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No-Point Conversion

August 23rd, 2005 · 1 Comment

Arthur Silber works up more anger than I can manage over the Volokh Conspiracy debate on homosexual “conversion,” but his basic points strike me as right on. The core problem here is that Eugene is ultimately making a pretty trivial point, but framing it in the context of rebutting the idea that it’s a “myth” that gay people try to “convert” or “recruit” more gay people.

Eugene points out that if someone has a pre-existing same-sex attraction, gay friends or acquaintances may try to get them to act on those impulses if they haven’t before. OK, obviously that happens. Except Eugene unhelpfully refers to this as “conversion to homosexual behavior” and considers it a counterexample to the idea that “homosexual conversion” is a myth. Well, first, the problem (as Arthur observes) is that that’s not the myth. The relevant “myth” people are talking about is the idea that gays are going to try to mysteriously implant homosexual impulses in your dear sweet 12-year-old. And that’s a sufficiently pernicious myth that Eugene’s way of talking is signally unhelpful, infosfar as anyone might read it as giving credence to that notion.

That aside, this is a truly bizarre notion of “conversion,” insofar as he’s talking about getting people to act on an impulse or attraction presumed to already be there. Imagine some young guy has his eyes on a female college student who, as it happens, is not only a virgin, but has never really dated a man before, though she’s always been attracted to men. He hopes to convince her to go out with him and (eventually) sleep with him. Does anyone think “conversion to heterosexual behavior” would be a particularly apt way to describe what’s going on there?

Tags: Self Promotion



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 J. Goard // Aug 26, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    If one is working within the cognitive framework of homosexuality as a moral breach, then the argument is much more understandable. We all have, to varying degrees, impulses to steal things we want, physically attack people we dislike, and so on, and I’d venture that encouragement of such an action is generally tantamount to encouragement of escalated desire in the future. To an extent, this even applies to your virgin example; if a certain form of seduction were to substantially increase the chance that she become a slut a year from now, then some kind of “conversion” (albeit perhaps not to “heterosexual behavior” per se) is plausibly going on, as opposed to an uncomplicated encouragement to act on a preexistent set of desires.

    To my mind, we know very little today about the psychology of sexual orientation, and in a sense we’re learning less each year, as political prior conclusions increasingly drive the conversation. Maybe adolescent conversion is a real phenomenon; I don’t, for one thing, trust adult recollections of proto-sexual dispositions in childhood, given what I know about memory more generally. As a libertarian, I’m taking just one tack: given the rest of our sexual mores, what could possibly be wrong with homosexuality, except for a ham-handed interpretation of an old poetry book, and the almost tautological fact that someone who doesn’t share the preference finds it somewhat gross?