Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Involuntary conversions

New from the "They Needed A Grant To Figure This Out?" department, we have: a study showing that LGBTQ individuals who have undergone "conversion therapy" or other attempts to change their sexual orientation have a higher incidence of depression.

Whodathunkit, ya know?  Amazing what happens when you take a person and tell them in no uncertain terms that a part of their personality over which they have zero control is bad and they have to fix it, and woe be unto them if they don't.

A study done at the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University tracked the outcomes for LGBTQ students, comparing ones who had experienced attempts to alter their sexual orientation with ones who hadn't.  The results were unequivocal.  Students who had been through "conversion therapy" or some equivalent had:
  • over twice the likelihood of a suicide attempt;
  • over twice the likelihood of depression (if the student had experienced these attempts both by parents and also external agencies, that number rose to triple the likelihood);
  • lower socioeconomic status five years after leaving college;
  • lower educational attainment;
  • and lower average weekly wages.
Honestly, I get why the study was done.  If you have hard data behind an argument, it's a lot more difficult to refute it.  But here's the problem; the people who are arguing for conversion therapy are not, by and large, arguing from a standpoint of evidence.  The vast majority are basing their stance on religion, or the simple fact that thinking about gay sex makes them feel squinky.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Benson Kua, Rainbow flag breeze, CC BY-SA 2.0]

As far as the first one goes, people need to wrap their brains around the fact that their religion tells them what they are supposed to do, not what I am supposed to do.  As my mom used to put it, my rights end where your nose begins.  As long as what you are doing is in no way harming me -- such as what gender(s) you are attracted to -- I should have no right whatsoever to dictate your actions.

As far as the second, my response is: grow up and get over it.  I detest cooked carrots, to the point that I can barely stand to look at someone eating them.  (It is just about the only food I really dislike.  As my dad once quipped, my favorite two kinds of food are "plenty" and "often.")  But if I started telling people they couldn't eat cooked carrots because I can't stand the thought of it, my guess is that they would (quite rightly) tell me to go to hell.

Same thing here.  Maybe you find same-gender relationships disgusting.  Then don't have one.  Which is what I do when someone offers me carrots.

What's more, don't spend your time thinking about it.  Is it just me, or do these rabid evangelical types ever think about anything else?  Seems odd to me that people who claim to be so completely repulsed by the thought of a same-sex relationship talk about them to the exclusion of every other topic, with the possible exception of "Trump is the messiah," and if you don't do whatever Trump wants, you will be on the receiving end of a divine smite.

So this is in truth a huge problem, and I don't want anyone to interpret my first paragraph as dismissive.  I began that way because I have such a difficult time imagining how it's not so self-evident that it would appear obvious to everyone in the world.  If you have a child, and you set out to systematically destroy a fundamental part of their being, it's going to do horrific damage, and in the end, very likely be unsuccessful.  You might convince these poor young people not to seek out a relationship, which is bad enough; it's dooming them to a future in which they're alone, in which to fall in love is seen as succumbing to evil.  But you're not going to change their sexual orientation, because that's hardwired into our brains.

No one asks a heterosexual when they "chose to be straight."  Why should the situation be any different for LGBTQ individuals?

In short, conversion therapy is child abuse, and it inflicts permanent harm.  How it is not illegal, I have no idea.

But maybe this study will bolster the case that it should be.


If you are one of those people who thinks that science books are dry and boring, I'll give you a recommendation that will put that misconception to rest within the first few pages: Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements.

Kean undertook to explain, from a human perspective, that most iconic of all images from the realm of chemistry -- the Periodic Table, the organized chart of elements from the simplest (hydrogen, atomic number 1) to largest and most complex (oganesson, atomic number 118).  Kean's sparkling prose shows us the personalities behind the science, including the notoriously cranky Dmitri Mendeleev; tragic, brilliant Henry Moseley, a victim of World War I; and shy, self-effacing Glenn T. Seaborg, one of only two individuals to have an element named after them while they were still alive.

It's a fun read, even if you're not a science geek -- maybe especially if you're not a science geek.  Because it allows you to peer behind the curtain, and see that the scientists are just like the rest of us, with rivalries, jealousies, odd and misplaced loyalty, and all the rest of the faults the human race is subject to.

[If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. Love the carrot analogy. Have you heard this new podcast?

    I highly recommend it