America - November 18, 1995
Charles W. Socarides, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He is president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, and author of Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (Adam Margrave Books, Phoenix, Arizona).
For more than 20 years, I and a few of my colleagues in the field of psychoanalysis have felt like an embattled minority, because we have continued to insist, against today's conventional wisdom, that gays aren't born that way. We know that obligatory homosexuals are caught up in unconscious adaptations to early childhood abuse and neglect and that, with insight into their earliest beginnings, they can change. This "adaptation" I speak of is a polite term for men going through the motions of mating not with the opposite sex but with one another.
For most of this century, most of us in the helping professions considered this behavior aberrant. Not only was it "off the track"; the people caught up in it were suffering, which is why we called it a pathology. We had patients, early in their therapy, who would seek out one sex partner after another-total strangers-on a single night, then come limping into our offices the next day to tell us how they were hurting themselves. Since we were in the business of helping people learn how not to keep hurting themselves, many of us thought we were quietly doing God's work.
Now, in the opinion of those who make up the so-called cultural elite, our view is "out of date." The elite say we hurt people more than we help them, and that we belong in one of the century's dustbins. They have managed to sell this idea to a great many Americans, thereby making homosexuality fashionable and raising formerly aberrant behavior to the status of an "alternate lifestyle."
You see this view expressed in some places you would least expect. The Pope says same-sex sex is wrong, but a good many of his own priests in this country (some of whom are gay themselves) say the Pope is wrong. Indeed, in much of academe and in many secondary school classrooms gays are said to lead a new vanguard, the wave of the future in a world that will be more demographically secure when it has fewer "breeders" (which is what some gay activists call heterosexuals these days).
How did this change come about? Well, the revolution did not just happen. It has been orchestrated by a small band of very bright men and women-most of them gays and lesbians-in a cultural campaign that has been going on since a few intellectuals laid down the ideological underpinnings for the entire tie-dyed, try-anything-sexual Woodstock generation. In various ways, Theodore Reich, Alfred Kinsey, Fritz Perls, Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman preached a new countercultural gospel: "If it feels good, do it."
It was all part of a plan, as one gay publication put it, "to make the whole world gay." I am not making this up. You can read an account of the campaign in Dennis Altman's The Homosexualization of America. In 1982 Altman, himself gay, reported with an air of elation that more and more Americans were thinking like gays and acting like gays. There were engaged, that is, "in numbers of short-lived sexual adventures either in place of or alongside long-term relationships." Altman cited the heterosexual equivalents of gay saunas and the emergence of the swinging singles scene as proofs that "promiscuity and 'impersonal sex' are determined more by social possibilities than by inherent differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals, or even between men and women."
Heady stuff. Gays said they could "reinvent human nature, reinvent themselves." To do this, these reinventors had to clear away one major obstacle. No, they didn't go after the nation's clergy. They targeted the members of a worldly priesthood, the psychiatric community, and neutralized them with a radical redefinition of homosexuality itself. In 1972 and 1973 they co-opted the leadership of the American Psychiatric Association and, through a series of political maneuvers, lies and outright flim-flams, they "cured" homosexuality overnight-by fiat. They got the A.P.A. to say that same-sex sex was "not a disorder." It was merely "a condition"-as neutral as lefthandedness.
This amounted to a full approval of homosexuality. Those of us who did not go along with the political redefinition were soon silenced at our own professional meetings. Our lectures were canceled inside academe and our research papers turned down in the learned journals. Worse things followed in the culture at large. Television and movie producers began to do stories promoting homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle. A gay review board told Hollywood how it should deal or not deal with homosexuality. Mainstream publishers turned down books that objected to the gay revolution. Gays and lesbians influenced sex education in our nation's schools, and gay and lesbian libbers seized wide control of faculty committees in our nations' colleges. State legislatures nullified laws against sodomy.
If the print media paid any attention at all, they tended to hail the gay revolution, possibly because many of the reporters on gay issues were themselves gay and open advocates for the movement. And those reporters who were not gay seemed too intimidated by groupthink to expose what was going on in their own newsrooms.
And now, what happens to those of us who stand up and object? Gay activists have already anticipated that. They have created a kind of conventional wisdom: that we suffer from homophobia, a disease that has actually been invented by gays projecting their own fear on society. And we are bigots besides, because, they say, we fail to deal with gays compassionately. Gays are now no different than people born black or Hispanic or physically challenged. Since gays are born that way and have no choice about their sexual orientation, anyone who calls same-sex sex an aberration is now a bigot. Un-American, too. Astoundingly now, college freshmen come home for their first Thanksgiving to announce, "Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! We've taken the high moral ground. We've joined the gay revolution."
My wife, Clare, who has an unerring aptitude for getting to the heart of things, said one day recently in passing, "I think everybody's being brainwashed." That gave me a start. I know "brainwashing" is a term that has been used and overused. But my wife's casual observation only reminded me of a brilliant tract I had read several years ago and then forgotten. It was called After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 1990's, by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen.
That book turned out to be the blueprint gay activists would use in their campaign to normalize the abnormal through a variety of brainwashing techniques once catalogued by Robert Jay Lifton in his seminal work, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China.
In their book Kirk and Madsen urged that gay activists adopt the very strategies that helped change the political face of the largest nation on earth. The authors knew the techniques had worked in China. All they needed was enough media-and enough money-to put them to work in the United States. And they did. These activists got the media and the money to radicalize America-by processes known as desensitization, jamming and conversion.
They would desensitize the public by selling the notion that gays were "just like everyone else." This would make the engine of prejudice run out of steam, i.e., lull straights into an attitude of indifference.
They would jam the public by shaming them into a kind of guilt at their own "bigotry." Kirk and Madsen wrote:
All normal persons feel shame when they perceive that they are not thinking, feeling, or acting like one of the pack....The trick is to get the bigot into the position of feeling a conflicting twinge of shame...when his homohatred surfaces. Thus, propagandistic advertisement can depict homophobic and homohating bigots as crude loudmouths....It can show them being criticized, hated, shunned. It can depict gays experiencing horrific suffering as the direct result of homohatred-suffering of which even most bigots would be ashamed to be the cause.
The best thing about this technique, according to Kirk and Madsen: The bigot did not even have to believe he was a loathsome creature:
Rather, our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof. Just as the bigot became such, without any say in the matter, through repeated infralogical emotional conditioning, his bigotry can be alloyed in exactly the same way, whether he is conscious of the attack or not. In short, jamming succeeds insofar as it inserts even a slight frisson of doubt and shame into the previously unalloyed, self-righteous pleasure. The approach can be quite useful and effective-if our message can get the massive exposure upon which all else depends.
Finally-this was the process they called conversion-Kirk and Madsen predicted a mass public change of heart would follow, even among bigots, "if we can actually make them like us." They wrote, "Conversion aims at just this...conversion of the average American's emotions, mind, and will, through a planned psychological attack, in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media."
In the movie "Philadelphia" we see the shaming technique and the conversion process working at the highest media level. We saw Tom Hank's character suffering (because he was gay and had AIDS) at the hands of bigots in his Philadelphia law firm. Not only were we ashamed of the homophobic behavior of the villainous straight lawyers in the firm; we felt nothing but sympathy for the suffering Hanks. (Members of the Motion Picture Academy felt so much sympathy they gave Hanks an Oscar.) Our feelings helped fulfill Kirk and Madsen's strategy: "to make Americans hold us in warm regard, whether they like it or not."
Few dared speak out against "Philadelphia" as an example of the kind of propaganda Kirk and Madsen had called for. By then, four years after the publication of the Kirk-Madsen blueprint, the American public had already been programmed. Homosexuality was now simply "an alternate lifestyle." Best of all, because of the persuaders embedded in thousands of media messages, society's acceptance of homosexuality seemed one of those spontaneous, historic turnings in time-yes, a kind of conversion. Nobody quite knew how it happened, but the nation had changed. We had become more sophisticated, more loving toward all, even toward those "afflicted" with the malady-excuse me, condition.
By 1992 the President of the United States said it was time that people who were openly gay and lesbian should not be ousted from the nation's armed forces. In 1993 the nation's media celebrated a huge outpouring of gay pride in Washington, D.C. Television viewers chanted along with half a million marchers, "Two, four, six, eight! Being gay is really great." We felt good about ourselves. We were patriotic Americans. We had abolished one more form of discrimination, wiped out one of society's most enduring afflictions: homophobia. Best of all, we knew now that gay was good, gay was free.
Excuse me. Gay is not good. Gay is not decidedly free. How do I know this? For more than 40 years, I have been in solidarity with hundreds of homosexuals, my patients, and I have spent most of my professional life engaged in exercising a kind of "pastoral care" on their behalf. But I do not help them by telling them they are O.K. when they are not O.K. Nor do I endorse their "new claim to self-definition and self-respect." Tell me: Have we dumped the idea that a man's self-esteem comes from something inside himself (sometimes called character) and from having a good education, a good job and a good family-and replaced that notion with this, that he has an affinity to love (and have sex with) other men?
In point of fact, many of my patients had character; they had an education; they were respected ad men and actuaries and actors. But they were still in pain-for one reason and one reason alone. They were caught up in this mysterious compulsion to have sex with other men. They were not free. They were not happy. And they wanted to see if they could change.
Over the years, I found that those of my patients who really wanted to change could do so, by attaining the insight that comes with a good psychoanalysis. Others found other therapies that helped them get to the bottom of their compulsions, all of which involved high motivation and hard work. Difficult as their therapeutic trips were, hundreds and thousands of homosexuals changed their ways. Many of my own formerly homosexual patients-about a third of them-are married today and happily so, with children. One-third may not sound like a very good average. But it is just about the same success rate you will find at the best treatment centers for alcoholics, like Hazelden in Minnesota and the Betty Ford Clinic in California.
Another third of my patients remain homosexual but not part of the gay scene. Now, after therapy, they still have same-sex sex, but they have more control over their impulses because now they understand the roots of their need for same-sex sex. Some of these are even beginning to turn on to the opposite sex. I add this third to my own success rate-so that I can tell people in all honesty that my batting average is .667 out of more than a thousand "at bats."
Of course, I could bat .997 if I told all my patients in pain that their homosexuality was "a special call" and "a liberation." That would endear me to everyone, but it would not help them. It would be a lie-despite recent pieces of pseudo-science bolstering the fantasy that gays are "born that way." The media put its immediate blessing on this "research," but we were oversold. Now we are getting reports, even in such gay publications as The Journal of Homosexuality, that the gay-gene studies and the gay-brain studies do not stand up to critical analysis. (The author of one so-called "gay-gene theory" is under investigation by the National Institutes of Health for scientific fraud.)
I was not surprised to hear this. My long clinical experience and a sizable body of psychoanalysis research dating all the way back to Freud tell me that most men caught up in same-sex sex are reacting, at an unconscious level, to something amiss with their earliest upbringing- overcontrolling mothers and abdicating fathers. Through long observation I have also learned that the supposedly liberated homosexual is never really free. In his multiple, same-sex adventures, even the most effeminate gay was looking to incorporate the manhood of others, because he was in a compulsive, never-ending search for the masculinity that was never allowed to build and grow in early childhood.
When I tried to explain these dynamics to the writer who helped me put together a kind of popular catechism on homosexuality, I found he had a hard time understanding what this "incorporation" meant. He said, "Your patient would be more manly if he took in the penis of another man? Sounds a little dumb. Would I run faster if I ate the flesh of a deer?"
I told him, "You have to understand that we are talking about feelings that come from deep in the unconscious mind. They are very primitive. In fact, if you have ever read any Indian lore, you may remember that Indians would, in fact, eat the flesh of a deer in order to become faster afoot. To us, that is a very primitive idea. But it had a mythic significance for a young Iroquois brave. And Madison Avenue still makes use of such mythic meanings. The ad people sell us things based on the notion that we will become what we eat or drink or possess." The point I was making was this: We do not understand same-sex sex until we realize that the dynamics involved are unconscious.
This is one reason why psychoanalysis is the tool that gets us to the heart of everything. Once my patients have achieved an insight into these dynamics-and realized there is no moral fault involved in their longtime and mysterious need-they have moved rather quickly on the road to recovery. Their consequent gratitude to me is overwhelming. And why shouldn't it be? They were formerly caught up in compulsions they could not understand, compulsions they could not control. Now they are in charge of their own lives.
Their former promiscuity may have looked a lot like "liberation." But it was not true freedom. It was a kind of slavery. And it was not a lifestyle. With the onset of AIDS, as the playwright and gay militant Larry Kramer said in a 1993 interview, it turned out to be a death style. I have had some patients tell me, "Doctor, if I weren't in therapy, I'd be dead."
Testimonials from my recovered patients make me feel my work is worthwhile-despite regular demands from the gay rights community for my silence. What would they have me do? Pack my bags, find a new profession, lock up a lifetime of research and analysis, hide my truth under a bushel? It is not my psychoanalytic duty to tell people they are marvelous when they are out of control, much less ask disingenuous rhetorical questions like, "What kind of God would afflict people with an 'objective disorder' in the disposition of their hearts?"
Giving God the credit for their gayness is a persistent refrain in much gay literature today, and I am saddened to see people of evident good will become unwitting parties to the blasphemy. Gays ascribe their condition to God, but he should not have to take that rap, any more than he should be blamed for the existence of other man-made maladies-like war, for instance, which has proven to be very unhealthy for humans and for all other living things. God does not make war. Men do.
And, when homosexuality takes on all the aspects of a political movement, it, too, becomes a war, the kind of war in which the first casualty is truth, and the spoils turn out to be our own children. An exaggeration? Well, what are we to think when militant homosexuals seek to lower the age of consensual sexual intercourse between homosexual men and young boys to the age of 14 (as they did in Hawaii in 1993) or 16 (as they tried to do in England in 1994)? In the Washington March for Gay Pride in 1993, they chanted, "We're here. We're queer. And we're coming after your children."
What more do we need to know?
[This article first appeared in America (November 18, 1995). Used by permission of the author.]