The religious right has long insisted homosexuality is a choice, not a biological matter, which is why society should be less, uh, forgiving to gays and lesbians who “choose” to mash together same-sex genitalia. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Tony Perkins practically live to make — and created successful careers from — this argument. It’s also how these folks get away with arguing gays can be “cured” of their disease through reparative therapy. Because God can only love them after a few weeks of intensive treatment in a quack program! But Robertson, et al. aren’t crazy types. We know this because they’ve got science behind them! Yes, religious folks sometimes do turn to science, but only when it’s convenient. Only problem? The science that helped them back up this “choice” theory is flawed, full of holes, and almost impossible to believe. Is it all one big giant lie?
Citing research from the Catholic Medical Association — which claims homosexuality is a psychological disorder, or at least the manifestation of one — anti-gay zealots, notes Scientific American, push the theory that science “counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment.”
Oh, but what’s this?
That conclusion is based on a study and the book Homosexuality in Perspective from William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose 14 years of work supposedly saw a 70 percent conversion rate of homos — even though they say they didn’t necessarily advocate such therapy.
Except there are some serious, irrefutable doubts about their work.
Prior to the book’s publication, doubts arose about the validity of their case studies. Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I’ve done for my new book Masters of Sex. Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy.
When the clinic’s top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him. Kolodny—who had never seen any conversion cases himself—began to suspect some, if not all, of the conversion cases were not entirely true. When he pressed Masters, it became ever clearer to him that these were at best composite case studies made into single ideal narratives, and at worst they were fabricated.
Eventually Kolodny approached Virginia Johnson privately to express his alarm. She, too, held similar suspicions about Masters’ conversion theory, though publicly she supported him. The prospect of public embarrassment, of being exposed as a fraud, greatly upset Johnson, a self-educated therapist who didn’t have a college degree and depended largely on her husband’s medical expertise.
With Johnson’s approval, Kolodny spoke to their publisher about a delay, but it came too late in the process. “That was a bad book,” Johnson recalled decades later. Johnson said she favored a rewriting and revision of the whole book “to fit within the existing [medical] literature,” and feared that Bill simply didn’t know what he was talking about. At worst, she said, “Bill was being creative in those days” in the compiling of the “gay conversion” case studies.
Until he died in 2001 Masters felt confident their book would be embraced eventually by the medical community, not just by purveyors of religious or political agendas. He believed the prospect of “conversion” therapy offered more hope, more freedom to patients than psychoanalysis ever could. “The criticisms are based on old concepts,” Masters replied dismissively to the press. “We’re reporting on 10 years of work with five years of follow-up—and it works.”
But despite his claims, the success of Masters’s “gay conversion” therapy have never been proved.