique, this idea is not backed up with any facts. If a gay gene, or genes, is ever found, we will have to revise our theories, but until then we need to tell the truth as we know it and offer help and hope to those SSA men and women who are unhappy being gay. If someone is happy being gay - gay gezinterheit. No one should be ostracized for being gay; no families should reject a child who is gay; no gays should feel they need to form separate synagogues; gays are us and we are them. Any of us could feel these feelings in certain situations. But, we cannot accept Michaelson's desire for us to believe that homosexuality is natural, healthy and good.
I think it's important for you to hear the words of the ex-gay men who wrote the web site www.peoplecanchange.com. These brave men have helped thousands of men go from gay to straight over the last few years risking the ire of the gay activists who screamed that their quest to find freedom from SSA was in vain. These men bucked the tide of political correctness and found peace and joy at the end of their difficult and time-consuming journey out of homosexuality. Their words tell their story far better than I can:
WHY DID WE DECIDE TO JOURNEY FROM GAY TO STRAIGHT?
Discovering same-sex attractions can cause tremendous internal conflict and struggle, especially when those feelings conflict with a person's values, beliefs and life plans, or the values and beliefs of his family and culture. We know. We've been there. But we've also learned that it needn't be like that. There are positive alternatives for men who are conflicted over homosexual feelings.
- For some, it may be choosing a celibate lifestyle, built on a solid spiritual foundation and supported by a network of extended family and friends. Choosing a celibate lifestyle is not a choice for loneliness or isolation. On the contrary, many men who choose this path find great fulfillment in focusing their time and energy on close friendships, meaningful service, personal development and spiritual connection.
- For others, it may in fact be choosing to live a homosexual life -- but a mature, spiritually grounded life of integrity and meaningful relationships, not a promiscuous, self-indulgent life where "anything goes." Yes, many gays have shown it is indeed possible to live a happy, dignified, fulfilling life as a homosexual man, and we respect them and their chosen path. Still, no matter how much a homosexual life may feel right and authentic for some people, we found it simply did not work for us.
- For us, the choice that brought us the greatest peace and joy was to seek out the original, core source of our same-sex longings and fulfill (rather than deny) those needs and desires in non-sexual, healing ways. Our choice was to work to fully and authentically develop our heterosexual potential. The road we walked was a path of change -- a path of masculine affirmation, of rigorous authenticity, of genuine need-fulfillment and courageous surrender.
Perhaps you have heard that altering sexual attractions is impossible, and that even to attempt it can lead to shame and despair. Or perhaps, on the other hand, you've heard that change is not only possible but in fact rather easy -- simply a matter of prayer, or will power, or thought control. Both views are extreme, in our experience. We know from our own lives that lessening and even eliminating homosexual desires while developing and fostering heterosexual attractions is definitely possible.But we also know that it requires deep emotional and spiritual work and personal growth, often over a period of months and even years. Change doesn't come easily, but we ultimately found it to be immensely rewarding.
Our path is, admittedly, not for everyone. Anyone who is motivated primarily by shame to seek change is not only likely to fail at change but risks actually making the cycle of shame worse. Shame never motivates lasting change. Likewise, those who pursue change to satisfy other people -- whether family, friends, religious institutions or society at large -- are likely to find neither success nor satisfaction in trying to change when doing so is not truly their heart's desire.
But if you truly are self-motivated to change…if homosexuality just doesn't "work" for you…if it doesn't feel like who you really are, or conflicts with what you believe in and most want out of life…we invite you to explore the healing journey of change that worked for us. For through it, we found the love, peace, brotherhood, wholeness and joy that we had been seeking all our lives.
6. THE TORAH'S APPROACH TO HOMOSEXUALITY IS JONAH'S APPROACH
Remarkably, the Torah has no word for a "homosexual person" - only words for homosexual acts. JONAH agrees with this completely. We do not believe there are persons who are born homosexual, only men and women with a homosexual problem who carry within them the potential for heterosexuality. SSA men and women were not "born different" and have normal genes and hormones - as far as anyone can tell after 60 years of gay activists and their supporters trying, and failing, to find a biological basis for homosexuality.
Gay activists like Michaelson are telling the Jewish community to go against the Torah prohibition of homosexual acts. We disagree.
We agree that the entire issue of homosexuality should be brought out of the closet and into the light of day, but this should be done by using the best scientific and psychological studies that we have at our disposal, not by making decisions based on the demands of the gay community. We understand the pain and anguish suffered by SSA men and women in our midst and we must ask forgiveness for the wrongs we have done to them by demonizing their feelings. However, accepting these feelings as natural and good is equally damaging because every indication is that homosexuality is a same-sex attraction disorder based on childhood and adolescent wounds. These wounds are difficult to heal but they do not define the person who feels them anymore than any of us are defined by our feelings. We are all children of God who deserve the love and respect of our community.
Gay activism has successfully confused the public by combining political advocacy with misleading scientific claims that are not backed up by the facts. Alston Chase said, "When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power." We must be certain that we are telling the Jewish community, and the larger world community, the truth as we currently know it based on facts and not wishful thinking.
Many of our Jewish youth who feel SSA are being urged to "come out" earlier and earlier as gay men and lesbians. We feel this is a tragic mistake. Our young people, and their families, will be better served by letting everyone hear all sides of the gay debate, which is currently not happening. We encourage anyone dealing with this problem personally, or in their family, or in their community, to do the reading and research for themselves. We are confidant that with the correct help ( see JONAH's Psycho-Educational Model for Healing Homosexuality by Berk and Goldberg in the Library of www.jonahweb.org ) many SSA men and women can grow out of SSA into their God-given gender identity. Everyone dealing with SSA should know there is a choice whether to embrace a gay identity or to journey out of homosexuality.
Elaine Silodor Berk is Co-Director of JONAH, along with Arthur Goldberg. For more information about JONAH, call their Message Center at 201-433-3444 or go to www.jonahweb.org.
(Article originally written in December 2005)