15 February 2009

Danger, Jeff Robinson

Dear Dr. Jeffrey Robinson:

Wow! Where have you been all my life?

I just read your 2002 presentation on homosexuality, your theories about its causes, and "what works and what doesn't work" to "cure" it. I checked your Web site advertising "context specific" psychotherapy services which promise to change sexual orientation if a person has "resolved to do whatever it takes" to "be free from homosexuality." I thought Hooray, this is what I've been looking for! For years I have been resolved to do whatever it takes to be free from homosexuality. For a long time I did "confront" and challenge my own "longstanding and comfortable patterns of behavior, thoughts and beliefs" in order to get there, just as your Web site says is required. I committed time, effort and resources for years and years. Wow, I am the perfect candidate.

I read your presentation and found that I even fit many of your posited background characteristics for what tends to make a gay Mormon boy: more emotionally sensitive and introspective than some others, a strong sense of right & wrong, a stellar "Church resume". Puberty kick-started the attractions to guys, I still remember the day it hit me quite forcefully. And I loved it and hated it at the same time. Yes there was some isolation and secrecy. I too made up my mind early on that I would never violate the law of chastity with a woman, and thoughts about men did seem less "dangerous" because, you're right, nobody at church ever talked about that. Respiratory problems prevented me doing team sports as a kid but not individual sports, and I had more musical ability than most of my friends. Yes, I did some comparisons to other guys, sometimes wished I could be more like the jocks (what non-jock kid doesn't). But I didn't obsess about it. I generally fit your pattern, to this point. All of this told me that yes, absolutely, I should be a prime candidate for your therapy and should be able to completely change my sexual orientation and "be free from homosexuality." What a miracle!

Your treatment is so simple: basic behavioral therapy. If I act straight for long enough, with enough reinforcement of my masculinity, I will "learn" how to actually be straight, and that's what I'll become. You tell me that part of that is to seek and build strong non-sexual male friendships, participate in things like Journey Into Manhood, that sort of thing, to boost a sense of masculinity and the fitting in that you believe I was denied in my formative years. Premise: sexual orientation is 100% malleable and being gay results from not feeling sufficiently "manly." So if I do all this for long enough, then I should become straight! Hooray! The whole world should know about this! The cure has finally been discovered!

Oh. Wait a minute. I've been doing all of that for a couple of decades now. How do I measure up against all the things you say I should do in order to turn straight?

I've been out of college long enough to marry and have a couple of kids who are now in Primary. Pretty straight-acting. I was made a high priest at a pretty young age and I remain active in the church. Check, pretty straight there. I was married for a number of years because that's what the Church told me I should do and the marriage was reasonably happy for a while until it broke apart because of problems my wife had that were unrelated to homosexuality. I acted pretty straight when I was married. Yes, even in the bedroom. She actually complained about how straight I acted, if you get my drift.

Ever since high school I have been blessed with numerous strong and completely non-sexual male friendships. Just like you said I should do. I've even had remarks from other guys about how unusual this is and how they envy these relationships I've built and still maintain to this day. In high school, college, and afterward, I played and continue to play sports in addition to my musical pursuits; I work out regularly and even play rugby. Check that one off, pretty straight and masculinity-affirming. I have a successful and rewarding career in a profession that is not for the faint-hearted. Check that one off. I've served in Church leadership at ward & stake levels and in the temple and derived great satisfaction from doing so. Check that one off.

I have had plenty of healthy, non-sexual relationships with other men and women and have been, in your words, "socially comfortable, open and honest, direct, caring" in those friendships. Just like you said I should. I have learned on my own not to unduly focus on or obsess about attractions to men. Check that one off. I have "left it alone" for years as much as humanly possible, just as you recommend.

I've been blessed with a number of remarkable spiritual experiences. I have always had the desire for evil to be removed, and I embrace the Atonement as applying directly to me--something you say that perfectionist gay LDS boys usually don't fully accept. That faith in the Savior and the Atonement is the absolute core of everything else I believe and rely on.

It all falls right into line with a successful course of your therapy, doesn't it. I've done everything that you say "works" to eliminate attractions to men and make a gay Mormon boy straight. The envelope please! And the winner is . . .

Well, sorry Dr. Robinson, it ain't you.

All that effort has changed nothing. In every way, I am still attracted to men, not women.

This attraction transcends sex, which becomes almost an afterthought. It is an attraction of the soul and spirit, not just the body. I have spent over two decades behaving as a grown-up heterosexual and actually doing everything your presentation promises will eliminate homosexuality. I was resolved to do "whatever it takes" to "be free" of it. I did that for many many more years than it took to go through puberty and "learn" to be attracted to other men as your theory assumes. Because I was so absolutely determined to eradicate this "affliction," I have never had the slightest bit of actual homosexual experience. If your theories were correct, the learning would have sunk in by now and I would be a happily hetero guy.

Sorry, didn't happen.

I'm mature enough now to look back with some objective self-assessment on how I grew up, developed, thought, reasoned, reacted, and rationalized. And I see that even though I did enjoy socializing with girls and managed to make a marriage that was outwardly successful for a while, my heart was never really there. On every level, in every way, I feel and have always felt more at home, more of a "fit" with a man than a woman. It was not a learned behavior as you seem to believe. It was this way when I was a young boy. Puberty kicked it into overdrive. And all the years since then of desperately trying to do every single thing you advocate as successful therapy for changing that orientation have only confirmed to me that at the very bottom of my soul and heart, I'm attracted to men more than women.

So the most charitable thing I can say about your theories and recommendations is that they're not 100% reliable or universally applicable. And I can't be the only one for whom this is true.

I think your theories fall short in a number of ways, actually.

One, the premises of your presentation are by definition applicable only to active Mormon boys. The vast majority of gay guys grow up outside the Church and your theories for the origin and treatment of their orientation can't possibly apply to them. Almost all of them don't have the law of chastity drummed into their heads such that they resolve never to touch a woman inappropriately so they go for the loophole of fantasizing about guys instead. Almost all of them don't serve in Aaronic Priesthood leadership, or as a result of immersion in the Mormon faith develop a particularly strong sense of right & wrong.

Two, I have gay friends who are much like me, similar backgrounds in the Church, who are still married, and agonizing because their orientation has never changed either despite in some cases decades of effort and never a single breach of their marital vows. They are angst-ridden precisely because they've tried much of what you advocate and it hasn't worked. I think they're starting to realize that this part of who they are really never will change and they are wondering if they're going to end up wasting their lives in a miserable and futile effort to try.

Three, a generation ago the Church and your Ph.D granting institution, BYU, were using electroshock aversion therapy to eliminate homosexuality. This caused incredible damage and suffering. No doubt you know of Spencer Kimball and Mark Peterson's descriptions of and attacks on homosexuality. The atmosphere they created in the Church has led to incalculable despair and to multiple suicides. Now it's becoming clear that their ideas and opinions--which many people took as "the mind and the will of the Lord" just because of who said them--were off the mark, and that's putting it kindly. People took their own lives as a result of what those two men said and did. And now, years later, every reputable professional organization I know of that can give a credible opinion says homosexuality is not a disorder or a mental illness and that reparative therapy is ineffective and can in some cases do harm. Even the Church now officially concedes that sexual orientation is a "core characteristic" that may never change during this life, and it can only speculate about the next. Yet you line up on the other side of all of that. The evidence is against you for now, so I can't trust your theories or claims that sexual orientation can be successfully changed.

Four, my own experience contradicts you. I have been married and acted straight in every way for years and years. I knew my duty as the Church told me, and I tried hard to make a success of it. If she hadn't had the problems she did and left the marriage I would still be with her. I am not even remotely effeminate. When I recently came out to a friend, he was floored, absolutely astonished because I seemed so straight in every way to him. I have plenty of self-confidence in my abilities as a man, a father, an athlete, a professional, a friend. I have done everything you advocate as necessary for a successful change of sexual orientation. And it has changed nothing. In fact, it has confirmed to me that my orientation is ineradicable.

When I see or imagine an expression of love within a committed same-sex relationship, it's like taking a drink of cold water in a desert after thirsting for hours. You know that feeling of absolute, complete, fulfillment and satisfaction as the cold water quenches your thirst? You feel it in every cell of your body and you say "Ahhh." You know what I'm talking about. That's what it's like with a guy for me and all of my gay brethren. It was never that way with any girl I dated or the woman I married, despite years of doing everything you recommend.

I don't feel this affinity for my own gender because I feel deficient as a man or because "they" didn't accept me earlier in life. I am attracted to men simply because I like them better than women, always have. I am a guy, proud to be so, I like everything about guys, and I feel emotional and spiritual and even romantic connections with them that I never felt with a woman, even when I was married. Years of trying to act otherwise made no difference.

I resent any suggestion that this is a "terrible problem" or a "burden" or something to "struggle" with, or is pathological and needs treatment. I do not believe any of that because my own life shows to the contrary. I know how I feel when I imagine myself with a partner that I love completely, and it is none of what you claim. It's the opposite. It is joyful and fulfilling and exultant and complete. Clearly you believe that context is important, so I will respond that I think the context the Church creates for gay men is what makes it a "terrible problem", not because the characteristic itself is inherently so.

My testimony of the Atonement and the Savior has always been strong and is stronger now than ever. When I finally started coming out, I did so because I could no longer live with the guilt and the opprobrium that the Church and Mormon culture had heaped on me for most of my life over something I never chose. I am not gay because of my own fear that I could never measure up, or that the Atonement didn't really apply to me, or that I could never be perfect (as your theory suggests). It was the Church that told me that because of this feature of who I was, I could never measure up. That wasn't my idea. It was the Church that persuaded me that in order to be "good enough" I would have to get rid of this part of who I am. And with all due respect, I see theories like yours as perpetuating that idea, and you are building a business on spreading it, making money off the fear and confusion of my brothers. Only after I rejected that whole approach did I finally start to find some real peace. I do not want to be married to a woman again, now or ever. I want to be with another son of God. That is the most honest and deepest and truest desire of my heart. It always has been, and a lifetime of trying to change it, using the methods you prescribe, has had no effect whatsoever.

Every aspect of my life is better, calmer, more peaceful, and happier since I stopped trying to do what you claim is an effective strategy for eliminating same sex attraction. My testimony of the gospel and the Savior is stronger. I am kinder, more tolerant, more patient, loving and charitable. I am more of a peacemaker in my own family and among my friends. Prayer is more meaningful, and the voice of the Spirit is as strong as ever when I truly seek it. I have seen the fruits of that inspiration and they have been nothing but positive. Everything about what I imagine a partner to be makes me feel uplifted, ennobled, makes me want to be a better person, a better Christian, because of and for him. And I want to help him to be the same. If we are to judge all things by their fruits as the Savior said, then I see nothing but good fruit coming from this desire.

You may say that this fits your model of the results of finally coming to terms with this part of my life. While it may seem that way, there is a crucial difference. Yes I am at peace, BUT I still am not and do not want to be straight. Ever. I have no intention of wanting or trying to change or to be heterosexual. I like me just the way I am. If this part of me changed, I would no longer be me. What use is exaltation if it's given to some stranger that I'm suddenly transformed into and who my earthly self wouldn't recognize? That wouldn't be me. So I don't believe the latest theorizing about how sexual orientation is confined to this life only. I see no scriptural basis for that, in fact, I think the scriptures point the other way. That's a pretty thin thread on which to hang one's eternal hopes and the conduct of one's whole life. Entirely insufficient, in my view.

No doubt you will tell me that this attitude alone dooms any hope I might have of successfully changing through your therapy because I don't seem "committed to doing whatever it takes to change." And that would be a neat bit of circular reasoning, and it would ignore one basic fact. Dr. Robinson, I've already been there, done that. For twenty-plus years, I was just that committed. And it didn't work. Didn't make a dent.

So, Dr. Robinson, you have some interesting theories and initially they sound plausible. But I don't think they stand up to examination. I think the tide of history, research, scholarly opinion and countless individual experiences is against you. If you were right, I would be the poster child for every success you promise. But oops--I turned out completely the opposite. Sorry, four strikes, you're out. So to speak.


Chedner said...

That was the article my grandmother sent me when my mom told her I was gay.

I read it, and I knew immediately it was all bunk, confusing cause and effect.

Ezra said...

I've actually had that article bookmarked since I read it about a year ago. I remember that a lot of it rang true to me at the time, but I definitely know it's not right.

Beck said...

Wow! Brother Robinson has me totally pegged:

1. I am highly and emotionally sensitive,
2. I am unusually introspective constantly searching my thoughts and feelings,
3. I have a stronger than usual sense of right and wrong, and worry about where I fit on that moral spectrum,
4. I am envious of other men, particularly beautiful and confident ones,
5. I dwell on my attractions way too much,
6. I want to be accepted and belong, though I also like being alone and isolated,
7. I find men intriguing and fascinating,
8. I dwell on the aesthetics of men and find them aesthetically beautiful.

So, where does that place me? I find at the end of the article it leaves me empty. All he did was describe certain characteristics that may be stereotypical of others similar to me, and that I have dwelled on them too much and in the wrong times of my life and how I have to change. But how are these stereotypes a "problem", a "struggle", a "condition"?

They just are.

This whole article puts me back in the self-loathing mode and the I-haven't-tried-hard-enough mode, and the I'm-not-willing-to-put-the-atonement-into-action mode - and I get dark and empty and confused and frustrated inside... I don't need to go there again.

Romulus said...

This is fantastic! I wish that my Dad would think this way...

Robert said...

I read the article too and a few others by him...he gave them to me when I started therapy with him. He gave me a few cd's as well, cd's about homosexuality and masterbation. He is a really kind person...but, I agree with you. He's claimed his position goes for all moho's and that's simply not true. How often it may be true, I don't know. But, his promises can be harmful too often. They were for me. But, now, I have no expectations - regarding sexual orientation, the future, or God. What I have is a hope, a hope that whoever comes to know this thing about me or any of my dear, dear, dear gay friends, they'll understand and always remember that our understanding now in mortality is inicredibly limited - far too limited to assume that we know much about God or His reasons and ways. He loves, He understands, He forgives, and He can only reveal ideas to mankind if they are open to receiving them. We do millions upon millions of ordinances for brothers and sisters that lived in times or places of metaphorical darkness. Can we think to claim that our church is void of any element of this same darkness? Is the LDS church open to receive any revelation - regardless of its nature? Anyhoo...thanks for this post...It feels good to hear somebody else's thoughts on Dr. Robinson. I didn't think I was the only one... :)

Adam said...

Love the sarcasm.

Alan said...

@Chedner: No surprises on either of your points!

@Ezra: Exactly. Like I said, some of the first part sounds credible, but then it goes completely off the rails.

@Beck: I had the same reaction. What if this guy's right? Then I am in seriously bad shape, I thought. But then I stepped back and started thinking through his analysis logically. My post is the result not only of realizing this sow's ear is no silk purse and never can be, but also of my anger that this guy is still out there peddling his snake oil and taking money from more of our brethren who are no doubt scared and confused and looking for someone to save them from a "terrible affliction" that is neither terrible nor an affliction. That seriously pisses me off.

@Romulus: Glad you liked it. Show it to your dad!

@Robert: So glad you commented! Somebody who's actually worked with Robinson validates my conclusions. More than I could have hoped for and I'm glad I was on the right track. Thanks bro.

@Adam: Thanks. I actually went really easy on the guy compared to what I was tempted to unleash. But I usually try to practice the patience that I preach (most of the time) so restrained myself. God help the target when I don't.

Cadence said...

so I read his article years ago and was amazed... I even had a bishop say he'd pay for me to go see him, but yeah I just stopped caring and have been doing pretty good...

Christopher said...

I totally remember reading that silly little article. Just another empty attempt at explaining something completely beyond their current scope of understanding. I wanted to say, "yup, tried that and that and that and that and...still gay, Buster!"

I hope that Jeff Robinson reads what you have to say.

Alex said...

I know this post is old now, but I had to comment. Unlike Chedner, I did not immediately see that it confused cause and effect, but that's exactly what it does.
So did I not think about girls because I felt guilty, which caused me to be gay? Or did I not think about girls because I'm gay.
It is amazing though all those things it describes right. Like Beck I thought "Wow! That's me."
Ironically, maybe it strengthens that case for a genetic cause to homosexuality.
I have to say it had me convinced a few months ago, but that all started to crumble away recently.
Thanks for bookmarking this post. It's still very important.

bradcarmack said...

Dr. Robinson and Dr. Bradshaw both spoke at a joint session last weekend: "Homosexuality: Toward a Virtuous Response" (Strengthening the Family Conference). I have spoke as well with a client or two of Dr. Robinson's.

Emotions ran high, but I thought Dr. Robinson did an okay job at remaining civil and making some concessions regarding the immutability of sexual orientation and its causation. He seemed focused on helping those who are convinced that homosexuality is bad. I didn't appreciate his reinforcement of that belief or his description of homosexuality as a problem and a compulsive sexual behavior. On the other hand, for those who are unlikely to be persuaded that there's nothing inherently immoral about homosexuality, cordoning off the phenomenon by eroticizing it and focusing on moving forward in life can produce some partial relief for some. I dislike the approach because it relies on fabrication, but then so do most worldviews, religious and otherwise. Perhaps a particular deception is more pleasant for some than an uncomfortable, misfit reality in a fantastic, tenacious worldview. Anyway, thanks for revealing the superficiality.