Thursday, November 29, 2012

Can a Gay Man Go Straight?

Chaim Levin and friends - parties to a lawsuit against JONAH
 Photo Credit: AP via 5TJT
There is a revealing comment from a client of JONAH at the end of a story in the 5 Towns Jewish Times. Here it is in its entirety:
after going to all boys schools/yeshiva i was suffering from SSA and Jonah helped me marry a woman and have a family. 
First the disclaimer: The Torah tells us that homosexual sex (a man lying with another man in the manner of a woman) is a sin. Homosexual orientation is not.

These statements are not editorial comment. They are simply facts. I’ve written about this very difficult subject many times and explaining my views on the subject  is not the purpose of this essay.

JONAH is the acronym for Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing. This nonprofit organization - which I believe has some rabbinic backing - was set up for purposes of ‘converting’ gay men into straight men.  A therapy that - it is increasingly becoming clear - does not work.

I have been contacted by JONAH in the past with assurances about the vast number of successes they have had. But I believe their successes are the kind experienced by the person who wrote the above comment. More about that later.

I don’t know if there is a gay gene. But I have been persuaded that same sex attraction (SSA) whatever its origin is ‘incurable’. If someone’s earliest memories of sexual attraction are to the same sex, it is most likely going to stay that way.

That is not to say that some people can’t be bi-sexual and be attracted to both the same and the opposite sex. Perhaps that is one type of individual JONAH might be successful with. But I do not believe they can successfully change homosexuals into heterosexuals.

What about the above comment? … and the many testimonials by those whom JONAH said they have ‘cured’? I believe that those people were heterosexual from the start. But when in an all boys school during adolescence – when the sex drive is very strong, some young people will sublimate and substitute. They will have gay relationships as a substitute for heterosexual ones which are of course taboo in Yeshivos. Girls do not exist in any incarnation in the world of the Yeshiva High School. Especially the more right wing ones. 

Those who succumb to their sexual urges and seek release may find it with other like minded students and have some kind of sexual encounters with them. They are heterosexual at the core. But they do become confused about their own sexuality since they have been releasing their sexual urges with members of the same sex – being the only sex available to them.

For these young men, JONAH and similar organizations will probably work. They can be straightened out (No pun intended). But for someone who is ‘born’ gay, I do not believe that will happen.

I have no proof for any of this. But I believe that a lawsuit being brought against JONAH will eventually bear me out.

I don’t know the people who run JONAH. They may be well intentioned  But I do know the family of one of their former clients who – along with other parents – are suing them. Although I do not know them well I can say with complete confidence that they are among the finest families in Chicago. They do not do things frivolously or vindictively. They are hands on people in this town who contribute money and time to Yeshivos, Kollelim, and just about every other worthy Jewish institution.

Their son is gay. I don’t know how they came to try JONAH - but they did. Apparently their son was willing to try and ‘convert’ into a heterosexual. That should not be surprising considering the way gay people are still looked upon in the Orthodox Jewish community. To say that gay Jews have a hard time being accepted is an understatement. And I can certainly understand the desire of a religious Jewish parent to want a normal Torah lifestyle for their child as an adult. Which of course includes getting married and having a family.

That is not going to happen for their son. He is gay. But not for a lack of trying to change him. It appears that Jonah has some sort of rabbinical backing as well. So they tried. The results were devastating. The descriptions of their ‘therapy’ (at a $10,000 per year fee) are hair raising. To me they sound like borderline sex abuse. Here is a description from the 5 Towns Jewish Times (warning – graphic descriptions):
The therapy sessions, which cost up to $100 weekly, sometimes involved clients and counselors undressing in front of each  other, according to the lawsuit. 
The plaintiffs allege that some of the  center’s ‘healing’ methods included encouraging ‘cuddling’ between younger  clients and older male counselors and instructing attendees to get naked and  hold their penises in front of Downing. Attendees were also asked to role-play as students in a locker room as others ridiculed them as ‘faggots’ and ‘homos,’  according to the lawsuit…
‘They play blindly with deep emotions and create an immense amount of self-doubt  for the client. They seize on your personal vulnerability, and tell you that being gay is synonymous with being less of a man.’…
Unger said the counselors had convinced  him  and many other attendees that his mother was responsible for his  homosexual  tendencies.
These counselors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything,’ he said. ‘During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have  any contact with her for several months, which caused a great  deal of  damage to our relationship.’
Needless to say they failed.  But more than that they were guilty of destroying their sense of self worth. These are the kinds of experiences that can lead to suicide. Something that the gay people are very vulnerable too and have a high incidence of.

JONAH will of course have a chance to defend themselves at trial – if this is not settled out of court. But my heart is with the plaintiffs. Their families were hurt. They were hurt. They were subjected to ridicule and degradation - not for their actions. Just for their orientation.  And I hope they put JONAH out of business. There is no way I can support the kind of ‘therapy’ described in the article. For those whom therapy might work (as described above) I suggest licensed traditional therapists who have expertise in the field.