“If homosexuality was something that could be treated, a heterosexual person could be turned into a homosexual as well”

Source: Hazal Özvarış, ”Eşcinselliğin tedavisi olsa heteroseksüeller de eşcinsel yapılabilirdi!,” (“If homosexuality was something that could be treated, a heterosexual person could be turned into a homosexual as well,”) T24, 25 June 2012, http://t24.com.tr/haber/dr-seven-kaptan-escinselligin-tedavisi-olsa-heteroseksuel-insanlar-da-escinsel-yapilabilirdi/207036

Before the 20th LGBT Pride Week, we interviewed psychiatrist Seven Kaptan, who has been volunteering as a therapist for the Families of LGBTs in Istanbul (LISTAG) for three years.

“After five hours he told me that he was gay. At that moment, I saw the relief in his eyes. I vividly remember that he stopped crying and was calm. He was relieved but my world turned upside and down. I had felt this kind of affliction when I lost my father years ago… Lost… I lost the son I had known for 17 years.” (Radikal, 2006)

The words above belong to Selma Çizmeci, a member of the Families of LGBTs in Istanbul (LISTAG). Founded in 2008 by the parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans children, LISTAG now includes about 130 family members.

The 20th Istanbul LGBT Pride Week will begin on June 25 and and will conclude on Sunday, June 30 with the pride march in Taksim. Aside from working with the family group, Seven Kaptan is an educator-therapist in the Anti-Homophobic Mental Health Initiative and her area of expertise is the issues transsexual people face. We asked her about the fundamental issues of homosexuality and transsexuality.

Dr. Kaptan talked to us about the processes LGBT people and their families go through. Her responses to our questions are below:

“When you hold the power of “screwing,” giving it up and letting someone “screw” you agitates patriarchy”

What is the reason for the homophobia and hate felt towards homosexuals?

First of all, it is necessary to say that a statement like “people who hate homosexuals are actually latent homosexuals” is wrong. These situations do exist and some hate-motivated killings may be based on this. But the actual reason lies with the role of the “rescuer,” who doesn’t want “to let the patriarchal system dissolve.” Dr. Sinan Düzyürek explains this situation: “When you hold the power of “screwing,” giving it up and letting someone “screw” you agitates patriarchy.”

That is why male homosexuality is judged more harshly than that of females. Because female homosexuality is less visible or is observed as an erotic object and because there is no penis involved, people think “so what” and underestimate it. Then there are also these concerns among patriarchal people that humans would go extinct if homosexuality were to be accepted because then everybody could engage in homosexuality.

-So, what comes to people’s minds, for example, when they see homosexuals kiss or just hear the word homosexual, that it causes hate?

The first thing that comes to heterosexual people’s minds when they see a gay person is sexuality. You leave out the “same” part and you are stuck with the “sex.” When they see a couple, ideas like “how do they make love,” “they are gross,” “perverts,” “what they are doing is immoral” revolves in their minds. And then they say, “they want to do it openly” as if that is what gays demand. Intercourse between homosexuals may come as strange to a heterosexual person but it is vice-versa for a homosexual person. The difference is wishing  “these things should not happen.” This contains anger and it comes with the power provided by being the majority.

-Is homophobia considered only to be a physical intervention or is criticizing or ignoring also homophobic?

Violence is the most extreme form of homophobia. It does not necessarily have to be physical violence. A verbal expression of disapprovement is also homophobic.

-Would a gay person also do that?

Of course! Homosexuals are not purified of homophobia. As a matter of fact, for a large number of homosexual people, the core of their agitation during the coming out process is internalized homophobia. The individual accepts himself/herself in stages. When you are gay, you have conflicts in many different areas of your life such as family, society, and yourself. You are moving beyond the ordinary. Because a heterosexual person does not experience these conflicts, it is easy for them to judge as outsiders.

“There are serial killings in homophobic societies like Turkey”

-What goes through someone’s mind when they kill after having intercourse with a trans woman or a gay man? Who does he resent?

Basically that person eliminates the part of himself that he is trying to hide; because the person across from him makes this visible. It takes one or two hits to kill a person. But in cases like hate-motivated killings, if someone stabs someone 60 times, it means the cause of the hate is not the person getting killed; rather it is what they are projecting themselves, their own visibility.

-When we consider that they will not know when and how they will re-encounter this visibility that they hate, could these individuals be potential serial killers?

There are several other psychopathologies involved in being a serial killer. We cannot know if the individual would kill, not kill or go on living by suppressing his or her urges. However, in homophobic societies like Turkey serial killings do take place and it is a danger for public health.

-Let’s go back to the beginning. When we say homosexuality, who are we talking about? If it is not just about sexuality, is it about identity-building?

As a matter of fact, yes. People do not make love all day but sexual orientation is full-time. Having a partner, going out to dinner with them, holding hands, introducing them to your family, socializing… homosexuality includes all that. The bedroom is just one part of a person’s daily life. Just like heterosexual people do not wake up and say “Here we go, we are getting up and we are heterosexuals today,” homosexuals do not do that either, they go through their daily business. Because the first thing perceived about homosexuality is sexuality, it becomes taboo.

In a place where sexuality is already a taboo, we are talking about the sexuality of a minority. But when they start to be perceived as individuals who have goals, desires, and worries, sexuality will become an ordinary matter. A heterosexual person does not look at a heterosexual couple and think, “How do they make love?” When they stop asking this question about homosexuals, the perception will normalize. 

“If homosexuality was something that could be treated, a heterosexual person could be turned into a homosexual as well.”

-So, how and when does a gay person find out that they are homosexual?

We should clarify some notions than people often get confused about. We have a biological gender that is determined by our genitals when we were born. A baby is either a girl or a boy. When the child turns 2 or 3, gender identity comes into view with the feeling of  “I am a girl,” “I am a boy.” Of course, they do not reveal this information like a press statement; certain behaviors point to it.

Mostly an individual’s biological gender and their gender identity are identical. Meaning; one has a female genitals and says “I am a girl.” But in roughly 1 out of 10,000 in men and 1 out of 30,000 in women, biological gender and gender identity do not match. We can talk about transsexuality to understand this difference.

Continuing from here, around the ages of 5-6, when one realizes that a certain person is more special than others, sexual orientation starts to become clear. This attraction can show itself in behaviors like pulling each other’s skirts or belts among primary school age children. During pre-adolescence and adolescence, if a person’s romantic and sexual desires gravitate towards someone who is of the same-sex, we can say that they are homosexual, if they gravitate towards the opposite-sex they are heterosexual. And if a person has desire for both, they are bisexual.These three orientations are equally normal.

-When and how do families of individuals who realize their homosexuality or bisexuality try to intervene?

They may take their child to a psychiatrist, but this process is not something you can stop. If that were the case, it would have been possible to turn a heterosexual person into a homosexual.

“The suicide rate among teenage LGBTs is three or four times higher than that of non-LGBTs.”

-Some parliamentarians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) responded to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Parliamentarian Sırrı Süreyya Önder’s question, “What if your children turn out to be gay,” by saying, “We would take them to a hospital.” If treatment is not possible, what do they actually do in these hospitals?

The method that is presented as a treatment in these hospitals is just strengthening the suppression mechanism. The child has already tried to do that for years but after a certain point, those mechanisms do not work. The suicide rate among LGBT teenagers is much higher when compared to their heterosexual peers.

-Do you have a number?

At least three or four times more. In our survey on transsexuals, there was a highly specific suicide rate when compared to the control group. If you have something you are trying to constantly suppress, something that makes you feel guilty, it is obvious that this thing would eat you up inside and cause psychological problems.

-What is the effect of this suppressed sexuality on the character and psychology of a person, other than suicide?

Living with a hidden homosexuality is much more exhausting than people think. You have to divide your life into two parts and you constantly have to create lies. How many lies can a person fit into one life and how can somebody keep account of all these lies? That causes psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

-So in some clinics, what kind of methods do they suggest to suppress homosexuality?

As if the (male) child did not think of it already, doctors suggest a closer relationship with the father and flirting with girls to strengthen an assumed heterosexual side. You are executed for being gay in Iran. So there is death on one side and on the other, a life you can live without anybody bothering you. I think we can imagine how “creative” one can get in order to suppress the trait that is unwanted by society.

“Therapists blame the patient when reparative therapies fail”

-There is another option in Iran; changing your gender using state funds.

Yes, they say, “homosexuality is unacceptable but transsexuality is acceptable” because two men or two women living together agitates the system. In transsexuality it is assumed that it will still be a woman and a man living together. Iran tries to protect the feudal structure with this system.

In Turkey, they try to strengthen social norms. Think about society falling on you like a giant weight, you are tiny compared to it and you try to demolish this structure but you cannot breathe. While you gradually say, “This is not a disease,” or “I am not alone,” they add layers to that weight on you. They say, “You can do it, you can become a heterosexual.” But no one becomes heterosexual. The most you can do is make people ignore their sexual orientation and change their sexual behaviors. But in fact nothing changes. It is like wearing contact lenses to change the color of your eyes. And when these so-called treatments do not work, those so-called therapists claim, “You did not want it badly enough.” This is such a hypocritical discourse; your trusted method does not work and you blame the opposite party. What would happen to the person when you say something like that, what would they think? What would you do when you are in a situation you cannot escape? You commit suicide, you put an end to yourself.

“So-called therapists are trying to gain unearned income over homosexuality”

-Are these implementations being practiced by special doctors? How common is this in Turkey?

Actually these are methods that the world does not take seriously. However, in conservative countries people who try to gain unearned income do something so unethical that 40 years of scientific experience strictly do not recommend doing it.

They base their theories on Robert Spitzer’s research. Spitzer is actually a doctor who played a primary role in removing homosexuality from the category of disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatrists Association in 1973. On the other hand, the same doctor also argues that people who do not want to be homosexual can be changed by means of therapies. Today, they base the method they call “reparative treatment” on Spitzer’s studies. But Spitzer made a statement a couple of months ago and said, “There is no treatment for homosexuality because it is not a disease. My previous thoughts that homosexuals can change were completely wrong, I apologize to all gay individuals.” Thus, the scientific basis for the methods that are practiced in Turkey crashed.

– Who are the doctors that claim they treat homosexuality in Turkey? How many of them are there?

I do not know the exact number but I do know that there are several psychologists and one medical doctor. A few more have appeared recently. After all we are talking about a field where it is possible to earn income.

-Do these therapists practice the “reparative treatment” by ignoring the fact that it could lead to suicide?

They think that they are helping and they believe that. But there is an entire corpus before us that shows that is not the case. This is trying to change what is unchangeable and playing God in a way.

“There is a mother who maxed out 8 credit cards in order to get “treatment” for her child”

-Have you ever worked with someone who had gone through this “treatment?”

In our family group, there have been family members who took their children in order to “change” them. They say that they believed at the time but now they see it as a money trap.

-Do low-income families take loans for this?

There is a mother who maxed out 8 credit cards. A divorced woman who is now living by herself. Now she is very happy with her transsexual daughter.

“Several methods of torture were used like genital organ transplantations and aversion therapies”

-So, why is homosexuality not a disorder?

Because our sexual orientation is something we are born with. In history; first religion forbade it and with modernity when religion no longer served as the authority that sets boundaries, medicine stepped in. For a long time homosexuality, pedophilia, transsexuality, transvestism were considered among sexual paraphilias. With the liberation movement that started in the 60s, especially with gay people starting to defend their rights, various studies began. Before these studies, methods like electroshock, brain surgeries, hormonal treatments, genital organ transplants and aversion therapies, all of which we can call torture, were practiced but the outcome did not change.

-Does the outcome of no change prove that homosexuality is not a disorder?

No, this is not the proof that homosexuality is not a disorder. But there are no arguments that claim it to be a disorder either. To consider something a disorder, it has to harm one’s functionality. Beginning with the 60s, psychologists and psychiatrists who prioritized science performed some tests in order to evaluate a person’s psychopathology. They took a group of homosexuals and a group of heterosexuals and they performed tests on them. The results show that there is no psychopathological difference between the two groups.

So when this is the case, we have to question the basis of the “disorder” statements. We draw the conclusion that it is a moral statement rather than a scientific one.

-What is your method?

We use “affirmative therapy,” which is commonly used all over the world. I should state that people who come to us often say, “I am attracted to men sexually. I do not want that. Change me.” Because they also have the notion of homosexuality being a disease or a disorder.

First, we educate them. We explain what homosexuality, biological gender, sexual orientation and gender identity are. We explain that homosexuality is not a disorder scientifically. Hearing this does not suddenly comfort the person, actually it can cause more stress,“What do you mean? So I cannot change?”

In therapy, we help the individual resolve the social norms that cause them to want to change their sexual orientation. We help them accept their identity. Because they all answer no to the question, “In a society where you would not be considered the other, would you change your homosexuality?”

-Which method is preferred by psychiatrists in Turkey- affirmative therapy or reparative therapy?

Unfortunately, doctors also share the same norms as society when it comes to sexuality. But the number of people who practice reparative therapy is small.

In our meetings in the Association of Psychiatrists and in the Sexual Education, Treatment, and Research Association (CETAD) we tell therapists, “You may not want to work with this specific group of people but it is your responsibility to give the right information and that is that homosexuality is not a disease.” Because their reaction in the first stage is important.

“Once I hit his head when he was a child. Is this why he is transsexual?”

– What kind of questions do families come to you with?

They meet other family members before the meeting. First, our “veteran” families give them some information. Then they tell their own stories in the meeting and ask their questions like: “Is this a disease?” “Where did I make a mistake?” I am divorced, is this the reason?” I hit his head once when he was a child, is that why he became a transexual?” And we say “There is not a known reason for homosexuality; but we know what it is not caused by. You did nothing wrong.”

Because families actually experience the acceptance process as a mourning process. And the first thing in that period is shock and denial. They ask the same thing a hundred times because they need to hear it that much. After that comes the acceptance. They start to open up to their environment, their communication with their child gets better. They can speak freely with their children who had to lie to them until that age.

“If families reject homosexuality, they lose their children”

-What are the possible outcomes of families’ rejection?

They lose their children, the most important person for them. Most families say “OK, but this will not be spoken of again” and suppress it when their children come out. However, that invisible wall causes the child and the family grow apart gradually. When you should be the person who is closest to them, you become the most distant. There is a saying, “Children come out of the closet, parents go in.” Families that cannot accept their children’s sexuality get crushed under unnecessary shame and gradually become more alone.

-How would you describe the family type that comes to you?

It is difficult to draw a common portrait, because they could be doctors or people who have no education. I cannot say that a higher education level makes it easier to deal with the situation because according to one study academics are the most homophobic group. On the other hand, a mother with no education can say, “He/She is my child. God made him/her that way, my child did not do anything wrong.” Dealing mechanisms vary from family to family.

-Does the child’s gender as a boy or a girl make a difference?

There can be differences. It is thought that lesbianism may be easier to accept; but there can be very troubled parents of lesbians. In my thesis on transsexuals, we observed that trans women come out to female members of their family first. Trans men come out to their parents at a much earlier age when compared to trans women.

“A lesbian wearing a headscarf is not a utopia”

-What are the differences in how religious families’ approach their homosexual children?

They find their own dealing methods, “God made them this way” says one mother. From time to time we get the question “is it a sin or not,” but we emphasize that we are not theologists but doctors. We direct them to research by people who study that subject. For instance, we once arranged a meeting between the families and psychologist Mahmut Şafak Nil who carried out research on this issue.

“There are people who are trans and who wear the headscarf and gay men who pray five times a day”

-For instance a lesbian wearing a headscarf, is that a utopia?

For me, it is not. A Muslim gay is not either. Religion is a private matter. There are trans women who say “I am trans and I am covered” and gay men who have unshakeable faith and who pray five times a day. People can find them odd in their environment but they have places where they find solidarity somehow. That is why I think what we are talking about is not a utopia.

-Can homosexuals live their sexuality freely these days?

No. It is evident because they are hidden and invisible. You can easily see a heterosexual couple holding hands or kissing in a restaurant. If we cannot see homosexuals that way we cannot talk about freedom.

-How does freedom differ between cities and rural areas?

People from rural areas try to come to the city thinking that they are going to be freer. There are gay bars but I do not think that people socializing through sexuality only is healthy. These places should exist but so should places that we can call “gay friendly.” However, because none of these exists in rural areas, there are a lot of people coming to the big city in order to live out their sexuality, especially from places where the oppression is significant.

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