On Psychology

Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 1999 / 21 Elul, 5759

Dr. Wade Horn

Homosexual Son Needs
Love, Support of Parent

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: A few months ago, my son told me he is gay. He was brought up in a Catholic home and attended Christian schools, including college, and he firmly believes that this is not the lifestyle God wants for him.

He told me that he had joined a homosexual recovery group a year or so ago and belongs to a church which is quite supportive of his efforts to change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation.


The past months have been intense, however, with extreme ups and downs. He decided he can not continue like this, and has chosen to discontinue his participation in this group, preferring to let God change his heart when He is ready. His spirits were visibly lifted by this decision, and he seems at peace with himself.

I don't know where the road will lead my son. I do have faith that the Lord is in control here. But this is all relatively new to me. My question to you is: is it possible to change one's sexual orientation?

A: Few topics invite as difficult conversation as homosexuality. On one side of the fence, are many within the faith community who see homosexuality as sinful behavior, an abomination in the sight of God. On the other, are gay rights activists who advocate for the acceptance, if not the celebration, of homosexuality.

I am not a theologian, so I will leave discussions of how God does or does not view homosexuality to those much better grounded in scriptural texts. Nor am I an activist, with this or that particular axe to grind when it comes to homosexuality.

I am a psychologist. As a psychologist, wherever possible I try to ground my opinions in the empirical literature. That's what I will try to do here.

The question of whether or not one can change one's sexual orientation hinges, to a large extent, on the question of whether or not one's sexual orientation is a learned or biologically determined behavior.

If one goes to the American Psychological Association's website, their answer to the question of whether homosexuality is a choice is a definitive "no." Regrettably, I think this is another example of the APA letting ideology rule over science.

Leiters Sukkah

The fact is, no one has yet discovered a "gay gene." Nor is there a "gay blood type" that one can see under a microscope. And the evidence for anatomical differences between the brains of homosexuals and those of heterosexuals is confused at best.

On the other hand, I am not willing to rule out the possibility of some underlying biological processes which predispose some individuals toward homosexuality. If I had to bet, I would bet that in the end we will discover that homosexuality is caused exclusively by neither nature nor nurture, but some combination of the two -- as is much human behavior.

Assuming this, can one change one's sexual orientation? Again, the APA's website gives a definitive "no." But once again, I think that opinion is driven much more by ideology than science, for it ignores the fact that some homosexuals have successfully changed their sexual orientation. Denying their reality is like trying to deny that there is more sunlight during the day than at night by closing one's eyes.

The real question, then, is not can someone change their sexual orientation, but should they. On this score, we exit the world of science and enter instead the realm of values. If you believe that homosexuality is sinful behavior, your answer must be the same as your answer regarding any sinful behavior: they should try with all their heart. If, on the other hand, you see nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality, your answer is: no.

Whether or not one thinks homosexuals ought to change their sexual orientation, I do know this: no one can make them change, for changing any behavior, at least in a free society, requires that the individual first wants to change.

So here's my advice to this mother. Your job is to love your son. Love him with all your heart. Let him know how precious he is to you, and that you will always be there for him. This does not mean you have to celebrate his homosexual lifestyle. There is a difference between acceptance and approval. But at the same time, recognize that there are limits to what you can make him do. Making him change his sexual orientation is beyond those limits.

What you can do is this: given that he has expressed dissatisfaction with his homosexuality, let him know that should he ever again want to seek assistance in changing his sexual orientation, you will be there to help him in whatever way you can. You might also let him know that there is a Catholic ministry called Courage which helps homosexuals be chaste, but does not push for sexual reorientation.

Of course, if he is engaging in high-risk behavior, such as promiscuous sexual behavior or is abusing alcohol or drugs, you should step in with a more forceful intervention -- the same advice I would give if your son were a heterosexual engaging in such high risk behavior.

Whether or not your son seeks to change his sexual orientation today, tomorrow, a year from now or never, your son needs to understand that your love for him will never change. This is the part over which you have control. The rest you can leave in the capable and loving hands of God.

Some resources:

Father John Harvey, Director
St. Michael's Rectory
424 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001
(212) 421-0426

Exodus International, North America
Bob Davies, Executive Director
P.O. Box 77652
Seattle, WA 98177
(888) 264-0877

National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH)
16542 Ventura Blvd
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 789-4440

Alan Medinger, Executive Director
P.O. Box 9830
Baltimore, MD 21284-9830

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn