Jason announces to his family that he’s gay. His sisters and his father tell him that it doesn’t make any difference, they love him regardless of whether he’s gay or straight or whatever. But what about his mother? Can she come to accept that her son is gay?
Doctor Byers closed his notebook. “I believe I have enough preliminary information to begin discussing what we might and might not be able to do for you and your son.”
“For me? I’m not the patient! Jason is the patient.”
“Mrs. Phillips, no one is the patient. This is not a medical procedure that Jason is going to have. We provide counseling services for families that have a son, or a daughter, who announces that he or she is gay.” He used the word ‘gay’ to Betty’s annoyance. “In Jason’s case we will provide consultation to determine the source of his belief that he is gay, and determine to what extent it is the experimentation that is a usual and normal part of male puberty, and to what extent it is genetic and is equivalent to eye color or height or anything else that’s the result of his genetic makeup.”
“I don’t understand what you mean about genetic makeup. There’s no one who’s gay in my family or Tim’s family.”
“There are two factors regarding genetic makeup. First, genes can be suppressed and make a reappearance after a number of generations. Second, genes that result in a particular trait can result the merging of genes from two individuals, such as you and your husband. So there’s always the possibility that a specific genetic trait can appear without any direct genetic line from either parent. For example, there’s nothing abnormal about having a left-handed son or daughter in a family where there has been no left-handedness on either side of the family. The same is true about having a gay son or daughter.”
“Are you telling me that Jason is gay? And it’s genetic?”
“I’m not saying that Jason is or is not gay. That determination will be made as a result of our counseling sessions.”
“Can we have his genes tested to see if he has... I don’t know, a gay gene? And if he does, can it be fixed?”
“Despite some articles in the popular press, there is no specific gene that has been identified as responsible for a person being gay. Genetics is immensely complex, and multiple genes can be involved in any trait like eye and hair color, strength of tooth enamel, left-handedness, and undoubtedly whether a person is gay or straight. Even when the genes are well identified, specifically those involved in a hereditary medical condition, the ability to repair the broken gene doesn’t exist today. A hereditary medical condition is caused by what’s referred to as a broken gene. Being gay or left-handed or green-eyed isn’t caused by a broken gene. So there’s no way to fix any of these traits, including being gay.”
“So what do I have to hope for? Do I hope that you’ll find Jason is just experimenting? Do I have to resort to Prayer? What do I do about reconciling my religious beliefs if you tell me that Jason is homosexual?”
“We do not take our approach from any specific religion or group of religions. Instead we take a strictly secular approach. You have told me that you feel that what Jason is doing is against your Catholic religion. That is something that we cannot address during our consulting sessions. You will need to see your own pastor for religious guidance, and if Jason is willing, and it should be only if Jason is willing, you could have your parish priest discuss this with him from the point of view of the Catholic religion. If you’re uncomfortable talking with your own priest, or any other priest at your church, I can give you a reference to Father Darcy. He is a Catholic priest who specializes in working with and counseling members of the Church who are gay or who profess to be gay. He had received special training at the University of Notre Dame and is a registered counselor with the Church. This will provide a Catholic context that will coordinate with our secularly oriented counseling services.”
“I’d like the name and contact information for Father Darcy. I’d be too embarrassed to talk to our parish priest. He is... I guess I’d say he’s not friendly to homosexuals. He would probably blame me and Tim. And Jason as well. I do think that I need to speak with someone in the church, and Father Darcy seems appropriate.
“So, let’s say we decide that we want to have Jason attend your counseling sessions.” Betty saw Doctor Byers raise his eyebrows. “And Tim and I would attend as well, of course. What kind of conclusions might you come to about Jason? And what good is your reorientation counseling for us if it turns out that what Jason believes is correct, that he is homosexual?”
“I’ll discuss the types of conclusions that we might reach, and the types of reorientation counseling that we would provide to Jason and to you and your husband in each case.
“First, we may conclude that Jason is not gay but is simply experimenting with other boys as an outlet. It is very common for boys to experiment during puberty. Many prepubescent and pubescent boys find it difficult to relate to girls, and experimenting with another boy is a channel to relieve sexual tensions that are at a peak during puberty. It’s also a channel that provides safety from the possibility of pregnancy that might occur if a boy is having sex with a girl. If that’s the case with Jason, we will provide reorientation counseling that will allow him to understand that what he’s doing is normal experimentation and that it doesn’t mean that he is gay. We will provide counseling for you and your husband so you understand what’s going on and that there is typically nothing for you to worry about. We will provide information so you will be able to know what signs to watch for, and understand which ones are positive and which are potentially negative and what they mean.
“Second, we may conclude that Jason is bisexual, that it’s genetic and not experimental. While he might have some gay tendencies it is possible that he can overcome them and relate to girls and marry, have children, and live the life of a heterosexual male. If we determine that this is the case, our objective will be to provide reorientation counseling for Jason to understand what it means to be bisexual and the steps to transition to heterosexual marriage and family life and learn how to suppress gay tendencies. Bisexuality is complex, and some bisexual men and women will not be able to lead a life as a heterosexual adult. We may make that conclusion, and if so we will provide reorientation counseling for Jason to help him understand how to best cope with his sexuality and what his options might be. We will also provide counseling to help you and your husband so you understand the transition process and how to support Jason during his transition, and again we provide information so you will be able to know what signs to watch for, and understand which ones are positive and which are potentially negative and what they mean.
“Third, we may conclude that Jason is gay, that it’s genetic and not experimental, and that he is not bisexual. In this case we will provide reorientation counseling for Jason so he understands his feelings and can accept himself as a gay male. We will also provide counseling to help you and your husband so you can learn about how to accept and relate to your gay son and how to help him develop into a healthy adult. The most important counseling we would provide if Jason is gay is that you should love him for the wonderful boy who is your son, your son who is gay and cannot do anything about it.
“In all cases we will provide links to support websites and a telephone hotline for Jason and for you and your husband that all of you can utilize.”
Betty felt disappointed by what she had heard from Doctor Byers. “When I decided to come to your office it was because I thought you would be reorienting Jason away from a homosexual lifestyle to a normal life with a wife and children. That’s what I thought you meant by reorientation. But it appears that isn’t what you do.”
“Reorientation means we work with a child and that child’s parents. Our primary objective is to make certain that the child understands what he or she is going through, to help them evaluate whether they are just experimenting, or that they are bisexual and can lead life as a heterosexual, or that they are bisexual and will not be able to lead life as a heterosexual, or that they are gay and will live their life as a gay adult.”
Betty interrupted. “But we...” She shook her head, “I don’t want Jason to be gay! I’ve read about these programs where gay boys can be sent and they are converted to be straight. The article I read said they are called ex-gay programs, and they are run by men who thought they were gay and were converted. They overcome homosexual desires so the boys can live in accord with their beliefs and faith. That’s what I’m looking for, someone who can convert Jason back to being normal. Someone who can guarantee they can do just that.”
Doctor Byers had heard this cry for help many times before. “No one can guarantee what you’re asking for. The ex-gay programs claim they use what they call sexual reparative therapy to ‘cure’ gays of being gay. It’s brainwashing using psychological or spiritual interventions, and has been repudiated by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. If someone is gay it’s caused by genetics, and they can’t be ‘cured’ because it’s not a disease, and medical bodies warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and potentially harmful. In addition, like many other states, Califorina has a law banning the use of conversion therapy on minors.
“The ex-gay programs are run by religious ministries that paint only a grim, distorted view of anyone who might be gay. They claim that homosexuality is a disorder, but in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. They claim that gays are all pedophiles, but the abuse of boys by gay men has been found to be extremely rare, and the preponderant majority of pedophiles are heterosexual males. Ex-gay conversion claims were discredited by the American Psychological Association in 2006. The recidivism rate from ex-gay programs is estimated to be 70%.
“Aaronsen Family Services is certified and licensed by the State of California. We cannot make false claims for our Reorientation program; we would lose our license to conduct business in this state if we did. If you look into any of the ex-gay programs, ask to see their State license to operate. They will tell you that they don’t need a license because they are part of a church. Or they will show you a county business license, not a State license. Our license is right here on the wall next to where you’re sitting. That’s what you want to see when you ask to see an ex-gay program’s State license. You’ll find that none of them have a State license.”
“Then what can I do? How in the world could Jason have become gay?”
“Jason didn’t just become gay. You may be thinking that he woke up one morning and decided to live the ‘gay lifestyle’ as the result of being seduced by some other boy to become gay, or he decided on his own. Let me assure you that this is an urban legend. No boy would voluntarily decide that he is gay or be seduced to be gay by someone else when that is not part of his genetic makeup.
“Another urban legend is that it’s the parent’s fault, your and your husband’s fault. That you did something wrong that has led Jason down an erroneous path. Let me assure you that this is not the case. Parents do not turn their children gay. Just as no boy who is not genetically gay would want to ‘become’ gay, the parent’s role, the upbringing of the child, cannot lead a boy to decide that he is gay.
“There are some exceptions. In a dysfunctional family, or where abuse is common, a boy may be led to a gay relationship because that’s the only way he can find love and caring. We provide counseling for children who have experienced those situations, and it’s a much more intensive and complex problem to resolve. In these situations we are required to report to Child Protective Services, and our fees for counseling a child in that case are covered by the State of California. Based on what you’ve told me, I do not see that as a factor in Jason’s situation.
“There is another factor. Many boys who are gay are tightly closeted or in denial. That could be caused by parental attitudes; being a member of a church that has a strong homophobic point of view; a homophobic atmosphere or bullying at their school; or participation on a sports team where homophobic attitudes prevail, a situation that’s true at most high schools even today. It is estimated that a majority of high school students who are gay are closeted, afraid to let their peers know that they are gay. Many of these students come out when they go to a university. If Jason is gay, then he definitely isn’t tightly closeted or in denial. He decided to come out to you and your family. That is a good sign, and if Jason is gay it’s a very healthy sign.
“I’ve told you the various conclusions we may draw as a result of our counseling sessions with Jason, some of which I feel will not apply in his situation. We are also going to draw conclusions and make recommendations for you and your husband. The first, whether you decide to continue with our counseling services or not, is to make sure you continue to love Jason as you have always loved him. Don’t let your concerns and your religion get in the way of loving him unconditionally. As I mentioned earlier, if you pressure Jason, or threaten him with one of the so-called ex-gay programs, or show that your love for him is conditioned only if he renounces being gay, you may lose him. Another concern is that suicide is a major cause of death of gay teens in the United States. Some gay teens see that as their only option when they feel that don’t have the love and support of their family.
“If you continue with our counseling sessions we will help you cope with whatever conclusions we draw about Jason, and help you understand how important it is to continue to love him.”
Betty sat listening to Doctor Byers, tears now running down her cheeks. She waved away a tissue when he offered her a box. This was something that tissues would not solve. This is what Tim had told her. This is what she never expected to hear from Doctor Byers. This is something she knew in her heart, to her core, was wrong, but accepting it and showing Jason that she could accept the fact that he was homosexual... no! That he was gay, and that she still loved him unconditionally, she knew would be a monumental task.
“Mrs. Phillips, your husband and your daughters already understand how important this is, and they expressed their unconditional love for Jason. We will have counseling sessions for you to help you break down the wall that you are building between you and your son. That will help you realize that he’s still your son, and that you can still love him and do so unconditionally. This may be the most important of all of the counseling session we have for you, your husband, and your son. I think you understand what I’ve told you. Why don’t I step out for a moment, and I’ll bring you some water. Is that alright?”
Betty nodded, and this time she accepted the box of tissues when he handed it to her. This was all so complicated! Why couldn’t Jason have been normal? She shook her head. Apparently it was just that he didn’t fit her concept of normal. She tried to think back to what Doctor Byers told her. She had thought of so many questions as he spoke, most of which she’d now forgotten. She closed her eyes and sat back. Finally, she composed herself.
Doctor Byers reentered his office followed by the woman who’d brought her in earlier. Laura something. Oh, yes, Laura Gardiner. That was her name. Laura had a tray with two glasses and a pitcher of water. She poured the water, handed one glass to Betty and kept one for herself as she sat on the couch. She looked at Betty and smiled.
“Mrs. Phillips, Sara has left for the day. I’ll work with you to determine if our services are covered by your medical insurance and if so what the copay will be. Do you have your insurance card?”
Betty retrieved the card from her wallet and handed it to Laura.
“If it’s acceptable, I’ll make a copy of your card to use in my research and return the original to you.”
“Of course, that’s fine. How long will it take?”
“If you have a few minutes this afternoon, I can phone your insurance company and I should be able to give you an answer within twenty minutes or so. Or if you need to leave I can phone you tomorrow.”
“I don’t mind waiting. The sooner I can find out the better.”
“Very good. Why don’t we go to my office and we can continue there.”
She stood and so did Betty. Doctor Byers also stood and walked around his desk and shook hands with Betty.
“I look forward to meeting with you and your husband about Jason. Thank you for your time and for considering our services.” He handed her a business card. “This is the contact information for Father Darcy.”
“Thank you, Doctor Byers. This has been an enlightening session. I will discuss your services with my husband, and we’ll make our decision based on what you can do for Jason and for us, and on how much of your fees our insurance covers.”
She followed Laura to a much smaller office, but one decorated and furnished in a way that made it feel more spacious than its reality.
“Please have a seat. I’ll make the call now. You might need to join the call to confirm that our inquiry is at your request. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes, that’s no problem.” The insurance inquiry might be no problem, but how she would explain her decision to visit Doctor Byers to Tim was potentially a problem. She realized that it would be better if she didn’t bring up the TV show that led her here. She turned her attention to the telephone conversation between Laura and someone from the insurance company.
“Yes, Mrs. Phillips is here with me now. I’ll put her on the line. Just a moment, please.”
Betty assumed that she put the call on hold.
“Mrs. Phillips, as I expected your insurance company wants confirmation that you are here with me.” She handed the phone to Betty, connected the call, and nodded.
“This is Betty Phillips... Alright, it’s 0977. Thank you, I’ll give the phone back to Ms. Gardiner.”
The rest of the telephone conversation was brief and acceptable. Tim’s insurance would cover the cost of the counseling less a twenty-percent copay.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Gardiner. It’s a significant relief knowing that your services are covered by our insurance. Now I need to get home.”
“I’ve collected some information both about our services and about ancillary services that can be of value.” Laura handed Betty a thick portfolio. “I suggest that you and your husband review this material prior to your first joint counseling session. Do you have any questions?”
“No, everything has been covered by Doctor Byers. Now it’s up to me and my husband to decide what the next steps should be. Thank you very much for everything.”
The two women smiled, stood, and shook hands, and Betty left the offices of Aaronsen Family Services feeling better than she’d felt at the conclusion of her meeting with Doctor Byers. Now she had four tasks she needed to accomplish.
First, she needed to sit down and talk with Jason and convince him that she loved him unconditionally. She knew that she had to regain his trust, and that was not going to be an easy task.
Second, she needed to research Aaronsen Family Services and Doctor Paul Byers on the internet. She needed background information that she could discuss with Tim.
Third, she needed to talk to Tim about her visit to Doctor Byers, and what she had found out about him and his organization. Telling Tim about the insurance coverage would be an important factor as they made their decision together whether the two of them should proceed with the first joint counseling session.
Fourth, she needed to set up a meeting with Father Darcy. This she’d have to do on her own. She couldn’t talk to Father Morton, and especially not to Monsignor Valle. They were both actively anti-gay.
She chuckled. There, she thought it. Gay. Not homosexual. Doctor Byers would be proud of her.
None of these tasks would be easy. They needed to be acted on, the first one first and then in order thereafter. She would talk to Jason as soon as she got home. Of all the tasks, this was the most important and she had to be honest and convincing. Otherwise... no, she couldn’t go there, she wouldn’t go there. She would talk to Jason and it would be a successful discussion. She would do and say whatever was necessary to make it so.
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