One of the highlights of this week’s 2018 FairMormon Conference for me was the presentation by Dr. Jeff Robinson, “Thinking Differently About Same-sex Attraction.” Dr. Robinson has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy (BYU) and has spent over 15,000 hours in the past 25 years in his private practice interviewing and learning from individuals experiencing a conflict between
their religious or personal values and same-sex attraction. I was touched with the compassion and passion he spoke in helping the audience understand the need for compassion and love for others, and in helping us to think differently about SSA.
Robinson explained how those experiencing conflicts related to SSA almost always wish to understand the why behind their challenges. What makes some have SSA? Saying that why is irrelevant does not work well, he explained, because the assumptions people make about the cause will strongly influence the steps they take.
His recommended approach is to simply explain SSA as “something you know how to do.” He used the analogy to one’s native language. Why do I speak English? Is it in my genes that makes me simply born as an English speaker? Is it because I suffered psychological abuse as a child and am somehow damaged goods? Is it because as a small child I chose to speak English instead of Swahili or other equally valid choices? My genes certainly hardwire me with a predisposition to speak and express myself in language, but the nature of the language(s) I learn can be influenced by many other factors, and English is not the only language I can learn.
If we understand SSA as nothing more than something one knows how to do, it resolves the problems with other theories. We need not assume that someone with SSA is mentally ill or psychologically damaged, or that they have made evil choices and are to blame for their state. Further, we need not accept the myth that they are born into an iron-clad “orientation” that excludes other possibilities. Robinson explains that a large number of those with SSA also experience some degree of opposite-sex attraction (OSA). If they assume they are born into a fixed “orientation,” they may be likely to ignore or deny whatever degree of OSA they experience, thus missing the hints of other hopeful possibilities.
This understanding can give us tools to be more accepting, less judgmental, and more supportive of those who face conflict between their values and their attractions. I greatly appreciated his viewpoint.
Update, Aug. 6, 2018: Dr. Robinson was not saying that SSA can be eliminated. He tells his patients that they should expect to experience it throughout their lives. He was not advocating reversion therapy. But he does urge caution in the use of labels and believes at least some people have greater options in life than they realized, including the option to find greater peace in how they live.
Dr. Robinson’s patients are those who are seeking help to deal with the conflicts they face between their values or religion and SSA. He clearly indicated that his patients are not a representative sample of the entire population. His approach, which may benefit many of his clients, may not be needed or relevant to many with SSA. If you feel that other ways of thinking about SSA better describe your situation (e.g., being “born that way” with a genetically-determined sexual orientation), that is fine. Dr. Robinson’s practice and views in that case may be irrelevant to your situation. But for some seeking to cope with some particular conflicts, it has been very helpful.