Regretting the Gay Cure

Psychologist Robert Spitzer has more to be sorry for.

Slate / by Katie Roiphe

Last night I had a nightmare about the prominentpsychiatrist, Dr. Robert Spitzer, whom I have never met: He was faceless and casting a fake Latin spell in the darkened corridors of a Harry Potter-like school. Before falling asleep, I had been reading about his dramatic late life apology for having trumpeted a highly flawed, wildly controversial study pointing to the success of reparative therapy in changing gay people into straight people. About to turn 80, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he unambiguously recanted the 2001 study, pointing to what he called its “fatal flaw,” which is that one can’t reliably measure the success of that particular, elusive transformation.

Part of the impetus for Spitzer’s radical change of heart seems to have been an encounter with a journalist for the American ProspectGabriel Arana, who had written about undergoing this therapy himself. At the time, Arana’s therapist had suggested he take part in Spitzer’s study, as he seemed like a success story for enforced or imposed heterosexuality. But in fact, the therapy, and the effort to root out his natural attractions, launched him into a self-hatred so harrowing and profound he almost jumped out of his dorm room window at Yale, and ended up committing himself to a psychiatric hospital, when happily his father realized that “a gay son is better than a dead son.”

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