Jeff Pearlman

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Joseph Nicolosi

#168
If you're gay—and no longer want to be gay—he's the psychologist who believes he can cure you. Which makes him three things in my book: 1. Wrong. 2. Fascinating. 3. A riveting Quaz. POSTED August 19, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 6.46.44 PMWhat I love most about the Quaz is the chance to understand those I don’t understand.

Yeah, I dig having the sagas of journalists fill this space. But I get journalism, just as I get baseball players and sports agents. The best Quazes tend to be folks I neither grasp nor appreciate. People like Rocky Suhayda and Linda Ensor. I want to understand who they are; what serves as motivation; how and when certain ideas entered their heads.

The same goes for this week’s Quaz, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi—a man who tries to help homosexuals become straight.

I want to make this clear—I disagree, strongly, with Dr. Nicolosi’s beliefs. I don’t think homosexuality is a choice, I don’t think homosexuality is sinful and I certainly don’t think it’s curable. However, as I watched various YouTube clips of Dr. Nicolosi’s appearances, I found myself cringing. Instead of trying to understand the dude, most reporters seem to go after him with bullshit questions and underhanded motives. They were more interested in landing a jab than comprehending a perspective.

That’s not what the Quaz is about. Hence, I promised Dr. Nicolosi an open ear, if not a fully open mind. It’s important to give folks a chance to speak—even folks we don’t agree with. So, with that, I welcome Dr. Joseph Nicolosi to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’m reading through your website, and I’ve come to an interesting realization. It doesn’t seem like you’re saying, “If you’re gay, you need to stop being gay.” You’re saying, “If you’re gay, and you don’t want to be gay, maybe I can help.” Am I wrong on that distinction? And do you feel like people often accuse you of promoting something you don’t actually promote?

JOSEPH NICOLOSI: I certainly do not say, “If you’re gay, stop being gay,” But I do say more than, “If you’re gay, and you don’t want to be gay, maybe I can help.” What I actually say is this:

On a deeper level, there is no such thing as “gay” … “gay” is a popular cultural mythology. Except in very rare medical cases, our bodies have been designed for the opposite sex. This means everyone is designed for heterosexuality. But some heterosexuals have a homosexual problem. Given the fact that you are a heterosexual with a homosexual problem, it’s your choice if you want to participate in the popular cultural myth that you are “gay.” If that’s your wish, I wouldn’t interfere with your lifestyle, nor would I be disrespectful of your right to your own view.  But here, I would remind people who disagree with what I say: “Diversity includes me.”

J.P.: The opening question being said, there are many, many, many people who believe one is born gay, and that you can change that when you start changing a person’s skin color, or nation of origin. They believe gay isn’t a choice–it’s who a person is. To be honest, I agree with this. Tell me why I’m wrong.

J.N.: You’re wrong because scientists know that as complex a behavioral pattern as sexual preference cannot be explained by just a gene. A gene explains one’s characteristics like hair color or height. But claiming that there is a gay gene would be like saying there is a “violin virtuoso gene.” To be a great violin player requires many genes, some for eye-hand coordination, finger dexterity, pitch discrimination, rhythm and discipline to study; and it requires a certain kind of environment and life experiences that foster this skill, as well as a whole cascade of personal attitudes and choices along the way. You believe it is solely a matter of genetics, not because you studied the evidence, but because were told this myth repeatedly by the popular media. Gay-activist groups have conducted many studies that show the general public is more accepting of homosexuality if they believe it is biologically determined.

I don’t believe people choose to have homosexual feelings. It is, instead, something they gradually discover within themselves. But some people can choose to reduce their unwanted homosexuality and develop their heterosexual potential. And so, while the gay gene myth serves the purpose of social acceptance, it censors information for those who want to work toward some degree of change. The ex-gay movement attempts to convey the message that people can and do change; one such network of ministries, which are Christian-based, is Restored Hope Network.

There is a strong body of evidence—dating back many years, because it is not politically acceptable to do such research any more—leading to the conclusion that male homosexuality is strongly rooted in the family environment. Over and over we see an intrusive mother and an emotionally distant, uninvolved father who, as a couple, interfere (of course, quite unintentially) with the boy’s masculine identity development. There are varying versions of this scenario, of course. But if people were born with a gay gene, and that’s the end of that—“done!”–then why do they have such similar family dynamics? We are not supposed to talk about such things.

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J.P.: In 2002 you wrote a book titled, “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.” The thesis, in a sense, seems to be: “We are gay because of disruptions in relationships with our same-sex parent, which causes a gender dysphoria and incomplete sense of maleness/femaleness.” I have two young children. Should I so desire, what are the beginning steps I can take to make sure they’re not gay.

J.N.: If you believe, as you say, that people are born gay, then there is nothing you can do. Kick back and watch what happens. But evidence shows that the parent-child relationship is the primary determinant of the child’s gender identity, and gender identity greatly influences adult sexual orientation. A meta-analyis, which is a statistical average of all studies, shows about a 75% correlation between gender identity disorder and adulthood homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. Parents are not being told this sort of information because of the powerful gay activist agenda.

To assure your son becomes straight, be sure you establish and maintain a secure emotional bond with him, from which he will identify with your masculinity. As we say, a bit simplistically of course, but with a lot of truth: “Hug your son, or another man will.” If your child is a girl, you will want your wife to bond firmly with your daughter but not to interfere with her individuation, as some narcissistic mothers unintentionally do; this can lead to lesbianism . You want your daughter to internalize a secure sense of her femininity.

J.P.: Why wouldn’t I want my kids to be gay? Serious question that fascinates me. Is it because being gay is a more difficult existence? Because it’s sinful? Both? Neither? Because, to be totally honest, I don’t care if they’re gay or straight. Literally doesn’t concern me.

J.N.: Assuming you don’t believe we were designed for heterosexuality and you have no traditional religious beliefs (what you are saying implies this is true), then I would speak to you from a practical point of view. The fact is that this is a heterosexual world. Most parents would rather have their children grow up to live a heterosexual lifestyle. These parents are not “homophobic,” but they know that it is easier to be with 98 percent of the population versus being part of 2 percent of the population. (The percentage of homosexuality is not 10 percent, as gays have been telling America for 50 years. ) As one father said to me: “Living as a heterosexual is hard enough.”

And there are significantly higher levels of mental-health disturbance and addiction in the gay population. Many studies show that there is greater stress and dysfunction among homosexuals compared to heterosexuals including greater drug and alcohol abuse, more depression, suicide attempts, promiscuity (mainly among gay males), failed relationships, sado-masochism and other “exotic” sexual practices, etc.

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J.P.: I know you graduated from the New School for Social Research (M.A.) and received your Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles. But how did this path happen for you? As in, womb to now, how did you become a therapist, and one who assists gays become un-gay?

J.N.: I never thought much about the subject. During my eight years of training toward a Ph.D. in clinical psychology there was never a word spoken about the causes and treatment of homosexuality. It was not P.C. to even ask the question in graduate training. So I was unprepared, as I began my private practice, to help some clients with unwanted same sex attraction. So like any good therapist, I just listened and empathized. But as I listened to their stories, I began to hear common themes of childhood hurtful relations. For the male clients, it was a deep disappointment with an emotionally detached father and an excessively close but frustrating relationship with an intrusive mother. If there was an older brother, it was a feared, hostile relationship. That is exactly what Freud observed, over 100 years ago, but no one was talking about it. As I began to look in to the old psychoanalytic literature, this family pattern was repeatedly reported up until the gay rights movement of the 70’s. Then suddenly all psychological investigation stopped. Suddenly everyone was told it was a gay gene and you were a hating homophobe is you dared question the gay gene myth. If you were an unhappy homosexual, you were told, “You have no choice, celebrate your gayness.” Fortunately today there is greater visibility of the ex-gay movement.

J.P.: How do you know when someone is cured? Is there a moment? A breakthrough? Are there many relapses? Like alcoholism, do you view this as a lifelong battle?

J.N.: Treatment is a slow and difficult process, and there is a certain degree of lifelong maintenance necessary, as with treatment for any deep-seated condition (drug, alcohol and eating disorders fall into the same category). I’ll not pretend there is any “quick fix.” But some unhappy homosexually oriented people are willing to do the hard work and they should be allowed to do so. Unfortunately, some clients will be unsuccessful in changing no matter how hard they try, but most will experience a significant reduction in their same-sex attractions and some will experience an increase in their opposite-sex attraction. In most cases, some same-sex attractions recur under periods of stress, but they will be manageable. In a few cases there will be absolutely no homosexual attractions remaining at all.

J.P.: I think you’d agree that the gay rights movement has moved at a pretty phenomenal pace the past decade or so. Legally, socially. How has this impacted your work? Your practice?

J.N.: There continues to be a population of men and woman who feel a deep dissatisfaction with their homosexual behavior, not just out of religious guilt or social pressure, but because it just doesn’t feel right for themselves. A gay lifestyle doesn’t work for them. No amount of gay-pride rhetoric will change their deepest desire for conventional marriage and family.

J.P.: You’ve been branded a homophobe myriad times. What do you say to people who think, “This guy clearly hates gays”?

J.N.: Accusations of “hate” shut down discussion. Today, facts and philosophical discussion mean nothing. Identity politics and personal stories trump science. So whoever is the most offended wins the argument. The consequence is that people are deprived of making an informed choice about how they can live their lives.

By the way, get ready for the nasty letters. You too will be called a “hating homophobe” just for allowing this interview.

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J.P.: What is an early therapy session like? What I mean is—I’m gay, I don’t want to be gay, I make an appointment. How does it go from there? What’s the process?

J.N.: Each session begins with the therapist asking: “What do you want to work on today?” and each session should end with: “What did you learn about yourself today?” What happens in-between is the outcome of a collaborative relationship. The therapeutic alliance, which is the foundation of treatment, is when the therapist and client work together toward goals and objectives defined by the client. The client must always feel in control of the session. The therapist asks questions and offers interpretation for the client to consider.

As treatment progresses, the client and the therapist find links between childhood shame events—what we call “shame trauma”—and present-day same-sex attractions.  For the male, these “shame traumas” typically involve painful rejection from father, brothers or peers and include emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The result of these shame traumas is the client’s taking upon himself negative self-labels communicated to him in those moments. These negative self-labels typically involving male identity: “I am not male enough.” “I am not good enough to be accepted by other males.”

The client begins to see the connection between these moments of rejection and his present-day desire for what we call “The Three A’s”—attention, affection and approval, which are the emotional foundations of sexual attractions. He begins to understand that sexual contact is a substitute for authentic male affirmation.

Along with this we encourage close male friendships with straight guys. The client will often discover that if he becomes friends with a guy he is attracted to, the sexual attraction disappears. If the client reports sexual feelings for another guy, I will encourage him to make friends with him. He will often discover that friendship cancels out sexual feelings. I remember a teenage boy in his first session reporting that he was sexually attracted to a guy on the football team. I suggested he make friends with him. “No,” he said, “if I do, then I’ll lose the attraction.” He never read Freud, but he knew.

This might explain why gay male relationships don’t last, or if they do, they almost inevitably become open relationships. The familiarity diminishes the mystique. There is no heterosexual equivalent, since the opposite sex is always mysterious.

J.P.: It seems like there’s a very close tie between the anti-homosexuality movement and devout Christianity. How much of your work is based upon your own religious upbringing? And what role does faith play in your therapy? Can an agnostic Satan worshiper come to you for assistance?

J.N.: While I am a Catholic and cannot deny how my faith has shaped my worldview, the therapy is science-based. Here, theology and psychology are compatible. The therapy is psychodynamic and while the majority of our clients are religious, quite a few are not. Besides, this therapy is not anti-anything. It’s about choice.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DR. JOSEPH NICOLOSI:

• You’ve appeared on Dr. Drew’s Show. My wife and I talk about him all the time. How can you diagnose a celebrity’s problem with a TV studio 2,000 miles away? Doesn’t that violate some professional code?: Actually, I found Dr. Drew to be very fair and open minded. He respectfully gave me the opportunity to express my views. He seemed particularly interested in the idea that homosexuality is trauma-based. I wish I could say the same for other TV hosts.

• Five reasons one should make Encino, California his/her next vacation destination?: Encino has a wonderful cultural mix. Where else can you find so many sushi-deli’s?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): chai tea latte, Disney Land, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, Alonzo Mourning, Batman, Ice Cube, Saved By the Bell, Michele Bachmann, The Rock, John Stamos: I don’t recognize most of these names. I’m totally out of the popular culture. I don’t listen to any music written after 1924, the year Puccini died. Maybe Sinatra, if I’m feeling edgy.

• Five all-time favorite movies: Anything directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

• Thoughts on Michael Sam as an openly gay NFL player? OK with it? Should he not be allowed?: Much ado about nothing. It’s his life, let him live it. But he may want to consider looking at his childhood traumas.

• Why do you think pay phones still exist?: It’s the only place where you can pretend to be talking to someone as an excuse to have a little time alone.

• Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me. What do you think of him?: You must be desperate for questions.

• The best advice you ever received was …: If you are not sure what to do as a therapist, listen to your client.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dr. Phil? What’s the result?: He actually was very gracious when I was on his show. My mother loves Dr. Phil and watches him every day. She once said to me: “Joseph, you should watch Dr. Phil, you could learn a lot.”

• I met a guy yesterday who said he doesn’t drink soda because of the health risks—but then went out to smoke a cigarette. Am I morally allowed to punch him in the head?: The down side of a democracy is that people are allowed to self-destruct.

  • rich

    Thanks for posting a Quaz that really makes you think. I was in the camp that you were but when you read his answers you at least think ‘maybe’

  • Ted Mark

    You may feel this person deserves a soapbox but I do not. His claims have as much validity as one who denies climate change, or one who denies evolution. His therapy is “science-based”. His therapy is “psychodynamic”. His therapy, and beliefs, are a load of crap.

  • Dan

    What a terrible interview. So many opportunities for follow up questions. You didn’t refute any of his so-called research. Awful job.

  • http://jeffpearlman.com Jeff Pearlman

    Dan, the interviews are done via e-mail, so follow-ups generally don’t exist. It’s been that way throughout the history of the forum. Were I making big bucks to do this, would all be via phone, with much give and take. Don’t have the time, sadly.

  • Dan

    Ahhh. Thanks for clarifying. I still would have liked to hear your rebuttals to his “research”. Standing alone, his take actually makes some sense.

  • Christopher Bates

    He’s very good at making his position SEEM reasonable. However, like most Freudian analyses, it becomes pretty easy to bend the facts to fit the case. Inasmuch as EVERYONE’s mother (pretty much) is overbearing sometimes, and EVERYONE’s father (pretty much) is distant sometimes, it is fairly easy to interview a gay person and discover that they had an overbearing mother and a distant father.

    Further, how does he explain people who have overbearing mothers and distant fathers and are not gay? I mean, that DEFINITELY describes my parents, and yet neither I nor my brother is gay. Similarly, how does he explain the numerous sets of twins where one is gay and one is not?

    Personally, I’ve always found compelling Kinsey’s notion of a 1-7 spectrum, where 1 is 100% straight and 7 is 100% gay, and most people fall somewhere in the middle. I’m guessing that most of the people who are “cured” by his therapy are somewhere in the 3-4-5 range, and their religion and/or family pressure and/or social pressure causes them to seek “help” and also pushes them a little bit towards the straight end of the scale. I imagine the therapy actually has little to do with their “transformation,” and I’m confident that it has no impact on someone at the 6 or 7 end of the scale.

    • bjjnova .

      Nice job not really paying attention to what he says. Point in fact, he says, I don’t think people choose to have gay feelings. And he goes on to explain that the problem with the biological explanation is that it tends to get presented in a reductionistic manner. Clearly, he does not discount a biological component (why go into the detailed discussion of the complexity surrounding violin playing which DOES include biological elements). Thus in answer to your good, but myopic, question (myopic because he answers the damn thing in his interview), overbearing mothers and distant fathers have a huge impact on someone predisposed to having homosexual feelings. That’s how you explain the fact that some people with overbearing mothers and distant fathers do “become” homosexual and others don’t. Go back to the violin example he starts with: its a complex interaction of predisposition, and environment, and choices, and …. You may disagree, but acknowledge that he is at least as nuanced as you seem to think he is not.

      • Christopher Bates

        Oh, please.

        Let me begin by suggesting that you not demean my own reading comprehension until yours improves, as you clearly did not understand what I wrote. ‘Overbearing mother’ and ‘distant father’ are both so subjective, and therefore so easy to discover, that they have absolutely no meaning.

        Imagine I said that I’ve learned that if someone has a predisposition to being gay AND they have hair, they are more likely to become gay. Would you buy that having hair is a meaningful predictor of homosexuality? No, it’s meaningless, because everyone has hair. All it really means is that some people have a predisposition and others don’t, and the additional factor–overbearing mother, hair, whatever–is not relevant. Or, at least he hasn’t proven it’s relevant.

        Neither I–nor any scholar I am aware of–denies that environmental factors can play a role. But this gentleman’s analysis is both unpersuasive and unscientific.

  • bjjnova .

    JP: “I don’t care if they are gay or straight. Literally doesn’t concern me.” And yet I am sure you think of yourself as a good parent. Makes no sense. Gay life is a wretched life; just look at the statistics. A good parent could only say something like, “I know my child is going to make the world a better place for gays; but right now, it’s not a great place for gays. And to respond that things are better now is just a little too ignorant: better where? In the West, maybe; the rest of the world? bull*&$%!

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