Review & Outlook Taste
Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2001 200 Liberty Street, New York, NY, 10281
Fax: 212-416-2658 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.wsj.com
No one called Robert L. Spitzer a quack back in 1973, when he
spearheaded the American Psychiatric Association's ultimately successful bid
to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders. But now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force says this same
Columbia University psychiatrist is selling "snake oil packaged as science."
The Human Rights Campaign accuses him of "anti-gay views, close ties to
right-wing political groups and lack of objective data." Barbara Warren, a
psychologist at the Lesbian and Gay Service Center, told the New York Post
that she "cannot believe Columbia would allow any of its professors to do
anything like this."
What is the treason that accounts for this shift? A new study
suggesting, as Dr. Spitzer told the Associated Press, "that some people can
change from gay to straight, and we ought to acknowledge that."
Released this week in New Orleans at the APA's annual meeting, the
study concludes that 66% of the men and 44% of the women in a group of 200
people who claim to have changed their orientation had in fact achieved
"good heterosexual functioning." What makes this explosive is that the
Spitzer findings appear to take on the reigning APA contention that once
gay, always gay. No surprise then to find that, overnight, Dr. Spitzer's
study has become the occasion for the most extravagant claims on both
sides -- by those who trumpet it as vindicating the view that homosexuality
is simply a lifestyle choice no less than by those who see it as the latest
wrinkle in gay-bashing.
Critics point out that the 200 people Dr. Spitzer studied were
unrepresentative: i.e., they were more religious than most, and almost all
were referred by either ex-gay ministries or those advocating therapy for
those seeking change. Indeed, Dr. Spitzer embarked on his own study a
skeptic. Meanwhile, another new study, this one by New York City
psychologists Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, found that only six of 202
gay men and lesbians reported changing their orientation to heterosexual
Dr. Spitzer's latest findings will by no means settle the argument.
We should remember that they don't pretend to. Those who claim
homosexuality is a simple matter of choice need to look hard at the third of
the men and more than half the women who said they had changed their
orientation but hadn't, according to Dr. Spitzer's own work. Conversely,
critics who dismiss the report as a product of religious guilt need to
recognize there were other motivations too: Some wanted to save marriages,
while others said they found the gay life "emotionally unsatisfying." And
though Dr. Spitzer says changing is by no means easy and probably "unusual,"
the gradual nature of the change his subjects reported indicates that "it is
not a simple made-up story."
Advocates may well be right that the vast majority of homosexuals are
happy with their sexuality. But shouldn't those who seek to change be
allowed to do so without being vilified? Clearly, whatever our scientific
advances, much of the human sexual drive will always remain a mystery. And
it's hard to see how circling the wagons around a cherished orthodoxy really
advances the cause of gay rights, especially if it requires maligning a
respected researcher rather than dealing with his findings.