The Arguments Against Change

                                                By Rabbi Daniel Meir Horowitz

Note: This article was originally published at:

There has been much debate and heated discussion over the issue of changing one’s sexual orientation from that of homosexual to heterosexual. The “ex-gay” phenomenon has drawn incredulity, laughter, venom and vitriol. Emotions, however, contribute nothing to the debate except to draw attention away from the real issues. One does not need to be a scientist, doctor, theologian or protester. One merely needs to be a logical human being who attempts to analyze the pros and cons of attempting to change one’s Same-Sex Attractions (SSA) into something else.

Let us begin with the fundamental assumption that NO ONE will ever achieve real change if it is forced upon them. The person themselves must truly want it. This means that for whatever reason they feel that SSA does not fit in their lives, be it for religious, emotional, practical, or other motivations. This is a universal concept that applies to any form of behavior or personality modification. If a parent, peer, religious advisor, et al. convinces a person to attempt to change, when the person themselves does not really want to, not only will it not be effective, but can be detrimental and dangerous.

It is possible for a person be motivated by their religious beliefs to change themselves so they can live in a way that is in line with their religious dictates. But it must be an internal motivation to be in line with their values and mores, not an imposition from other human beings. G-d gave us free choice, and we must exercise it. If a person is being pressured to the point that they can’t say “No,” then their “Yes” isn’t worth too much. As soon as the pressure is released, the change will vanish. No competent therapist should be treating someone who is being forced into therapy. Only once a person truly wants to change, can any discussion of the possibility of change be entertained. It is then that they can they properly analyze the possible reasons to refrain from attempting it.

1) It’s Genetic – A hotly contested issue, of whether SSA is caused by nature, nurture, or both. I posit, however, that this is completely irrelevant! Even if it would be proven that SSA is completely genetic in origin, that fact should carry no weight in this discussion. The only thing that matters is whether it is possible to change once the SSA is there, not what caused it in the first place.

Society is full of people who attempt to override what their body naturally does. Baldness may or may not be genetic, yet most people don’t care; they merely want to deal with it. Being bald doesn’t fit the way they want to live their lives, and so they try alter their situation. One’s hair going gray as one gets older is caused by their genes, yet millions of people color their hair. If a child’s teeth grow in crooked, their parents pay thousands of dollars on braces. People’s genes gave them a certain nose, but they may choose surgery to give them a different one.

This applies to more internal things as well. Everyone has a different metabolism, and some people may be genetically predisposed to be heavier than others. That doesn’t stop people from dieting, having liposuction, or lap-band surgery. Stuttering is rarely considered a psychological problem, (although it can be exacerbated by stress), yet no one would criticize a person for seeking therapy to overcome it. Dyslexia is caused by problems with the brain’s ability to recognize and process symbols, yet we would all support someone who wanted to treat it. These people’s genes gave them certain symptoms that aren’t congruent with how they want to live their lives, or cause them discomfort or inconvenience. So they seek methods to remedy it. The only salient issue is whether those methods will be effective.

2. It Won’t Work – This is definitely a matter of extreme importance. If something definitely won’t work, then the time, effort, and expense involved are wasted. Worse, it sets one up for intense disappointment, leading to shame, depression, and perhaps even suicidal thoughts.

However, this only holds true when it is known that it won’t work. It would have to be proven to be ineffective in the vast majority of cases. Anecdotal evidence of some who have tried and failed is a poor substitute for scientific method. A true analysis must be made. It is sometimes not because the treatment doesn’t work, rather that the subject didn’t actually employ the treatment.

Imagine that a respected doctor created a new weight-loss system with strict nutritional rules and a hefty exercise regimen. If even most of the people who tried the diet fail to lose weight, it must first be examined how well they followed the rules. If they regularly cheated on the dietary requirements, or neglected their exercise, does that mean that the system is ineffective? It could mean that the system is difficult to follow, or lacking motivation mechanisms. It does not prove what would occur to someone who had followed the system properly.

I personally know of a man who recently gave up trying to overcome his SSA and moved in with a boyfriend. Yet, I recall two years ago visiting his apartment and seeing a pile of gay-porn DVD’s. When I questioned him about why he hadn’t thrown them out, he said, “I like them.” Is it any wonder that he ultimately didn’t succeed? It’s akin to an alcoholic keeping his favorite liquor in a cabinet, “just in case.” Of course, this is also anecdotal, and proves nothing. But without scientific evidence through a proper study, we can never know the whole story.

Furthermore, even if there is only a slight chance of change being effective, it is still that person’s right to try. Those who truly want to change feel that homosexual urges are incongruous with how they want to live their lives. For many, they are desperate for a way out. If so, is it wrong for them to try a therapy even if it would work only 10% of the time? It is common for people with various illnesses (G-d forbid) to seek therapies outside of the traditional mainstream approach. (Reparative therapists might bristle at this comparison, saying that their approach is mainstream. But let us assume otherwise, for the sake of argument.) This endeavor is only dangerous if that person neglects traditional medications that generally are effective. To attempt alternative therapies is their right. And they should be allowed to exercise it if they chose to do so.

Of course, this must be tempered with a dose of realism. No therapy is 100% effective. And those who seek alternative therapies need to remain grounded with the actual possibility of success. Entering the therapy with complete hope, while accepting the possibility of failure, is the dichotomy that must be employed. But, if those who wish to change understand that it is a long, hard, road and one that ultimately may not succeed, who are we to judge them for forging on?

3) It’s Discriminatory – There are those who say that if one pursues change from SSA that they are discriminating against those who live a gay lifestyle. This defies logic.

As mentioned above, people routinely have their hair dyed, their wrinkles touched up, and their receding hair lines proceeded. Are these people ageists, who discriminate against the elderly? Are those who diet considered insulting to the obese? Are those who learn methods to deal with their dyslexia prejudiced against other dyslexics?

The absurdity speaks for itself. How one chooses to live one’s life, with the choices they make for themselves, does not reflect on anyone else. I may choose a blue shirt, and you may choose green. Neither one is discriminatory. If someone feels that SSA does not belong in their life, it should not insult in any way those who live a gay lifestyle. While it may not feel right for this person, if it feels right to another, they should go right ahead. In America, everyone can choose to live their lives for themselves. Just as one may want the right to live as gay, one also has the right to choose not to.

4) It’s Expensive – Agreed. Any psychological therapy will be. This is something that one must evaluate and decide for themselves: Is it worth it to try? All of the pros and cons need to be carefully weighed together with all of the various investments of time, money, and effort. That calculation is something that each person must make for themselves.

In conclusion, it appears that there is no logical reason for recrimination against those who choose to change. No peer-reviewed study (or any study, for that matter) has proven reparative therapy to be totally ineffective. So long as someone goes into it with a clear motivation, an understanding of the probable outcomes and a commitment to do what is necessary, who are we to impugn them? There are no universal truths for what works best for every person. Let us allow those who choose to be gay to live in peace, and let us allow those who choose to attempt change to live in peace as well. And most importantly, let us allow all those who are undecided to know of BOTH options, so that they can make informed choices for themselves.