Thursday, 16 April 2009

Witch-hunts for the digital era

One of my pet peeves, of which I have many, are people who use the terms ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ interchangeably.
Homosexuality ‘it’s not natural’ they say ‘it’s not normal’.
No sir.
It’s natural because it occurs in nature. But it is not normal as in, it is not of the norm – as in it is not the statistically prevalent, culturally prescribed, socially expected and publicly encouraged form of conduct.
So let’s get our terms straight here: ‘natural’ has everything to do with Mother Nature. ‘Normal’ has everything to do your own mother, her expectations and a whole number of social prescriptions on how ‘things should be’.

Now if you ask me, societies change, opinions evolve and what is considered normal is far from constant, varying from time to time, from place to place and from one person to the next. So although ‘natural’ is an altogether safer bet long term, ‘normal’ is what gets you invited to parties and leaves your aunties and nosy neighbours feeling safe and all warm inside. You don’t need me to tell you people generally prefer ‘normal’ to ‘natural’. Societies have historically victimised, marginalized, criminalized, ostracised and killed witches, prophets, adulterers, abortionists, unmarried lovers, homosexuals, members of different religions, parties, factions or football clubs.
You catch my drift.
‘Normal’ can be brutal and scary.

And here we are, in the year of our Lord 2009, in an era of openness, acceptance, moderation. In an era where your creed, colour, sexual preference or taste in neckties will not lead to a marginal life of victimisation and uncertainty. Or so they tell us.
Here we are thinking that, in our open-minded Western societies, ‘normal’ is a multi-hued, multi-faceted thing, as close to ‘natural’ as it has ever been in human history.

And here I am reading with incredulity that a number of psychiatrists and therapists are still offering their services to gay customers: 'helping them become heterosexual'.
To be honest, I first read the item a couple of weeks ago and dismissed it as an April fool’s day folly. A bad one but still a folly.
But no. It’s still on the wires. Evidently not a joke. Patently not funny.

Although such treatments are at best irrelevant and at worst harmful, apparently one in six of the mental health professionals surveyed in a recent poll in the UK said that they had ‘helped at least one patient curtail their gay, lesbian or bisexual feelings’ and one in 25 would try to ‘treat’ someone with homosexual ‘emotions’.
That’s a big percentage.
Maybe they are starting a trend. Maybe they will launch a pill.
I can see the adverts: ‘Tired of being different? Now you can fit it with the jocks, the cheerleaders and the conservative Christian right! Yes you can. You can try lobotomy or our new revolutionary Straight Pill – available at pharmacies near you’.

No, I don’t think this is funny either.
If licensed mental health professionals are trying to ‘cure’ sexual preference then it’s a matter of time before an angry mob bearing pitchforks comes to my door and drags me away to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft – what with my opinions and the people I hang out with.

Professor Michael King, from University College London, denounced any such attempts to cure homosexuality as scientifically unfounded and potentially harmful. His statement was countered by someone who refused to be named (the KKK also wore hoods to conceal their faces) who claimed that many a gay person is unhappy with their sexuality and ‘wish they were heterosexual’ and thus deserve help.
Professor King of course puts this proposition on its head, noting that many people face prejudice against their sexuality both from society and from within themselves – because you can’t shake your upbringing as easily as you’d like – and the mental health practitioner’s job is to help the individual deal with and overcome this prejudice, wherever it comes from.
As I was saying, when ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ collide the socially-fabricated and collectively-upheld normality wins over nature every bloody time.

And so ‘normality’ is shoved down our throats, with a lab-coat and stethoscope screaming from afar ‘when society and science converge, there is no use resisting’.
Now you may say, 1 in 25 practitioners being tempted to ‘cure’ homosexuality is not that bad, statistically speaking. But I really hope you won’t say that. Because one is one too many.
Besides, if a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy are believed to cure homosexuality, it is a matter of time before we hear of pills for atheism, syrups for liberalism and an enema to cure trade unionism.

This is not the first time doctors help us to be 'normal'.
This is not the first time scientists opt for upholding 'normality' and corresponding relations of power and control.
'Normal' has by definition strenght in numbers. 'Normal' lives, by definition, in the mainstream. What was once done in Churches is now done through chat shows, socio-babble jargon, websites. But a witch-hunt is a witch-hunt even with a .com at the end of it. And this wouldn’t be the first time the bad guys wore lab coats either.

And although the numbers are low (1 in 6 have done it, 1 in 25 would do it), the numbers are too high. And until the profession purges itself, there is a collective reponsibility no-one can deny. And until 'normal' aligns itself with 'natural', I will have cause to rant. This anger may be not be natural but, given the world I live in, let's face it: it's normal.


  1. The eternal optimist in me, wanting to hope the best for humanity would like to throw this out there:
    True homosexuality of course cannot and should not be 'treated', they would be better served trying to work on a vaccination for bigotry or tonic for intolerance.
    But perhaps the examples these mental health professionals were talking about were instead people coming to them with issues of rejection of the opposite sex that they had been mistaking for homosexuality. Consider a woman who rejects men on the grounds of abuse from her father or uncle and feels 'safer' in relationships with women yet still feels unhappy with this because actually she is not homosexual. This could be twisted by a sensationalist journo looking for a story into 'trying to treat homosexuality'. When in fact these cases are people coming to discuss 'homosexual behaviour' but whom no-one would disagree, were definitely in need of help and treatment.
    Having not read your sources, or indeed their sources, who can tell? But the optimist in me would like to think that a large proportion of reported cases might fall into this category, leaving the witchhunters firmly in the tiny minority along with serial killers and people who still think the world is flat - deplorable but in enough of a minority that we on the whole not at risk from them...

  2. Αδερφέ παρουσιάζεις στο blog σου πολύ σωστά και επίκαιρα θέματα. Και έχεις πολύ σωστές ιδέες. Εύχομαι να βρει απήχηση η φωνή σου.Αν και καινούριος στο χώρο βλέπω πως υπάρχουν εδώ μέσα άνθρωποι που σκέφτονται σωστά και με χαροποιεί ιδιαίτερα αυτό. Λες να υπάρχει ελπίδα για κάτι καλύτερο?

  3. @ Lonny: I don’t want to bash your optimism. I really don't.
    But I think it’s a dangerous path to tread. And if a mental health professional was approached by someone whose sexuality was entangled with a history of abuse, then I sincerely hope they wouldn’t see the help they offer as ‘curing homosexuality’. Although the comprehensive results of the study are not published yet, it is clear that a large chunk of the professionals questioned believe in the need and possibility of a psychoanalytic cure for homosexuality.
    And that makes them, leaving all else out of it for a minute, bad professionals and a danger to their patients.

    @ Ftylos – Να είσαι καλά φιλε μου!
    Που θα μας πάει? θα το πετύχουμε το καλύτερο. One day at a time!

  4. kali anastasi kai kalo pasxa na exeis me igeia kai boliki agapi!na peraseis iperoxa tis meres ton giorton!filia!

  5. Δεν θα ήταν πιο εύκολο αντί να ψάχνουμε να κάνουμε τους ανθρώπους 'κανονικούς' να προσπαθούσαμε να τους κάνουμε 'ευτυχισμένους';

    Καλές γιορτές

  6. Ενδιαφέρουσα και πολύ κρίσιμη η διάκριση ανάμεσα σε φυσιολογικό και κανονικό.

    Ασφαλώς όμως αφορά το θέμα την σεξουαλικής προτίμησης (και πολλές αλλες περιπτώσεις βέβαια). Δεν νομίζωόμως ότι γενικώς μπορούμε να ελπίζουμε ότι το normal θα ευθυγραμιστεί με το natural. Υπάρχουν "φυσικές" τάσεις στον άνθρωπο που μάλλον δεν μας αρέσουν καθόλου και δεν θα τις δεχόμασταν ως "κανονικές". Σε τέτοιες περιστώσεις λοιπόν δεν θα προσδοκούσαμε ευθυγράμμιση. Αυτό το λέω γιατί καταλαβαίνω (αν και μπορεί να είναι δική μου λανθασμένη εντύπωση από το κείμενο) ότι τείνεις να ταυτίσεις το φυσικό με το κανονικό θεωρώντας ότι έτσι τα πράγματα θα είναι καλύτερα.

  7. It’s natural because it occurs in nature. So does infanticide. But Nature does not have any terms for this but survival of those who can. Screw the child or screw the male. Nature is egocentric, the selfish gene. Top Dog has it all.

    So let's move onto Nurture...

    ‘Normal’ has everything to do your own mother And as most Western mother's of our species are psychologically off their faces, Homosexuality is the new 'Normal'. Here, I agree.

    For humans, who have a grasp of consciousness, it is to be inspired rather than imprinted by their environment. Thus fashion and trends do not move them. Guru Nanak of the Sikhs meditated (stilled the mind to not be attached to the world and body) and saw thru Islam and Hinduism as cults of two half-minds for the perfect world of the Dogma and the Spiritual respectively and sought to bring them together cutting away the fanciful. This is 'natural,' this is rational, this is non-addictive.

    And until 'normal' aligns itself with 'natural', I will have cause to rant. I again, agree.

  8. tha symfvnisw me ton colourfulmind 100%
    ki ena pasei periptwsei, ta apotelesmata tetoiwn 'therapeiwn'' pou den einai oute metrisima oute dynato na elegxthoun, einai amfivola.apla ayxanetai se simeia katastolis tis epithymias, i enoxi, gegonos tragiko k apanthrwpo.

  9. @ Leviathan – ελπίζω να πέρασες υπέροχες γιορτές κι εσύ! Με αγάπη και καλή παρέα!

    @ Colourful Mind – wiser words have not been spoken my friend.

    @ Fidelio – δεν τείνω να ταυτίσω το κανονικό με το φυσικό. Κάθε άλλο. Η διάκριση είναι έντονη και σαφής στο μυαλό μου. Και, δυστυχώς, δεν περιμένω ότι κάτι θα άρει αυτήν την διάκριση σύντομα. Αλλα όταν συγκρούεται η φύση με την κοινωνία, εγώ είμαι με τη μεριά της φύσης.

    @ Kinderling – first of all, welcome.
    Secondly, infanticide does not occur in nature: it does not occur among humans in their ‘natural state’. It still happens, of course, but when it occurs it is either an aberration (invariably linked to severe mental health problems) or it happens as part of cultural practices, values and – yes – norms according to which disposing of your female children or infants that seem in any blemished and imperfect is rational given the norms, practices and beliefs of the society you are part of. If anything, it’s another example against ‘normal’ and for ‘natural’.

    I also disagree with the statement ‘homosexuality is the new normal’ because it isn’t. Homosexuality is the sexual orientation of a steady 10% of most societies that will provide independently gathered data. It’s interesting that the figure is so standard. Again, nature springs to my mind.

    I also disagree with the implication that ‘homosexuality is the new normal because all our mothers are insane'. Statistically impossible, largely unfair to many if not most mothers and, hate to brake the news, scientifically unfounded. There is no proven correlation between your mother’s mental health and your sexual orientation. You could pioneer the study though.

    All humans have consciousness from the age of about 6 months. Granted, that evolves and changes – more with some than others. I do not see how fashion fits in here but I do fundamentally disagree with the implication that religion in any form – including the mystics in any faith – qualifies as natural and rational. Religion is a social occurrence and cultural artefact (not natural) and it is based on fundamental irrationality: faith. Now I am not rejecting it on the grounds of that, I personally do a lot on faith alone. But I don’t tell myself it’s rational while I’m doing it.

    But we agree that rants are good and hopefully we can agree to disagree so please stop by again.

    @ Thanos – συμφωνώ απολύτως.
    Με αποτελέσματα τραγικά για το άτομο: τόσο για την ευτυχία του όσο και για την πνευματική υγεία που ουσιαστικά χειροτερεύει μετά από και λόγω της θεραπείας.

  10. Συμφωνώ με kinderling. Μου φαίνεται, με το πτωχό μου μυαλό, ότι you got the nature-norm/homosexuality-infanticide comparison wrong.

    I personally perceive "natural" to be not what merely occurs in nature, but what nature is supposed to be doing and has been since forever. And no animals or plants or insects are gay. Plus, on a more religious line, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve".

    As for infanticide, it does occur in animals, n´est-ce pas?