Sunday, June 29, 2008

Psychological Suffering:

Most folks understand that homosexually oriented people are more likely to be depressed at some point in their lives. Different sides in the culture war interpret the phenomenon differently (obviously). Gays and their allies say it's because of societal mistreatment. The religious right and their anti-gay allies try to blame gays themselves, citing social science that shows the same higher rates of depression in modern gay friendly Scandinavian countries, places that longer than most have had gay friendly cultural environments. Hence chosen homosexual practices must cause the psychological trauma, not hostile antigay environments.

Mistreatment is relevant to "sexual orientation as a legitimate civil rights category." Such is a traditional criteria for enhanced "civil rights" protection; we protect things like race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, etc. in large part because of a history of mistreating these various social groups. No one doubts why "race" should have such protection. But there is controversy regarding "sexual orientation." And social conservatives often play "race" against "sexual orientation," trying to rile up blacks to indignation about gays having the "gall" to make civil rights arguments.

While I caution the pro-gay side against trying to make too close an analogy to race, I also remind folks that we do not live in a world where race is the only recognized "civil rights" category. If it were, then perhaps gays would have no business trying to make civil rights arguments. Rather we live in a world where it's race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, age, disability and many other categories that receive "civil rights" protection.

Yes, gays, like every other social group, haven't suffered slavery or Jim Crow as blacks have. But, that doesn't mean gays haven't suffered. In one of my most widely read posts I noted:

Homosexuals historically have been subject to sodomy laws which led to imprisonment or worse, being banned from government jobs, institutionalization with a whole slew of sadistic treatments like electroshock therapy, reputation ruining, all which have led to at worst suicides like that of World War II hero Alan Turing. In short, if mistreatment is a criterion for being a civil rights victim, homosexuals easily pass that test.

I write all this as a preface to what I see as a profound example of what's probably a typical example of human suffering related to homosexuality. It comes from an unlikely source. Ryan T. Anderson of First Things writes about a friend struggling with his homosexual orientation, yet at the same time who wants to remain "chaste," true to the Roman Catholic Church's teachings, perhaps one day live a normal functional heterosexual life. Anderson writes this with the opposite worldview that I argue for here and tries to score the opposite "political points" that I would. I want to ignore all that and instead focus on the human suffering, the real psychological trauma about which his friend testifies:

He came out to me in an email. I've known him for years, long enough that I can't remember when we first met....Over the past three years, "Chris" (let's call him) has experienced a pronounced attraction to other males-for one old friend from high school in particular....

Chris' situation is sad, but it seems to be moving somewhere. He told me how he had cried daily for the first two years of his same-sex attractions, knowing that he was becoming someone he didn't want to be.

Mind you, this isn't, from the information we've received a person who has chosen to act on his homosexual orientation (also keep in mind that both Anderson and his friend are relatively young, in their early 20s). But someone who is merely struggling with an unchosen sexual orientation. Indeed, someone who is attempting to "do the right thing" according to his own religiously conservative conscience:

A crush, maybe, or an infatuation. Whatever it was, he knew it wasn't healthy. And though he had never acted on the attraction, he explained, it led to fantasies and lusts he didn't want. So he made a resolution never to embrace them as essential to his identity or accept them as permanent or untreatable-a resolution he has kept practically alone, without the support of community, family, or friends. Over the course of many phone calls and emails, he shared with me his reflections on what he thought had created his problem of same-sex attractions.

I don't want to politicize this moving article too much. I just want readers to appreciate the following facts: 1) This is someone who presumably never chose to do what religious conservatives consider "immoral," that is engage in homosexual behavior (indeed, he appears to be one such conservative); but also 2) someone whose suffering over his blameless, unchosen sexual orientation led him to CRY daily for over two years.

I think we all know what it's like to be sad; but crying daily for two years...just stop and reflect on that. That illustrates the psychological trauma from which homosexually oriented people suffer simply because of their blameless, unchosen orientation.

Hopefully this sheds light on why younger homosexually oriented folks more likely attempt suicide. And also consider the many who may take their lives without revealing why they suffer. Indeed Anderson notes

[o]ther than his confessor and therapist, I'm the only person who knows. His parents would be devastated-his mother wondering whether she had caused it, his father fearing he had failed his son. His roommates and friends wouldn't know how to take it.

How many young people actually do take their lives because of their unwanted, unchosen, sexual orientation? We may never know.

However we properly resolve this divisive culture war issue, just stop and realize that many people really do suffer profoundly for their unchosen, blameless sexual orientation.