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Thursday, November 03, 2005

 

Becoming Out - More on Sheryl Swoopes

Becoming Out

Sheryl Swoopes is arguably the finest female basketball player ever. No, check that, actually there is no argument, as a three time MVP in the Woman’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and two time gold medal Olympian, she is the best. So when she came out of the closet recently, there was excitement in the gay and lesbian community about a high profile public figure declaring herself a lesbian.

Her story was featured in a recent ESPN magazine article where she said about her sexuality: “I didn't always know I was gay. I honestly didn't. Do I think I was born this way? No. And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.”

The notion that people attracted to the same sex might not be wired that way from birth is more than confusing to some gay activists. It makes them indignant. When psychologist Bill Maier of Focus on the Family suggested the exact same viewpoint to the Washington Times several months ago, Ron Schlittler officer with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays said in reply that such views advance "baseless fears and misguided claims about [homosexuals].”

No word from PFLAG on the Swoopes coming out.

The Swoopes story reminds me of one of the first columns I wrote about sexual orientation. Writing in 2003, I noted that the character Dr. Kerry Weaver on the television drama, ER, had gone from straight to gay in about one season. I wondered why change from straight to gay was accepted by gay activist groups who say sexual orientation cannot change. Had her character gone from gay to straight, the show might have been denounced as portraying an unscientific view of sexual orientation. After all, major mental health groups all say sexual orientation is unchangeable. I was attacked for using a fictional character to illustrate a change in sexual orientation that, critics say, cannot happen in real life.

Now comes Ms. Swoopes saying that she does not believe she was born gay. Moreover, she said in the ESPN interview: “I've been married, and I have an 8-year-old son. Being with a man was what I wanted. When I got divorced in 1999, it wasn't because I'm gay.”

So she became gay?

Apparently so. As one who studies how people resolve sexual identity conflicts, her story is fascinating. She told the Houston Chronicle that she and her husband divorced for the same reasons that many people do: “Probably for about the last year, year and a half of my marriage we were just going in different directions. It got to a point to where I knew it was over with and really didn't want to do anything else to make it work.” As she told ESPN, her divorce wasn’t due to a conflict over being gay.

In fact, she told ESPN that before she fell in love with her partner, Alisa Scott, she had not entertained any attractions to women. Before her current relationship, Ms. Swoopes said, “The thought of being intimate with her or any other woman never entered my mind. I've had plenty of gay friends I've hung out with, but that thought never entered my mind.”

I suspect there will be those who say she was in denial about her “true” sexuality but they would need to explain away most everything Ms. Swoopes said about herself. As far as bisexuality goes, Ms. Swoopes was asked directly by Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com if her marriage really means she is bisexual. Ms. Swoopes answer: “Nope, I’m not bisexual.” She told Outsports.com that she began thinking of herself as gay after commencing her relationship with Scott and several years without feelings for men.

Ms. Swoopes has a different way of explaining her change. Her belief now is her friendship with Ms. Scott after her divorce was catalytic for the emergence of sexual feelings. About the transformation, Ms. Swoopes said to the Chronicle, “Maybe it was just the fact that I needed that comfort. Or maybe she was there for me to talk to and I just got very comfortable being around her. Talking to her, seeing her spirit ... things evolved from there…”

Gay political groups may be ambivalent or worse about Ms. Swoopes story. Like PFLAG’s Mr. Schlittler, they often are quite hostile to those who describe changes in sexual identity. Since polls show support for gay political objectives is higher among people who believe same sex attraction is inborn, she may feel some pressure to change her story or her view of it.

Ms. Swoopes says she now feels free to be able to tell her story. Having gone from straight to gay, she might well understand the story of someone who has gone from gay to straight. Perhaps in an ironic twist, her coming out story might add credibility to an aspect of human change many experts and activists say cannot happen.
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See also her interview with Outsports.com.

Comments:
Why do these changes seem to occur more in women? What does that say about women's sexual orientation, from a scientific standpoint?

She denies being bisexual. She also seems to imply that her orientation did change, though she doesn't exactly frame it in those words. I have no reason not to believe her, given that she doesn't seem to have an anti-gay history.

This seems to be one of those uncommon occasions where sexual orientation SEEMINGLY changes not through forced effort, but rather, as a result of natural life events.

I just hope she can handle being in the middle of a possible future tug 'o war between the Right and the Left (one can imagine both pro-gays and anti-gays wanting to jump on and reinterpret her narrative in a way to drive forward their respective agendas).

I guess all I'm saying is that I hope she can just be her self and not have to worry about all this other nonsense.

Memphis Belle
 
Ms. Swoopes says she now feels free to be able to tell her story. Having gone from straight to gay, I suspect she would understand the story of someone who has gone from gay to straight.

Maybe. I guess it would depend upon whether the story was of someone who has gone from one orientation to the other based on a moral imperative and methodical attempts to change.

The fact that there are individuals who shift without therapy hints at the possibility that therapy could help others voluntarily shift. However, what strikes me as a layperson is the relative ease with which these kinds of "natural" shifts occur in comparison to the difficult of "therapuetic" shifts. I'm not sure what to do with that...

Also, Swoopes makes the point that the origin of her orientation should not impact the respect others have for her relationship. I know that there is a high correlation between people who believe "change is possible" and those who believe "sexuality is fixed" and the anti/ex- and pro- gay sides. Myself, I don't think that should factor that heavily into the ethical debate.
 
Hard to say how uncommon it is. I suspect it is uncommon but it does happen. I would not want to reinterpret her narrative, I would just want people on the left to acknowledge it.
 
ck - I agree. I do not think it should factor in the debate. I pretty much agree with your observations. On the ease of the shift, I would say it might be abrubt but then it isn't experienced as easy. One woman I know had her lesbian friends telling her she needed therapy to revert back to being a lesbian. She thought she was going nuts. This was a difficult time for her. I suspect this was also more difficult for Swoopes than she is now letting on. In fact, she said as much when she described her relgious issues in one of the articles I read. Having said that, as I think most frequent readers know, I do not proclaim that anyone and everyone can change because some have. I hope that is clear.
 
One woman I know had her lesbian friends telling her she needed therapy to revert back to being a lesbian

Might I also mention that some gay people seek out therapy because, for whatever reason, they started experiencing heterosexual feelings? They seek out therapy to figure out what is going on, if they are indeed, turning straight.

It was interesting to find this out, because this shows how important a person's sense of identity is. Identities must be stable and congruent, and must make sense in a way, in other words, it wouldn't "make sense" for a person who is gay to enjoy having sexual relationships with women, and may be a cause for concern.

I'm not kidding. I will hunt out the article I read this in at a later date.

Memphis
 
Statistically, gay people engage in heterosexual behavior more so than vice versa. While there is a group of self-identified gay folk that are pretty stable in sexual and romantic preference, there is another group that would look pretty bisexual to most observers.

Memphis - thanks for the comment and I am very interested in the article you refer to.
 
Having said that, as I think most frequent readers know, I do not proclaim that anyone and everyone can change because some have. I hope that is clear.

Sure, but there are definitely people who use that as a basis for arguing that everyone should at least try to change, or that gays should be celibate, not have equal rights, etc. How the one connects to the other baffles me.

I also am interested in how Exodus and other organizations (NARTH even--though they claim to be secular) would counsel the atheist who wants to change. Can someone change without Jesus? It would seem that exegeting Romans 1:17-20 would lead to the conclusion that the first thing to change should be religious belief. Otherwise, homosexuality is just a mark of being "given over."
 
For an Exodus or any ministry group, the focus should not be on how a person is missing the mark behaviorally but on the Gospel. For any therapist, the issue would be what has been agreed to in the informed consent part of the introduction. If the Christian framework has been adopted jointly, then there very possibly would be some discussion what the teaching is about the matter. Many NARTH therapists are not Christians but rather a gathering of traditionalists, psychoanalysts, libertarians who have their own reasons for being in the group. I think the leadership is mostly Catholic and LDS. But this should not be taken as authoritative since I am not a member and am not going to the conference this year.
 
From the Exodus website:
How does a homosexual person change?
We believe freedom from homosexuality is increasingly experienced as men and women mature through ongoing submission to the lordship of Christ and His Church. This transformation enables him or her to shed the old, sinful identity and in its place learn new ways of relating to self and others. Working through underlying relational and abuse problems is a significant component in this process. Making use of individual and pastoral counseling, support groups, personal Bible study, and a same-sex discipleship group are beneficial.


Here, it sounds like the first step is to become a Christian. At the same time, though, practical steps are key (which doesn't mean grace isn't involved, since grace can work through means...but it's interesting)

The FAQ about political activism versus helping someone gay says:

"Remember that God loves people bound by homosexuality. He wants them as sons and daughters in Christ."

Aside from the theological question of whether God loves someone who is outside of the covenant (assuming that it's an open question whether they will become part or not), the focus is again salvation.

So yes, you're right about the focus of the gospel, but since "Exodus promotes a system of support comprised of a church, therapist and support group. These three things working together provide the ideal environment in which a struggling person can pursue healing..." I wonder about what they would say about a two-pronged system (therapist and support group). I haven't seen the question posed on their site (though I may have missed it), and when I interviewed First Light, I couldn't get an answer...

"Can someone who is not a Christian change from gay to straight?"

It seems that JONAH has a very different theological take on the change process:

"Our Rabbinical sages explain that because mankind has been endowed by our Creator with a free will, everyone has the capacity to change." They have a truly two-pronged approach which doesn't, obviously, emphasize unity with Christ, but free will and peer support.

As well, they have different theological reasoning about why male-female is the way G-d created the world (Christ and his bride do not factor into their reasoning).

Neither group would want to boil their religious beliefs as factors in the change process down to "a religious support group"--I don't think. So I am simply wondering, out loud, what the two groups think the ultimate catalyst for change is...
 
ck - I suspect you have a clue about the commonality.

I suspect it is commonalities: Moral opposition and gender norms. As far as what is catalytic, I think it is moral opposition and reaffirming God given gender identity. Doesn't that seem about right?
 
Hi Warren,

Here it is: http://www.instinctmag.com/issues/120101/sexchange.shtml

The article was actually provided from a blogger who commented here several months ago. Here is the part I found thought provoking and fascinating:

Far from being unique, some human psychology experts tell me this closet, latent heterosexual attraction is not at all uncommon. "This is simply being open to another person's beauty, sexiness and how it might stimulate us despite our self-defined sexual orientation," says Michael Shernoff, a psychotherapist in Manhattan.

Darryl is a 36-year-old in Albuquerque who tells me of his love for Emilie, a love he fell into years after he came out as gay. "I told many of my friends. The gay guys thought I was just going through a phase, while the straight friend was more concerned about me hurting her in the long run. One lesbian thought we should just enjoy the experience as long as both knew the reality of my sexuality. The other lesbian thought it was just wrong to get involved under those circumstances."

Another young man nursing a crush on a young lady he knows at his college says his friends-all "budding gay activists"-would, "probably disown me, like my parents did when they found out I was gay in the first place. Kind of fucked up, isn't it?"

Shernoff agrees; he's confronted similar situations in his office. "One gay-identified male patient was simply in a panic because he found some woman desirable and had occasional fantasies about her. Am I any less queer?' he asked. I am also working with one young couple. She is a dyke, active in radical queer causes, and he is a fag. Somehow they fell in lust and did it, then this deepened into a love affair and they are living together. Boy, did this cause havoc in their friendship circles. They still identify as queer, have same-sex liaisons outside their primary relationship, but are in the midst of a heady relationship that has made some of their friends move away and harshly judge them. How bigoted and stupid is that?"

Shernoff adds, "These are emotionally well-developed people who are able to act on a variety of attractions without being limited by but I am a fag' or I am a dyke so I can't possibly be feeling this,' or I certainly won't act on this feeling.' Why the hell not?"


Also, you should check out a book called the "The New Gay Teenager." It directly addresses the issues up above from the article.

At the heart of it all, the main point is that people have a right to be who they want to be without be ridiculed either way (whether by anti-gay or pro-gay zealots).

Memphis
 
ck - I suspect you have a clue about the commonality.

I suspect it is commonalities: Moral opposition and gender norms. As far as what is catalytic, I think it is moral opposition and reaffirming God given gender identity. Doesn't that seem about right?


What strikes me is the question of whether it is grace or self-sufficiency. Whether salvation from homosexuality is primarily reserved for Christians. And the consequences of that for asking non-Christians in a non-Christian state to make policy decisions based on what is not part of their "kingdom" (to use Augustine).

I wonder sometimes if that is why Exodus doesn't come out and say that becoming "ex-gay" is something which happens primarily due to God's grace--and why they mix enough psych and science talk in with their publications. Not to be cynical... but it's something I wonder.

And yes, NARTH is supposedly secular and based on the client's desire to change--but I agree with Memphis that they could benefit by not demonizing gays & lesbians who don't want to change.
 
Reconcile these two statements from Swoopes:

"Do I think I was born this way? No."

and

"At the same time, I'm also a firm believer that when you fall in love with somebody, you can't control that. Whether it's another woman. Whether it's another man. Whatever. I think that's what happened to me, to us."

or

"I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can."

Funny, but you missed the last two comments Warren. I think they are rather important, esp. if considering what is going on here.

(let alone, as memphis said "why do these changes seem to occur more in women?")

As I said before, PFFTT WOMEN!!!!

...usual apol. to CK :)
 
As I said before, PFFTT WOMEN!!!!
...usual apol. to CK :)


Grantdale...I'm going to start counting up my exceptions to the aspirations cast on the others of my gender. If I get enough, maybe I should consider whether I am part of the "T" rather than the "L" in LGBT?

All sarcasm aside (and that last comment was sarcasm) I'm tempted to begin say in response to posts or comments I dislike: "Pfft to gay man (excepting Grantdale)" or "Pfft to straight men (excluding Throckmorton)" but I won't.
 
to ck
Perhaps gay men like Grantdale retain a closeted sense of male-centricity, thus they see women as a serious threat to their agenda because women seem to be able to change.

Like I said, women's sexuality seems to take a back seat in a lot of these types of discussions.
 
Perhaps gay men like Grantdale retain a closeted sense of male-centricity, thus they see women as a serious threat to their agenda because women seem to be able to change.

Like I said, women's sexuality seems to take a back seat in a lot of these types of discussions.


I don't want to judge that Grantdale is male-centric until I've seen evidence to that effect.

I do think, however, that women's sexuality does get the short end of the stick in most discussions about homosexuality. The South Park episode on gay marriage recently (which I have not seen in its entirety, just this clip (warning--profanities):
http://malcontent.typepad.com/malcontent/2005/11/gay_marriage_so.html
demonstrated this with the "alternative" to gay marriage that the governor came up with, to keep both sides happy.

Instead of calling the married gays "married", they would be "butt-buddies" When the lesbians chimed in, what about us? the reply came back--"No one cares about lesbians" (in more colorful language).

I think they nailed it. The discussion is primarily centered around gay men, and around certain assumptions about what gay men do, without being too graphic.

I mentioned penetration in another comment not to be crass, but because I do think that this binary opposition centering around that sexual act has much to do with why men are the focus (they can penetrate and be 'unnaturally' penetrated) and not women (we can't). That act makes one man into a submissive quasi-female, and is degrading. Hence the Levitical code's concern--lying with a man "as with a woman."
 
Male-centric?

Because I'm a man and (like all men) don't pretend for a moment to personally know female sexuality?

I'm more than happy to read what ck and others have to say on the matter, as are many men, but that can only offer us a glimmer of what it is to be female.

The "pfft, women!" comment was meant to clearly indicate that obvious inability to personally understand female sexuality. (And by "our", I mean all MEN. We're all at a loss.)

That aside, our world is very far from male-centric. Your guess is laughable -- and even if every woman on Earth had a malleable sexuality (which they don't) that would imply exactly what about men? Haven't you been following the posts -- we are personal friends with both men and women who have jumped both sides of the fence. What they haven't done is change their sexual orientation (let alone had it changed by some outsider).

And concur with ck's view about how skewed the "debate" about homosexuality is. To great degree this does reflect the focus of the criminal law and medicine on gay males.

Actually, I'd expand that to say female sexuality as a whole gets discounted, or turned into a discussion about child-bearing rather than about the woman as a sexual being.

And child-bearing... well, there's a discussion that itself rapidly turns to male dominance and penetration, AGAIN.

Pfft, men!!!
 
Also CK,

When gay men make generalizations about sexual orientation being fixed and immutable, they seem to comletely ignore the experiences of women.

The experiences of women and men are VERY different, yet it is annoying that gay men use their experiences to generalize to all gay people (men and women) at large.
 
Also CK,

When gay men make generalizations about sexual orientation being fixed and immutable, they seem to comletely ignore the experiences of women.

The experiences of women and men are VERY different, yet it is annoying that gay men use their experiences to generalize to all gay people (men and women) at large.


Anonymous, I'm not sure what you're trying to get at by generalizing about gay men generalizing about women. I can see the interpretation of the "pfft" that grantdale offers, and since those are his words, I'll take that intepretation until given reason to think otherwise.

If you can give me some examples of gay men generalizing--in print, perhaps? I'd be very willing to take that and explore it.

Without that, however, and without having had the same experience with gay men that you seem to have, I am at a loss as to how to respond.
 
When gay men make those generalisations? Don't you mean -- when every reputable professional and medical body makes that generalisation.

And as a generalisation, innate and immutable does apply to men and women (gay or straight, or whatever).

Does it bother you that exgay groups claim ANY gay man or lesbian can change their sexuality? Talk about a gross generalisation, and it's not one supported by any reputable professional body.

But glad to hear you feel that gay men are the ones that cannot change. I presume you'll stop bothering us.

Sorry ck, you're not a boy. "They" will stop pestering us, and double their efforts on the girls. And there were you wondering why the guys get all the focus, and now it looks like your wish for more attention may come true :| Lucky you.
 
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