Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Interview of an ex-gay man by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi

I just read an interview on the NARTH website called “An Ex-Gay Man Describes the Change Process: Gordon Opp.” The interview is done by NARTH executive director Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of an ex-gay man named Gordon Opp, and its purpose is to allow Opp to explain the process he has gone through to diminish his homosexual desires. Opp describes how he analyzes the motivations behind his homosexual impulses and then combats them through engaging in healthy behaviors rather than acting upon them sexually.

Now as I have said before, if someone really wants to pursue the reparation therapy path, I’m not going to stand in their way because as a Christian I can understand the religious motivations behind someone wanting to be rid of their homosexuality. But when I read a transcript like this it’s awfully hard for me not to be skeptical about NARTH’s interpretation of what they think they are achieving with their therapy. Nicolosi and Opp view male homosexuality as a person’s need for the affirmation of other males to bolster his sense of personal masculinity, except the pursuit of that affirmation somehow became sexualized. The theory is if you can get those needs met in healthy, legitimate ways other than by acting out sexually, you can overcome your homosexuality.

Here are two excerpts where Opp comments on this:

In fact it's interesting, even now, the remaining homosexual desires that I have, I realize have so little to do with sex. It's like I look at a guy, and if I go so far as thinking what he would look like without clothes on--at this time in my life, such a thought would be disgusting to me. But it's something else I'm feeling... I wish he would come over and shake my hand and talk to me and give me some kind of attention.

I have found that when I have a close friendship with a straight man who I find attractive, I can get those needs de-sexualized. I can get them met in a satisfying way.

This is what it means to be “ex-gay”?

Before we get into the theory Opp is working from, I’m sure you’ve noticed as I did that Opp openly admits that he still sometimes imagines other guys without their clothes on—though it disgusts him—and he still singles out certain guys as being attractive. I know that he’s just being honest and he would say that these residual thoughts and feelings normally linger when a guy is trying to detox from homosexuality. I appreciate his honesty and am not interested in bagging on a guy for opening himself up in that way. But I have to say from the get-go that because of these admissions I already have a hard time getting on board with his interpretation of what’s going on in his life. It seems to me that a person who is having those thoughts and feelings and is continually struggling with them and trying to put them away is what I would call a homosexual who is struggling with his thoughts and feelings and trying to put them away. I wouldn’t choose to label such a person “ex-gay.” Especially since he repeatedly describes his homosexual feelings with words like “excitement,” “fantasy” and “zing,” in contrast with the reserve with which he speaks of even the high points about his marriage to his wife

If a straight guy who used to live a life of fornication decided to clean up his life, join the Catholic Church, and become a priest, he too would have a live a life of continually struggling with thoughts of imagining women with their clothes off or noticing the ones in a crowd that are attractive. I would not call him “ex-straight” for embarking on that struggle. Nor would I interpret diminishing thoughts and feelings in that area as signs that he is overcoming his heterosexuality. I would just view him as a straight guy who has done really well in managing and controlling his sexual impulses.

Where are the differences?

Now moving on to Opp’s theory about his homosexuality, I also have a hard time getting on board with his claim that the dysfunctional way he has sought to have his emotional and psychological needs met by other men has anything to do with homosexuality in itself. Millions of straight guys seek relationships with girls for the exact same dysfunctional reasons Opp describes. Opp cites his “needs for acceptance...feeling like one of the guys...for compassion and understanding from men.” Straight guys also pursue sex with women as a way of feeling more manly about themselves and as a substitute for having healthy emotional relationships with others. Opp says his sexual pursuits were like seeking a “quick fix” drug, infused by an overblown fascination with good-looking men that left him feeling inadequate. He knows the trick is to de-mystify them by getting to know them as regular people.
Then there are the few that are particularly attractive, and with those guys, I kind of force myself to get to know them well enough so that they don't intimidate me and give me that feeling of weakness, of being "less than" them, which could trigger an unwanted attraction on my part . . .

So instead I try to get to know them, maybe even touch them with a pat on the back, or a healthy handshake or something, and get under their skin just a little, and then all of a sudden I see their weaknesses--this is just a guy, and the mystique is broken.

This resembles the typical story I hear from so many girlfriends about how a guy came along and swept them off their feet, talking about love and marriage after two weeks of dating. Then by the three-month mark when he realizes she is just a flawed human being and the mystique has worn off, he dumps her. The difference of course is that Opp is trying to de-mystify other men as opposed to running up against their ordinariness after three months of dating. The end result is the same: loss of “zing.” Apparently dysfunctional homosexuality is a lot like dysfunctional heterosexuality. It’s no secret many straight guys also seek relationships with women as a “quick fix,” and their need for self-affirmation combined with real sexual drive plus the mystique of a beautiful woman often combines to create unhealthy obsessions with sex and a skewed view of women. You hear the obsessions of straight guys about women blared in the lyrics of love songs on the radio all the time. “Every fool’s heart aches with every step you take” and stuff like that.

I have to wonder how the existence of these dysfunctional dynamics could be blamed on homosexuality itself if it has so much in common with the heterosexual male experience. From a Christian perspective I don’t think it is healthy or good, but because it is so common to young, straight males our society does tend to view it as a regular part of what many young men have to go through before they learn to “settle down with a nice girl” (i.e., get the mystique out of the way, get real, and have a healthy and balanced relationship). In view of all this, it seems to me that this interview with Gordon Opp hasn’t really accomplished anything except reveal to me just how many parallels there are between homosexuality and heterosexuality, instead of something to the contrary.