From the NY Times, USA Today, CNN and pretty much every other news outlet this morning: "The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments." However, the association also acknowledges that some individuals may choose their faith over their sexuality - says the Wall Street Journal: "According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation."
It seems like a well-balanced and compassionate compromise for an issue that can be a non-issue for some, and a matter of life or death for others. For that reason, I think that we should add yet another group under the LGBTQ umbrella: IA, or, In-Absentia. These people, who choose to not be in our community, still matter - they're dealing with the same issues all gay men and women grapple with and have made their own choice about how to live their lives. Their decision is no less authentic or courageous than someone who decides to come out at, say, 16. As a dear friend recently told me, everyone has the right to come out in their own time, if they want to at all.
My own experience with this sort of religious angst found me stuttering through an "I'm gay" declaration that went more like "I'm confused...I think I like...well, I don't think I want to be with a woman...well, actually..." I was 20 and sought the guidance of two elders in my Jehovah's Witness congregation in Boston. It was, in the end, a very pleasant chat and there was no dousing of the fag in holy water (mostly because Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in Holy Water) nor was there an exorcism. We simply read from the Bible and I was given the choice the APA is putting forth now: I could learn to build a life around my sexual orientation and use the challenge as a way to draw closer to God, or I could see what else was out there.
It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. The more I think about it, I never minded being gay, I just hated what I thought I was doing to my relationship with God. When I left my congregation (it was a Sunday morning in the summer and I was about to leave my house when I just decided to turn around, take my suit and tie off, and go to back to bed) I felt the pangs that come with the disruption of a routine - a 20 year routine for me - and within weeks I was consoling people from my congregation who were asking me to come back. It's a loss that I still grapple with - I had to decide whether to stay within the cushy comforts of kind, God-fearing (yes, a little judgemental, too, but aren't we all?) and macaroni-salad eating people, or venture out into, well, what my life has become (quite boring, five years on with James this week...holla!)
My point is that I was given a choice. And I made my choice which I am very happy with. But I also understand how incredibly hard it is to make a decision that pits someone against God, their family and their community. It's a process that never really has an end for people of faith - you're always going to try to make right with God as you understand him - but it's a process that I think everyone has the right to work through on their own terms. I applaud the APA's new guidelines on this issue and I hope it relieves some of the pressure that many gays in-absentia are dealing with.