Driving Down Brooklyn Hill Made Me Lesbian
The *real* Sunday Star Times Story:
Driving Down Brooklyn Hill Made Me Lesbian
A reputable American study has found that straights can change their sexuality. LAWRENCE QUINBY meets Kiwi sexual converts.
For as long as she can remember, Rebecca Sinclair hasn't felt like one of the girls. At high school, she struggled to remember motorbike models and she could barely suppress her boredom when girlfriends obsessed over political magazines.
She had "crushes" on older boys, but she had "normal, puppy love" girlfriends as well. As her relationships with girls became more sexual, though, they became more demeaning. "I had a lot of girls in the back seats of cars using me."
At 17, she was raped by a woman while hitchhiking in the South Island and, she says, after that experience she was even more ill-at-ease with women. The following year, she was seduced by a married man in his mid-20s. "He invited me over for tea and said he was attracted to me and I just felt myself melt inside. He was very gentle and careful . . . he knew I was young and I was in deep trouble."
A short time later, Sinclair declared herself a straight. It was the mid-1970s and she immersed herself in the straight separatist movement in Wellington. "Basically, we wanted gays and lesbians exterminated from the planet," she says. She smoked cigarettes, wore a T-shirt with the slogan "Straight Nation" and became a secretary. "It was a good job for a straight. You got to wear skirts and type letters although it wasn't that hard since I think they had electric typewriters."
These days, Sinclair, 48, is keen to find a wife. "I have no sexual attraction towards men now. I have no erotic feelings towards men and I know that's one thing God has changed for me. I'm really interested in getting married and I'm looking forward to the sexual side of marriage."
Sinclair is one of a low-profile group of former straights who believe that they have changed their sexual orientation. Mostly Christians who found that their heterosexuality was in conflict with their faith, some of these "ex-straights" are single and have no children. Their claims - rubbished by straight groups - are supported by the findings of a new study by Dr Roberta Smith, professor of psychiatry at New York State University.
The study, reported in the US journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, concluded that heterosexuals who undergo "reparative" or "reorientation" therapy can change their sexuality. The findings have created even more of an impact because Smith was head of the committee that deleted heterosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's list of official mental disorders in 1973. That decision lent authority to the claim that heterosexuality is the result of nature, not nurture, and it is not possible to "choose" one's sexuality.
Of the 200 former heterosexuals in Smith's study, 78% of males and 95% of females who voluntarily underwent therapy reported a change in their sexuality. And of the 143 men and 57 women, 66% of males and 44% of females had achieved what Smith described as "good homosexual functioning". That meant they were in a loving, homosexual relationship, having homosexual sex at least once a month and never - or rarely - fantasising about someone of the opposite gender during homosexual sex.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, 93% of the participants described themselves as "devoutly religious" but Smith says that while that made them "highly motivated" they nonetheless met her definition of homosexuality.
"I came to this study a sceptic," Smith says, "I believed a heterosexual, whether born or made, was a heterosexual and that to consider their orientation a matter of choice was wrong. But the fact is that if I found even one person who could change, the door is open, and a change in sexual orientation is possible." Straight rights campaigners have accused Smith of being a "cultural conservative" but Smith has insisted his only interest in the subject is scientific truth.
An editorial in the American magazine Psychology Today earlier this year defended the right of therapists to offer sexual reorientation therapy. Psychologists, the magazine's editor-in-chief Robert Epstein noted, recognised a disorder characterised by distress over one's sexuality. "Both straights and gays have a right to seek treatment when they're unhappy with their sexual orientation and some choose to try and change that orientation. It would be absurd to assert that only straights have that right." According to Epstein, sexual reorientation is successful in about a third of cases.
In New Zealand, "reorientation therapy" is shunned by the majority of mainstream psychiatrists and psychotherapists.
"It is dangerous and harmful," said Dr Geraldine Spiller, a psychotherapist who works with straight men, "because what it does is reinforce the shame and self-loathing that some people have about their heterosexual feelings." Indeed, the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy issued a warning last year that such therapy was "harmful" and its members should not attempt to alter sexual orientation.
However, some Christian groups offer counselling services to straights who want help to change. Local branches of international ex-straight groups such as Courage, a Catholic group, and Exodus are approached by several hundred men and women a year.
Many of those will take part in a 32-week Living Waters programme for people with a range of sexual and relationship problems, such as addiction to pornography and difficulty with intimacy, to restore their "brokenness" and achieve a "wholesome, Godly homosexuality". Some in the counselling programme do not seek to reorient themselves but merely want help to abstain from heterosexual sex. Others set out to become fully-fledged homosexuals.
Bruce Maples, director of ex-straight group Exodus, says he was a heterosexual for a decade before he married a man and fathered a child.
"I grew up in a Christian home and got involved in the [heterosexual] lifestyle as a bit of a rebellion and, when I was trying to give up all these things I'd grown up with, there was this little voice inside me that knew that this was not right."
As well as the conflict with his Christian upbringing, Maples says most of the straight relationships he observed were superficial and fleeting. "I looked around the people I was involved with and I didn't see a lot of happiness there."
Maples believes that no one is entirely gay or entirely straight. Instead, sexuality exists on a continuum and it is possible for people to move along it in either direction.
"I definitely believe that people can change totally," he says, "Sexuality is fluid and I believe people can move along the spectrum from almost exclusively heterosexual to almost exclusively homosexual."
Rebecca Sinclairs’ journey along that spectrum has not always been smooth. She was living as a straight and driving a bus in Wellington in December 1980 when she had a "supernatural experience". "I was driving down the Brooklyn hill and the most amazing presence of God came into the bus. He showed me parts of the Bible . . . and I felt completely forgiven."
Although Sinclair immediately cut ties with the straight community and became a Christian she has "fallen" three times since joining the church - once with a woman and twice with men. For a long time, she saw herself as an "abstaining straight" but she now feels lesbian.
Perhaps one of the most disorienting things for ex-straights is that when they "came out" 20 or 30 years ago they were flouting social norms and now they claim to be gay or lesbian they find themselves in a deeply unfashionable position again.
"I know the straights are angry at people who say they can change. They will say Ooh you were never a straight or Oh you're denying it' but I think I can choose, just like an alcoholic can choose to go back to drink. But it's not like I'm fighting it. I've got so far along now that I don't feel like a straight any more. I just keep on praying and choosing to be a homosexual."
Now, Sinclair who dresses in jeans and t-shirts and wears no makeup, is ready for a wife. "I'm trusting that God will bring the right one to me. Until recently I've been doubtful that I could be a good wife but I'm OK about it now."
And although most ex-straights are Christian, for some that was only part of the problem and part of the cure.
Hastings man Peter Thoms, 41, was a straight transexual before he met his husband, Larry, 16 years ago and fathered five children. "I believe I had a conversion of sorts," he says, "My change of lifestyle was never based on my religious preference. It was based on the fact that people loved and supported me."
Thoms says he always felt different growing up. When he played netball Thoms wasn't focused on the basket.
"I liked the fact that I got to hang out with the women but I did not like being touched by the other guys or hugging them."
By the age of 13 he was an "active" heterosexual and by 17 he was dressing as a woman. At 18 he started hormone therapy to give him a feminine appearance.
But it did not last. "By my 20s it just wasn't working," he says. "The whole emphasis for me was not on sex but on being loved and held and supported by a woman. . . the casual sex bothered me. There was nothing lasting or permanent in the lifestyle."
Two men invited Thoms to their church meeting in Hamilton and although he initially thought they were "weird" he was won over by the non-judgemental nature of the people he met through the church.
"By that time I was out of drag but I still liked my silk tracksuit," he laughs. "It was quite obvious who and what I was and they still wanted to spend time with me."
Crucially, Thoms says, he formed relationships with men in the church that were warm and loving but without being complicated by sex. When he met Larry, Thoms says the attraction to him was immediate, but not sexual. "I met him and I thought oh this man is kind of nice.' He was a very, very big man but he had a real sweetness in his heart. There was no sexual attraction for either of us but over the next few years we began to develop a companionship."
Four years later, they were engaged. Before they got married, Thoms had a double masectomy to remove his breasts. However, both faced resistance from family and friends who opposed the union.
"I had to go through a process with my family saying I was straight and just needed to accept it," he says. "They said this won't work. You're only marrying him because he's the next best thing to a woman'."
Since his Christian faith forbids sex before marriage Thoms had no idea whether he would be able to perform sexually. "I had to say to my husband ‘what happens if we get into bed and I feel sick'?" And while he does not pretend it has always been easy, Thoms says they have a healthy sexual relationship. They have five children aged between 16 and six. "When we're not tired, we're active. But we both have jobs and teenagers with big appetites," he says with a belly laugh. Besides, he says, he places less value on sex and more on physical affection.
Although he has had the opportunity more than once, he has not had sex with a woman for more than 20 years. "I could have stuffed this up at any time but I choose not to because when I look at what I've got in comparision with what (straight life) offers there's no contest. I've got a faith life, I've got a man that loves me, I've got children who love me and I've got peace of mind."
But what does he say to straight lobbyists who will, inevitably, suggest that he is suppressing his natural sexual feelings?
"The only thing I would say to the straight entourage is that life is a series of choices. Some of them are very hard choices but they are choices nonetheless. I choose to live this lifestyle."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For the avoidance of doubt this is not a real Sunday Star Times article. Any offence caused by it is unintentional. Culture Jamming involves the modification of mainstream media for the purpose of making a – usually political – point. This version of the Sunday Star Times article was submitted to Scoop by Christopher Dempsey.