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Why changing is difficult

Links, and comments from heterosexuals who used to be gay

The following quotes (from ex-gay men) sum up some important issues.

"It is a disservice to homosexuals who want to change, to tell them they can't."

"As a member of the Evergreen Foundation, I witness changes in sexual orientation daily, and I am not the only one who has achieved complete freedom from same sex desires."

"As one who has personally transcended same sex attraction and is happily married, I applaud the charge of disobedience that [one writer] levels against the gay community. … It is not homophobic to eschew homosexual behavior and attempt to institutionalize that prohibition while still accepting the person who may have same-sex desires but doesn't act on them."

"Homosexuals are a fixed proportion of society, and always have been"

This is plainly false, as in some ancient cultures it was normal for every man to have some homosexual experience. But if we are talking not about behavior but inclination, how can we be such mind readers?

"Most homosexuals are the product of a heterosexual society that vigorously attempts to "convert" them, to no avail."

If a heterosexual society tries to convert people away from homosexuality, then that would probably encourage some people to be homosexual. Many people will always reject orthodox society, and homosexuality offers an escape. Much of modern society is based on rebellion and rejecting traditional values, so homosexuality has never been more fashionable.

"An increased tolerance of homosexuality does not lead to more homosexuals, only to more honesty and less hidden suffering."

This sounds like the argument that "crime is not rising - people just report it more." This argument may be comforting, but it is not backed up by any evidence.

What is the evidence that change is impossible?

"Graduate courses in psychology and medicine currently teach that it is highly unlikely that sexual orientation will change, listing therapy outcome research as proof, and citing horror stories of archaic methods of attempted change."

We could equally cite failures and horror stories in any branch of psychology in earlier times. All this proves is that conventional therapy is so far not successful. The fact that some people do choose to change indicates that change is possible.

For more details, see "I tried to change but I could not."

"I wanted to be something different, but could not. Therefore it is not a matter of choice."

This statement is based on a false assumption, and it is also illogical. I am sure it reflects the experience of many people, but that just makes it even more sad.

The false assumption - "I need to be something different."

Why should a gay man "be" something different? If God has given someone certain abilities and characteristics, why not use them? But the assumption is of what the person "is." What you "are" is a human being, a complex mix of all kinds of abilities and experiences, with the freedom to change each one.

A gay man does not have to change what he is, but he has the opportunity to use what he has to a better effect. For example, he probably has an appreciation of women, but does not see them in a sexual way. Fine - build on that appreciation, gain more respect, more understanding. Learn the value of what a woman can offer, and choose to maximize that value. Perhaps he will never feel the same way about women as men, but so what? Not all marriages are based on uncontrolled passion

Not changing nature, just changing emphasis

The happiest marriages are based on respect and shared goals - conscious decisions that become unconscious through training. Perhaps this person has an understanding of men that is associated with physical stimulation. Fine. explore that, and identify what associations lead to the stimulation. If he keeps analyzing experiences and motives for long enough, he will come down to a purely technical level. (e.g. what I love about men is A, B, C.) This understanding is useful. Being purely technical, it can be adapted and transferred to a new subject - a woman.

This process, if you like, is deconstructing and reconstructing in a new form, perhaps with a . It is what psychiatrists do all the time. The difference is, if you analyze yourself, you save a great deal of money! It may sound bold to claim that I have the secret of how to change desires, but it is only because homosexual desire shows every sign of being the same, in principle, as heterosexual desire, desire for food, or desire for many other things of which I have experience. All are difficult to change, all seem to define "me," and all are subject to freedom of choice. And all can seem to to control me if I misunderstand them. Sure, habits take a long time to break, but if we take control of our lives day by day, it is only a matter of time. (I speak as someone who is currently in the middle of a strict diet. This may explain why I sometimes come across as fierce on the subject of self-control.)

The false logic - if I did not achieve 'X' then 'X 'is clearly impossible"

The question assumes that, because I wanted something, and that thing did not happen, that thing cannot happen. Does that make sense?

Nothing ever happened simply by wanting it to happen. We need to use our brains, understand the task, break it down into manageable steps, find ways to overcome each obstacle, and then do it. That is the only way.

Often we try the wrong way and think that proves something cannot be done.

"[We thought] he certainly would outgrow it, especially with all the "boy" activities we scheduled for him. He hated Scouting and all sports. He secretly played with dolls and dressed up as a girl."

As someone who has no interest in such "boy" activities (I have never enjoyed sports, and was miserable for the year I was a scout) I have every sympathy with this young man. But making you do something you do not want to do doesn't change anyone. It just confirms you in your belief that you are different.

Nothing ever happened by trying hard but trying in the wrong way. This causes disappointment. For the past month I have been trying to fix a minor problem with my computer. No matter what I do, the problem is still there. Does that mean it cannot be fixed? No, it just means I do not yet know how.

Let us imagine that I wanted something really badly. What if I never found out what was required? I could spend my whole life struggling and wanting, and never succeeding. I would be miserable. Would that prove that my objective was not a matter of choice?

This applies especially to feelings. Let us imagine that I want to love somebody (or some class of people) who I did not love at first. How could I do it? Should I concentrate really hard and try to change how I feel? Would that ever work? I doubt it. It would be wasted effort. Wanting is not enough. I would need, instead, to find out more about that person or group. To see things from their point of view. To list their strengths and attractive points. To recognize their weaknesses and accept the reasons. I would have to decide what I meant by "love." I may have to even say "I will love you in a different way."

There are plenty of examples of people who do not love each other at first, but as they get to know more about each other, their love grows. If we want to deliberately choose to change how we feel, we need to take the same steps, but do it consciously. Simply wanting is not enough.

Can people BE changed?

No. People must want to change, AND know how to do it and be willing to take those steps. That applies to any attitude or behavior, not just sexual orientation.

The only way people are influenced to change is if they learn some new thing and decide for themselves that change is both possible and desirable. For example:

"Broderick related counseling an LDS homosexual who 'believed the rhetoric that God had made him that way, but also couldn't let go of the Kingdom.' In counseling him, Broderick asked the man what his patriarchal blessing said and the man replied that it was a 'cookie-cutter blessing.' Later, upon the young man's request, Broderick gave him a priesthood blessing that turned out to be the same as the patriarch's. Both blessings were very explicit about the man's father/ husband role. The cognitive change in concept that the Lord was speaking specifically to that young man allowed him to change his feelings and behavior and to "work his way back into the Kingdom."

"I prayed but it didn't work"?

A gay church member "prayed fervently over a long period that God would help him to reorient his sexual feelings" but he still felt he was gay

This is almost identical to the issue raised by some ex-Mormons. They say "I prayed for an answer, but got none." But that is not how God answers prayers. We do not pray desperately and then hope. If this worked, we would never take responsibility or learn for ourselves. We are expected to find an answer for ourselves, and then check with God if it is right. In this case, reorienting sexual feelings is such a big task that we need to break it into smaller pieces - I call it "divide and conquer." See the page on sexual orientation for details.

An example of praying over a desperate problem

On the subject of praying for help on a big problem, I am reminded of the story of George Washington Carver. He was one of the truly great men of all time (in my opinion!). Born a slave, he became a great botanist and chemist, and helped to bring prosperity to the desperately poor farmers of the southern United States after the civil war. The traditional cotton and tobacco crops had exhausted the soil, and Carver discovered that planting peanuts could replace the nitrogen. So the impoverished farmers grew huge quantities of peanuts - but then they could not sell them! They were so deep in debt that many were in danger of losing their farms. This was a tremendous problem, and Carver felt responsible for the whole of it. What did he do? He prayed. The prayer went something like this:

"Oh God, no matter what we do, everything goes wrong. We tried so hard and we failed. We just cannot see the point of going on. Why should we bother? Why did you make life like this? Oh God, why did you make mankind?"

No answer.

So George Washington Carver changed the question.

"Oh God, why did you make me?"

No answer.

So George Washington Carver changed the question again.

"Oh God, why did you make peanuts?"

I don't know if Carver go an answer right then, but it got him thinking. He shut himself in his research station at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and worked night and day at a solution. He invented three hundred new products made out of peanuts - foods, glues, textiles, packaging materials, everything you can imagine. The farmers were saved. He turned the weakness into a strength, and founded the American peanut industry, single handed.

One point of this is that sometimes we need to break the question down into smaller parts and then go and do the work. Another point is that God does not create any junk. If we think we have a problem with homosexuality, it may just be a combination of other desires and understandings that, if we break them down, can instead be turned to good use.

For more examples and quotations about how God will not make decisions for you (only confirm or not confirm your own decisions) see quotations about freedom and obedience and how to get answers to prayer.

How it could happen

Some people cannot imagine being happy in changing their sexual behavior. I think this shows that they need better imaginations! :-)

Everyone is different, and feelings are very personal. So I will look at how I could see myself being happy with living as a homosexual. The key is that it would not be a matter of changing, but of focusing on different things. Try this thought experiment for yourself.

  1. Imagine you felt betrayed and hurt for the heterosexual community - they stand for everything you despise. But the homosexual community is full of people like you, and they accept you and make you feel good.
  2. You recognize that every relationship or orientation requires compromise - you are not expecting to solve every problem, just focus on different things.
  3. If you currently love women and want to love men, think of the things you already like about men, and amplify them. Find more positive things to admire. At the same time, think of all the bad or irritating things you can imagine about women, and focus on them.
  4. Now imagine there was some overwhelming moral reason to change your view.
  5. If you are happily married, imagine that your wife had some mysterious genetic condition that made her change gender. Would you still love her? It might take some getting used to, but of course you would. A mature relationship means loving the person, not the gender.
  6. Imagine that all women attack your self-esteem, yet your new "husband" makes you feel great
  7. Remember that you can now have MORE close women friends – lots of them – and hug and touch in non-sexual ways
  8. You are now free to admire any woman’s beauty without guilt – but you admire them so much that you would be disgusted to bring it down to a physical copulation level. Remember that finding women more attractive than men is not the point. Most women I know also find women more attractive than men, but they see sexuality in different terms.
  9. You come to conclude that all women are useless in bed, yet your "husband" is amazing
  10. You are satisfied sexually, and so focus on his family and friendships as higher priorities
  11. You enjoy sex for different, stronger reasons. After all, many things – intense friendships, power, real joy, etc., are said to be "better than sex.."
  12. You recall that, historically, many people (mostly women?) have enjoyed relationships for higher reasons than just conventional physical gratification.

And so it goes on. It is perfectly possible to imagine changing sexual orientation. You just need to choose the right conditions.

How much self-control is needed?

I do not agree with those who suggest that gay men should just have more self control. I do not think the options are so stark. If we break "sexual orientation" into its different parts, each part on its own is quite manageable. See the page on sexual orientation for details. Once we have redirected each part into satisfying directions, the overall change - the effort to get used to a different way of life - need only be small.

Is a little restraint so unusual?

I am sure that gay men are as capable of restraint (in moderation) as anyone else. So this part should not be difficult.

Imagine that you are married, or have a stable partner. Perhaps that is the case. Imagine that you love that person, and everything is great. Does it bother you that you must restrain yourself from lusting after other people? Probably not. A little self control is not much to ask. We are quite capable of suppressing basic urges a little way.

Is a little sacrifice so bad?

What if you were a virgin before your marriage (I hope you were) and then found that, perhaps by some minor car accident, your loved one was unable to consummate the marriage? But they were still able to be physically affectionate in other ways, and otherwise everything about the relationship was great. Would that be so unbearable? No, I think most people would say that, on balance, the marriage could still be pretty good.

So nobody is complaining about a little self-control, within reason.

How much self control would it take?

Most problems can be solved by a process of "divide and conquer." That is, we understand the problem, and make every step as easy as possible. Usually we can whittle the problem down to a smaller and smaller size until it is either manageable or it disappears. It works for every other problem, so I am going to bold and suggest that, since I see no reason against it, it could also work for a problem with sexual preference. (Yes, yes, I know that these must come across as very offensive. Hopefully, with a little feedback from any gay and lesbian readers, this page can be revised to become a little less arrogant.)

For how a sexual preference can be broken down into its component parts, see the page on sexual orientation.

An example

The following analogy is relatively trivial, and I do not wish to insult you by suggesting that I have struggled with a great burden. But the principle is the same.

I am a vegetarian. Many people say "but we were born to eat meat! It is a biological fact!" Whatever. The fact is, I have chosen to not eat meat. (I will not explain the reasons right now.)

Sometimes people say to me, "I could never be a vegetarian - I love the taste of meat!" Well I have news for them. I love the taste of meat too. Or rather, I assume I still do - meat was my favorite food until 1989 when I gave it up. Does this mean that I live in denial, secretly wishing I could sink my teeth into a hamburger? Not really. Giving up meat does not mean living on limp lettuce and hard lentils. There are so many alternatives and meat substitutes that the sacrifice can be made relatively easy. The difference between Quorn and Chicken is small, but the benefits of being a vegetarian are great. It is a question of keeping as much of the good as possible.

In the same way, the difference between a loving male-female relationship and a loving male-male relationship can be reduced to the point where the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. It does not have to be seen as giving something up, but of getting something better.

Of course, if I had believed that I was 'born to eat meat,' becoming a vegetarian would have been much more difficult - perhaps impossible. Fortunately, I was brought up to believe that everyone is free to choose for themselves. And we have brains - we can use them to make any task easier.

Example 1: feeling different (all quotes are from various articles in Sunstone)

"The youngest person that I talked to said he was seven when he felt that he was gay. When he saw his brothers and sisters interact he thought there was something wrong with him because he didn't feel the way they did."

In other words, you begin by feeling you are different ( a very common feeling), and that later develops into the belief that you are sexually different.

Example 2: different kinds of love

"One man told me that when he was sixteen his best buddy started dating one of the girls and he became furious. He asked himself, "What's going on with me?" Who could he talk to about that? Who is qualified in the Church to talk to him? He tells his mother, "I'm really mad that Bruce has gone out with this girl, he shouldn't be going out with her, he should be going out with me because he's my boyfriend."

This is not about sexual love. It is just about love. It seems that different kinds of love have been confused. I was sixteen too - how many people really know exactly how they feel about love?

Example 3: non-sexual definitions

"A psychiatrist at Children's Hospital came up to me and said, 'l have two little children, two little boys that are four that I'm working with' [he believed them to be gay]'"

It is highly unlikely that four year olds are engaging in sexual activity. More likely, there are non-sexual clues that lead them to be branded "gay". There is nothing wrong with non-sexual aspects of homosexuality (such as a man being what people call being 'effeminate,' or caring for male friends) as long we are also able to make female friends as well. So why label them as gay? Because the environment tends to direct some behaviors towards sexual acts. Thus it is an environmental thing.

Example 4: homophobia can push people to become gay

One man reports how a friend was treated when he was fifteen years old. "He came home with a bloodied, tom, white shirt, black eye, tear in his lip, puffy ear. 'What's wrong, what did you do?' asked his mother, a first- generation American-she and her husband came from the old country, He said, '[my friends] beat me up.' 'Why?' 'Because I'm gay.' 'What do you mean gay?' 'They think I'm a homosexual.' (Up to then, he never had had a homosexual experience, never really entertained the idea that he was homosexual, although he had a light frame and was slightly feminine-) She said, 'What's homosexual?' 'They think I love men more than women.' 'Get out of my house,' she said. Fifteen-and-a-half! That should not happen, he's a child of God, too, whatever his problem."

Example 5: feeling repelled by the church

"I think of another person who ... dated, but never did get married, His mother and father suspected that he might be homosexual. ...his mother [who blamed herself] was really troubled and had a nervous breakdown. She's raised a fine family, and this son is a fine person. He became angry at the Church, not because of what he's going through but because of the anguish and terror he saw his mother go through."

This is a sad case. There is no need to be distressed over anything the church teaches. This is why:

The mother thought that the church blamed her. But what is the church? Just people like you and me. Who cares what they say? What matters is what Jesus says, not what our fellow members say (unless they speak by revelation, and even then we need to know for ourselves that it is revelation). As a general rule, it is a good idea to go along with whatever the church teaches (it is usually right, even allowing for misunderstandings). But with something as important as this, it is wrong to rely on blind faith. We need to learn for ourselves if the teaching in question is from God.

We do not need to ever be distressed over what someone says. If it feels bad, there is obviously some aspect that is not from God, or that we do not understand (see 'How to get answers to prayers'). Being troubled and worried is a sign of relying on blind faith, and is not part of the church (see 'Do you like the church?').

See also 'Quotations about freedom of choice' and 'Deep doctrine' for more on the topics of obedience and infallibility.

Example 6: feeling repelled by family

[Johnston was a gay man who had difficulty telling his family.] "Johnston’s mother Gerry spoke about the personal fears and questions she had as she attempted to deal with her son's homosexuality. 'I wasn't sure I could survive with a homosexual in my family,' she said."

If you want acceptance, but your family won't accept you, and the gay community does, what are you going to do?

Example 7: not understanding his feelings

In this case, a man thought that he would control his feelings by changing his behavior. That is not the solution. To control our feelings, we need to understand them, not hide them. If I want to turn left, but instead turn right, I will always wonder what turning left is like, and probably I will eventually do it - especially if I find difficulties or obstacles along my right-hand route.

"Jim ... didn't completely understand his desires. ... He knew he had some homosexual feelings growing up, but comforted himself by concluding that others must have similar feelings, and that an active sexual relationship with a woman would decrease his homosexual urges."

"It made no sense and it was all too much for me to face, so we put it aside, almost pretending it didn't exist. Jim continued to be faithful, but he grew restless and extremely depressed."

Avoiding understanding (usually by saying "I cannot help it") is no way to improve things. A better solution would have been to understand his desires, and thereby find a way to direct his feelings to the most satisfying ends. But instead, this man allowed himself to be led by others - not understanding and taking control for himself:

"With time, righteous living, and a temple marriage, he was led to believe these feelings would pass. They did not, they intensified. That was not because of lack of trying. … he truly strived to be a man of God."

As noted elsewhere, blind faith in others is not any good here. Also, effort is no help unless it is in a direction that will work. Here, the effort was wasted, because changing behavior does not help without changing understanding first.

Example 8: early feelings not changed

"Theories aside, we had to confront the reality of Brad's unequivocal sexual feelings for males, feelings he had known since his early years in grade school and which had become clearer in adolescence."

It is a obvious fact that any feelings that have been held for a very long time will be difficult to change. This says nothing about the cause or the effect. Indeed, it would probably indicate environmental causes. The feelings first appeared at early grade school - before puberty - but not since earlier childhood. Why should biological drives suddenly appear just then?

We should not assume a biological cause just because of a long time period. Any feelings that are not effectively countered are bound to grow with time.

Example 9: the myth of the "inner self"

"For most of his life Mark had been trying to discover who he really was. He knew we and the Church were homophobic, and he tried to hide his true identity"

This man was looking for something that was hidden. At the same time he chose to hidden certain behaviors and preferences (probably attitudes like sensitivity that can form part of a healthy heterosexual relationship). Surprise, surprise, he finally discovered his hidden self - the parts that he himself had hidden! And instead of being just a part of the rich tapestry of life, these suppressed feelings were given a special place as his "real" self, and came to define him.

The truth of course is that we do not have a hidden self to be discovered.,. We are what we choose to be. It only seems a mystery if we choose not to understand what is happening.

Example 10: interpreting differences

"Ten years ago, when he was twenty, our eldest son Brad came to his mother and me and told us he was homosexual. … The only unusual trait we had noted was a more pronounced interest in serious music, art, and literature than characterized others in his peer group. There was, however, one sign that something was wrong (easier to recognize after the fact): he had experienced periods of depression, which concerned us at the time but which we attributed to the general difficulties of adolescence."

Feeling different is normal, and feeling very different is common. Feeling lonely is a terrible thing - especially when you know that your interests are good. It is no surprise that, when this man learned of a lifestyle that supported his views, he was sympathetic. To paraphrase a famous saying,

"What we understand, we accept.
What we accept, we love.
What we love, becomes part of us."

Conclusion: it could have been so different

Each of these cases it seems likely that the result would have been different if the person, or their friends and family, had addressed the issues differently. In this respect, homosexuality is shaped by environmental issues. That does not make it feel any less real. But understanding the causes in each case can help.


The Bottom Line

Don't Work Hard (e.g. by fighting against your deepest desires)
- Work Smart (by getting to understand your deepest desires, and finding satisfactory alternatives.)


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