…also known as two of the Impossible Things one might believe of a morning.
This morning, I noted that my Brit Tweeps’ feathers were ruffled over the news that one Philippa Stroud, a “rising Tory star” and prospective Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), was the founder of a UK church that attempted to cure homosexuals by praying away the demons that possessed them. This evening, I watched the latest episode of House, in which the patient turned out to have undergone conversion therapy to cure his homosexuality a while before he met the woman he was in the process of marrying when he collapsed and ended up at Princeton-Plainsboro.
So for this latest entry in the Mental Health Awareness Month series, I thought it was worth taking a moment to reaffirm the awareness that sexual orientation is not a mental health issue. At least, not in the way the scenarios above posit. Certainly the LGBTQ community has its share of mental health concerns – it’s stressful coming to terms with your sexuality, being persecuted for it, being told you’re a sinner, maybe even having to hide your identity for fear of losing your job, being disowned, or being beaten within an inch of your life. And then there’s the entrenched denial of people like House’s patient who never come to terms with their orientation.
As I’ve said before, I myself am straight-monogamous. I like blokes and I don’t intend to share. I also have a lot of contact with a lot of people who don’t share my orientation and/or idea of what makes an ideal relationship. The diversity in human relationships is staggering and fascinating.
And it bears repeating: being anything other than straight is NOT a sign of mental illness.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at what the governing psychological bodies have to say:
From the American Psychological Association (emphasis mine):
Q: Is homosexuality a mental disorder?
A: No, lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Q: What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?
A: All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Q: What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?
A: There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. [This last point is a no-brainer for me. I never chose to be straight. I just know - or maybe feel is the term - that I'm physically attracted to men, not women. Why should it be any different for my queer friends?]
The verbiage on the website for the American Psychiatric Association is similar, so I’ll let you read that for yourself.
Of course, I think the best way I’ve ever seen this all summed up was in this excerpt from the heartbreaking and thought-provoking documentary For the Bible Tells Me So:
Hard to go wrong with a cartoon.