Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Times: Stigmatised for being blue-eyed

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 , by Michael Conti

Let us imagine a society that stigmatises blue-eyed people. They are discriminated against at work, not allowed to marry and are even beaten up because of their eye colour. "Blue-eyed" indicates weakness in a world where being "brown-eyed" is what one should be. Religious leaders say they accept blue-eyed people but they also say there is something intrinsically wrong with them.

And you find yourself in such a society. And you are blue-eyed. How would you feel? You start feeling oppressed because of your eye colour. You start hating yourself for being blue-eyed. If someone were to offer you the chance of changing your eye colour, would you take it?

Comparing eye colour to sexual orientation is simplistic as the latter is invisible, multifaceted and involves relationships. However, such a comparison hints at some of the issues encountered by non-heterosexuals, especially when it comes to anti-gay prejudice. The latter has led some people to start offering conversion or reparative therapies for non-heterosexuals. One might accuse these therapies of discrimination against heterosexuals as these are not offered the chance to become homosexual! But what is the problem with conversion therapies? Aren't individuals free to choose, even if they want to change their orientation?

Some people experience considerable internal and external difficulties due to not being heterosexuals and their difficulties should in no way be downplayed. However, I believe that conversion therapies deceive these individuals by attributing a false origin to the difficulties the latter experience. These therapies reinforce a false belief that a non-heterosexual orientation is deviant, that one's non-heterosexual orientation is the cause of one's negative experience and that it is by changing one's orientation that one can lead a happy life.

But what would the experience of non-heterosexuals be if they lived in a society where anti-gay prejudice was absent, where one is taught that all sexual orientations are of equal value and that there is no difference between heterosexual and non-heterosexual relationships? What would their experience be if society and religions offered equal union to couples regardless of sex, granted them equal rights and allowed them to build their own families? What if all parents accepted their children fully and equally, regardless of the sex of the person the latter are attracted to? Or, taking it a step further, what if sexual orientation was not an issue in society as much as eye colour is not an issue?

My guess is that, in such a society, non-heterosexuals would experience as many negative effects because of their orientation as blue-eyed individuals do because of their eye colour: none. But as long as we live in a society were heterosexuality is superior to non-heterosexuality and where the latter is deemed as sick and as incomplete, then non-heterosexuals will experience all the negative consequences associated with being part of a marginalised minority. The root of the subsequent negative experiences should be placed where it truly resides: social and religious anti-gay attitudes.

What I came across in my research while reading for my Master's degree in psychotherapy is that change of sexual orientation is not possible. Instead, those who undergo conversion therapies are more at risk of hating themselves and, in some cases, end up reverting to homophobic violence. They are more prone to a number of negative psychological effects including depression, anxiety, self-injurious behaviours, sexual dysfunction and suicide. The happy life they were promised turns out in the long run to be full of internal division and torment due to constantly repressing who they truly are. They end up experiencing a god who castrates them rather than a God who sets people free by willing them to be who they are.

Nobody in this world or beyond can claim that one is worthy to love and be loved if s/he is brown-eyed. And if I love others who are also blue-eyed, my love is not inferior to that of loving a brown-eyed person. What really matters is whether I treat people differently because of their eye colour, whether I discriminate against them, speak against them, attack them... And whether I fail to acknowledge them, fail to speak in their favour and try to render them invisible. This is where psychological problems emerge. This is where sin lies. There are different ways of loving. People should not be judged on whom they love but on whether they love. It is the latter that society and religions need to encourage and practice.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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