Patricia Nell Warren

The Difference Between Conformity and Change

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | January 03, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: ex-gay, GLBT, LGBT people, marriage

The other day I ran across a commentary that I put out to my newslist in 1999. Re-reading it reminded me that the ex-gay issue hasn't changed in 10 years -- just some of the talking heads that are arguing WE can change. Here, for the record, is my 1999 comment. It's still pertinent a decade later, as we launch into 2010 and fierce new ex-gay rhetoric coming from a revived religious right.

A few days ago, one Diane Parker wrote to the Journal American with her own argument that homosexuality is not genetic. She believes that the "reformed homosexuals" now visible in certain videos, programs and organizations are compelling proof that homosexuals can really change.

I am always amazed at the power of wishful thinking in people like Parker. Their whole position is based on a fierce belief in this alleged capacity of homosexuals to "change." The videos, programs, etc. represent a 2000-year effort by Christianity to wish away the existential fact of homosexuality, whatever its root cause. The fact is: in repressive times, homosexuals do not change. They conform.

GLBT people disagree about many things, but this is one area where we agree -- because so many of us have lived face-to-face with our own "is-ness" through long decades of pretense. I, for one, did a terrific job of conforming to the heterosexual canon as a wife, for 16 years.

I even tried both Protestantism and Catholicism in a desperate effort to transmogrify my conformity into change. But it didn't work.

The conformity goes so deep that it can masquerade brilliantly as change. Unlike leopards, homosexuals can make their spots look like tiger stripes. The penalties for being fingered as non-heterosexual -- loss of family and job, assault and battery, long prison sentences, incarceration in mental hospitals, to name a few -- cause many of us to drive that conformity as deep as we can. We fool a lot of people, including the wishful thinkers. Some of us even manage to fool our own mothers.

For a time, we even fool ourselves. But it is still conformity. It is not change.

Acting "straight," when you know you're gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, is not change. It is not a moral act. It is not reform. It is not healing. It is a living death. In the Sixties, a whole generation of youth rose up against all kinds of forced conformity in American society, and their protest embraced this deadly conformity demanded of gay people. Yet today the wishful thinkers among us are trying to engineer the re-imposition of their wishes. They demand it in the name of "saving marriage."

What they want, in many marriages, adds up to shape-shifting of the spookiest kind. It adds up to acting performances that will never get an Oscar.

Those who settle for our conformity get it at an appalling cost to themselves. The wishful thinkers lose their power to see what is real. They can look into the eyes of a homosexual who is living in deep cover, and utterly fail to see that person's true spirit. Even in the eyes of their own children, parents, closest friends, the wishful thinkers see only what they choose to see.

Heaven help the American marriage if it is "saved" by people who can't tell the difference between conformity and change.

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Beautifully said, Patricia. Yes, I could act like a straight person. I did for many years. It made me extremely unhappy. Why should I want to be unhappy? Because some controlling fanatics had a vision thousands of years ago and made up religions that don't even make any sense, and indoctrinated generations of gullible people into their nonsense? I realize that sounds a bit harsh towards those that are religious, but I mean it only as an expression of my own internal feelings about religion. I spent many years being religious and studying my birth religion in great depth. I have great respect for others who believe. Just don't ask me to.

Diane Parker and the many millions of people like her consider it normal to pretend to be Christians for a lifetime. Most of them do not believe in what they profess. Even the Pope travels in public with bullet-proof glass protecting him. Consider the implications - he believes God can not protect him and/or there will be no heavenly reward in death.

Since religious bigots towards the LGBT population consider fabricating their beliefs normal they feel LGBT people should do the same. By not pretending, we are in closer contact with our truth than they are. I'd say God bless their souls but given their lack of belief why bother?

In conclusion for a person who is really religious whether someone is LGBT is unimportant. Judgment, after all, is supposed to be left to God. This judgment is based on deeds not LGBT identification ( It is the fictitious religious types we need to beware of.

I know this won't be popular, but there is a grain of truth to the "people can change" argument - otherwise we wouldn't have bisexuals. I think the Kinsey Scale illustrates that beautifully by showing that the majority of us fall within the spectrum instead of clinging desperately to one pole or the other.

It's when "change" is used as a weapon - forced change to conform - that it becomes a dirty word.

But it can also be argued that the person who is truly bisexual isn't really "changing." He or she is just being who he or she really and naturally is.

Both of you, Bil and Patricia, make good points. A Kinsey 3 who is in a same-sex lifestyle might be able to "change" to a heterosexual lifestyle --- and the ex-gay movement might parade them around like a victory, even though it proves absolutely nothing!

And they (the ex-gay movement) don't get what they don't want to get: Just because some individuals can "change" (and that is questionable) doesn't mean that everyone can change.

Does a person start from the same psycho-sexual point that the next person starts from? Does person X really arrive at the destination they claim to arrive at? These questions will remain forever unanswerable, because it is impossible for one person to get into another person's head.

Such an important distinction- and worthy of much more reflection and discussion. I can only add that the damage conformity causes can often be so subtle over time that we fail to see it or its effects for many years.
Conformity, especially unconscious, can be lethal. It discourages self-awareness and, as a result, vague but strong depression, dissatisfaction and fear can result- often exacerbating simple confusion into black and white judgment, resulting in life-or-death thinking and behavior-that lack of obvious spirit you mention is probably its most obvious symptom.
Thank you for this- I'm going to use it in my practice, if you don't mind...

Regan DuCasse | January 3, 2010 4:24 PM

I remember the cousin of Bernice King being quoted as saying that she'd heard of an ex gay, but never an 'ex black' in context to the assumption that gay people can change and blacks cannot.

It was an astonishing ignorant thing to say, so I referred her to about half a dozen books about the lives of light skinned blacks who passed during the era of Jim Crow.
Starting with the most famous by Shirley Hezlip "The Sweeter The Juice."

Such blacks, if discovered, ran similar risks that gay people do. Loss of family, jobs, risk of abuse or worse.
Many of those blacks never contacted or acknowledged the darker members of their family. The estrangement had to be complete, as it is for many gay folks.

What's lost to Ms. King, is not that people are 'ex' anything, but the social stigma that REQUIRES it.

As Patricia says, it's the COSTS to who is conforming and to honesty and the truth of being integrated fully and freely in society.

When these consequences hang over the life of someone gay, the dominant society should not deny that their expectations and tactics are not COERCIVE.
There are ex gays that bald faced like to say that this is their free decision, ANYONE can make and does, and that it's based on their homosexuality bearing no satisfaction for them.

Of course never mentioning not only the aforementioned pressures and risks if one doesn't conform, but not acknowledging that the same dissatisfaction and dysfunction is the same for hetero people too.
The difference is having the FREEDOM to be that way, and not have your orientation or the whole of those like you blamed for it.
That is to say, freedom without the consequences of judgment.

And here is a particularly important difference as well. Ex gays and organizations that support them, engage in anti gay political policy. They have supported marriage and military and adoption bans across the country and world.
And very recently participated in support of the execution and jailing of gays in Uganda.

What should a black person think, knowing a light skinned black person, while conforming to be included in the social status whites enjoyed, engaged in anti segregation laws and IN support of Jim Crow?
What if they paid for amendments and supported politicians that wanted to maintain inequality in the law?

It is one thing to conform, but another to participate in forcing the very dictum from which you're trying to escape.

I think that kind of duplicity is unforgivable, cowardly and any ex gay who engages in it, shows they are not to be trusted.

I suppose in other words: nobody should be forced to conform on condition of losing everything any citizen holds dear. Otherwise, it isn't a choice at all.

And the bigger point is: why should gay people be the ones to have to change at all? As far as any honest person can see, there are no winners and no individual, economic or societal benefit worth the effort.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 4, 2010 7:40 AM

My absolute favorite "life changing" teacher in high school was a divorced Catholic woman who would not remarry or date men as in the eyes of the church she was still married. Once again the church as a beard, but this time for a woman.

After she left my home town she lived either with, or next door to, a very wonderful woman who was very accepting of my partner and I. She called my former teacher (Phyllis) "Phil" all the time. I just pretended not to notice, made myself available to talk to and remembered that when I first told Phyllis that I was Gay she asked me if I had had enough experience with girls as yet.

When Phyllis partner died she still never came out to me. She is also still a friend though now at 90 I get just the rare email. She has a daughter from the old marriage who is older than I and fear of rejection from her family must still play a part in her self isolation.

Much of conformity is pure waste. It is horrible to think that as life changing as she was for myself and many others she was not life changing for herself. Thanks Patricia.