Earlier this year the Indonesian Psychiatric Association issued a statement branding homosexuality and transgenderism as curable mental illnesses. A school for transgender women in Indonesia was also shut down. When the founder of the school, Ibu Shinta claimed that Islam affirms diversity, she was simply labeled as "mentally ill."
One simply cannot reason with those whose hearts and minds are sealed. A deep-rooted heterosexism clouds the judgment of otherwise thoughtful conservative Muslim leaders. However, it is still important to dispel misinformation on homosexuality that constitutes common knowledge within Muslim communities.
Five common misconceptions include the conflation of sexual abuse with homosexuality, explaining the latter through pornography, associating sexual practices and diseases with sexual orientation, trusting reparative therapy and diminishing the harms of permanent celibacy. Each of these five misconceptions is addressed below.
1. Affection and companionship do not arise from sexual abuse
The documentary "The Dancing boys of Afghanistan" reveals the sexual abuse of boys used as surrogates in gender segregated societies. Saudi men have been noted to temporarily access male youth when their wives are pregnant or menstruating. According to one paper, childhood sexual abuse of Saudi males has been associated with anal intercourse, later in life, with wives or other males, as a form of misdirected revenge.
However, it is highly unlikely that love and affection for another person could arise from something as ugly and painful as sexual abuse. The problem is that of reverse causality. Children who later identify as LGBT are often socially isolated and therefore vulnerable to abuse. Thus, mainstream researchers and professionals reject the notion that sexual abuse turns an individual gay.
2. Lewdness does not change sexual orientation
Conservative Muslim leaders sometimes establish causality between viewing pornography and sexual orientation. However, it has been noted that heterosexuals and asexuals occasionally view homosexual pornography despite having no desire in masturbating or establishing a sexual relationship with members of the same gender. Indeed, sexual behavior has to be distinguished from sexual orientation.
3. Sexual practices cannot be conflated with sexual orientation
There are promiscuous heterosexuals just as there are monogamous homosexuals. Conflating AIDS with gay men in unwarranted. Indeed, in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, we do not associate AIDS with heterosexuals but with unsafe sexual encounters. Additionally, while many heterosexuals engage in anal sex, many gay men do not engage in that activity even in casual encounters in the freest of societies. Thus, sexual practices have to be distinguished from sexual orientation.
4. Muslim and Arab professionals also condemn sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)
The negative impact of SOCE include depression, hopelessness, loss of faith, deteriorated relationships with family, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, self-hatred, sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation, feelings of being dehumanized, increase in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behaviours. According to the American Psychiatric Association statement from 2000, in the last four decades, SOCE supporting therapists have not "produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims."
All major U.S. mental health associations have issued statements warning against the potential harmful effects of such therapies. Likewise, in 2013 and unlike the Indonesian Psychiatric Association, the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) released a position statement on SOCE, which included the following excerpts.
Currently, the global consensus among healthcare providers is that homosexuality is a normal and natural variation of human sexuality without any intrinsically harmful health effects. ... Similar to left-handedness and other human attributes, homosexuality is likely manifested due to a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. ... In the same way that heterosexuality is not a choice, homosexuality is not a choice either.
Efforts to change sexual orientation are not based on any sound scientific evidence. On the contrary, this practice has been abandoned due to proven failure and serious harmful effects. ... LebMASH urges healthcare providers in Lebanon to refrain from this unethical and potentially harmful practice. We also urge health care organizations to take a strong position against such practices.
5. The permanent celibacy struggle is harmful and unIslamic
The struggle between faith and homosexuality has been associated with anxiety, panic disorders, depression and suicide ideation. While a minority has been willing to make sexual abstinence a life goal, it has not always worked in the long-term even for them. Most individuals are not super moral figures to be constantly fighting nature through a celibate lifestyle. On living without intimacy and human touch, one Muslim writer mentioned:
How could a human being, let alone a Muslim, suggest such a lifestyle for a fellow human being -- especially when it's a lifestyle they don't accept for themselves?
The 14th century jurist Shatibi recognized that some human dispositions are so inherent that to deny them would be to harm human beings irreparably. The human need for intimacy, affection and companionship is so deeply ingrained that prescriptions that ignore them lead to taklif ma la yutaq (creation of obligations that cannot be met). Therefore, permanent celibacy is rejected as unIslamic.
In conclusion, can the opinions of conservative Muslims leaders really be followed when they are based on grave misconceptions on homosexuality? On the other hand, can closeted Muslims of various sexual orientations break those misconceptions by rejecting unsafe and harmful sexual practices?
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