Sunday, May 16, 2010

APA v Evergreen/NARTH

The American Psychological Association has a Web-based pamphlet with basic, factual information about homosexuality. (Also in PDF.) It's a good introduction and something that you could point your friends and family to.

One of the things it addresses is the fact that sexual orientation is distinct from the masculine/feminine gender spectrum and that sexual orientation is also not only about modes of sexual behavior. Sexual orientation is a determining factor in the formation of intimate attachment. It determines, in a profound way, which relationships are possible for most people. The basic distinctions between gender expression, sexual object choice and potential for nonplatonic relationships are hopelessly conflated in the Evergreen/NARTH/LDS literature, and in fact it simply sweeps the entire issue of relationships under the rug.

From the APA pamphlet:

Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).

Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one's sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people. [Emphasis added.]

I thought of this when I chanced upon this comment from an anonymous LDS reader of another blog:

I'm a married (15 years, 5 kids) gay man and I can attest that one should never go into a marriage when one partner is gay thinking everything will be all right. I told my wife before we got married that I had "been gay" but was now over it. I thought over time my "gayness" would diminish and I'd end up being an almost normal LDS married man. (Evergreen needs to be banned). Last August I had a near mental breakdown. Since that time, my wife and I have had some excruciatingly difficult discussions. We are still married and highly motivated to make it work. I cannot say with certainty that it will, but I do know that it is extremely difficult. Like it or not, sex is a huge part of any union. You simply cannot have a true marriage relationship without it.

When we say things like "sex is a huge part of any union" we mean more than the physical aspects. The make-or-break problem with mismatched sexual orientations isn't just an asymmetrical desire for sex (A wants it more than B does). Instead, the crucial problem is the inability to form a durable pair bond in such a relationship (this is evidenced by an enduring feeling of loneliness or separateness). Having matched orientations (not the sex act itself) is the secret sauce.

I've heard the argument that putting your cards on the table before entering into a mixed-orientation marriage resolves the ethical issues and levels the playing field. The idea is that if both parties go into marriage with their eyes open, then problems can be avoided. I view this argument with skepticism. Going into a marriage with low expectations for sexual relations does nothing to prepare you for the inability to develop deep emotional attachment and comfort in the long term. That's the gotcha, and Evergreen doesn't even acknowledge it exists.

To all of you in mixed-orientation marriages, I wish you the best. The outcomes and experience will vary by age, duration of the marriage and temperament. Nothing is foreordained.

To those of you who are single, please take this seriously. Get information from the mainstream scientific community and not just from official-sounding repackagers of religious views like Evergreen and NARTH.


The Zimmermans said...

Nice post. I'm in a gay/bi man in a mixed-orientation marriage with an LDS wife (I'm a convert to Mormonism, now atheist) and 3 kids, and we're both very committed to each other and to our family. You're right -- nothing is foreordained, and everyone will have their own story.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Mr. Z.,

Thanks for your comment. I'd love to hear more details about your situation.

It's interesting that you've become a nonbeliever. I actually think this is a success factor in mixed-orientation marriages because it eliminates the complication of the "third person in the bedroom" (the Church). People in MOMs have to be good at creative problem solving. It's not a typical situation, and the typical rules don't always work.

Best of luck to you!

Alan Williams said...

I don't think "sexual orientation" is as neat as the APA is packaging it. Certainly, packaging orientation this way is useful to overcome discrimination so that people might determine their own sexual and emotional lives (rather than go by a monolithic structure like Mormonism's "eternal gender"). But I don't think "sexual orientation" is any clearer in explaining reality.

For example, some guys who now identify as gay might have fallen in deep love with a woman but never have been sexually into her, whereas others who identify as gay might have considered the sex with their ex-girlfriends to be sexually satisfying, but not emotionally. Rather than demonstrating that sexual and romantic desire are connected in terms of "orientation," this shows that they're separate phenomenon. Sure, it's great when they match, providing one with an steady identity and perhaps happiness, but these things are relationship- and person-specific.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for your comment. It's an interesting idea to consider cases where sexual object choice and romantic object choice might not be wired the same. While it's certainly been my experience that the people I've known have been sexually attracted to the same types of people they are romantically attracted to, maybe there are folks out there who aren't like this. If so, I'd love to read about them.

Alan Williams said...

Well, the example I gave you I picked up from Lisa Diamond's work. I find her pretty convincing. Basically, one's sexual orientation is not the sole factor in determining sexual attraction and behavior. As a caveat, Dean Byrd at NARTH took up her work a few years ago to show that eternal gender "works" for everyone, but really Diamond is a radical feminist and finds NARTH detestable.