Monday, August 9, 2010

The Eye of the Storm, R' Yaakov Menken, and Gays

This blog post will remain as a "sticky" until I write another post. Note for newcomers: to navigate this blog, please use the sidebar ---->

So I got into an argument with R' Menken on Cross-Currents and I wanted to continue the conversation, but I got tired of him censoring my comments. It is extremely difficult to argue with somebody who has been mevatel daas and has the power to censor whatever he wishes.

I made four points in my opening comment: 1) R’ Feldman claims in his new book The Eye of the Storm that a study of Robert Spitzer supports his idea that “the fact that one’s sexual orientation can indeed be changed provided that there is a motivation to do so," when Robert Spitzer actually thinks the possibility for such change is “rare” and that “it would be a mistake to interpret the study as implying that any highly motivated homosexual could change if they were really motivated to do so.” 2) Feldman claims “it is a fact that there is no member of the animal kingdom that is naturally attracted to the same sex,” but that isn’t true by a long shot. 3) Feldman claims that NARTH has successfully treated thousands of cases, but that information is unverified (as the APA Task Force report on the matter makes clear). 4) The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, Australian Psychological Society, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Surgeon General, American Medical Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Counseling Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants have all made cautionary statements regarding this sort of treatment largely because while there isn’t much proof of efficacy, early studies raised concerns that this treatment can be harmful and lead to some problems like, say, “suicidality."

I wasn't on the top of my game and made four mistakes in that correspondence. I apologize profusely for all. The first was that I quoted Feldman's "Letter to a Homosexual" from the Jerusalem Letter (I had seen it and thought it was the same as the reprinted version in Eye of the Storm), but in fact, I was using The Eye of the Storm's different version. The second is that I wrote that the "Letter to a Homosexual" and the article "Homosexuality and the Torah" were printed in the same issue of the Jerusalem Letter, but actually they were in different editions. Thirdly, the article "Homosexuality and the Torah" -- which I wrote was called that in the original Letter -- was actually originally printed as "Editor's Introduction." Fourthly is that I quoted Feldman and missed a line in the quote. More on that later.

Menken apparently doesn't have access to Eye of the Storm and e-mailed me asking for where he could find the articles from the Jerusalem Letter. I informed him that while I had had trouble with the site for the past several days, the requested articles could be found via He then posted his comment attempting to refute mine, noting with regards to the "Letter to the Homosexual" that "I [emphasis mine --BP] was only able to find it via an archive..." Refusing to give credit where credit is due is a trait I don't admire in a person, and I hope Menken will do teshuva immediately. [Update: Menken emailed me to inform me that even though he had asked for me for the source, he found it before I sent the link to him. My bad. Would've been nice if he'd clarified that in the comments before I wrote this post.]

Anywho, Menken made the following arguments: 1) As my comments made clear, Feldman changed his wording in the "Letter to a Homosexual" for Eye of the Storm. This wording change reflects a fundamental change in Feldman's own position; the latter only wrote that homosexuals must go to therapy in the wake of Dr. Spitzer's successful research and his opinion is in accord with Dr. Spitzer's. 2) Baruch presented Feldman as being of the opinion that animals don't mate homosexually, but in the context of his citation of another article in the Jerusalem Letter by psychiatrist Nathan Lehrmann, it's clear that he realizes that animals do mate homosexually but only that he "follows the research which indicates that this is triggered rather than being the animal’s natural attraction." 3) Menken didn't respond to this point. 4) "A study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that homosexuals are six times as likely to attempt suicide. It should be obvious that the subset of that population which feels ongoing guilt and mental anguish is at significantly greater risk than those entirely comfortable with their 'lifestyle,' but none of the APAs, AASW, AMA, APS, RCP, etc. etc. etc. have studied the subset that is feeling mental anguish yet does not seek professional help to change their orientation. Rather, they say, and say quite clearly, that these people would be better off if they’ll 'simply' change their religion ('explore possible life paths') and become comfortable with 'who they are.'"

Now I'm going to refute all three of those points:
1) There is absolutely no evidence that Feldman changed his position, but only that he has clarified it. The sentences which Menken quoted to make his point that Feldman originally maintained that reparative therapy wasn't necessary still appear. Even if he did change his position, it is certainly not in accord with Spitzer's research. Here's the full quote Feldman wrote with the sentence I originally forgot to include in bold:

"Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, in a landmark paper delivered at the American Psychiatric Association’s convention (see Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2003) provided evidence that it is possible to change one’s sexual orientation and that those who did reported that they had a greater degree of happiness and well-being. There is an organization, NARTH (with a website of this name), headed by an eminent psychologist, which is devoted to this effort and has helped thousands of individuals convert. One of the most eminent psychologists in Israel told me that he never met a homosexual who came to him for help who was not able to convert.

The gay community vehemently objects to any attempt to convert, making scientifically unbased claims that homosexuality is innate and cannot be changed. They have even been successful in passing legislation prohibiting professionals from encouraging their patients to convert. But this cannot change the fact that one’s sexual orientation can indeed be changed, provided that there is a motivation to do so."

Now, even without the bolded sentence, it's pretty clear that Feldman maintains that a person can generally change sexual orientation, "provided that there is a motivation to do so." But with the bolded sentence, it is extremely clear that he maintains that a huge amount of homosexuals can change. Now, here's what Spitzer said elsewhere:

I did anticipate, and in my presentation warn, that it would be a mistake to interpret the study as implying that any highly motivated homosexual could change if they were really motivated to do so [emphasis mine --BP]. I suspect that the vast majority of gay people — even if they wanted to — would be unable to make substantial changes in sexual attraction and fantasy and enjoyment of heterosexual functioning that many of my subjects reported.”

Feldman maintains Spitzer's research proved "the fact that one’s sexual orientation can indeed be changed, provided that there is a motivation to do so," while Spitzer has the opposite position.
In a letter to the New York Times, Spitzer wrote, “Although I suspect change occurs, I suspect it’s very rare. Is it 1 percent, 2 percent? I don’t think it’s 10 percent.” Is it always worthwhile, as Feldman would have it? R' Menken, recall, maintains that Feldman's recommendations are "in full accordance with Dr. Spitzer's research." In a letter to the NARTH which Spitzer supposedly legitimized, he wrote, "My research shows that some homosexuals can change their orientation but I believe that such change is rare. In many cases, attempts to change sexual orientation can be harmful." Spitzer differs from Feldman here as well.

(this is all asides from the fact that Spitzer's paper has been disputed on tons of legitimate grounds in the same issue it appeared in, but I know that doesn't matter to Menken; once a study is quoted by a gadol, that makes the study legitimate)

2) I didn't present R' Feldman's argument fallaciously; he makes his point quite clearly when he writes that animals don't "naturally" mate homosexually, and that was the quote I put out. The Lehrmann source isn't cited in Eye of the Storm, but I wouldn't have cited it anyways because I think R' Feldman's point is perfectly clear from the line he wrote on the topic. And that point, which he made and R' Menken reiterated, is incorrect. Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance seems to be the core text on this topic.

4) The basic premise of this position is that the learned societies which have taken the position that reparative therapy is potentially dangerous and lacking proof of efficacy all view the goals of the religions that condemn homosexuality as unrealistic for patients. This is true; as R' Steven Greenberg recently noted, you can't really expect them to just be celibate (similar to how you can't really expect teenagers to not masturbate). But I don't think all of the mentioned societies are out to change the religions of their patients. I find it more likely that they want the homosexual to be comfortable with himself within whatever framework works so that he will not struggle with depression, suicidalism, etc.

[having a keyboard problem right now, will put up links later. Tomorrow: "They Want Their Jewish Observer Back!"]

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