Changing Times, Part 2

Roy Hanu Hart, M.D., aka Doctor Faith, April 26, 2017

Managing Editor Ana Campbell, writing in Westword, a Denver alternative weekly newspaper (March 2, 2017), entitled an article, “Will 2017 Be the Year Colorado Finally Bans Conversion Therapy?” She interviewed Brad Allen, whose experience with conversion therapy (also called reparative therapy) was unsuccessful. One sentence in her article stood out for me: “Allen, who eventually realized that conversion therapy was not for him or anyone else [my italics]….”

At 88, I have been retired from practicing psychiatry for a number of years, but I continue to thumb through the psychiatric literature – and I can still recall what I read when I was a young psychiatrist. In those days, I was an omnivorous reader and read such works as psychoanalysts’ Edmund Bergler’s Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life? (1956) and One Thousand Homosexuals (1959), along with Irving Bieber’s Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals (1963), in brief, extensive reading on the subject even though I would treat only a handful of homosexual patients during my forty-year career (mainly for their depression or suicidal attempts following a failed relationship).

I recall, in 1992, when psychoanalyst Charles Socarides, along with psychiatrist Benjamin Kaufman and psychologist Joseph Nicolosi (Healing Homosexuality: Case Stories of Reparative Therapy, 1997), founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, known simply as NARTH, specializing in reparative therapy. NARTH became embroiled in legal entanglements regarding reparative therapy’s effectiveness as a therapeutic measure. I knew Dr. Socarides (Homosexuality: Psychoanalytic Therapy, 1975) when I was in practice in New York during the 1970s and referred a few patients to him – patients who were genuinely motivated to change their sexual orientation.  

The several books mentioned above described sufficient successful therapeutic outcomes – whether the treatment was psychoanalysis or reparative therapy -- to justify the case for treating homosexuals who wish to alter their sexual identity. There is a caveat. Patient selection as a preliminary process is critical in order to minimize therapeutic failure. Both processes, patient selection and subsequent treatment, require highly skilled clinical professionals. This point cannot be overstressed.

With the adoption of the American Psychiatric Association’s Third Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-lll) in 1980, homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder.  Other branches of medicine close to the issue – medical genetics, pediatrics, endocrinology – did not take up the slack created by the APA action. To this day the conundrum, that is, for society, continues: Is homosexuality a disorder or a “normal” variation of human sexuality? (More on this in the next  installment.)

When it comes to what constitutes normality, society in this postmodern era has recalibrated its center so as to accommodate all sorts of individuals who do not meet the criteria for what has always been considered normal. To illustrate, at a recent London teachers conference, delegates were informed that changing attitudes have resulted in a “huge surge in the number of transgender and non-binary people (q.v.)….” Are these people abnormal or merely variants of what society has now come to accept as normal?

How were they viewed in the pre-postmodern era? That’s a trick question, because transgenderism was an unknown quantity back then, except for ex-GI Christine Jorgensen, born George, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1951. Touted as “the girl who used to be a guy,” she was the first trans woman celebrity, preceding Caitlyn Jenner by more than half a century. As a nightclub singer, she delighted in singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song. But what never changed was her sex: she still had X and Y sex chromosomes (q.v.)..  

From high-school biology, we humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. In women, two of these are Xs; men have an X and a Y, instead of two Xs. That’s what defines women and men, respectively. No matter what kind of hormonal treatment or surgery some people choose in order to change their sexual identity, their biological sex is unaltered.

Transgenderism, unheard of five years ago, is now a fact of life in America – and Great Britain. Transgender people, to explain the term, have a sense of personal identity and gender that does not match up with their birth sex. Parenthetically, in my day, gender was a grammatical term, and there were three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter -- he, she, and it. How the world has turned over since I was young! Welcome to the postmodern world, where Gorge Orwell’s world meets Lewis Carroll’s.

Let me define some basic terms relevant to this discussion. Sex indicates male and female and refers to biological differences, which are anatomical and physiological. Gender refers to the role of males and females in society (gender role), or a person’s sexual self-identity (gender identity). From The Godfather, Luca Brasi says to Don Corleone on the wedding of his daughter, “May their first child be a masculine child.” Brasi, of course, means a boy, one who will grow up, hopefully we have to interject in 2017, with a full complement of masculine traits.

The vocabulary of the LGBTQ movement becomes “curiouser and curiouser,” to quote Lewis Carroll’s Alice in her wonderland. Their term “non-binary people” is the centerpiece in their lexicon. It’s synonymous with genderqueer, and its meanings include not being exclusively male or female and shifting between genders -- gender floating -- depending on one’s mood at any given moment. I won’t bother to define other queerspeak terms, such as intergender, bigender, neutrois, xenogender, genderfluid, androgyne, et cetera, although their meanings are not difficult to fathom.

Britain’s largest labor union, the National Union of Teachers, NUT for short, is out to teach children as young as 2 years about the transgender life and same-sex relationships. No, I didn’t come up with this foolishness while in a delirium, and it isn’t fake news. A number of reporters covered NUT’s Annual Conference over the Easter weekend in Cardiff, Wales, and the news is out.

The general secretary of the NUT added, “This is the 21st century… It is high time that PSHE [Personal, Social and Health Education] and SRE [Sex and Relationship Education] – including LGBT+ education – is recognized as an essential part of the school curriculum.” The quote is from an article, “Teach toddlers about transgender issues, NUT say,” by education editor Camilla Turner of The Daily Telegraph, London (April 17, 2017). What ever happened to Grimms’ fairy tales and the three Rs? George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, make room for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

Takeaway: “Sex is a matter of the body, while gender exists in the mind.”

(To be continued)

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