Monday, January 23, 2012

The Straight Story

I'm back. I was away for a bit because I had to have one of my teeth pulled out. Really weird feeling, because they kill all of your pain receptors, but your can still feel a bone being slowly wrenched out of your jaw and it feels like your entire maxilla is being stressed almost to the point of breaking. I wish that I could say that I had some great spiritual insight that I gained as a result of the suffering which attended this event, but the only thing I've ever really learned from dental pain is that brandy is a salutary remedy.

Anyways, someone left a comment on “Wake Me When I'm Straight” that I wanted to address in detail.

“I recently interviewed someone who has been helped through "exodus." they help people walk out of homosexuality. the guy i was interviewing seemed to believe that the "distant dad, too close mom" was true for him and others he ministers to. now to my question...hmm...i'm not sure I can formulate a question. there is one in mind somewhere, but don't know how to articulate it. I guess i'm just a little hesitant to agree with what you're saying. What if those narratives people create are true? I don't think there is no way to prove it or disprove it, right? why is "reductive and boring" a bad thing if it is the truth? Thanks”
The difficulty is that the smothering mother/distant father narrative is a narrative. Narratives aren't “true” or “untrue” in an objective sense. They're a means of structuring subjective experience in order to extract meaning from it. Subjectivity is, by definition, not subject to the same laws of objective truthfulness as objective reality. The laws of truthfulness for this realm are similar in some ways, but ultimately they are more aesthetic in character than those for the objective sciences. A narrative is part of the way that a person structures their life in order to make of it a “masterpiece,” a work of art complete with a coherent plot structure, obstacles faced and overcome, villains, lovers, big reveals, character development and a stirring climax.

What this means is that a person is constantly making decisions about how to experience and process their memories. People are constantly telling and retelling their own stories to themselves. I have absolutely no doubt that people in Exodus, and people in Courage who accept the reparative therapy story, have come to understand their memories in this way. Others who, for whatever reason, find these narratives repellent will deliberately shape their memories in order to negate or deny any evidence that might support them. On the whole, though, the evidence is necessarily going to be there for anyone who is willing to do the work to substantiate the theory.

With regards to the “distant father” part of the narrative, as Leonard Cohen says “It's Father's Day and everybody's wounded.” Having a “father wound” is not a characteristic trait of queer men, it's a characteristic fact about human beings. It's what skeptics call a “Barnum Statement,” that is, a statement which sounds like it really gets at the depths of a profoundly private personal reality, but which could really be applied to the vast majority of people. Such statements are, incidentally, the stock-in-trade of phone psychics and cold readers; there are lots of things that people think are really secret and individual that are nearly universal, and if you know what they are you can convince lots of folks that you have psychic powers. Most people, if they were dedicated to the cause, could find evidence that their fathers were distant or insufficiently supportive, because most men have difficulty with expressing their emotions, with voicing their approval, etc. If all of my straight readers would step back for a moment, and try to search their childhood for deep, perhaps even hidden, evidence that their father wasn't really there for them, emotionally, physically, the way that a representative of God the Father ought to be, I'm sure that they'd be able to dig up more than enough to substantiate claims that they too have a “father wound.”

Likewise with the “overattached mother.” Mother's are naturally strongly attached to their kids. They're naturally apprehensive about male aggressiveness. They're naturally protective – especially if they happen to have a child who is sensitive and/or subjected to bullying, which is pretty common with “effeminate” boys. In short, the narrative described by the reparative therapists is a narrative that could be formed out of the experience of almost anyone who was willing to buy into it, anyone who was willing to shape and construct their personal history to meet the theories of the psychotherapist who was offering them hope of release from painful personal circumstances. In the case of gay men in therapy, the psychological motivation to find evidence to substantiate the psychotherapist's theories is overwhelming – especially since reparative therapists tell their clients up front what kind of personal history they are going to discover in the course of therapy.

Anyways, I risk exceeding the attention span of internet readers. I do have some positive things to say about the reparative therapy narrative, which I'll try to address in my next post.


  1. Going off on a tangent which occurred to me as I read this post —

    I have had similar thoughts reading a lot of the "born this way" "I always knew I was gay" narratives. I wonder if some of the evidence from pre-puberty feelings is really just normal boyhood. And I see this as potentially a problem for young people now that our culture is so open about the existence of homosexuality. Is it possible that prepubescent children nowadays will in a few instances believe that normal affections for those of the same sex are proof positive that they are gay?

  2. Interesting.

    When you write, could you please break your post into paragraphs?

  3. naturegesetz,

    Yes. This is true. The only thing more boring and reductive than family of origin dynamic narratives for the etiology of homosexuality are "gay gene" theories. Also, in support of your supposition, in one book that I read a psychologist was interviewing LGBTQ teenagers to find out how far back their same-sex attractions went. One of the girls, while being interviewed, had a minor epiphany: she noticed that when she was a small child, she was only interested in colouring the pretty girls in her colouring book. Having been a mother and babysitter of many little girls, I can exclusively reveal that almost all little girls colour only the pretty girls in their colouring books -- just like most little boys are only interested in playing with male action figures. It's normal for a child to be interested primarily in their own sex up to a certain age, but this can be read backwards as early evidence of innate gayness. Alternatively, a lack of interest in gender typical activities can also be read backwards as early evidence of innate gayness. In other words, all possible data can be interpreted as early evidence of innate gayness. See above w/r/t Barnum Statements...

  4. Hmm...I'm not sure why you are so dismissive of "the narrative." It would seem to me that because one's narrative is primarily subjective, it doesn't mean that it's impossible to determine objectively what a relationship between a child and his or her parents was like. Even though a child's "narrative" is necessarily subjective in ways, it doesn't mean that objectively, portions of the narrative are true.

    Absent father, for example. If a personal narrative says that a child felt abandoned by his father throughout his life, are there objective ways to determine this? Of course there are--if the father was always away on business trips, for example.

    And yes, all mothers are protective, but some are FAR more protective than others. Talk to middle school teachers about the patterns they see in mothers. We all know moms who are overly protective of boys--we can see it at family reunions, at the playground, at the beach, etc. Why is something that we can see, today, that is so obvious to observers that it's often commented on how such and such mother smothers her kids, then relegated by you as merely a subjective narrative down the road, when that child is in adulthood?

    I sense in your comments a hatred for the model, and a rather hubristic dismissiveness to those who have found it to be the case in their lives, as if "they just made it up" to help them deal with life.

    I've not been to a psychologist for reparative therapy, but I'll tell you this: my life fits the model. And it's not merely my subjective narrative. My three older brothers all saw a very clingy mom, as well as a distant father. That was objectively observed by them, and it concerned them as they saw my mom try to live her life through me.

    I don't think that the model is false, because it's old. Old doesn't mean irrelevant. I think the model is spot on, and those who don't like the model manufacture a narrative "that their life was just fine," because it's too hard to acknowledge how painful their relationship was with their family, as well as bringing them about a feeling of disloyalty. I see the pattern time and time again in the gay men and lesbian women I meet. My once boyfriend is attracted to older men who are the age of his father. It doesn't take a degree in psychology to realize that he probably has wounds from his father, even if he denies that this is the case. I had a fellow tell me he was attracted to the hair on my arm. And then he told me how much it reminded me of his older brother. If I were to tell you that I believe that he has deep wounds resulting from not feeling loved or approved by his older brother, would you call that a Barnum tactic?

    I don't understand your hatred for "the model."

    1. Hi Dan,

      Thanks for the comment. I don't know if you've seen it, but my most recent post is a detailed response.



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