Seduced by the Narrative

As a practicing psychotherapist of nearly 25 years I have had a close up view of how people suffer, how they come to understand that suffering and how they change. Much of my early practice was organized around helping people construct a historically grounded narrative to understand their suffering and to free them up to behave in a way that would not recreate more suffering and actually improve wellbeing.

Sometime in the late 1990’s it became obvious to me that this intervention was at least not very efficient and at times distracting from the urgent work at hand for my clients. Clients and others had developed a compelling narrative for why they were being destructive, but they they showed little drive toward transforming that insight into action. Sally Satel, M.D. wrote in last month’s New York times (read it here) how she sees this everyday in her methadone clinic. She writes well and thoughtfully on this topic.

Currently, I still describe myself as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, but with an edge and an energy that focuses on quality of life in the now. I view people’s struggles as having their roots in developmental errors, injuries and neglect. But my focus is “how does that lead to you taking less responsibility or seeing that you have less choices for your wellbeing in the now?” I think I concluded somewhere in 2000 that people were finding ways to change their lives years before psychology was created and they were doing it will very little insight in some circumstances. It is that power that I am interested in harnessing for my clients.

That brings me to the topic of Same-Sex Attraction. It seems to me we have two compelling narratives which have, at best, incomplete scientific support: a) that SSA is biologically determined and b) that it is caused by a wound in the child’s relationship with their same sex parent.

So the questions for my readers today is:

How do these narratives interfere with our conversation about Same-Sex Attraction? and, in a related question,

How do these narratives limit our client’s ability to see themselves as fully formed persons able to choose their actions in the now?

Thanks for checking in on the blog today.

53 thoughts on “Seduced by the Narrative”

  1. 4. I think homosexuality, as such, in the New Testament is not discussed.

    When I read this comment, I wondered how the writer

    interprets Romans 1:24-28. This was written by the Apostle Paul. I can see only one way to interpret these verses.

  2. Timothy – In my tradition, we talk about the written Word of God and the Living Word. In Evangelicalism it is the foundation of faith and practice and the all around Bottom Line.

  3. David: I don’t think of empathy as a “feelling”. I think of it as a commandment of Jesus. Sometimes, true empathy means going against what WE feel and really, as you put it, “getting not only their feelings, but their values, their experiences and character” — and then translating that understanding into compassionate action. So, David, we agree on it’s meaning.

    Regarding calling the Bible the “Word of God” — it’s just my Southern Baptist background showing itself. WE used to pruounce it the “Word of Gawwwwwd….) Of course, I understand Jesus is the eternal Word of God. So, I agree with Timothy as well.

  4. OK.. I know this is a segue and not really related, but it’s a new pet peeve of mine:

    Even though the Bible IS the word of God…

    no, no, no

    According to the first chapter of John, it is Jesus that is the “Word” of God. Only Jesus is deity and has the authority to speak for God and carries the title “the Word”. When we assign the Bible a title that belong to Christ, we come close to itolatry. The Bible is not God, it is ABOUT God. Regardless of the extent to which we believe that the Scripture is inspired by God, other than those passages that contain the words of Christ, it is not “the Word” of God.

  5. Michael,

    EMPATHY, to quote the band BOSTON, “is more than a feeling!”

    As I use it in the equation above it means “getting the world of the other person and getting how I effect the other person.”

    That means getting not only their feelings, but their values, their experiences and character.

    When you equated EMPATHY with feelings, I felt a combination of URGGGh, eeeeyeeeekkkkk and ucky. Like I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show or something.

    You may not have meant it that way though. When you have empathy for me and I have empathy for you…it means we really get each other. Although not impossible, it is harder to hurt people we understand, respect and admire; and yes, feel for.

    Best Michael in your journey, you are a blessing.


  6. David, I like the equation, above. It reminds me some something I heard many years ago — that “EXPATHY is the bedrock of any TRUE morality” — not simply adherance to lists of “do’s” and “don’ts”. It is the imagination, the ability to put oncself in another’s shoes and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

    Barak Obama was on Oprah sometime back and made a similar comment about “good politics” — they they must be based of the question “How would that make YOU feel”? He said his mother taught him good morals by asking him that question repeatedly.

    Disagreeing with other Christians on certain Biblical passages does not mean we abandon the Bible. On the contrary, the BIble is the bedrock our Christian morality. It is where we go to learn, through Christ’s life and teachings, how we are expected to treat God and His children.

    No need to “throw out Scripture”: to make good moral decisions”. We don’t toss it out. Instead, we explore its truth with open minds and hearts — keepiing in mind that that the word of God is perfect — but we are not perfect in our ability to understand it our live it. We don’t assume we are RIGHT.

    Instead, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. And when we do this, we see that EMPATHY seems to be the very heart of Jesus’ teachings — “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

  7. “Throwing Out the Bible”


    I am not sure the tenor of my reply carried through my postings.

    The phrase I wrote is as follows: When you ask me to throw out scripture as a means of making moral decisions, I think you are asking me to throw out absolutism.

    I believe the invitation to talk about SSA previously, rationally and objectively, meant looking past scriptural explanations for prohibition.

    The point I am trying to make is that moral decisionmaking always involves absolutes (“all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” cannot be supported by a utilitarian or rationalistic moral model alone).

    How about this?

    Absolutism+Utilitarianism+Rationalism+EMPATHY= a sound moral system.

  8. I don’t want Mr. Blakeslee to “throw out the Bible” either. I just want Mr. Blakeslee to consider the possibility that he may be WRONG in his interpretation of it. First Corinthians 13 verse 12 reminds us that our current knowledge is only partial, but will one day be complete — when we see Jesus face-to-face. Not until then.

    In the meantime, sincere, born-again, evangelical Christians can (and often do) disagree. Even though the Bible IS the word of God, we do not have a perfectly clear mirror, but a somewhat cloudy one instead — obscured by our own personal limitations, experiences and prejudices.

    I understand that Robert Gagnon believes that anyone who does not agree with HIS interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality cannot rightly call themselves “Evangelical Christians”. Is he the final authority?If you want to talk about a “narrative” that tends to stop dialog, how about that one?

    Frank Worthen of EXODUS takes Gagnon’s rather un-humble attitude even further. He says that those call themsleves “gay Chritians” are “anathema”, “greatly to be detested” and doomed to everlasting Hell. Gentlemen, I thought we were saved by GRACE, not our particular take on a handful of (obviously) debatable Scriptural verses. Or, did I miss something?

  9. When you ask me to throw out scripture as a means of making moral decisions,…

    David, I’m not asking you to throw out anything. In fact, I’m not asking you to do anything at all.

    I can share with you my own personal theology based on a lot of thought and study and introspection and (as I’m sure you can tell) a decent working knowledge of Scripture and faith. But I’m not even going to begin to suggest to you that you should accept my theology. You have to work out your own salvation.

    All I request is that you resist the temptation to work mine out for me. That you resist Dennis’ compelling need to offer me “a list of sins as warnings out of love”.

    (incidentally, Dennis: how do I know when I’ve fallen short? By the propting of the Holy Spirit, of course.)

    Oh, and perhaps also I might request that you resist the urge to use civil law to force others to conform to theological doctrine or dogma when preaching and teaching is ineffective.

    No matter what effort is spent or how many churches sign up voters, Salvation cannot be legislated. If the moving of the Holy Spirit is unable to convince hearts and minds of your position, well… it may not be because you haven’t passed enough constitutional amendments.

  10. By the way, the hand-chopping commandment is found here, God speaking: ‘If two men are having a fight and the wife of one tries to help her husband by grabbing hold of the other man’s genitals, show her no mercy; cut off her hand’ (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).

    It seems to me that one should not quote the Old Testament as current moral law and practice unless one is willing to apply ALL of it. Why the double standard? Why pick on gays and not testicle grabbers?”

  11. Here’s the passge in question: “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath violated her, he may not put her away all his days.” Deut. 22:28-29 Does this still apply? Is this still relevant moral law for our days? Is such a woman really obligated to stay married to a man who “seizes” her and “violates” her? And why on earth does the father get paid off? Does this still apply?

    Do we still bring out public evidence of a girl’s viginity (Deut. 22:15) or have the elders of the city stone her if it is found that she is not a virgin (Deut. 22:21)? Are we stilll obligated to stone a rape vitim if she does not cry out? (Deut. 22:24)? Or stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21)?

    Or how about the passage that says that if two men are fighting and the wife of one man intenvenes on her husband’s behalf by grabbing the testicles of the other man that her “hand shall be cut off without mercy”? Would anyone today conisder such a woman (who is only helping her husnad to fight off an attacker) worthy of amputation? I think not.

    Just imagine an old-school “altar call” for this one: “Now, ladies, with every head bowed any every eye closed, if there are any among you who have committed this awful sin, just raise your hands — er — stumps…”

  12. Gordo: I don’t “throw out the parts I don’t like”. I take the Bible as a whole. It is the best revelation we have of God’s nature and of His love and plan for us. It’s just that I do not believe that New Testament Christians are obliged to obey all Old Testament Law. We ARE, however, obligated to follow Christ’s commandments.

    His morality is based on the principles of loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. His morality is not as simple as reading and conforming to a list or “shalts” and Shalt nots” We are called to a deeper responsiibility, a much tougher standard. We have to constantly “take inventory” and examine the MOTIVATION for all our behavior, not simply look at the behavior.

    The “anti-gay” side of this debate certainly does not think it is obligated to obey ALL Old Testament Laws. They pick and choose — even if they claim they don’t. They practice “selective literalism”. They obey only those laws that they have decided STILL apply — and, in my opinion, are pretty arbitrary about their selection..

    For example, an old Testament passage (I will find the Chapterr and Verse if you like) states that is a man sees an attractive woman in a field and rapes her, he has done a terrible thing. He can make it right, however, by marrying her and paying her father the bride price. Would anyone on the “anti-gay” side argue that this is how we should respond to rape in THESE days?

  13. Tim, Gordo and Dennis:


    There are a couple of points I would like to make:

    1. Absolutism, Rationalism and Utilitarianism are means of making moral decisions. When you ask me to throw out scripture as a means of making moral decisions, I think you are asking me to throw out absolutism. I can talk more about this, but suffice it to say many imporant social rights are based on mere absolutism…and that is good enough for me. :). “Love your Enemy” can be explained rationally and it’s utilitarian benefits explored…but it is so counterintuitive a moral command that it would never have been proposed based soley on either utilitarian or rational grounds, let alone followed by an obscure relgious sect who leader expressed compassion for his persecutors while being crucified. So, aboslutes are part of the fabric of how we make moral decisions: utilitarianism and rationalism are also part of that fabric.

    2. “Even if we allow that the world that produced the Bible got it wrong, can we accept that a sovereign God allowed his followers to ostracise, condemn, torture, and kill condemn homosexuals for 1968 years without intervening?” Dear Gordo, you know his followers have done much worse. The power of Christ is the speck and the beam (for me): a fearlessly self-critical religion (there is more to fear from the religion than from the sinner, according to Christ).

    A Parable: Matthew 13:24 and ff

    24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”

    There is evil in the church, Gordo, not gentle, mild, accidental evil, but evil. Rooted in power and fear…the same evil that killed Christ. I am so sorry you have been in its crosshairs for so long.

  14. I’d make a wonderful arbiter of all things Christian. More Bach, Palestrina, and Michelangelo! To the lowest circle of hell with Dobson, Robertson, Falwell, BJU, and those people who write cheap and tacky worship songs! Up with Pipe Organs – down with Praise Bands! You must burn all paintings of Jesus on velvet. See? Things are better already.

    I’ve read that some people may have a genetic determination for faith. If that is true, you boys have it. You have constructed a narrative which takes all the things you like of Christianity and leaves out the things which don’t work. In answer to David’s second question, this narrative does allow you to see yourselves as fully formed persons able to choose your actions in the now.

    So why does this still nag at me? I’m an athiest. What do I care? I couldn’t stop thinking about it on the flight home tonight. Tim – as you know, in our industry we try to distinguish between form and substance. We look past the form of the transactions in order to understand the substance. Your points are interesting and thought provoking. But the substance of the scriptures taken as a whole is not tolerant of homosexuality. I can’t get past that. Even if we allow that the world that produced the Bible got it wrong, can we accept that a sovereign God allowed his followers to ostracise, condemn, torture, and kill condemn homosexuals for 1968 years without intervening?

    BTW – the early church’s solution to the problem of eating meat sacrificed to pagan gods was NOT everyone following their own conscience. Romans 14:21 says “it is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” I Corinthians 8:13 says “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” In light of your long-running dialog with Exodus, do you really want to use this as your example? Are you willing to be closeted for the rest of your life so that a weaker brother struggling with SSA will not be tempted and fall?

  15. Timothy,

    I agree with most of what you are saying. The question I have is who decides whether I have fallen short or the kingdom you speak of. How do I know? Can this be self determined or do I need to follow a list of guidelines (boundaries) that may have been established many years ago.

    If we look at the list of sins as warnings out of love then how can we condem someone who is trying to point these out to us. I would have to agree that we all fall short on following these guidelines, but does that mean we have the right to start throwing out the ones we do not like or that may not fit our particular form of Christianity.

    I have come to see how the Christian message is one of hope and forgiveness. I will always make mistakes and as long as I do not become intrenched in a habit of making the same mistakes over and over again I will always be able to turn back and to grow and to change. I see the moral compass of the church coming from the center point in all that is human. If I move away from this in either direction I may find myself feeling disconnected, but I can always come back, unless I choose to refuse to go back.

    I am tired of the moral pendulum that has been so prevelant over the past many years. I have decided to focus on the balanced center and that brings me directly to my Lord Jesus Christ and his church. I may not always live out of this moral center or even feel like living my life along this line but at least I can use if as a guiding light. Is there condemnation in this? I truly hope not. I know that there are many voices out there that want to pull me in one direction or the other and they may be successful for a time but ultimately my love for my Christian faith is much greater than their voice.

  16. Timothy: Extremely well expressed and this, especially, bears repeating: “A Christian is nothing more nor less than a person who relies upon the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a propitiation for sin – to accept grace as that which allows one to approach God blameless and perfect.” Amen to that! As the old hymn goes: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…”

    Gordo: Tim words perfectly express what I mean by “Chistian”. You stated that my position was “not the Christianity practiced by Catholics or Protestants for 2000 years.” You are right. But, I should point out that Christianity has never been practiced in ONE particular way. There has NEVER been uniformity of doctrine or practice. The New Testament reveals this very cleary. There were sects, divisions and disagreements from the very beginning. Christianty is alive, not Static. As Timothy expressed so well, It is relationship, not list.

    That said, I think ther are certain KEY points of faith that distiniguish Christianity from other faiths. These are expressed very well in the Apostle’s Creed. On other points, true Christian can and often DO diesaggree. The question of whether or not homosexual behavior is always sin is one of those (many) ongoing (Christian) debates.

  17. OK… I said I was not discussing religion… but, against my better judgment, here goes.

    When Timothy says you can be gay and be a Christian, it reminds me of Exodus saying change is possible. It all depends on the meaning of the words “Christian” and “change.”

    Quite so. However, fortunately, “Christian” is both more exact and less understood than “change”. A Christian is nothing more nor less than a person who relies upon the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a propitiation for sin – to accept grace as that which allows one to approach God blameless and perfect.

    Personally, I think that there are two types of Christians today and the distinction is on how one interprets the notion of “sin”. There are “list Christians” and “relationship Christians”. It’s all a matter of mindset.

    List Christians view “sin” as a list of things that one is not allowed to do. One cannot lie, or steal, or have sex with someone of the same sex. Much emphasis is placed on the items that are “sins”, actions forbidden by God (somewhat arbitrarily) and very little emphasis is given on the reasons why one does or does not do such things (or so I think). Some (such as the church of my youth) go to the extreme of believing that the engagement of a single “sin” can condemn your soul to eternal torment unless you drop to your knees and repent before you are hit by a bus (I tend to think that spiritual terror is not a particularly healthy way for a child to view God, but that’s just me).

    Relationship Christians view “sin” as a falling short in one’s relationship with God. They tend to see Christianity as a form of citizenship within God’s kingdom. And as long as one views Jesus as the lord of their kingdom and as long as the King views them as a subject, then they are fine. Errors and failings (“falling short” as sin is defined) are to be expected. While you strive to please God, you focus on your relationship with God and trust Him to guide you to the life he wants for you. The “what” is less important than the why. You don’t lie because it is detrimental to your relationship with others, you don’t cheat because it harms both others and your own sense of deverving. You seek to please God because you love him and he’s worthy of your efforts, not because he’s going to strike you with a thunderbolt that sends your soul to hell.

    One thing that I think has become lost that was of great emphasis in the Early Church writings was the notion that “sin” is not an absolute. For some there was no problem with eating food sacrificed to heather idols. For others this was horrifying. Ultimately, it came down to following your conscience and the guiding of the Holy Spirit: sin whas “he who knows to do good and does it not”.

    The List Christians have compiled the list of “thou shalt nots” and have their tick list ready to hand to St. Peter at the gate. The Relationship Christians are more concerned about whether they have shown Christ to a starving, war-torn, lonely world.

    Needless to say, the Relationship Christians annoy the hell out of the List Christians. “How can you justify this that or the other?!?” How dare the Relationship Christian get away with something that they can’t do?!?

    Obviously, I fall into the category of Relationship Christians (and by bias shows here).

    But I’ll try to step into List Christian mode and answer your question about homosexuality and sin. It’s not a thorough answer and I don’t think it will satisfy you, but here goes:

    1. I think this is one of those “for some” type of sins. I think the distinction is about whether you are a gay person seeking a companion or whether you are a 70’s rocker trying it because it’s wild and kinky or anti-culture. When I discuss “homosexuality” in the points below, I mean the gay kind, not the kinky kind.

    2. I think homosexuality falls into the same sort of sexual Law commandments like “you must impregnate your widowed sister-in-law”. That Law was both in the old and the new Testament and when presented to Jesus he did not dismiss it. But ultimately we have come to know that this Law was about power and inheritance and that a widowed in-law without children had no support structure whatsoever. I tend to think that the rules about homosexuality in the Law related to power.

    3. I think homosexuality Law in the Old Testament had much to do with pagan religious practices. And I think Jews understood it as such. The text certainly seems to be coupled in such a way.

    4. I think homosexuality, as such, in the New Testament is not discussed. The practice was certainly common in Paul’s day and Paul would not have been unfamiliar with the language necessary to condemn it. Nor was Paul fond of “polite” language and afraid to offend sensibilities. But he chose instead to create some new word that was not used by anyone else at the time and for which no definition is clear. Some will argue that they absolutely know the meaning of the conflation that Paul chose… but those who seek to condemn others based upon what they “know absolutely” are hardly the embodiment of Christ.

    Of course Dr. Gagnon would disagree with everything I say. And he can. But ultimately I don’t have a relationship with Dr. Gagnon and don’t much care about where he leads my heart.

    I guess my point is that my quest for God has lead me to different conclusions than you. And I’m fine with that. And I think it’s very fortunate that God did not assign you as the arbiter of all that is Christian. 🙂

  18. Michael,

    I’m not disparaging your version of Christianity. However, it is not the Christianity practiced by Catholics or Protestants for 2000 years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – millions of people have been killed in the name of Christ.

    When Timothy says you can be gay and be a Christian, it reminds me of Exodus saying change is possible. It all depends on the meaning of the words “Christian” and “change.”

  19. David,

    You ducked my question. Bearing burdens, justice, concern for the weak, yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. Many therapists who don’t have a Christan world view would agree with you.

    I don’t believe there is another issue where there is such a sharpe divide. For example, few anymore would categorize alcoholism as a moral issue. Addiction is a theraputic issue, if not quite a disease. We can’t agree on SSA because it goes to the heart of how we believe God created us and if we’re right and you are wrong then there are profound issues which go to the very morality of God.

    Einstein said that God doesn’t play dice with the universe but he was wrong. Is God also capable of cruel tricks? This is serious stuff and many have turned against God as a result. Personally, I believe that if there is a God, he/she must be evil, and cannot possibly be considered good. God cannot duck responsibility behind mere programming jargon such as “free will.”

    There’s no other issue like SSA which goes to the very heart of God’s nature. This is more than just the problem of evil, or why good people suffer.

  20. Gordo: I can assure you that my belief that gay sex is not necessarily sinful is not based on sentiment alone. It is based of many years of study, prayer, reading and discussions like these. There is liegitimate and rather involved debate on what Scripture does and does not say about homosexuality. Christians of similar intellect and sentiment CAN disagree — and for sound, logical reasons, not just wishhful thinking.

  21. Tim,

    I hope to keep you engaged on religion through one more post.

    I have no illusions that I in fact love as Christ loved. I can count on the fact that I will not love as Christ loved…I can devalue, demean and marginalize. I can twist myself into believing that devaluing, demeaning and marginalizing included hating gays and lesbians in the name of Christ.

    For me, meeting Christ meant facing how easy I can hate and hurt…and how gifted I was (and still am) at hiding how hateful I can be. To spiritualize that hatred is possibly the worst form of hatred. The most evil sin.

    To love as Christ loves, to me, means being acutely aware of how I could hurt you through a spiritual disguise…and resisting that urge; honoring your dignity and honoring your life (and who you love). To the point of marriage?…..I don’t know how to reconcile that with all I believe. To the point of putting me on a pedastal above you…that one I think I have figured out…you may love more deeply and compassionately than I ever will…my capacity to be heterosexual only makes me heterosexual…not better.

  22. Justice and protecting the weak are an important framework in my therapy

    Hmmm… now if only I could persuade you that this includes equal treatment under law of those who are gay. I have hope. 😉

    Being a Christian therapist to me means loving people the way Christ loves us.

    ay, there’s the rub

    The problem is that everyone thinks Christ loves just the way that they do. Surely “go and sin no more” has to be the most quoted of Jesus’ sayings and how I tire of hearing that Jesus only spent time with sinners to condemn them of their sin.

    And “love the sinner, hate the sin”?? Yeah, what scripture was that again? Sometimes I think that some good Christians only know the Christ of the whip in the temple.

    Alas we are all human. We think we are right (or we wouldn’t think what we do, would we) and that therefore God agrees with us. Somehow God sees all of us arguing and fighting with each other and loves us all anyway. I’m sure I couldn’t … but I’m not God.

    Nonetheless, I admire the effort to love, David.

    (OK… that’s the last you’ll hear from me about religion for a while)

  23. I think nearly every aspect of therapy is effected by my world view, which is heavily influenced by Christianity.

    “Bear one another’s burdens.”

    and a million other verses come to mind. Of course I view marriage and childrearing as sacred responsibilities. Marital couples in crisis I encourage reconciliation if violence and serious addictive states are not the reason for the alienation. I think I can find additional support for my position in the social sciences.

    Justice and protecting the weak are an important framework in my therapy (“if you harm one of these little ones it is better that you tie a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the deepest ocean…)

    There is much more to say here. I think the general public has a rather weird view of what it means to be a Christian psychotherapist (are they going to convert me? are they going to use scripture on me and give me the Eucharist?). Being a Christian therapist to me means loving people the way Christ loves us.

  24. Warren,

    I too can find no support for gay sex in my understanding of Christianity. I respect Timothy and Michael but I think their interpretation of scripture is based on sentiment.

    This question is for both Warren and David; Are there other issues in therapy which are as influenced by your understanding of Christianity as SSA?


  25. Warren: In response to my nagging about the “why” question m– suggesting that you only ask because you had already concluded that it must be wrong, I apologize. You, obviously, are a wonderful minority. I believe you when you say the subject in genuinely interesting to you — not just because you think it’s sin to do it..

    You said, “Iit is hard for me to understand your focus on this point.” I not sure I believe that. I think you know that the question tends to make gays like me defensive. This is because it almost always means that someone thinks we should be (A) fixed or (B) punished If you truly don’t understand my reaction to the “why” question being posed, I think that is becaue you are not gay.

    You have not grown up with the pervasive cultural and religious messages that your heterosexual bondingto your beloved life partner is some sort of disease that should be cured — or some sin that should be repented of or else suffer a terrible and eternal penalty. Hearing that for over 50 years tends to make one a little touchy. (grin)

    By the way, thanks to you and David for this wonderful open forum.

  26. (good heavens… my argument has devolved to “there are fewer idiots on my side than yours”.)

    I’m glad you said that…

  27. ps… I just noticed that my posting is fairly hostile today.

    Sorry. I’m not feeling 100% today – nearly everyone in our office is getting or recovering from a nasty cold.

  28. If you add in the spin from those who insist no one can change or all SSA is inborn then I think you have a pretty complete picture of the situation.

    I quite agree.

    But you must admit that there are far more gay people who will admit that perhaps some gays can change than there are anti-gays who admit that perhaps there are some gays who cannot.

    And I think gay people are much more open to the idea that SSA may not be entirely inborn than are anti-gays open to the idea that it might be.

    (good heavens… my argument has devolved to “there are fewer idiots on my side than yours”.)

  29. Warren,

    I agree that debates over religious interpretation seldom yield understanding – of God or anything else. Yet you surely must agree that for most people discussing homosexuality from an antagonistic viewpoint, religion is the sole determinant.

    Take, as illustration, Linda’s comments above. For Linda the logic works like this:

    A – Homosexuality is bad,

    B – God doesn’t create bad things, therefore

    C – Homosexuality is not created by God (i.e. a person’s sexual orientation is not biologically determined).

    In essence, Linda is trapped into a logic that says, “that which agrees with my personal theology is true, that which doesn’t is by definition false”. Nancy relies on A and B being givens which refute any evidence of C being true. She cannot fathom that A or B could possibly be based on an incorrect understanding of God or Scripture.

    While I respect that you do not argue from this position, Warren, I think at times you fall subject to preconcluded outcomes and interpretations. You are quite convinced that orientation is not determined, though the objective scientist in you sometimes has to dance most peculiarly to hold onto your original premise. It is inarguable that biology play a part in at least some gay men’s attractions, but you always argue (sometimes without strong support) that this always must occur post natal and must be tempered by parental actions. (My favorite was the discussion resulting from the chromosome observations where you argued that this obvious biological link resulted not in gay sons but rather in mothers who were likely to parent in such a way as to produce gay sons.)

    I am fortunate that my faith is not dependant on objective scientific research supporting my pre-conclusions. If it is discovered that a subset of gay men are same-sex attracted solely as the result of a particular set of genes, fine. If it is determined that all gay men are “made so” by smothering mothering – or by Gerber’s strained prunes, for that matter – it has no impact on my faith or my theology.

    It is unfortunate, however, that most ex-gay proponents do not have such freedom. For them, Linda’s logic is paramount. Rather than consider that condemnations of homosexuality might fall into the same category as Biblical commands to impregnate your sister-in-law, they hold fast to anti-gay views and are then forced to see the world around them through this prism.

  30. Timothy Kincaid said:

    Then the question becomes one of politics. Which may be why ex-gay groups insist that “no one is born gay” while more honest people say that the evidence isn’t in for either argument and that it is likely that there are different paths and that both biology and environment may play some part in varying degrees along each of these paths.

    Ding, ding, ding, Jonny, tell him what he has won!

    If you add in the spin from those who insist no one can change or all SSA is inborn then I think you have a pretty complete picture of the situation.

  31. Michael – I disagree that the why question is derived from a view of wrongness. I am intently curious about extraversion and introversion, neither of which I believe to be wrong. I used to be incredibly involved in financing schemes for mental health counseling, nothing religious there. I have had an interest in child development all my career. I have conducted some research into pre-therapy change. My interests organize around my unique perceptions and experiences in life. Furthermore, the biggest names in sexual orientation research do not view same-sex eroticism as wrong so it is hard for me to understand your focus on this point. My intellectual curiosity is hardly detached about most things I pursue, but I do not need to have a moral stake in the outcome to get involved.

  32. I think you are looking too hard for my agenda when I am trying to be as open-ended as possible, Michael.

    There was a narrative about homosexuality prior to psychology which was grossly incomplete, but clearly controlleds one’s view of it, or one’s vew of oneself (if homosexual).

    Aspects of that narrative were so derogatory and demeaning as to justify brutality toward effeminate men.

    I have a Narrative about my Christianity which risks limiting how I can see God. To use Gordo’s words; my faith is a mystery. And to add my own: that inspires awe and wonder.

    So, in all fairness, my “Seducted by the Narrative” is how we all can limit ourselves by too tight and too authoritarian a narrative about our human experience. As this blog is devoted in part to same-sex attraction, it is particularly relevent here.

  33. OF course. We can and do disagree. Thanks for making your position very clear. It is what have really wanted from the ex-gay and “change” camps all along — an admission that their position is based on a religious presupposition about the wrongness of homosexual activity. I have no problem with that. I used to believe that. I think it is a reasonable stance to take and can be argued from a Biblical perspective.

    But the Bible is not science. The “why” question is being asked mainly because a conclusion about the “wrongness” has already been reached based on a particular understanding of Scripture which MAY be wrong — not primarily because one has a detached intellectual curiousity about the matter.

  34. Michael – I think the title is apt given the Satel article is was based on. That is the context within which I understand this post.

    RE: my own view, and I have been pretty clear on this blog about it – I do not see homosexual attractions per se as being pathological. I, like many gays understand that it could be for people who have had abusive or confusing histories. These backgrounds may be accurate for many in the ex-gay camp which is why they generalize this history all gays. RE religion, I cannot find any support for gay sex in my understanding of Christianity (and other religions for that matter) although I am aware and respect that others disagree on religious grounds. I hope we can agree to disagree on that point.

  35. Also, come to think of it, the very title of this thread is troubling: “Seduced By a Narrative”. It implies that gays who believe they were somehow “born that way” or “made that way” have been tricked or fooled.

    It suggests we have been seduced (by what or whom?) into accepting a false self (homosexuality) — rather than “exploring, divcovering and finally embracing” what we CAN (read between the lines, folks, he means SHOULD) become (read between the lines, folks, he means straight.)

    Isn’t it just as possible that those who agree with David Blakeslee have been “seduced by a narrative” that says homosexuality is broken, pathological and/or immoral and can (should) be fixed?

  36. Warren: I was not infering that you believed we were less valuable to our creator. I know in my heart that you think we are just as valuable to Him. But you stated we had less “adaptive” value — unlike heterosexuality whick leads to reproduction. That’s not true. Loving human relationships have tremendous adapative value (gay or straight) and, I submit, that is is attachment, not reproduction, that is the genious behind human success. We were created for relationship, not just heterosexual intercourse.

    Why won’t you and Blakeslee botth just come clean and admit that you are preoccupied by the “why” question primarily because you both believe that unrepentant gays like me will “not inherit that kingdom of God”? There is really not a pressing need to ask the same question about heterosexual orentiation, is there?

  37. Jim – Check out the ACT approach. There is more there that pursues “what now” than “why.”

    Michael – Keep in mind I am speaking of homosexuality-heterosexuality as a trait dimension when I speak of adaptivity not about individuals. I am thinking at the macro level not individual level. Every person has value to the Creator, in my view.

  38. I would like to turn the onus of narritive back to the theapist himself, and take it off the shoulders of the subject.

    I think it would be interesting to ask how the various narratives of the human condition are constructed among:


    Cognitive therapists

    Behavioral therapists

    Humanistic therapists

    (Medical) psychiatrists

    Social theorists

    It seems the more I read, the more these disciplines (and many more, I’ve barely scratched the surface here) are like blind men looking at different parts of the elephant. And each one constructs a different narrative to explain the elephant. And this leads me to ask Dr. Blakeslee’s very essential question, but to a different target. How do these many narratives interfere with the professional community’s conversation about same-sex attraction?

    I think, Dr. Blakeslee, you have already provided something of an answer when you said, “If I “know” why you are homosexual, I already have a barrier between you and me… ” But because these disciplines often fixate their attentions on “why” to begin with, they aren’t terribly effective with the “now what?” that is before them. To me, “Now what?” is the real question, not “why?”

  39. Blakeslee: “…that is precisely my point…that if we prematurely construct a narrative about why we are the way we are, that it limits exploring and embracing and finally discovering who we can become. ”

    David, would you be willing to apply this attitude to your OWN sexuality — or does it apply only to gay people? You apparently view my sexual orientation as somehow LESS or INFERIOR to what I could (should) be exploring, embracing and finally discovering. Isn’t it possible that by accepting whatever narrative you may have devised to explain your heterosexuality that you have prematurely limited the exploration of who YOU can become?

    It seems to me, that you presume that being gay is some sort of self-imposed and artificial LIMIT on who I could (and should) become — namely straight like you. The implication, again, is that you see my orientation as inferior to your own.

    I agree with Gordo’s answer to your question of how these narratives interfere with the conversation about SSA. His reply: “What I see as my humanity you see as pathology.”

    While it is not a conversation stopper (we are still discussing it) it does seem to be the great divide. It seems that you are not at all curious as to what causes sexual orientation in general — but just homosexuality specifically. You already have made up your mind about us. That troubles me. I always thought science began with a question — not a foregone conclusion.

  40. David,

    I appreciate your comments. No, nothing you said is a conversation stopper. I’ve always admired you – mostly from reading your posts on

    I grew up in a fundamentalist parsonage where “authoritative pronouncements of all types were made in the face of significant mysteries,” and at every meal. I never thought of that being narcicissm, but I see your point. (I minored in Psychology, but it was at Bob Jones University, so I don’t trust anything I heard in class.)

    In your profession you must be in constant contact with people for whom homosexuality is a great burden. How often do you meet people like me or others who comment here for whom it is a great blessing? Everyday I am thankful and amazed that I have been graced with the love of a wonderful man. I couldn’t imagine or wish to imagine my life any other way. I’m no more curious about the cause of my homosexuality than I am about the source of my interest in military history, or my love of the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. Its just part of who i am.

    But what to do with those who for whatever reason are not happy with same sex attraction? For some, is the narrative not based on various theories of causality, but rather in a deep preference for being unhappy? If that is true, then the choice is not about actions in the now, but about acceptance. We are who we are and the quicker we accept that and move on to make a life for ourselves the better we’ll be. The problem with narratives is that no explanation of the past can really point the way to the future, they only keep the past with us. I agree with Warren agreeing with Dr. Satel. There is no link between a person developing a convincing and truthful narrative and that person being able to act in a positive way.

    As I approach 50, I find the dullest people in the world are those with a old and well rehearsed narrative to trot out. Why they didn’t finish the PhD, or why they didn’t develop a rewarding career, or why they never had a relationship which lasted more than 3 days. I’m sick to death of people’s narratives. Fortunately I’m an Accountant and not a therapist.

    I love your observation about people finding ways to change their lives before psychology was created. We forget that Freud thought that a cure for neurosis would leave the patient unhappy like normal people were unhappy. I don’t think he suggested the possiblity of, God help us, self actualization. As we mature we either develop emotional intelligence and find fullfilling lives, or we grow bitter and disallusioned. The choice is completely up to us.


  41. Wow! All the comments are great. Such smart people. Let me tell you my simple understanding. I believe God gave me this many years age. When my children were very small I saw some gay folks on TV. I decided to ask God for an answer to this mystery/puzzle so that when my children were old enough and asked me, I could tell them about homosexuality with truth. I prayed for a good while, read a lot, including the Bible and one day I had the answer. With all my heart I believe God gave this to me: “God does not condemn that which He is responsible for making.” So that’s how I taught it to my children. Even a casual reading of scripture reveals there is no doubt that God condemns homosexuality. I don’t know of any religion that approves of it, much less Christianity. For me, therefore, there is no doubt that people are not born homosexuals. I believe it can develop at a very young age and for several reasons just like lots of other human conditions develop physically, emotionally, and mentally. But I will never believe that God causes people to be born homosexuals. It was a mystery/puzzle to me for many years why I should be concerned enough to pray so fervently about this when my children were small. The answer was revealed to me two years ago when our youngest daughter began experienciing same sex attractions. Now I know why God gave me the answer so many years ago. And I am thankful I was able to pass along my motherly wisdom derived from answered prayer to all three of my children. My daughter knows she wasn’t born a homosexual/lesbian. God also gave us a friend who was a homosexual for twenty years but now has been married for meny years. I know this is far too simple for this forum/discussion but it is what happened to me. Never underestimate the power of a praying parent. Linda

  42. Gordo,

    I don’t think it is a conversation stopper, because, so far, we are still talking. :).

    Frankly, I really appreciate your comments about the mystery of being homosexual. I think that word by itself blows up the two limiting theories that I started in conversation using.

    Sometimes mystery encourages curiousity and aggressive exploration; sometimes it encourages profound wonder and respect.

    There is a significant vulnerability to narcicissm in any profession and any religion which authoritatively states origins in the face of significant mystery. Asking “why” seems to be an essentially basic human activity. Whether knowing “why” is helpful, or even truthful seems to be what Dr. Satel’s article is all about.

    If I “know” why you are homosexual, I already have a barrier between you and me, because I am unlikely to be eager to hear that you see homosexuality as a mystery to be accepted, rather than questioned. My “knowing” restricts my capacity to meet you.

  43. Interested to know your thoughts on the ‘gay’ sheep who were turned ‘straight’ by hormone injections.


    The article is all over the place and not always convincing but worth reading.

    David – I didn’t make my point very well. Let me try again.

    I am a borderline diabetic. Its no mystery why – its not even a puzzle. My father, grandmother and great grand father are/were diabetics. The nature of diabetes is a puzzle which scientists are slowly but surely solving.

    I am homosexual and for me this goes to the very center of who I am – it goes to my humanity. Why I am me and not anything like my syblings is a mystery. It is not a puzzle which you are going to solve by scientific research. It is not a narrative that I’ve constructed. It is no more explainable than why I’m good with numbers but my sister – who is a surgeon – cannot balance her check book. We are who we are.

    Your question; how do these narratives interfere with the conversation about SSA? What I see as my humanity you see as pathology. That’s pretty much a conversation stopper, isn’t it?

  45. Gordo:

    Thanks for the referral to the Enron article if you have the link, please post it as I would like to refer to it.

    I think you make a great point about mystery and puzzle. And I think that is precisely my point…that if we prematurely construct a narrative about why we are the way we are, that it limits exploring and embracing and finally discovering who we can become.

  46. There is a long article in this week’s New Yorker ( about the Enron case. The author explains the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. A puzzle is a puzzle because we haven’t got enough data to figure out the answer, or maybe we have enough data but we haven’t put the pieces together correctly. A mystery will not be solved by more data. We can complile more and more data and the answer will remain ellusive. A mystery requires judgement and has a high level of uncertainty. The writer points out that sometimes a mystery is compounded by too much data instead of too little.

    SSA is a mystery. A blessed one to some and a curse to others. People use those narratives and others as Michael pointed out to help themsleves and other people accept the mystery.

    Your two questions seem to assume that SSA is a puzzle to be solved, which makes me think that you’ve never had a SSA. You’d know it was a mystery if you had.

  47. Thanks for everyone’s participation.

    I would like to add a psychological model to this question which I think will further the discussion:

    Are these two narratives examples of “external locus of control” models for human behavior?

    Said another way:

    Are these two narratives examples of determinism?

    One of the things I have long been concerned about in the field of psychology (From Freud to Skinner) is the elevation of deterministic explanations for human behavior and the loss of free will.

    This demotion I think has led to much compassion for troubled people in dire circumstances but not energetic faith that they can escape these circumstances.

  48. First, outstanding couple of posts, David.

    Second, I think both narratives can be limiting even though either one could be objectively true. As I read the Satel article (which I really like by the way), she does not say some historical accounts are not true. I think the point is that knowing why does not always or maybe ever often lead to change. In this case, the research does not allow us certainty but people can’t wait around in order to live valued lives.

    I much prefer idiographic assessment and interventions. In this way, the narrative is the person’s and not the therapists. People can understand their options and potentials based on their experiences and beliefs.

    How can this impact persons? Here is just one way that I was sent in an email yesterday. A mom writing about her son said:

    He saw a christian counselor for 2 months in the summer after his Freshman year in college, where they explored the reasons why he felt he was gay, he (my son) came to the conclusion that “I have a great relationship with my Dad, and I don’t fit into any other the other categories of being gay, so God must have made me this way.”

    In the social conservative world, the only acceptable narrative to describe homosexual experience is often based in or implies parental wounding. When this history is not accurate, the client is often left with the only competing one: I must be born that way. One unfortunate consequence of the polarization of views fostered by those on both sides is a social and professional context that does not foster nuanced self-understanding.

    People on the social conservative side of things ask me often why I am public with my disagreements with the prevailing parent-deficit based theories. This mother’s email provides one answer – as well as numerous clients and others I have encountered who see few options in their quest to constuct a valued sexual identity.

    However I acquire my internal world, I still have to live with it and choose what I value. My choices will sometimes feel congruent with my desires and at other times not. But I still must, as Stephen Hayes says, get out of my head and into my life.

  49. It appears to me that the search for etiology is external to the question about actions and behaviors. It is attractions that are relevant to the issue of “cause”.

    We all know that gay people have the ability to not have same-sex activity. Place someone on a desert island (of any orientation) and no sex will occur (unless you count sex with coconuts). But the cessation of a particular sex act or with a particular class of people (those of the same sex) is not the same as a cessation of attractions.

    If one’s sexual attractions are very very difficult to change (supposing that this is even possible), then surely the question as to how they came to be so oriented is relevant.

    If they are the result of some childhood relationship wound, then it may be that some healing of such wounds could be a part of therapy. If, however, they are biological, then such efforts could be pointless.

    Personally, I’m not convinced that attractions do change to any significant measure with any methodology (a careful look at the claims of ex-gays shows very very few who make a claim of a change in orientation – and those who do seem to caveat that they are attracted to one single woman, not to women in general – which I think is surely not the same as a change in orientation). And if, as I suspect, orientation does not significantly change, then etiology is irrelevant (other than to the extent that it may play a factor in those who have some shifting along the attraction axis).

    Then the question becomes one of politics. Which may be why ex-gay groups insist that “no one is born gay” while more honest people say that the evidence isn’t in for either argument and that it is likely that there are different paths and that both biology and environment may play some part in varying degrees along each of these paths.

  50. The second narrative interferes by bringing much more potential for overcoming SSA. The person is far less limited. When you are talking about any kind of wound, the thought of healing comes. It doesn’t matter if the wound is physical, emotional, or spiritual, a wound needs healing.

    A thinking, reasonable person understands this need to heal and unless he is very depressed or suicidal, wants to seek help with the wound. This understanding holds the potential for wellness and progress and complete healing in many cases

  51. The first narrative interferes by removing even any motivation for conversation much less motivatioin for change. Whats’s to talk about if I can’t help the way I am. This mindset says God made me this way so he must want me this way. This is a very negative attitude and in reality makes no sense . It doesn’t really matter WHAT we are born with or without, we still do all we can to make our life the best it can be. Gay and straight people claim they would never choose to be gay so it must be something noone wants. If that be the case then why not strive to be and do and have something different in your life that would be something any of us WOUILD want.

  52. The two “narratives” presented were: a) that SSA is biologically determined and b) that it is caused by a wound in the child’s relationship with their same sex parent.

    May I suggest a third narrative? One that does not PRESUME that there is something wrong with being gay and that it is a disorder of some sort that must be “caused” by something?

    I think the presumption that homosexuality is somehow morally, socially, and/or psychologically inferior to heterosexuality is the biggest barrier to dialogue about SSA. Your “side” insists that it IS. Our “side” does not.

    I believe, though I cannot prove, that homosexuality is a a natural vaiation of sexual orientation and that it is some how intrinsic — “belonging to the real nature of a person or thing; not dependent on external circumstances, essential…” –Websters Dictionary–

    I was attracted to boys (not girls) from the age of five to the current day. I did not “choose” this. It is an essential part of who I am. I believe it is part of my SOUL. Of course, as you have pointed out, we are all still responsible for the choices we make regarding our actions in the now. We do not choose our sexual orientation. But, we can choose to use our sexuality in a manner that is loving, responsible and life-affirming. This is true for gays and straights alike.

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