Tuesday, October 12, 2010


There's not much I can say about The Washington Post's appalling decision to publish a piece by religious bigot Tony Perkins asserting that homosexuality is inherently harmful and therefore ought to be actively discouraged by society, but I can point out that even one of the authors cited by Perkins to buttress his argume3nt thinks he's dead wrong.

Perkins writes:

There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society's general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most "gay-friendly" country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems.

The lead author of that study from the Netherlands was Theo G.M. Sandfort. The study does assert that "people with same-sex sexual behavior are at greater risk for psychiatric disorders." But what does Sandfort actually believe is the reason for this?

He explained his thinking in Andrew Solomon's classic book on depression, The Noonday Demon. Solomon writes:

Unsurprisingly, Sandfort has found that the rate of depression is higher for closeted people than for uncloseted people, and is higher for single people than for those in stable long-term relationships.... Overall, Sandfort found that the level of difficulty gay people experience in their day-to-day lives is extremely high in many subtle ways and sometimes pass unnoticed even by those they affect; for example, gay people are less likely to share information about their personal lives with others in their workplace even if they are out of the closet with those colleagues. "And this is in the Netherlands," Sandfort said, "where we are more open to gayness than almost anywhere in the world. We feel that there is a lot of acceptance of homosexuality, but the world is still straight, and the strain of being gay in the straight world is substantial. Now, there are plenty of gay people with good lives; in fact, there are people who, through dealing successfully with the complexities of being gay, have built up a really amazing psychological strength, much greater than their straight counterparts. But the range of mental health is broader in the gay community than in any other, from great strength to terrible incapacity." Sandfort knows whereof he speaks. He had a very rough time coming out himself, suffering accusations from both parents. He spent seven months in a psychiatric hospital, which turned around his parents' attitudes, led him into a new intimacy with them, and initiated a new kind of mental health he has since enjoyed. "Since I fell apart and put myself back together," he said, "I know how I am made, and in consequence know a little bit of how other gay men are made too."

So Sandfort thinks the reason for higher levels of mental illness is precisely "society's general disapproval of homosexual conduct" -- as society expresses it, and as it's internalized by gay people. He doesn't agree with Perkins at all that everything's just hunky-dory for gays in the Netherlands. That certainly wasn't the case for him.

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