Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that the “happily married” gay Mormon, Josh Weed, may actually practice ex-gay therapy as part of his profession. On his own bio, he describes helping those “with sexual identity issues and unwanted sexual attractions and/or behaviors.” Gay.net contacted Weed regarding this controversy and he told them, “I don’t believe that a gay person can or even should change their sexual attraction.” He responded further in an email reply:
I do not practice, nor do I believe in, reparative therapy or change therapy. Quite the opposite, my therapeutic stance is one that favors (but does not depend on) the idea that sexual orientation is immutable.[…]
Given my background, I feel especially adept at helping clients who feel that their attractions are “unwanted” because of cultural or religious contexts. I work with them to help them accept their sexual orientation for what it is, so that they can move forward into the decision making part of their life.
I help them get to the point where the question becomes something like, “This part of me is real, and I am totally okay. Now what?” I then help them as they navigate the difficult waters of decision.
My clients make extremely varied choices for their lives and futures. My role is to help them do so in a way that is authentic and true to what they want for themselves, and not to appease outside sources of pressure (like family, church or culture at large).
This leaves the situation in murky territory. The harms of ex-gay therapy are as much the result of denying or refusing to act on one’s sexual orientation as of actually trying to change it. Consider the Catholic Church’s Courage ministry, which counsels gays and lesbians to practice a life of chastity, denying themselves the right to love. It may well be true that Weed always affirms clients’ sexual orientation and encourages them to embrace and accept it, but if he is using his own story as an example — as he claims — then this still raises serious questions.
Weed may have personally found happiness as a gay man living a heterosexual life, but that by no means certifies him as a model example for others. The language of “unwanted sexual attractions and/or behaviors” is uniquely used by those who advocate ex-gay therapy, as it implies that a person’s sexual orientation is somehow separate from the core of their identity and can be treated as such with behavioral adjustment. Weed’s consistent use of this rhetoric is conspicuous, as is the absence of words like “affirmation” to describe how he responds to clients’ identities. He also leaves unclear what the “extremely varied choices” are that they make, and he leaves plenty of room for not appeasing “outside sources” on the opposite side of the debate, like the LGBT community or mainstream psychology, sociology, and medicine.
If Weed is truly affirming sexual identity in his clients, then there is no controversy to discuss. But in the original story, he explained that the entire reason he was coming out and telling his story is because he was already sharing it with his clients to help them. If Weed is using his own choices as an example for how individuals can conform to heterosexist ideals by simply ignoring the sexual orientation that is part of who they are, then he is advocating harm and reinforcing internalized stigma. Weed’s apparent happiness with his unique life choices in no way justifies suggesting the same choices for others.