Homosexuality 101 has some space

My Space, that is. Dr. Julie Harren, NARTH president-elect has launched a MySpace page extolling her Homosexuality 101 video. The description reads:

Committed to educating the church and the world on the origins of homosexuality, we believe that freedom is possible! Although the two largest schools of thought on the issue today are that individuals are either (1)born gay or (2)choose to be so, we advocate that both views are incorrect. Based on scientific and psychological research along with hundreds of testimonies from ex-gays and supporting therapists, we support a developmental origin. Please see below for further information, including a video presentation on our perspective and other available research and resources from the following sites:

NARTH, her Homosexuality 101 site and Exodus are then listed. I take issue with the assertion that “the two largest schools of thought on the issue today are that individuals are either (1)born gay or (2)choose to be so…” There are many researchers who believe prenatal forces are at work to a greater or lesser degree in sexual orientation, but I cannot think of one researcher of any stripe who believes people choose to be same-sex attracted.  Instead, Harren offers reparative drive theory as a developmental alternative; one which is based “on scientific and psychological research.”

Regular readers will not be surprised to read that I do not think research provides basis for confidence in any theory as settled truth about the causes of same-sex attraction. Simply asserting that the theory makes sense to some is not new and, by itself, might not prompt a post. What is troubling to me about this site is the use of John 8:32 (“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…”) underneath the video clip of Dr. Harren’s Homosexuality 101. Using (misusing) this Scripture sets just the kind of tone I believe continues to be a problem in the Evangelical world regarding homosexuality – unsupported theory set forth as fact.  The presentation of the video and the Scripture, not so subtly, suggest that since the teacher is Christian, then the teaching about homosexuality on this video is “truth” which will, when heard or believed, set one free. I am persuaded via my conversations with ex-gays and ex-ex-gays that the promise of freedom from homosexual attraction figures prominently in the frustration many same-sex attracted Christians experience in current sexual identity ministry.

UPDATE: A reader alerted me that Dr. Harren has removed the reference to John 8:32 as a caption to her video on the MySpace page.

19 thoughts on “Homosexuality 101 has some space”

  1. The “bad dad” theory is often touted by conversion therapists as fact. This is a common fallacy of logic known as the “reification fallacy”: when “people treat an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it represented a concrete event or physical entity.”

    We need to keep in mind that theories are maps, not the territory. Theories are ideas, not facts.

  2. Dr. Throckmorton;

    Thank you, Sir, for being a rational, gentlemanly and academically honest voice in the midst ot the tawdry verbal and written brawl that is so often the nature of any discussion concerning the nature of sexual orientation.

  3. Evan – You ask many of the questions and advance counter arguments that I have advanced for the last 4+ years with no sustained response from reparative drive therapists.

  4. Failure to become integrated in one’s gender circle can lead to some feelings of estrangement, resentment or even attraction, even if we follow a moderate theoretical approach such as Bem’s. But singling this out as a cause goes against much of the empirical research that did not find this to be a predictor. You can find many cases of people who did not connect much with dad and did not end up being gay. I lived in a Communist country when I was a child and I remember most of the parents in my neighbourhood were not so involved in their children’s upbringing or pastime. In fact, the typical day for a child was going to kindergarten or school, coming home and going outside to play with the other children until parents returned from their jobs. Most typically, moms returned first, whereas dads always came later. There was not so much attention and care for children’s feelings or needs that you probably are familiar with from your developed country childhood experience. Of course, parents loved their children too, but in a morally and materially squalid society, attention to child development was precarious. So it was very often that you could see mothers to be most involved in domestic chores and child rearing. Which of course did not turn out more gays; in fact, I don’t even know one from that neighbourhood to be gay today. But I do know a couple of “mummy’s boys” who are relaxedly straight today.

    I think there is some relevance to how a boy manages to build some bridges to his gender peers via his relationship with his father, but this is just a step in a larger picture, and it is not self-evident that it is absolutely necessary at that. One may not have a good father-son relationship, but have a great connection with one’s gender peers. I know people who were very rebellious towards both parents and were mostly influenced by their peers. Today they are husbands, have children and are your regular blokes you can see in a pub. So this may have some relevance, but it doesn’t amount to much evidence that it has sufficient generality to be a predictor of later sexual feelings. Maybe the picture is more complicated than that and it should be judged in conjunction with other factors, like power relations between parents, but even this track has been investigated and failed to find some evidence. I remember Virginia Abernethy’s research in the 80s about gender dominance and reproduction in higher primates, and its role in the development of sexual orientation, did not eventually garner support in the scientific community. It’s a thesis that still holds some appeal to me, but no one made a credible case for that until now.

    What all theoretical accounts must explain and still fail to do so is how necessary every stage of development is in the formation of sexual feelings. Why is childhood a critical age for establishing the right connections for future gender identification and sexual feelings? Is it empirically proved that it must necessarily be so and to what degree? Could someone reverse the socialising patterns and get an opposite effect in attractions even to a certain significant degree? Does it have to have some specific genetic components to be able to develop a type of attractions or it can work only by socialising patterns in some people? Are homosexual men unable to be attracted and aroused by any woman and if they are able, what does that say about exotic becoming erotic if their childhood was gender nonconforming and mostly spent around girls? All these questions and a host of others I have in mind are very interesting theoretically and very relevant to many people’s lives, but they are not addressed by research as yet. Going on with the same story of father and son doesn’t bring much light into this field and in some people’s lives.

  5. As my attitude towards my father and masculinity in general becomes healthier my feelings about my attractions has changed.


    This makes perfect sense to me and I am glad you shared it.

  6. Warren,

    This may be the case that something went wrong with the relationship with Dad, but in fact what this does is causes a difficulty in our feeling comfortable with our own masculinity and therefore finding it difficult to bond with other men as a man. I know this way of thinking is going to come up against much disagreement from some on this site, but my personal experience has confirmed this over and over again. As my attitude towards my father and masculinity in general becomes healthier my feelings about my attractions has changed. I am thankful for that.

  7. The truth of the gospel relates to the redemption of Christ (truth about God) and the freedom is freedom from the penalty from sin.

    Dave – You have picked out the most general aspects of her talk. The real meat of it for her is the theory of the defensive detachment with father. If a man is gay it is because something went wrong with dad.

  8. Warren–

    Can you give an example of “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” properly used?

  9. Personally I think Dr. Julie is on to something important. She does mention in-born temperament, and one’s need to relate to others (Cf. Dartmouth study: “Hardwired to Connect”). She also hints at successive, often implicitly unconscious, choices during one’s development in the process of establishing a self-identity.

    From a Christian perspective, we are born to “sin”, but we have the God-given free will to choose not to. The Bible identifies “sinful” behavior because millennia of human experience has shown that the ultimate consequences, even or especially through successive generations, is destructive for society and ultimately humanity, and this is contrary to Gods Will.

  10. Timothy wrote, ”Yeah, Marty, we know about that tiny handful of leftists who argue out of some misguided ideology that they chose their orientation. ”

    What ideology would that be? Existentialism? It was one of the major schools of twentieth century thought.

  11. Yeah, Marty, we know about that tiny handful of leftists who argue out of some misguided ideology that they chose their orientation.

    The next time you want to bring up people that “do exist”, you may want to find a group AT LEAST as large as the number of people who have seen Elvis live and well since he died in 1977

  12. Yeah, Marty, we know about that tiny handful of leftists who argue out of some misguided ideology that they chose their orientation.

    The next time you want to bring up people that “do exist”, you may want to find a group AT LEAST as large as the number of people <a href=”http://www.mtv.com/movies/movie/135036/moviemain.jhtml”who have seen Elvis live and well since he died in 1977

  13. Whether or not researchers of “any stripe” believe that anyone chooses to be gay, there is no denying the fact that these people do exist.

    As for myself, I did not choose to be gay OR straight. But I DID choose to NOT be gay. Or to be bi-sexual, if you’re asking.

    I could choose otherwise, if I were inclined to do so. I am not.

  14. Dr. T, You were pretty tame in your post. Harren should not use the Scripture to baptize her views of homosexuality as being the truth. This is more serious than just a difference of opinion. She goes too far and should be called on it.

  15. My question to Dr. Julie Harren would be simple.

    Did Freud ever prove anything? He didn’t have to be right about everything, but was he right about anything?

    Don’t get me wrong, socialization plays a part in SSA/OSA. In a few it might be decisive but for most men it’s effect is probably small or inconsequential.

    The reality is that the world is straight. Gays are pushed in that direction all through childhood. And yet 2% to 4% of men appear to be exclusively gay in every generation.

  16. Warren,

    I think the fact that Freudianism — probably the only one that could fit in the category of schools of thought in this area — can still thrive today shows how well empirical research is doing.

    Scientists work with a concept of sexual orientation, but they have approximate ways of measuring it. The existing body of empirical research has been built around the concept of sexual orientation, but there is not much predictability obtained so far. The only predictor taken to have some strength is sex atypicality, but that still leaves many cases trickle through the filter.

    It looks like the problem, in its essentials, is still a black box to empirical research, which is why unsubstantiated claims, like the ones we can see in this video, can still pass for valid in some circles.

    If we look at the picture, fruit fly scientists can really have some claim to the cake of predictability…

  17. Evan – People who hold this theory are undaunted by requests for empirical support. In Harren’s talk she says about the theorized gender identification drama – “this is all going on at the unconscious level” between 2-4 years old. It is like the Oedipal complex – Freudians assume it, even though most boys do not remember wanting to kill dad and secure mom in a sexual way. If you don’t remember it, it is because you have repressed it. No muss, no fuss – just believe it because it makes sense to me.

  18. I was not aware that on the subject of homosexuality there are any clear-cut schools of thought at all, or just a few dominant hypotheses that are still “in the air”, lying in wait for conclusive proofs. What I have seen, though, are certain cultural camps that use whatever research is being put forward for their own pre-fabricated spin. It may be seen as legitimate in any cultural clash of ideas, though it is not legitimate to be presented under the guise of empirical review.

    What Julie Harren-Hamilton does here is confusing, probably for the sake of simplification, cultural debate with empirical research. It’s easier to have people listening to a controversial issue that affects many lives by poising the conflicting views between two poles. It’s not accurate, but it’s expedient in getting the message through. It also serves her argument to be presented as a middle ground alternative to an inborn vs. choice debate. I don’t think she would write that down in a scientific paper…

    As for the scriptural passage, maybe it was intended to say that wholeness works together with truthiness. Obviously, no one knows the truth on this matter or on others. What is more, it’s a misuse of tense. As the words say, “Then you will know”.

    She does not talk about people who never had any same-sex attractions during puberty or who were not rejected by their peers, played football etc. Even research documents that not all sex-atypical boys become gays and not all gays were sex-atypical during childhood. It would have been more honest to be modest in assertions.

    She does mention that she delivers a “basic outline” of the issue, though.

Comments are closed.