Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Thinking DIfferently About Same-sex Attraction: A Valuable Presentation from Jeff Robinson

One of the highlights of this week's 2018 FairMormon Conference for me was the presentation by Dr. Jeff Robinson, "Thinking Differently About Same-sex Attraction." Dr. Robinson has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy (BYU) and has spent over 15,000 hours in the past 25 years in his private practice interviewing and learning from individuals experiencing a conflict between their religious or personal values and same-sex attraction. I was touched with the compassion and passion he spoke in helping the audience understand the need for compassion and love for others, and in helping us to think differently about SSA.

Robinson explained how those experiencing conflicts related to SSA almost always wish to understand the why behind their challenges. What makes some have SSA? Saying that why is irrelevant does not work well, he explained, because the assumptions people make about the cause will strongly influence the steps they take.

His recommended approach is to simply explain SSA as "something you know how to do." He used the analogy to one's native language. Why do I speak English? Is it in my genes that makes me simply born as an English speaker? Is it because I suffered psychological abuse as a child and am somehow damaged goods? Is it because as a small child I chose to speak English instead of Swahili or other equally valid choices? My genes certainly hardwire me with a predisposition to speak and express myself in language, but the nature of the language(s) I learn can be influenced by many other factors, and English is not the only language I can learn.

If we understand SSA as nothing more than something one knows how to do, it resolves the problems with other theories. We need not assume that someone with SSA is mentally ill or psychologically damaged, or that they have made evil choices and are to blame for their state. Further, we need not accept the myth that they are born into an iron-clad "orientation" that excludes other possibilities. Robinson explains that a large number of those with SSA also experience some degree of opposite-sex attraction (OSA). If they assume they are born into a fixed "orientation," they may be likely to ignore or deny whatever degree of OSA they experience, thus missing the hints of other hopeful possibilities.

This understanding can give us tools to be more accepting, less judgmental, and more supportive of those who face conflict between their values and their attractions. I greatly appreciated his viewpoint.

Update, Aug. 6, 2018: Dr. Robinson was not saying that SSA can be eliminated. He tells his patients that they should expect to experience it throughout their lives. He was not advocating reversion therapy. But he does urge caution in the use of labels and believes at least some people have greater options in life than they realized, including the option to find greater peace in how they live.

Dr. Robinson's patients are those who are seeking help to deal with the conflicts they face between their values or religion and SSA. He clearly indicated that his patients are not a representative sample of the entire population. His approach, which may benefit many of his clients, may not be needed or relevant to many with SSA. If you feel that other ways of thinking about SSA better describe your situation (e.g., being "born that way" with a genetically-determined sexual orientation), that is fine. Dr. Robinson's practice and views in that case may be irrelevant to your situation. But for some seeking to cope with some particular conflicts, it has been very helpful.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my god! In 2018 you think it's some kind of triumph that someone who has engaged "over 15,000 hours in the past 25 years" with gay people has found the basic humanity to set aside religion-inspired shibboleths and address them as individuals? Excuse my sarcasm but give me a break! Make sure you post a bulletin when Robinson and you subscribe to gravity too.

Meanwhile, the great Compassionate One of FAIR still can't bring himself to accept that they can't be somehow tweaked, coaxed or cajoled into abandoning their sexual nature and hooking up with someone of the opposite sex. Why? To make him feel better? To make the Brethren seem somehow less callous and Neanderthal? Because there haven't been enough of those warped mixed orientation marriages that ended in disaster and confused children torn between their parents and the church?

I bet you think you're extending empathy and hospitality to gay Mormons. In fact, you're being patronizing and insulting.

Reading this just leaves me livid on behalf of gay people.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I understand the anger above. Reading this I feel more discouraged and depressed than anything else. It is mind boggling to me that a therapist with years of experience is still trying to push the idea that being gay is not real and that sexual orientation is fluid. For some people maybe but for many no. For some they do have an ability to be attracted to both sexes or genders. This is called "bisexual" or "pansexual". No matter how many people try to change their orientation or make a mixed-orientation marriage work, those marriages just keep relentlessly failing with seemingly few exceptions. There are still many who internalize this self rejection and are suicidal as a result. It's so sad and I'm so sad to see you post this on your otherwise intelligent and wonderful blog.

Anonymous said...

Still trying to fit the round peg of human sexuality into the square peg of LDS theology....

Jeff, if you want to see what’s wrong with the idea of homosexuality as something that, like language, one “knows how to do,” just imagine yourself learning “how to do” homosexuality. Imagine learning to do gay desire, truly enjoying sex with another man and feeling genuine revulsion at the thought of sex with a woman, etc.

Do you honestly think you could do that? Or do you feel that your heterosexuality is rather more deeply rooted?

— OK

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zera BP said...

Too all the anonymous posters above you may want to look into the most recent research on human sexuality. Also how you can take offense to this post says far more about you than Jeff Lindsay.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Dr. Robinson spoke passionately about the need to support those struggling with suicidal thoughts related to their SSA conflicts. Telling people that they are not damaged goods, that their attractions are not due to being a bad person or making a bad choice hardly seems like the thing that drives a person to suicide. But telling a person that the attraction they have felt locks them into an identity without other options and without a way to cope with the conflict that pains them does not seem like the healthiest approach. What basis do you have for claiming that Dr. Robinson’s work is causing suicide?

Jeff Lindsay said...

It seems to me that knowing how to do something does not mean that it is easy to learn or unlearn, nor does it deny that it is deeply rooted. Gender is also deeply rooted, but may not have absolute boundaries.

And OK, there are many heterosexuals who do not look on homosexuality as a hopelessly revolting thing. Just as many with distinct SSA have felt some degree of OSA, I think many heterosexual people have experienced various degrees of SSA. Blurry boundaries seem to fit reality better than pigeon-holing people into immovable categories of orientation.

Jeff Lindsay said...

The LDS Proclamation on the Family recognizes gender as part of our eternal nature, but that does not absolutely govern our attractions nor remove the blurry boundaries that arise in mortality from the many factors that affect our lives here.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, if you will read my comment a bit more carefully I think you will see that I said nothing about "homosexuality as a hopelessly revolting thing." The fact is that a lot of individual straight people personally feel revulsion at the thought of having sex with a member of the same sex, just as many individual gay people personally feel revulsion at the thought of having sex with a member of the same sex. That's not at all the same as claiming homosexuality is itself revolting.

I don't want to get too graphic here, so let me just ask you to imagine some one or another intimate act that two gay men might perform on each other. Now imagine yourself wanting to perform that act yourself with another man.

Note that I'm not asking you to imagine yourself performing that act; I'm asking you to take it a step further and imagine yourself wanting to perform that act. (This is important because being sexual identity is not fundamentally about behavior, it's about desire.) Next, imagine yourself strongly desiring a lifelong sexual and emotional affiliation with another man, and just as strongly not desiring such an affiliation with a woman.

It's easy to see something like aversion therapy (or even some more benign therapy) changing someone's sexual behavior, but the basic structure of their desire, not so much. Do you really think that your basic heterosexual desire could be rewired to the point where you wanted to have sex with another man?

-- OK

Anonymous said...

And now, Jeff, a couple comments on your statement about telling a person that the attraction they have felt locks them into an identity without other options and without a way to cope with the conflict that pains them.

Those on my side of this debate are not telling anyone that their desire "locks them into an identity." We recognize that sexual identity is often fluid. But we are saying that sexual identity is deeply rooted and deeply intertwined in innumerable ways with one's sense of self and one's mental health, and that attempts to conform sexual identity into this or that theological or cultural straitjacket are very dangerous. (Not to mention incredibly arrogant. And, one would think, decidedly non-conservative, a notion which I should not have to explain if you know even the first thing about conservatism.)

Also, of course, gay people do have "a way to cope with the conflict that pains them," namely, working to change the heterosexist and homophobic culture and laws that demean them. Throwing off one's oppressors is remarkably tonic. It does wonders for one's mental health.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

"And OK, there are many heterosexuals who do not look on homosexuality as a hopelessly revolting thing. "

How very damned White of you...

I'll tell you what's revolting: your implied statement that some human beings can decide whether or not other human beings are as legitimate as they are. You are still not past that, Jeff, as you are advertising in this entry. And it's a very very sad -- and completely unacceptable -- commentary that your religion is on the side of the devils with respect to this issue.

Jeff Lindsay said...

White? Wow. Hey, it was one of my critics who used the word "revulsion" to describe what he sees as the way many heterosexuals look upon homosexual activity for them. My point was that just because a person is heterosexual does not mean that he or she will look at homosexuality -- either in general or in terms of their specific life and desires -- as revolting. And for saying that, you are outraged and accuse me of being "da**ed White."

In a world of such angry and easily inflamed people, I guess rational dialog is impossible. Those who disagree on any issue with will be "da**ed White" no matter what they say.

Anonymous said...

How is anything Dr. Robinson says harming you? If someone is struggling with SSA and chooses to get help, how is Robinson's approach harmful to them or you? Why the hostility?

Anonymous said...

Many heterosexuals consider gay sex revolting; that's just a fact. I mean, the revulsion itself is a feeling; what is a fact is that many people experience that feeling.

It's also a fact that many heterosexuals find homosexuality to be some sort of problem that needs to be solved. For such people it works something like this:

(1) Homosexuality is widely disapproved, which means that
(2) Gay people experience "conflicts" rooted in that disapproval*, so therefore
(3) We must liberate homosexuals from their homosexuality.

Fortunately, for more and more of us, the logic goes like this:

(1) Homosexuality is widely disapproved, which means that
(2) Gay people experience "conflicts" rooted in that disapproval, so therefore
(3) We should resolve those conflicts by ceasing to disapprove of homosexuality.

It's really not that complicated. Just let people be. Wherever this has been tried, things have worked out just fine.

It's only complicated if one is captive of an ideology/theology that mandates disapproval of homosexuality.

Liberate the captives, I say.

-- OK

* Of course, disapproval of homosexuality leads to conflicts for straight people as well, e.g., the friends and relatives of gay people.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:56 writes, How is anything Dr. Robinson says harming you? If someone is struggling with SSA and chooses to get help, how is Robinson's approach harmful to them or you? Why the hostility?

This is nonsense. No one "struggle[s] with SSA." What gay people struggle with is not their own sexuality, it's the social disapproval of their sexuality. It's not the gay person who has to change here. It's Dr. Robinson who has to change. I don't doubt that Robinson is sincere, but he's nonetheless wrong, and he's wrong in a way that reaffirms and perpetuates the harmful assumption that homosexuality is the problem. If he wants to get on the right side here, he needs to be advocating for gay-friendly social/legal reform and developing therapies for homophobic straight people.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

You don't think there are people who want help to resolve the conflict they experience with SSA? You know that for sure, OK?

Anonymous said...

Ok

There are many different individuals with different sexual attractions--some are currently socially acceptable, and some are not. Just because one type (or several types) of attraction have recently become socially acceptable, doesn't mean cultural communities will buy in to that acceptance nor that they should be forced or coerced to buy in to it. They have the right to be as open minded or closed minded as they so choose. Those within the culture (or society in general) may find that their sexual proclivities do not align with what their culture or society deems acceptable. It's up to that individual then to decide his best course of action. Does he act on his desires? If so, what will the consequences be? Does he seek to stifle or re-channel those desires to a more socially acceptable behavior? The individual must decide.

The individual however, does not get to decide the outcomes of his decision. He may incur social stigma. He may only incur cultural stigma but be accepted more widely by society as a whole. In those cases of socially unacceptable sexual attraction, he may even end up in prison. Society and culture cannot force an individual's sexual attractions, but they do have the right to determine if those attractions fall within the bounds of what is generally deemed acceptable. Mormons have a more traditional view of same-sex attraction--they don't view it as acceptable despite society's acceptance of the practice (note that there is a distinct difference between desire and practice--kudos to the church for recognizing this and making provisions in their treatment of the issue). It is then up to the Mormon individual to decide how he is going to address his sexual desires. If he is a believer, and his sexual attractions are outside of what is culturally acceptable, he must decide how he is going to approach this impasse as stated above. It is a difficult situation, but the church shouldn't be forced to change their point of view based on what is currently socially acceptable. It is not a right to be a Mormon.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:20, I think I follow you, except for the part where you say that "the church shouldn't be forced to change their point of view based on what is currently socially acceptable." Who is trying to force the church to change its point of view? Some of us are trying to persuade it to change, which of course is an entirely different thing, but I don't see any force involved.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

3) We should resolve those conflicts by ceasing to disapprove of homosexuality.

I guess you never did advocate force, but if you had a magic wand, things would be different, no?

Anonymous said...

The analogy between SSA and speaking English is not like most good analogies that break down when examined carefully (which all analogies eventually do). This one is broken to start with. I speak English because my parents taught me to speak English. How many gay people do you know who are gay because their parents taught them to be gay when they were toddlers? This is a silly comparison. It should be an insult to anyone who experiences SSA. Sorry, but I'd expect something more from someone who has spent thousands of hours looking into this issue.

Anonymous said...

We're talking about a church that still can't bring itself to use the word "gay" or "homosexual". They prefer to pretend that it's not an individual's nature but an "attraction" because calling it an "attraction" allows them to continue to discriminate.

Why would anyone dignify an institutional refusal to come to terms with reality and lack of empathy that contributes to suicides? Why should anyone treat that as credible or moral leadership? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is backward and destructive to the larger society. If the geriatric leadership refuse to evolve they must be identified for the consequences of their ossification. And FAIR is merely acting as their clean-up crew.

Bryce Cook said...

Robinson's approach and interpretation start from the position that "acting on" being gay is inherently wrong. Without that a priori assumption, his whole approach and need for therapy are no longer relevant. What does he think about gay married couples who are just as happy and well-adjusted as straight married couples? Take away his a priori assumption, and you take away the angst, guilt, self loathing and so many other negative fruits (including suicide) that plague those who try to maintain the church's position on homosexuality. How does he explain the positive fruits of gay marriage? I have addressed this in my article that was published in Dialogue last summer, which can be read here: https://mormonlgbtquestions.com

Anonymous said...

" He used the analogy to one's native language. Why do I speak English? Is it in my genes that makes me simply born as an English speaker? Is it because I suffered psychological abuse as a child and am somehow damaged goods? Is it because as a small child I chose to speak English instead of Swahili or other equally valid choices?"

My flippin heck. That statement is so very absurd. Downright stupid analogy. We speak the language in which we are raised. I was raised with both Spanish and English and speak both.

Anonymous said...

Great point, Bryce. It seems the church has a hard time admitting the detrimental role that guilt plays in emotional and psychological well-being. Guilt is a major player in the porn addiction epidemic in the LDS community and why consumption is so high. I’m just starting to hear a change in the approach to this issue—perhaps the winds of change will start blowing in the SSA direction soon.

Anonymous said...

While Jeff Robinson was trying to justify the church's stubbornness on the fiction of same sex "attraction", at Sunstone they were discussing the defection of millennial Mormons.

Kids are looking at the church's obfuscations and the actual discriminatory behavior of the church that's indefensibly visited on gay parents' children and asking why the church can't operate with the same kind of morality and decency it preaches and expects of them.

Good question, Millennials!

Anonymous said...

You would think that an institution that had been persecuted and stigmatized most of its existence for its views on marriage would have more lenience and compassion about marital issues.

Jeff Lindsay said...

What I heard from Dr. Robinson was not a call for all gays, etc. to change or for gay couples to break up. He is focused on helping those who come seeking for help because they face a conflict between their attractions and their personal beliefs or religion.

Many people face a spectrum of attractions and not comfortable with some of that spectrum. That can include married men and women who at times experience SSA. It can include heterosexual men who face but resist attraction to much younger women. It can include married people who are tempted with adulterous attractions. What's so threatening about the idea that some people attracted to their own gender (at least some of the time) may "struggle" with it? That struggle does not require pigeon-holing them as "born-that way 100% gay, don't deny it!"

Based on what I heard from Robinson, I understood that he is working exclusively with those who do struggle with their attractions and want help. If you are gay and don't experience any conflict, I don't think he's asking you to change and sign up for therapy of any kind. But if you want, for example, to find a way to remain in your relationship as a man married to a woman raising kids, or to be active in the Mormon faith, his approach might be helpful.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Anon @10:42. It would be wonderful and probably healing too. But Mormons, alas, are no more capable of respecting gay people and accepting them as they are than the State of Israel is with its Palestinian citizens. In a triumph of morality over culture, however, there are Mormons and there are Israelis who choose their humanity and rise to the challenge of the two Great Commandments.

Anonymous said...

"Based on what I heard from Robinson, I understood that he is working exclusively with those who do struggle with their attractions and want help."

But does he start with the question of why they may be uncomfortable? Is he troubled at all if the discomfort comes from the Mormon culture telling them they're "wrong" or, worse, disordered or evil from birth? A person who is fat and is uncomfortable with not being able to control their eating rarely commits suicide.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, to understand the problem as I (and others in this discussion) see it, consider this passage from your post:

Robinson explained how those experiencing conflicts related to SSA almost always wish to understand the why behind their challenges. What makes some have SSA? Saying that why is irrelevant does not work well, he explained, because the assumptions people make about the cause will strongly influence the steps they take.

According to Robinson, the way to "understand the why behind their challenges" is to better understand the why of same-sex attraction. What causes it? etc.

That's the wrong approach.

The right way to "understand the why behind their challenges" is to better understand the why of LDS condemnation of gay sex.

To put this as baldly as possible: The conflict is not produced by same-sex attraction but by Mormon homophobia.

Were I counseling someone "seeking for help because they face a conflict between their attractions and their personal beliefs or religion," I would say something like this:

"Look, there's nothing wrong with being gay. Nothing. And your Church leadership is wrong to say otherwise, just as they were earlier wrong about racial issues, etc. You can be openly and actively gay and be a good Mormon; in doing so, you'll just be a little ahead of the leadership, just as many liberal Mormons were ahead of the leadership on racial issues. Of course, the Church might well punish you for being openly and actively gay. You might well be denied a temple recommend or be socially ostracized, but that is on the Church, not you; your own conscience should be clear. Here are some materials by gay Mormons I suggest you read.... And here is some biblical scholarship explaining why the Church's stance on homosexuality is wrong...." Etc.

That is, I would approach the conflict as a conflict created by the Church's homophobia, not the client's homosexuality. Robinson isn't doing that.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I think it's ironic that you entitled this entry "Thinking Differently". This is the same old intolerance from a guy who is educated by the church, works for the church and now parrots for the church to indoctrinate others.

If FAIR wants to be taken seriously at all isn't it time to hear from someone who doesn't come out of the BYU bubble? How about a little thinking differently?

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Bryce Cook's article "What Do We Know of God’s Will For His LGBT Children? An Examination of the LDS Church’s Position on Homosexuality," and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Cook writes from a faithful perspective and clearly and cogently indicates the humane (and doctrinally sound!) path the Church could take were it so inclined.

Jeff, I recommend not only that you read this article, but that you suggest to the relevant powers-that-be that Cook be invited to speak at the next FairMormon Conference.

Mr. Cook, thanks for writing this article and sharing the link.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Anon @10:42. It would be wonderful and probably healing too. But Mormons, alas, are no more capable of respecting gay people and accepting them as they are than the State of Israel is with its Palestinian citizens. In a triumph of morality over culture, however, there are Mormons and there are Israelis who choose their humanity and rise to the challenge of the two Great Commandments.

10:12 AM, August 10, 2018


Your statement complaining about others shows that you are the one with phobias, such as Mormonphobia and Jewishophobia, and your examples are total nonsense.

Bryan Hinton said...

This is at the same time a very enlightening and very discouraging discussion.

I have read Bryce Cook's article and he speaks very eloquently and informed on his perspective of why things should be different and what he hopes for in the future and how it might theologically work. I am grateful that he wrote it if nothing else to open people's minds to different thoughts. Those who are gay deserve to be loved and appreciated and we as a Church (and for the most part individually as well) haven't been as Christ-like as we needed to be. We have come a long ways and have a long ways to go.


Jeff also shared thoughts and perspectives that He thought were an interesting way to frame looking at being gay. In that article I don't know if I detected concretely Jeff's views on the topic, but he certainly has been called a lot of names in the comments and accused of a lot of things.


Are we in capable as a society (and as a Church) in disagreeing without hating each other?

The sad thing is that likely most on this thread agree deeply that our gay brothers and sisters deserve to be loved and cared for. Some see acceptance of same-sex marriage in the doctrines of the church as the way to do that. Some are seeking for ways to do it within the confines of the current revealed doctrine. With the latter there is far more of a realization that in so doing there still leaves great heartache for what those that are gay will fail to experience than is given credit.

While choosing to disagree about the method to love and support them can we not build bridges with what we do agree on? Doing so doesn't prevent us from seeking and developing our arguments and knowledge. But it should prevent us labeling each other as Apostates or Homophobic. No good comes from that. None!

There is so much about this life that I don't pretend to understand. So much grief and heartache. So many mistakes by all (including those called by God). But in all of that imperfection our charge as individuals and as a Church doesn't change. We are to invite all to come unto Christ so He can heal them. I wish we would spend less time name calling and more time doing that!

I keep hoping that the proverbial Mormon blogosphere can rise above the close mindedness that exists in most of society. Far too often I am deeply disappointed. But I keep hoping...

Oh and Bryce and Jeff thanks for commenting using your names and owning your thoughts I wish more on the comment thread did that.