Today, Robert Spitzer revealed the content of the letter he is sending to Ken Zucker, editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the journal that originally published his study that concluded that ‘ex-gay’ therapy worked for highly motivated individuals. This article has been the single most influential piece ‘ scientific evidence’ that the Christian Right has used to justify conversion/reparative/’ex-gay’ therapy. At the time of publication in 2003, many people were shocked because Spitzer had been the ‘inside man’ within the American Psychiatric Association who spear-headed removal of homosexuality from the DSM, the list of ‘official’ psychiatric disorders. It’s less surprising when you realize that neither Spitzer nor most of the other barely 51% of psychiatrists who approved removal actually thought gays were normal. They considered it a ‘sub-optimal adjustment’ born of either hard-wired genetics or bad parenting, depending on your theoretical orientation. But in 1973 they decided it didn’t rise to the level of a psychiatric “illness,” even though clearly – a lamentable outcome. Psychiatrists supported civil rights for queers kind of the same way they supported civil rights for disabled people. If that’s your take on homosexuality, then it makes sense that if there is a way to rid people of this suboptimal orientation, it would be a kindness to do so. Spitzer didn’t surprise me. I know my history of psychiatry, and how deeply it, and sexology, are steeped in pathology models of sex and gender variance.
The more surprising thing is that Spitzer is recanting. Not surprising that Zucker by his own admission ‘pushed back’ at Spitzer when the latter asked for a retraction of his article (see my previous blog post on Zucker’s brand of ‘reparative therapy’ on gender variant children).
So whether or not Zucker chooses to publish it – the world now knows that Spitzer considered his data ‘fatally flawed’ and his conclusions false. AND – Spitzer took responsibility for the damage his study did to many gay people (see Gabrial Arana’s piece, “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life”). Commendable, in my book. There are plenty of other scientists who owe us an apologize and will never admit they were wrong.
I can’t see how Zucker could NOT publish this article. And I’m sure he will invite “commentary” from other “scientists.” That will be interesting to read. Can’t wait to see homophobia cloaked in the guise of ‘scientific critique’ of Spitzer’s recant. I’ve already heard some of it, how Spitzer isn’t really saying anything new, how Spitzer is just trying to salvage his reputation and place in history by doing this. I hope my field acknowledges the import of this and respects —AND ENCOURAGES- this kind of public statement.