Love is All the Same :: Neurologically, Gay and Straight Don’t Matter
Pleasure, Pain, and Habitual Response
A Jan. 4 Associated Press article on the difficulty of sticking to New Years’ resolutions reported that the key to creating new patterns of behavior is to move gradually away from old patterns. One major component in the formation of habits, good or bad, is the activation of the brain’s pleasure center, which rewards a person with a dose of naturally produced endorphins.
"Just how that bit of happiness turns into a habit involves a pleasure-sensing chemical named dopamine," the AP article said. "It conditions the brain to want that reward again and again--reinforcing the connection each time--especially when it gets the right cue from your environment."
One intriguing result of young people being taught to reject homosexuality is that gays subjected to such early life conditioning do not "convert" to heterosexuality; their innate sexuality still asserts itself, leading to a struggle to make sense of the conflicts between belief and deep-seated, spontaneous feelings.
One young man who has written about his experience in a program designed to "cure" gays claims that life in programs such as the one he experienced is tightly regimented, and participants are advised that they have surrendered their rights to the clerics in charge.
In writing about his experience growing up gay and then being remanded to the care of a program called Teen Challenge, James Voss recounted--in a Jan. 11 article posted at Alternet--how he sought to counter his innate homosexuality. Voss came from a religious background that condemned gays; he attended a private religious school, North Central University. But his time in the Pentecostal school did not eradicate his feelings of same-sex romantic attraction; eventually, wrote Voss, "I decided that I needed to love myself enough, and admit that I was gay and leave NCU."
Without the acceptance of his family or faith, Voss soon drifted into trouble. After being arrested for drunk driving, he was sent into an "ex-gay" program as part of his probation. But, Voss wrote, he soon discovered that the program used techniques not unlike those employed by cults to "program" their members.
"Think of the program as a sanctification quick stop to redeem one in the eyes of the Assembly of God Church," wrote Voss. "I was told that once I spoke in tongues that god would work in my life and remove the gay feelings." That never happened.
The risks posed to GLBT people of all ages by religious, legal, and social stigma are extreme in terms of mental health: a report published on Jan. 5 shows that GLBTs who live in states where their rights are denied or subject to popular vote suffer elevated instances of anxiety and depression, along with substance abuse problems that stem from those conditions. But for GLBT youth, the risks go even further: gay teens and young adults are far more likely than their straight counterparts to engage in suicidal behavior.
The report, Suicide and Suicide Risk in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations: Review and Recommendations notes that according to multiple surveys, about 3% of students in America’s school system are GLBT. The report cites earlier research that demonstrates that GLBT youth are at increased risk of suicide compared with heterosexual youth, and also notes the discovery that lower suicide rates prevail even among youths who engage in same-gender sexual contact, but nonetheless describe themselves as straight.
While acknowledging the higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse among LGBTs, "the panel found that these problems, by themselves, do not account for the higher rates of suicide attempts that have been reported by LGBT people," the press release noted. "Thus, the consensus report identified stigma and discrimination as playing a key role especially acts such as rejection or abuse by family members or peers, bullying and harassment, denunciation from religious communities and individual discrimination.
"The report also highlighted evidence that discriminatory laws and public policies have a profound negative impact on the mental health of gay adults." The report called for efforts at suicide prevention to take those factors into account. The report also noted that there is a profoundly harmful effect on GLBT youth whose families reject them.