Admitting That I Don’t Have A Problem
On Wednesday night (June 11th, 2014) Rick Perry doubled down on his dangerous belief that homosexuality could be treated in the same way that alcoholism can. Anyone with the capacity for rational thought knows that this sentiment is patently false. Unfortunately, Rick Perry does not have the capacity for rational thought.
I can speak plainly about Perry’s hateful comments because I am gay, and I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict as well. Five years ago I checked myself into rehab. It was the best decision I ever made, second only to my decision to live an open and honest life by coming out as a gay man three years prior.
Rehab is both a harrowing and liberating experience. Substance abuse counselors capitalize on the addict’s inability to cope with life in a sober manner in order to tear them down and give them the tools to build themselves back up. It saved my life.
During treatment my therapist asked me if I abused drugs and alcohol to cope with being gay. I immediately took offense to the question. “Of course not!” I responded indignantly. My therapist elaborated. What she was asking was if I used to deal with the fear and reality of being ostracized for being gay, or to cope with being bullied for my perceived sexual orientation when I was younger. As much as I didn’t want to admit it at the time the answer to that question was in fact “Yes.” The fear of being fired from a job, losing a friend, or getting beat up because of my sexual orientation was my constant companion, and mind-altering substances certainly helped in that regard. I think about the conversation with my counselor all the time.
Another time my therapist suggested that I also quit smoking while I was in treatment, because it would ultimately be easier to quit all of my unhealthy vices at once. I flatly refused to give up nicotine on top of everything else. Despite Rick Perry’s assertion that homosexuality can be treated as readily as alcoholism, my counselor never suggested that I stop being gay. In all of our conversations my licensed therapist and I only ever talked about getting sober, staying sober, living life on life’s terms, and loving myself so that I could love others. Obviously the conversations were more nuanced and varied than that, but that was the gist of the experience. During all of our discussions we never once discussed how to recover from being gay. I was there to get better after all.
The American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973—over forty years ago. They now emphasize that sexual orientation exists along a spectrum, and that same-sex attraction, though less common, is as normal as opposite-sex attraction. In 1992, the APA went further and pleaded with their international peers to help combat the stigma associated with homosexuality in their own nations so that homosexual individuals could lead happier lives. Rick Perry is exactly what the APA was warning the rest of the world about. His ignorant comments continue to legitimize homophobic attitudes, and causes harm to millions of gay men and women around the world. Rick Perry is bad for the LGBT community’s mental health.
There is no cure for being gay, because being gay is not a mental disorder or a disease, and as such does not require a cure.
Conversion therapy, the torturous quackery adopted by the Texas Republican Party, has been denounced by nearly all relevant medical organizations. Not only does conversion therapy not work, it has been found to be damaging to the mental health of those who undergo it. New Jersey and California have made it illegal for healthcare professionals to practice conversion therapy on minors for just those reasons.
The assertion made by Rick Perry is dangerous for many reasons, but the most egregious of these is how it affects those still struggling to accept their sexual orientation. His status as a former presidential candidate guarantees that it is (and was) heard far and wide. This means that kids getting bullied for their perceived sexual orientation, regardless of whether or not they are in fact gay, get to hear from someone they look up to that they are like alcoholics. How compassionate of Governor Perry.
Eight years ago I came out as a gay man and admitted that I did not have a problem. When I was treated for alcoholism five years ago, and all of my character flaws were laid bare, my sexual orientation was never part of the problem. As a society we must fervently challenge Perry’s ignorant comments. Protecting the mental health of the LGBT community, and nurturing those who have been damaged by homophobia, is everyone’s responsibility and should transcend the partisan bickering that plagues modern politics.