On 26th June 2015, the US Supreme Court gave one of the most important rulings in the history of America, giving gay and lesbian couples equal marriage rights. While some support same-sex marriages, some of course don’t. Those who oppose usually object on the grounds of religion, traditional family structure and morality, and procreation. But if you are opposing based on the reason of ‘Homosexuality is abnormal, and should be treated instead of granting homosexuals rights to marriage!’, then perhaps it’s time for you to update your mental-health knowledge.
Before we go further to discuss homosexuality, it is necessary to clarify the concept of ‘sexual orientation’. It refers to ‘an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes.’ sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex); gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one’s own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women). So what causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation? Is it nature or nurture? Researchers have found that nature has some but not complete influence on one’s sexual orientation. Psychology professor Michael Bailey investigated homosexuality among brothers of his sample of homosexual or bisexual men, interviewing their identical twin brothers (sharing same genetic makeup), their fraternal twin brothers (sharing 50% of genetic makeup), and adoptive brothers (different genetic makeup). He found that 52 per cent of the identical twins were also homosexual, compared with 22 per cent of the fraternal twins and only 11 per cent of the adoptive brothers. The likelihood of a homosexual man having a homosexual brother increases with the degree of genetic relatedness. This suggests that there is a genetic contribution to homosexuality, but the cause is not entirely due to genes (since not nearly all of the identical twins are homosexuals), nurture plays a role too (e.g. childhood / teenage experiences, socio-cultural environment). Currently, there is no consensus among scientists on the exact reasons that an individual develops a particular sexual orientation, and they can only conclude that both nature and nurture play complex roles, and that people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
So is homosexuality abnormal? Indeed before the 70s, homosexuality was listed as a sociopathic personality disorder, and it was assumed that homosexuals were mentally unhealthy and maladjusted. But this view changed with increasing evidences from psychological researches. Dr. Evelyn Hooker is a pioneer in the studies of homosexuals beginning in the 50s. Using psychological tests, she discovered that the patterns of thoughts, attitudes, and emotions of homosexual and heterosexual men did not differ significantly, and thus concluded that homosexuals were as psychologically normal as heterosexuals. In conjunction with other empirical results thereafter, they debunked the popular myth that ‘homosexuals are inherently less mentally healthy’, and eventually led the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, and later stating in the Position Statements on Homosexuality and Civil Rights that ‘homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, reliability or general social and vocational capabilities’. Homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality.
Since homosexuality is not a disorder but a normal variant of sexuality, it would not be necessary to ‘treat’ them and change their orientation. Indeed the American Psychological Association contends that there is no evidence to show that therapies aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective, but could even be harmful as it could create negative emotions such as anxiety, self-blame, and self-loathing. Sexual orientation is uncontrollable, and is like the situation where you are born to like oranges but hate durians, you can’t control what you like. Of course you can choose durians due to personal beliefs, pressure from the family and society, and religious reasons, yet it doesn’t mean you love durians. If the whole world accused you of being abnormal and try to convert you by forcing you to eat durian everyday, how would you feel? Would you feel happy? And for those of you who are trying to convert people, please understand that even though you like durians, it doesn’t mean others like them as well. Please respect others’ preferences, and don’t hold prejudices against or try to convert others due to their difference in preferences!
Prejudices and discrimination only impact negatively on homosexuals’ social lives (e.g. being rejected by family and friends), life opportunities and rights (e.g. losing job opportunities), which increases their psychological burden, putting them at risk for depression and anxiety. In 2011, the American Psychological Association put forward the ‘Position Statements on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender (LGBT) Concerns’, deploring all public and private discrimination, hoping to foster a non-discriminative environment to protect mental health of the LGBT community. In fact, what problem would there be if a person is not engaging in behaviours that are destructive to self, others, and social order, but only has unique preferences? Having different preferences doesn’t mean it’s something wrong and requires rectifying. Why can’t we respect others’ preferences? How would you like to be treated if one day your preferences became the minority? Give it some thought.
American Psychological Association. (2003). Being Gay Is Just as Healthy as Being Straight. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/gay.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Washington, DC: Author. [Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.pdf. ]
American Psychological Association. (2011). Position Statements on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Concerns. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/booklet.pdf
Bailey, J.M. & Pillard, R.C. (1991). A genetic study of male sexual orientation. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 48 (12): 1089–96.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2007). Mental Health Issues among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) People. Retrieved from http://www2.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Multicultural_Support1/Fact_Sheets1/GLBT_Mental_Health_07.pdf