Perry and Santorum: Being Gay Can Be Fixed Like Alcoholism

Photo: AFP/GETTY

Photo: AFP/GETTY


Moral (or immoral) Conservatives act as if the most pressing needs of the day are who gets into whose pants and what can be done to put an end to this pantsing? An old argument among conservatives and a continuing one among the religious right is that gay and other non-hetero people can be “fixed”, can be “converted” or even “reoriented” back to cissexual/heterosexuality. The Texas GOP has adopted conversion therapy in its platform, and so Rick Perry compares homosexuality to alcoholism and Rick Santorum backs him up. What this has to do with good public policy is beyond anybody, but it sure is harmful and toxic – and deadly.


If you want to look at two people from the opposite side of the tracks in terms of ideology yet who sound almost exactly alike, I’d pick Rick Perry (soon-to-be-former governor of Texas) and Rick Santorum (former US senator of Pennsylvania). Perry is a populist in the middle of the Bible Belt and says what he believes will get him votes. I never get the feeling from him that he actually believes what he’s selling – or, pandering, really. He does what he does because that’s what gets him the votes and the support, not because it’s the right thing to do or the thing that makes the most sense. He’s like Alabama’s Governor George Wallace shouting “Segregation now! Segregation forever!” in the height of the Civil Rights struggle because he knew it was the popular thing to do in his state at the time. Santorum actually moved from populism into ideological politics – it just so happens that his ideology sucks butt. One can crudely say that it spews santorum. But that would be crude and a nasty picture and I don’t wanna do that to y’all.

For his part, asked whether he backs the Texas GOP’s platform on supporting conversion therapy (aka, the ex-gay counseling we all know from Saved), Rick Perry says he’s not sure exactly, but his follow-up comments leave no doubt that he not only thinks it’s effective, but possibly necessary.

Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.

“Particular lifestyle.” What is this particular lifestyle he’s talking about? Homelessness may be a lifestyle (not necessarily of choice, though). Living as part of an insular cult, or in a commune is also a lifestyle. Being a consumerist American is also a lifestyle. Veganism is often a lifestyle. But even in these examples, there’s not always agency; it’s not always a choice. Being Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender is not about lifestyle – it’s about identity and sex/sexuality. Sexual attraction affects some things, for sure, but outside of who one is attracted to sexually, the things that are affected are mostly done through outside forces. Which is why LGBT people are targeted so heavily and disproportionately. Why there are so many homeless LGBT teens. Why suicide and battery tend to be so high among LGBTQ people, and especially transgender women of color.

This idea that same sex or non-heteronormative attraction is some sort of behavior to be modified is fairly old, but so is this idea that it is a predisposition that should be fixed. Twenty years ago in the heart of rightwing Evangelicalism, I thought the same thing*.

The “inclination” aspect of homosexuality – that being not-straight is a choice – is a harmful one. It erases the danger and violence that GLBTQ people go through on a regular basis and the real fear of closeted gay youth. It says that they prefer to be ostracized, marginalized, hunted down, and rejected by their parents, faith communities, towns, homes. The idea that they can and should be cured or switched is in itself violence to the very lives of LGBTQ people. The idea that one of the largest political bodies in the United States would endorse this pseudoscientific, harmful, bullshit, is terrifying. The Texas GOP is claiming that they will prioritize, fund, and sponsor these ex-gay therapies.

In an effort to force young people to become something that they are not, unlicensed therapists give clients “a concentrated form of homophobia,” according to Dr. Jack Drescher, an expert on conversion therapy.

As part of the treatment, conversion therapists also bombard patients with anti-gay and anti-lesbian stereotypes—that homosexuality is a grim, dead-end lifestyle; gay men are doomed to die of AIDS; lesbians just need to get in touch with their feminine side; all homosexuality leads to unhappiness and despair…

Let us not doubt for a second how harmful and lethal homophobia and transphobia are. People’s well-being and lives are at risk. Bullying, suicide, parental and peer abuse, incarceration, homelessness, extreme poverty, violence-backed slurs, hate crimes. These are normalized in a heteronormative world that rejects and abuses LGBTQ people.

But notice the words that Santorum and Perry and their ilk use to LGBTQ people and their rights:

The homosexual issue.  Homosexual behavior. Homosexual lifestyle. Choice.

But never homosexual people. Never gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer people. Never human beings. As if a person is fundamentally flawed for consensually loving differently or expressing differently or not fitting into a defined, definitive gender box.

That’s the deal with populists and ideologues. They really don’t give a rip about actual people and the actual harm they could do. But they do love those polls and their horrible, wretched ideas about what human beings are. Go santorum yourselves, Ricks. We’re all out.

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*Off-topic, but if you wanted a taste of the weird conspiracy theories they’re throwing out in the limelight today about Barack Obama, you should take a time capsule with me to insular Bill Clinton-era right wing Evangelicalism. But then these groups were definitely fringe back then, pre-Bush and Fox News.


jasdye

When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!

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  • Sandy Greer

    I lived, and worked, in San Francisco many years. Knew many gays and
    lesbians. Knew some thrown out by their families, as teenagers; who left home, never to return. Knew others (both sexes) wanted to be ‘normal’ so much they married – and had children. Then, in their 30s-40s – they just
    couldn’t live a lie anymore.

    Bad enough telling a spouse. Imagine having to tell your kids that.

    Had a stepdaughter ‘come out’ to us. We’d suspected – but waited, for her
    lead. She finally found somebody she wanted forever – and she told us.

    I was so thankful we lived in a time and a place where she was free to be who and what she was.

    I’ve always been hetero. Never even considered anything else. For gays and lesbians – their sexuality is as ‘natural’ for them – as mine is, to me.

    Or anybody else’s.

  • Gary Menten

    I’m not sure I know why they think gay people need “fixing.” If being gay is a choice, as many Rethuglicants insist, then it’s a free choice, like just as preferring the color blue to the color red would be and if you espouse the ideals of John Locke as every true Rethuglicant pretends to, then what right has government (or anybody) to try to fix being gay?

    Now I for one don’t believe that being gay is a choice any more than being African American is a choice. I don’t wish black people to become white either, so why on earth should I wish gay people to become straight? So maybe instead of pounding the bible and bashing gays, Rethuglicants could do something useful…like making concrete efforts to reduce gun violence in America. Bwahahahahahaha…like they give a sh_t about that, right?

    • Right? And if the choices we make are not harming others, then it’s nobody’s business, really – certainly not the government’s.

      • Gary Menten

        In GOP logic, that notion is only valid so long as the choices you make are the ones they would make themselves, or the ones they’ve convinced themselves that God has told them are the acceptable choices.

  • FD Brian

    I’d like to know the exact moment were Rick Perry came to the fork in the road and he chose to take the heterosexual road.

  • republic84

    So..what’s the cure for their ignorance? The only viable cure I can think of for people with server bigotry syndrome isn’t legal…

    • Gary Menten

      If they are Republicans, their cure almost certainly involves one or more of the following:
      1. Prayer
      2. Tax cuts for the wealthy
      3. Going to war with some country that can’t possibly hope to defend itself.

      There is practically nothing a Republican believes can’t be solved by this formula.