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July 24th, 2008

The Difference Between Helping Children And Kicking Them In The Face

PFOX, (Parents and Friends of eX-Gays), would have you believe it’s different from P-FLAG, (Parents and Friends of Gays), in that PFOX supports people who are "struggling with homosexuality" and P-FLAG does not.  But that’s not it. 

Here’s the difference:

Anti-Gay Distortions of Research

Take a look at this story at OneNewsNow, which begins:

Quoting a recent study, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) is warning of the increased risk of suicide that is linked with young people who identify themselves as homosexuals before achieving full maturity — a process encouraged by many homosexual high school clubs.

The study in question, as it turns out, is a seventeen year old work published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, back in June 1991.  Not exactly recent…but never mind.  What PFOX is saying there is that supporting gay teens as they come out to themselves puts them at risk of suicide.  Their solution?   

Schools should not be encouraging teens to self-identify as gays, bisexuals or transgendered persons before they have matured. Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood. Rather than affirming teenagers as ‘gay’ through self-labeling, educators should affirm them as people worthy of respect and encourage teens to wait until adulthood before making choices about their sexuality. If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression.

So says PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs.  Note the doublespeak there about affirming them as "people worthy of respect".  But how much respect is it, to tell a kid gay kid they don’t have to be gay if they don’t want to?  Look again, at what came slyly out of the other side of her mouth there…

Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood.

Thats religious rightspeak for There Is No Such Thing As A Homosexual.  Don’t believe me?  Look again…

If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression

Permanently ‘gay’.  Note both the quotes around the word gay and the word permanently preceding it.  You don’t have to be gay if you don’t want to.  Change is possible.  This is what PFOX wants teachers to tell the gay kids that come out to them, and/or to their peers.  Griggs is sliding that under the radar their, in a cotton candy cloud of PFAUX respect.  But in today’s hostile school environment, where the word Gay has itself become a generic put-down among school kids, a kid who comes out, almost certainly already knows how impossible change actually is for them.

And that has consequences.

But leaving aside the fact that a 17 year old study was cited as "recent" and was cited as evidence against the existence of GSA clubs, which didn’t exist at the time of the study, this argument also makes a causal claim that can’t be justified by the study itself (see the full text of the study here).

First of all, they make no distinction at all between correlation and causation. If a higher percentage of those who self-identify as gay or bisexual early attempt suicide compared to those who self-identify later, is that a causal relationship or might both factors be effects of some other cause? Griggs makes no attempt to analyze this, it is enough for her that there is a correlation.

It never occurs to Griggs that those who attempt suicide soon after self-identifying as gay do so because that is when they first become aware that their identity is in such stark conflict with societal expectations. As any gay person can tell you, the initial coming out period is the most difficult because it often leads to serious conflicts with friends and family (and that was even more true in 1991 than it is today). She also ignores all of the other far more important risk factors that are obviously more likely to be causal. The study notes:

In 44% of cases, subjects attributed suicide attempts to "family problems," including conflict with family members and parents’ marital discord, divorce, or alcoholism. One third of attempts were related to personal or interpersonal turmoil regarding homosexuality. Almost one third of subjects made their first suicide attempt in the same year that they identified themselves as bisexual or homosexual. Overall, three fourths of all first attempts temporally followed self-labeling. Other common precipitants were depression (30%), conflict with peers (22%), problems in a romantic relationship (19%), and dysphoria associated with personal substance abuse (15%).

There are far more serious risk factors for suicide in the study, all of which are ignored by Griggs and PFOX. For instance, 61% of those who attempt suicide were sexually abused, while only 29% of those who did not attempt suicide were sexually abused. There’s an obvious causal factor. Those who attempted suicide also reported much higher rates of friendship loss due to being gay, drug use and having been arrested. Again, these are far more rationally viewed as causal factors in suicide than the age at which one self-identifies. Griggs ignores all of this because it doesn’t fit her ideological preferences.

But to call it ‘ideological’ ennobles it.  This isn’t ideology, it’s hate.  A hate so bottomless it will cheerfully let children kill themselves rather then allow them to have the support they need at that critical moment in their lives.  What Griggs is saying there to kids, stripped of its PFAUX respect, is that thinking you are gay will make you kill yourself.  That is, seriously, the message they want kids who are just coming into puberty and feeling same sex desire for the first time in their lives to hear, and internalize.  These feelings are going to make me kill myself.  And when they can’t stop themselves from having those feelings, feelings they’ve never had before, feelings that seem to come out of nowhere whenever an attractive classmate walks by, feelings that they have no control over whatsoever, what do you think is going to happen?

Here’s what: Griggs will cheerfully blame those of us who want gay kids to feel good about themselves when those kids take Griggs message, that thinking you are gay makes you want to kill yourself, to heart and actually do it. 

And there is the essential difference between P-FLAG and PFOX.  One group supports gay people.  The other, ex-gays.  And it doesn’t get any more ex then dead.

[Edited a tad for clarity…] 

6 Responses to “The Difference Between Helping Children And Kicking Them In The Face”

  1. Bob C Says:

    This is GREAT news!
    Sexuality and orientation are fluid! (Lets leave out the "water sports" jokes for now) Theres no such thing as homosexuality! Thats GREAT news! This means I can cite their OWN citing of their studies when I try to convince hot straight guys that they do not HAVE to be gay to have and enjoy sex with another guy. And that doing so won’t MAKE them gay…and if it does, they can easily change back.
    I need to print out that study and the PFOX ranting and have it on hand the next time I meet a cute straight guy. 

  2. Bill S Says:

    Okay, this REALLY pisses me off, because I actually lived through that "you don’t get to be gay until you’re over 18" bullshit. When I was in jr. High and high school, there weren’t any in-class discussion of homosexuality  (there may have been such discussions at other schools-I don’t know). So I had to do a little research on my own, looking through the books the library carried. Unfortunately, most of them were about 10 years out of date-they were published before the  American Psychological Association stopped classifying it as a mental illness. Just about every book I looked at said the same thing: that homosexual feelings don’t mean you’re actually gay, even if you have NO attraction to any member of the opposite sex. (Well, WTF DOES it mean I thought)
    Not one of those books offered any practical advice-it was basically, "ignore your feelings and they’ll go away", without offering any advice on exactly HOW you’rwe supposed to do that. There was also a lot of villification of homosexuals (a recurring theme: an adult trying to seduce an unsuspecting teen. I was, at the time, disappointed that this never happened to me-wasn’t i attractive enough?) and the advice to talk to an adult, because they’ll be so understanding, just like the people who wrote this crap are.
    Here’s the problem with that: Not only is that completely shitty advice, but any gay teen will know they’re being talked down, see if for the bullshit it is, and stop trusting adults. Which is exactly what happened in my case-any liklihood that I’d talk to someone about what I was going through was completely undermined.

  3. Bill S Says:

    sorry about the double-post. Is there a way to delete one of them?

  4. Bruce Says:

    Done Bill…and thanks for speaking up.  I had the same experience when I was a middle teen.

  5. Bill S Says:

    Oh, and one other thing that ALWAYS confused me: if you’re too young, at that age, to know whether you’re gay or not, then doesn’t that logically mean you’re also too young to know if you’re STRAIGHT or not?  It’s a question I always wanted to ask.

  6. Bruce Says:

    Bill:  Yes.  And it’s backwards.  Most folks, in my experience, started feeling sexual urges and desires well before they knew what to call them.  By the time you know what to call them, they’re already pretty well established.

    I say I came out to myself at 17.  But in a better world I might have come out at 14, because looking back on it I can see serious sexual desires were already stirring within me at that age.  But I can take it back even further.  In elementary school the sight of other guys their underwear, or in speedo-ish swim trunks, gave me a rush and I had no idea what was going on, only that it was both thrilling and at the same time a bit frightening.  The sight of other guys naked was even more thrilling.  It was nothing more then that…just a deep secret thrill.  There were no specific sexual urges at that age.  Just an unfocused desire.  When the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs came in the mail, I regularly visited more then just the toy pages.  And even back then it was never girls that did that for me…just guys.

    It wasn’t until I was 14 that I knew what those feelings amounted to.  But because of the horrible sex ed class I had back in junior high I just blew them off.  In a better world I’d have come out then for sure.  But by the time I knew what name to put on those feelings, they’d been there already for quite some time.

    I’ll allow that in a culture that prefers ignorance to knowledge when it comes to sex, some kids may be a bit confused.  But that’s not to say they aren’t having desires, just that the adults in their lives, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to give them an honest, factual understanding of what’s going on inside of them as they grow up.  That’s not helping them any.  Telling them they’re too young to know isn’t helping them any.  If they’re old enough to have the urges, they’re old enough to be given the facts about them.  They wouldn’t be telling your about their sexual feelings if they weren’t having any.  By the time they’ve got the words to describe what they’re feeling, they need caring guidance and support, not denial.

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