If Race and Gender Are Social Constructs, Why Not Sexual Orientation?

(Pavel Losevsky/Dreamstime)

By some mysterious providence, three things happened in the past few weeks: Rachel Dolezal was outed as a white woman. Bruce Jenner was lauded as a white woman. And in a New Jersey consumer-fraud case against JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), the Southern Poverty Law Center has spent millions to deprive any future New Jerseyans of the basic right even to try to change their sexual orientation.

“I felt very isolated with my identity virtually my entire life, that nobody really got it and that I really didn’t have the personal agency to express it,” Dolezal told NBC. “I kind of imagined that maybe at some point [I’d have to] own it publicly and discuss this kind of complexity.”

Nick Adams, a spokesman for GLAAD, went so far as to say that Bruce Jenner never really existed: The world “can now see what Caitlyn Jenner has always known, that she is — and always has been — a woman.”

“This case is about exposing the lie that LGBT people are mentally ill and that they need to be cured,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “Groups like JONAH should not be allowed to use bogus therapy, based on junk science, to scam LGBT people and their families out of thousands of dollars.”

Together they lay down the new moral rules: Apparently, you can change your racial identity, but if you do, you are lying. You can dress up as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, and everyone must believe that you are in fact female. But when it comes to sexual orientation, even the attempt to change your identity or behavior must be viewed as an imposition against the laws of nature, if not nature’s God.

It is ironic, of course, because of these three things, science tells us clearly: race in America is a social construct with a biological basis. Most African Americans are biracial, and it is the old Southern patriarch’s desire to enslave his own children that led to the idea that, say, President Obama is black not white (or, rather, both black and white, being his mother’s child as much as his father’s).

Gender is a real biological category found in every human culture, around which society constructs a great deal.

As for sexual orientation? Even the expert witnesses hired by the Southern Poverty Law Center concede that the origin of sexual desire is a mystery, and that being gay or lesbian (as an identity) is, in fact, a choice.

Here is Chuck LiMandri, founder of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, cross-examining SPLC’s expert witness Lee Beckstead a few days ago:

LiMandri: Would you agree, Doctor, that sexual-orientation identity is a socially constructed label?

Beckstead: The identity is?

LiMandri. Yes.

Beckstead: Definitely.

LiMandri: So whether you call yourself gay or straight, that is a social construct?

Beckstead: It’s how you think about your attractions and how you feel about them and which membership, which groups you feel affinity towards.

Non-heterosexuals experience a variety of identity changes, sometimes toward homosexuality and sometimes away from it. Religious people, Dr. Beckstead agrees, have a right to seek therapeutic help to live their lives according to their religious values. He has even had clients of his go to an LDS-affiliated group similar to JONAH without warning them it was harmful snake oil. He estimates that 30 to 40 percent of his clients, despite same-sex attraction, choose to live as Mormons, whether that is in marriages to the opposite sex or living a celibate life. Surely this is not impossible.

Americans who believe it is wrong to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman have rights too.

I do not know if JONAH’s success rate in helping religious believers with same-sex attraction lead lives that accord with their religious identity is as high as Beckstead’s. From the transcripts, it appears that the judge in this case forbade anyone to present evidence of efficacy rates. He seems to have mistaken the idea that homosexuality is a “mental illness” with the idea that scientific evidence shows some people can change. Sexual-orientation-change therapy need not be premised on the idea that being gay is a mental disorder at all.

As Dr. Beckstead, the SPLC’s own expert, agreed this week in the courtroom:

LiMandri: When you stated in your article, Doctor: “Findings from the current model also confirm those from Yarhouse and Tan, who investigated the experiences of highly religious individuals who either identified with or disidentified from an LGB identity. As Yarhouse and Tan concluded, the most important aspect for same-sex-attracted, religious individual may not be whether that person pursues a particular path of identity synthesis but whether that person’s identity development process is congruent with her or his valuative framework.” In other words, if I understand it, what is important is whether they can bring their sexual identity into conformity with their religious values?

Beckstead: Congruence is very important for mental health.

Each of the plaintiffs in this case was recruited by the SPLC as part of a campaign to shut down choices for people across the country.

Does truth matter anymore? Each of these plaintiffs signed a consent form acknowledging that many consider sexual-orientation-change efforts controversial and that gay-affirmative therapy is available. They initialed the part where they were told no results could be guaranteed. Dr. Arthur Goldberg, after many years of working with Orthodox Jewish men and others who wish to marry women and live according to religious values, guestimates that only one-third achieve their stated goals completely. The weekend retreats incorporate some bizarre elements, but nothing stranger than the Esalen Institute and other hippie happenings in the 1970s did. If clients were paying money for a nude drum circle to release their chakra energy, nobody would be suing them. It is the attempt to live a Torah-observant or Biblical life that is intolerable to the SPLC and must be shut down.

As Dr. Nicholas Cummings, one of the expert witnesses who is not permitted by the judge to testify, wrote in USA Today:

Gays and lesbians have the right to be affirmed in their homosexuality. That’s why, as a member of the APA Council of Representatives in 1975, I sponsored the resolution by which the APA stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and, in 1976, the resolution, which passed the council unanimously, that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in the workplace.

But contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients’ goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn’t prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.

Whatever the situation at an individual clinic, accusing professionals from across the country who provide treatment for fully informed persons seeking to change their sexual orientation of perpetrating a fraud serves only to stigmatize the professional and shame the patient.

Our strange new public morality has to have a place for more than one kind of sexual minority group. Americans who believe it is wrong to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman have rights, too.


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