Monday, December 3, 2012

A Brief Introduction to Change

This blog post will address what is likely the most controversial topic that I've discussed so far.

Last week, four men filed a lawsuit in New Jersey against a group that offers sexual orientation change therapy (SOCT). It was reported in the New York Times and was the topic of a radio show here in Salt Lake City.

In addition, SOCT was recently banned for the treatment of minors in California (as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle), and was also recently the topic of Dr. Oz's talk show.

Many people have very strong feelings both in favor and against it. Those in favor of it say that it is a valid option for those dissatisfied with their sexual orientations and that individuals have the right to choose it. Those opposed to it say that it is dangerous, entirely ineffective, and causes far more harm than good.

I touched on this briefly in my last blog post. As I said before, the only way to have a respectful dialogue is to allow all voices to be heard.

This is also a topic that I find myself somewhere in the middle. I have some experience going through such therapy. I personally did not find it effective in changing my sexual orientation, though I also do not see myself as being harmed by it. In fact, I learned a great deal about myself while going through therapy.

Having done research over the years, and through experiences with support and therapy groups, my views on SOCT and any other sexual orientation change effort (SOCE, which is not always limited to a therapeutic setting) have evolved. Homosexuality is a complex subject that is about far more than just sex, or even sexual attraction. It also involves emotional and social aspects. My personal belief about those who experience a diminishment in their attractions or change their sexual orientation is that they are those who have learned to re-frame their attractions and fill the emotional and social aspects of them, which in turn diminishes the sexual aspect of the attractions.

From my own personal experience with this, as well as what I have seen with others, it works only as long as the attractions remain viewed as being emotional and social and those aspects of them are filled. As long as they are, they sexual aspect of them can remain diminished, at times (for some) even to the point that they disappear. But when those aspects are no longer filled, the sexual aspect of the attractions will increase again. I see those that claim success as those that have learned to permanently and regularly keep the emotional and social aspects of their same-sex attractions filled. I also think the ability of individuals to do so varies greatly.

I tend to think that sexuality is much more fluid than a lot of people believe, and a lot less so than others believe. There do seem to be some people who have achieved change through therapy, as well as those who spontaneously change without even intending to do so. There are some cases of drastic change, as well as many more of some smaller shift.

I also believe that the word "change" is often a loaded word when speaking about sexual orientation or attractions. Two people can be speaking of change and mean very different things. Some only see successful change as a complete and permanent shift from exclusively homosexual attractions (or an exclusively homosexual orientation) to exclusively heterosexual attraction (or an exclusively heterosexual orientation). Others just see a lasting change is sexual behaviors as successful change. And then there's everything in between. I find it very frustrating when individuals argue about change without being clear on what definition of change they are using. This often only results in speaking past each other and results in further misunderstanding.

Those are my thoughts on what SOCE and change are, take them for what they are. I don't personally expect such a change in myself, nor do I see it as necessary. I do, however, find fulfillment in forming emotional connections   and having social interaction with other men. It doesn't make me straight, but when I do so regularly, it does seem to take the edge off of the sexual aspect of my homosexual attractions.

As far as the controversy over SOCT itself, I will say that while I am an avid advocate of self-determination when it comes to choices around sexuality, I do believe that there are a number that practice SOCT that don't do well at practicing informed consent (which explains the lawsuit). If those that practice this type of therapy were more clear on what change means, as well as what kind of change is realistic, it would save a lot of problems all around (to say the least).

As I said, SOCE is a very controversial topic, and I know I have only just begun to touch on it. There is a strong possibility I will have more posts on SOCE and change in the future. My hope is that this brief introduction has been enlightening to those that are not familiar with it, and opens the gates for respectful dialogue for those that do have varying views on it.

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