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Straights Can Change, Too | The Nation

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Straights Can Change, Too

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The recent New York Times front-page headline "Scientists Say Gay Change Is Possible" left me somewhat bemused. The article reported on Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer's presentation to the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting, where he argued that "highly motivated" gays can, through therapy, prayer and counseling, change their sexual orientation. I could have taken it as yet another battle cry in the War Against Queers, akin to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's rallying New York City police troops around the Quality of Life Campaign. But whereas Rudy's assault involves blue-shirted thugs invading gay bars in the middle of the night, Spitzer's salvo comes wrapped in the warm, benevolent guise of therapy. Spitzer, who lobbied in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders, seems genuinely to want to help "unusually religious" homosexuals who are "unhappy with the gay lifestyle" achieve "good heterosexual functioning."

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Richard Kim
Richard Kim
Richard Kim is the executive editor of TheNation.com. He is co-editor, with Betsy Reed, of the New York Times...

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The whole thing would have been out and out comical if it weren't also so invasive and insidious-part of what queer theorist Eve Sedgwick calls an "overarching, hygienic Western fantasy of a world without any more homosexuals in it." Would contemporary psychiatry ever underwrite a study confirming that highly motivated Jews Can Change? Such a finding, although it might be true, would certainly be read as insulting, and if History is any judge (for both Jews and gays), would be one step toward fascism.

But if history repeats itself, then this time around it's as farce. And here the army of queers who recruit can take heart, for if gays can change, then so can straights. According to Spitzer, in order to achieve "good heterosexual functioning" one needs to: (a) be in "a loving and emotionally satisfying heterosexual relationship" for at least the entire past year; (b) engage in satisfying heterosexual sex at least monthly; and (c) never or rarely think of same-sex partners during heterosexual sex. Out of Spitzer's total sample of 200 gay men and women seeking to change their sexuality, eighty-six were referred to him by ex-gay ministries and another forty-six by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a right-wing group that unwittingly demonstrates just how seamless the connections between religious zealotry and clinical medicine can be. Not so surprisingly, then, he found that a full 66 percent of men and 44 percent of women in his pool qualified as newly anointed good heterosexuals. I hazard to guess, however, that had he followed the scientific protocol of using a control population of self-confirmed lifetime heterosexuals who reported on their adherence to the same criteria, he would have fallen far short of duplicating these results.

The evidence is clear. Everywhere the heterosexual lifestyle has failed heterosexuals. Heterosexuals are so unhappy with it that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Millions of failed heterosexuals spend thousands of dollars a year on couples therapy and Viagra in a desperate attempt to make dysfunctional heterosexuality work. Popular culture abounds with examples of the heterosexual lifestyle's failure, from the barely fictionalized pathologies of Ally McBeal, Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones to the all-too-real recent breakups of Tom and Nicole, Dennis and Meg, Alec and Kim, Rudy and Donna. All of these people failed to achieve good heterosexual functioning by at least Spitzer's first standard. According to Rudy's own lawyers, he even fails on the second count with his mistress Judy Nathan, as prostate cancer has rendered him, in at least one regard, impotent. What Tom and Nicole thought about during sex, if they had it at all, I leave to the speculation of my more informed colleagues at the National Enquirer. The simple point is that all these patients suffer unnecessarily from "bad heterosexual functioning," or what I diagnose as "problem heterosexuality."

And so I humbly offer my services as a queer therapist, as High Priestess of Homosexuality, to all problem heterosexuals who, through hard work, poppers, porn and sodomy, want to change their sexuality. Nicole, Alec, Kim, Meg, Dennis: Don't despair. Don't let failed marriages, high divorce rates and unsatisfying sex keep you from being happy. Straight Change Is Possible! Yes, you can do it. I'm here for you. I'm especially here for you, Tom, and I guess, grudgingly, I'm available to you as well, Rudy. I also offer my services to nonfamous failed heterosexuals, but quite frankly, I doubt many of you can afford me. Unlike problem homosexuality, though, problem heterosexuality can be cured through a variety of over-the-counter remedies. Expensive therapies, clinical studies and Christianity are entirely unnecessary (although if you have a taste for young boys or girls a vocation in the latter may help). A drink at a neighborhood gay bar, participation in a local S&M club, a visit to one of the few gay bathhouses left--these are the first steps to achieving good homosexual functioning. Psychiatry has failed to offer successful treatments for bad heterosexual functioning, so if you are unhappy with the heterosexual lifestyle, don't consult a doctor. Don't wait. Start on the road to recovery today.

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