Piece on the BBC Website

There’s a piece today on the BBC Website about Peterson Toscano in which I’m quoted. Here’s the section.

Church of England priest Peter Ould believes men can live together as partners and have holy and fulfilled lives, as long as those lives are celibate. He argues that sexual desire can be suppressed for both homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals and that God will replace those wants with something else.

Mr Ould is married with children and calls this stage of his life “post gay”, Although he never had sex with a man or conversion therapy, in his 20s he was provided with pastoral support for his attractions to men.

“A holy life means abstaining from sexual relations until one is married to someone of the opposite sex,” he told BBC Religion. Mr Ould now offers pastoral support to homosexual Christians, through both the Church of England and an organisation called the True Freedom Trust (TfT), which had given counselling to Mr Toscano.


Well as always 95% of what I said was ignored. Also the line about “offers pastoral support to homosexual Christians, through both the Church of England” rather misses the point that I explicitly told the journalist that I do *not* operate under any Church of England mandate for the bits of pastoral work I do. It’s actually quite misleading what was written in the article.

Indeed, although the piece is presented with myself and Peter Saunders in “for balance”, notice that we don’t get an opportunity to actually engage with Peterson’s experiences and the claim that they were “psychologically damaging”. Indeed, I presented Karen Millington with details of where to go if she wanted to actually document the research on harm from reparative therapy (or indeed the lack of such evidence) but none of that appears in the piece. I also pointed her towards the best longitudinal research done on the subject, the Jones and Yarhouse Exgay Study, but once again no mention. Finally I (and I suspect TFT as well) pointed out very clearly that TFT does not now nor has never promoted orientation change, yet the piece tries to suggest that they do. And one more piece of hyperbole – the line “ Up to 1973, US psychiatrists had been classifying homosexuals as insane” is complete nonsense. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 but the DSM never suggested homosexuality was a sign of insanity.

It would be nice, if the BBC were *really* interested in balance, if they actually gave us as much time as they give the likes of Peterson Toscano. It would also be nice if they sought to not sensationalise the facts (“insane”). But that’ll never happen, because those of us with a life story contrary to the modern sexual assumptions and facts that challenge the agenda are quietly side-lined and ignored.

Please try harder BBC.


Peter Saunders has this to say.

The full quote I gave the journalist who wrote today’s BBC article read as follows:

‘Many people believe that homosexual and heterosexual are distinct biological categories which are unchangeable, biologically fixed and genetically determined but this view is beingincreasingly challenged by new research. Sexual attractions are now best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation, and mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time and changes in the strength and direction of sexual attraction over time are not uncommon. It is on this basis that some people understandably will seek professional help in dealing with their changing feelings. Professionals providing such care should do so in a way that both respects the beliefs and values of the person seeking help and is also evidence-based.’

They chose only to use the last sentence, I suspect because the other three, about the fluidity of sexual feelings, did not fit with the underlying presupposition of the article that sexual orientation is something fixed, unchangeable and genetically determined and that the only approach to people experiencing feelings of same sex attraction is to encourage them to embrace a ‘gay lifestyle’.

But this view is overly simplistic and not actually supported by the evidence (see my article on Max Pemberton for more on this)

Instead the latest research supports the idea that, for some, sexual feelings are often quite fluid and changeable. Many gay rights commentators including Peter Tatchell and Matthew Parrisshare this view.

This leaves us then with the question of how to help those who are experiencing ‘unwanted’ feelings of same sex attraction.

On this I would particularly recommend a booklet published last year and available on the CMF website titled ‘Unwanted same sex attraction: Issues of pastoral and counselling support’.

21 Comments on “Piece on the BBC Website

  1. Peter said “TFT does not now nor has never promoted orientation change”

    As someone who was a member of a TfT group for eight years, and involved with them for some time more than that, I’d have to disagree.

    When I first contacted them back in the late 80s they were still distributing tapes of one of their earlier conferences where Elizabeth Moberley was promoting her version of reparative therapy. Orientation change was most certainly not being discounted then.

    By the time I joined one of their monthly groups, in the late 90s, they were more open that not all could change, and lifelong celibacy was the more likely route for some. Yet there was still a strong undercurrent that orientation change was certainly possible. It was that hope of change that was extended to me by my group leader, and the materials used in our group regularly quoted from people like Dallas, Comiskey, Worthen, Nicolosi and others closely involved with reparative therapy. From talking to others at TfT conferences I do not consider that to have been something that was unusual to our group.

    The TfT website has stated that they do not seek to cure people, and founder Martin Hallett certainly put himself in the category of not being able to change orientation. By the early noughties, TfT had cut its ties with Exodus International, which it started to view as too political and too extreme.

    Yet, like so many other groups, TfT still gave that mixed message, on one hand saying they did not seek to cure, but on the other hand still talking imprecisely about “change”, and emulating the mindset of some of the reparative therapists. I finally cut ties with TfT sometime after 2006, but what little I hear and read leads me to believe this approach has not changed greatly since then. e.g. TfT is currently affiliated to PATH which claims “Change is Possible” and seeks to help people in “developing their innate heterosexual
    potential”…. Words like that are clearly aimed at those seeking orientation change.

    • I think there has always been a tension in TFT as to what they officially offer and what various members of their pastoral network might emphasise. Needless to say, you raise some good points. The difference I suspect is between believing that orientation change might happen and specifically promoting it as the desired end-goal.

      • The tension arises from the fact that individuals still contact TFT with an expectation that TFT will encourage and support them in their personal goal of “seeking change”. It’s very unlikely that anyone attending a TFT conference today will come away with the impression that the organisation promotes an “exgay” identity (the conferences can be very gay!)

        • Joe said “It’s very unlikely that anyone attending a
          TFT conference today will come away with the impression that the organisation
          promotes an “exgay” identity”

          I’m heartened to hear that. Though it does raise the question as to why TfT is
          affiliated with groups like PATH, and (through LINC) with ‘Core Issues’, that
          appear to be so forward in holding out the hope of orientation change.

          Peter appears to challenge the assertion that such orientation change therapies
          can be psychologically damaging. Whilst there may be little in the way of
          published academic research (e.g. Shidlo & Shroeder) a Google search on
          “is reparative therapy psychologically damaging” seems to turn up
          rather a lot of major organisations and individuals who think it does.

          Some may choose to ignore what secular organisations think, but there are also Christian organisations who have raised the possibility of harm, certainly enough to take the issue seriously. Courage UK was one of the UK’s major groups pushing reparative therapy for many years until their leader Jeremy Marks had second thoughts “I became increasingly aware that none of the people who had been through
          our live-in program had experienced any change whatsoever to their
          sexuality; indeed the profound sense of having wasted years of their
          lives in working and praying for change resulted in the majority
          becoming deeply depressed, cynical and in some cases even suicidal —many
          losing their Christian faith altogether.”

          I personally know many people who consider their time in reparative therapy to have been damaging to a greater or lesser extent, even if they have managed to pull some good things from their time there too. I would count myself among them. I am now in the place of having left that behind me, doing my best to move on. Of course these cases are only anecdotal, and unlikely to ever get picked up by academic research, but they are there.

          • The question is not whether several organisations do or do not claim that therapy causes harm but rather what evidence they provide to support such a contention.

            The *ONLY* longitudinal study on those actually undergoing such therapies reported no harm caused by the therapies EVEN amongst those who dropped out or reported no orientation change.

            • The study you mention is indeed one of the few around, but even the authors accept that it had limitations.

              They reported that reparative therapy was “not harmful on average”, though a number of the individuals in the study do appear to have indicated negative sides to the therapy –
              which also adds:
              “they [Jones & Yarhouse] do recognize that the 23 participants (of an original 98) who
              dropped out of the program may have been harmed, but they cannot be sure
              of such a conclusion (p. 354).”

              On the point of harm, one thing that surprised me in my own journey was the difference between the attitudes of those Christian counsellors I spoke with during my time trying to change my orientation, and the one secular counsellor I saw afterwards. That counsellor was part of BACP. I received confidential questionnaires before and after my time to allow their supervisors to monitor whether my counselling had been helpful or not. I was unaware of any such checks and balances by any of the Christian counsellors, although this approach may have changed since then.

          • James said: ”
            Whilst there may be little in the way of
            published academic research (e.g. Shidlo & Shroeder) a Google search on
            “is reparative therapy psychologically damaging” seems to turn up
            rather a lot of major organisations and individuals who think it does.”

            Which is why I’m interested to know why Beyond Exgay are taking so long to publish the results of their survey. Undoubtedly some people feel they were harmed by exgay therapies (including Toscano) but the claim that these therapies or programs “do more harm than good” is declared with “little in the way ofpublished academic research”. Their survey won’t settle anything (it’s a pop survey with questions that are contrived towards getting a ‘more harm than good’ result) but it would still be interesting to see the results.

    • I’ve never had any dealings with the TFT or any similar organization (for which I am profoundly grateful), but I do remember reading quite some years ago a book which contained an interview with Martin Hallett in which he remarked that many evangelical ministries to homosexuals in America had themselves “billed up as ‘ex-gay’ ministries” and that he considered that “unhelpful”. “Promote” in this context is an ambiguous word. The impression which I get is that most of these organizations, including TFT, certainly don’t PROMISE orientation change – which would be an extremely foolhardy thing to do anyway – but that they do hold it out as a hope which, even if it may never be fulfilled, is nevertheless a reasonable and realistic one. You know, a bit like the former National Lottery slogan: “It could be you!”

  2. The notion that you call this stage of your life “post gay” is surely a misrepresentation too. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t count “day 1” of being post gay as the day you got married! Interestingly, I recently read Jeannette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal”, when she discusses her crazy Elim (sorry for the tautology ;)) church locking her in a room without food or water for days in a bid to cure her lesbianism. Exorcism sounds equally extreme. But if, to the conservative, homosexuality is ultimately a spiritual “sickness” then are explicitly religious methods at least a not more logical approach than versions of secular therapy?

    • You’re absolutely right it’s a misrepresentation. I never raised the word once in our discussions.

      As to exorcisms etc, since homosexuality is very definitely not (apart from one or two extreme cases) caused by demon possession, I fail to see what use such an approach would achieve. And you see, this is exactly what I was talking about in my piece. We didn’t get to respond to the specifics of what Peterson raised.

      • Well, you could argue that if homosexuality has (in part) a biological cause but is essentially non-benign, then it makes little sense to adopt the presuppositions of psychology/psychiatry in order to ‘treat’ it.

    • If I wasn’t a lesbian before, after I’d been starved, locked up in a darkened room and had an old guy force his tongue into my mouth, I don’t think I’d want to go near men ever again in my life!

  3. Did you really use the word ‘repress’ when referring to celibacy? I was celibate for many years before I got married and I found it very offensive and upsetting that people were constantly suggesting that I was repressed. Repression has all kinds of connotations of illness to do with strong passions being denied and coming out in some kind of twisted way. Why do the people who claim it’s so horrible to pathologise people’s sex choices keep doing it to other people!

    • What I said was this – if others want to use the language of “supressing” one’s sexuality, then we have to be honest that most of us do that everyday. We see people we are sexually attracted to and we choose to do nothing about that attraction.

      • Doesn’t repression also have quasi-Freudian connotations; i.e. the person is pathologically not acknowledging their sexuality with the result being neurosis? In contrast, in your example, people aroused by (for example) Scarlett Johnasson or Natalie Portman (or both at once!) at perfectly aware that they can’t act on such desires. Someone masturbating to a mental image of a particular individual is not repressing that sexual impulse, even if they are not able to or do not act on the impulse to actually have sex with them.

        • That’s a helpful explanation, Ryan (though the RC Church might argue that masturbation is acting on a sexual impulse). If you’re perfectly aware of and comfortable with (as far as any of us ever can be) your sexual desires, then there’s no repression going on, regardless of whether you’re celibate or not.

          • I do applaud the Catholic Church for noting, in the CCC, that there may be all sorts of psychological justifications for masturbation but the act is still wrong. In contrast, anti-gay evangelicals, in their urge to be relevant and down-with-da-kidz, end up with a curious mixture of robust theology and junk science. The ex-gay stuff I’ve read is indeed consistent with a perverted Freudianism, homosexuality being postulated as resulting from a poor paternal relationship ( it’s like Oedipus without the sex-with-mum stuff!)

          • Your point about masturbation is important however; I imagine many a maladjusted straight guy would be cool with “watch lots of porn, never have a girlfriend” abstaining from sex, but it’s obviously not celibacy in the Christian sense.

  4. Beyond Ex-Gay still haven’t posted the results of their survey. What are the odds that they didn’t get the results they were looking for?

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