Saturday, June 29, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Trouble (Mother & Baby - July 2013)

This month's issue of Mother & Baby carries the first article that I have penned for them. I had fun writing it and I'm reproducing the original version here (rather than the one edited for the magazine), I hope you enjoy it too!

Every so often in conversation, an expectant father will tell me how he plans to take weeks of leave upon the arrival of his new baby, to take good care of his wife. Instead, I tell him to stay in the office, and stay out of trouble.

It is not that I am a heartless husband, really. I was once like that too. I was with my wife every step of the way as we set up the baby room, attended ante-natal classes and packed the overnight bag weeks in advance of the expected due date. I pampered her with an additional night’s stay in the hospital (this is expensive but highly recommended if you can afford it), while I activated the confinement Nanny and installed her in our home to await the return of the Princess and the pea.

And that’s where things started to go downhill. I tried to be attentive to my wife’s needs, but often I found I was out of a job. They say that the Nanny is there to look after the baby while the husband’s job is to look after the wife. In practice, there isn’t a lot you can do for your wife if she is able-bodied. The mother’s main job is to feed the baby and rest as much as she can. The Nanny is in charge of cooking, cleaning, keeping the baby clean and tending to him when he cries. The husband, well …

“Why are you just sitting there?”
“Don’t you have anything to do?”

Something inside me would say, “But I thought that’s what we hired the Nanny for…” If you suddenly have an extra person in the house, you can’t expect him to be busy all the time! Of course, I said none of this; that’s why I am still here to write this.

We know the wife is always right. And never more so than after she has just given birth to a baby. In the shadow of this feat, there is no point quibbling over trivial things like right and wrong. Obviously she is exhausted from the delivery and caring for the baby, so it does not help to see other people idling.

So I would take the dishes on the drying rack and wash them again.

When my second child came, I learned my lesson well. In addition to a Nanny, this time we had grandparents staying with us too. There would surely be more helping hands than chores, and nowhere to hide. So the moment my wife returned from the hospital (again, an extra night’s stay), I went back to work. Out of sight and out of trouble, I would return every night of course to help tend to the baby when she cried at night, bringing baby to my wife for feeds and back to the cot again. That was something I could do, and I was very happy to help.

Most importantly, the day came when all the extra helpers had to depart. And that was when I started taking my leave, to play my part like a knight in shining armour when my help at home was most needed. And this time, I certainly wasn’t idle!

It’s not the most intuitive, but it pays off to carefully schedule the help available for a new mother. Having everyone around in the just the first few weeks means that many extra helpers will have time on their hands, and the mum will suddenly find herself helper-less and overwhelmed when they are gone.

Science, Religion and Homosexuality

I recently attended a workshop on homosexuality, which is something I have been curious about for a long time. I have always been taught that it is wrong. But I also have homosexual friends, relatives, and an increasing number of pro-LGBT straight friends. So I decided it's high time I gave the issues some serious consideration. I thought the workshop did a great job laying out all the issues, so I am going to reproduce some of them here to the best of my ability.

The Science of Being Born Homosexual

Safety in Numbers

The taboo of homosexuality was first challenged by the publication of the first Kinsey Report in 1948, which shocked the public with its findings that 37% of males had experienced homosexual orgasm post-puberty; 10% were predominantly homosexual and 4% exclusively so. This made homosexuality much more commonplace than previously thought, and hence deemed more acceptable or even natural. However, the research methodology was roundly criticised:
"Two main problems cited were that significant portions of the samples come from prison populations and male prostitutes, and that people who volunteer to be interviewed about taboo subject are likely to suffer from the problem of self-selection... Criticism principally revolved around the over-representation of some groups in the sample: 25% were, or had been, prison inmates, and 5% were male prostitutes." - Wikipedia
Other estimates placed the number of predominant homosexuals at that time at 1%, not 10%.

The Gay Gene

In 1991 an article in the magazine Science by Simon LeVay, reported he had discovered a cluster of cells in the brain of homosexual men that was twice as large as those in heterosexual men. Two years later Science published a study which claimed that evidence had been found of a genetic variation on the X chromosome that was associated with homosexuality. LeVay's study suffered from two basic flaws:
  1. His subjects were dead therefore their sexual behaviour could not be determined with any reliability (LeVay told Science magazine that he had “assumed“ the sexual orientation of some of his subjects)  
  2. It was not possible to prove a causal link between the brain structure and homosexual behaviour. For example, the smaller size (similar to size in women) could have been a consequence of late stage AIDS reducing the level of testosterone. Or it could be associated with some trait or characteristics that are common among homosexual men without being causative of the homosexuality. 
In LeVay's own words, "It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work." (Source: Inqueery: "What Does Science Say About Homosexuality?") In our local context, it is interesting to note that proven or not, this is one of the core arguments bring made for repealing Section 377A on gay sex:
Paragraphs 52 to 69 make the case that homosexual orientation is not a chosen facet of one’s being. “It is therefore absurd, arbitrary and unreasonable for the government to continue criminalising what is, for all extents and purposes, a practically immutable characteristic. It brings the force of the criminal law to bear against individuals for something they cannot change. This can only be absurd.” (Paragraphs 70 and 71). Even members of the government have accepted that it is an immutable characteristic, the submission points out. (via yawningbread)

How Do People Become Homosexual?

The predominant theory is that homosexuals are shaped by their environment. The most compelling explanation the speaker had found is by Elizabeth R Moberly, a research psychologist at Oxford University, who concluded that "homosexual orientation does not depend on a genetic pre-disposition, hormonal imbalance, or abnormal learning process, but on difficulties in the parent-child relationships, especially in the earlier years of life... the underlying principle is that the homosexual whether man or woman has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same sex; and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit through the medium of same-sex or 'homosexual' relations." (Elizabeth R Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, 1983, James Clarke)

At the workshop, the speaker shared that this explanation was corroborated by many cases he had read, in which the homosexual indeed had a deficit of relationship with the same sex parent. This deficit could be the absenteeism of the parent due to work. I suppose it could also include abuse at  the other extreme. This theory accepts that some people may never have experienced heterosexual attraction, but does not mean they were born gay if they were influenced by their environment at an early age. I also did find that such an theory better explained some of the questions that this Salon article pitched at Simon LeVay, such as "Given that gay people don’t reproduce in nearly the same numbers as straight people, how do gay genes survive?" It also provides an alternative explanation for "the curious finding that the number of older brothers a male has may biologically increase his chances of being gay". If the father's attention is divided, I suppose that would lead to relationship deficit.

As a father, this was an important reminder to me of the importance of spending time with my son.

Can Homosexuals Change Their Orientation?

A survey by the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality also
Confirms Homosexuality Can Be Overcome. Conducted with 860 participants in 1997, some of its key findings are that:
  • Before treatment, 68 percent of respondents perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely homosexual, with another 22 percent stating they were more homosexual than heterosexual. After treatment, only 13 percent perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely homosexual, while 33 percent described themselves as either exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual.
  • Although 83 percent of respondents indicated that they entered therapy primarily because of homosexuality, 99 percent of those who participated in the survey said they now believe treatment to change homosexuality can be effective and valuable.
  • As a group, those surveyed reported statistically significant decreases following treatment in the frequency and intensity of their homosexual thoughts, in the frequency of masturbation to gay pornography, and in the frequency of their homosexual behavior with a partner. Respondents also indicated that, as a result of treatment and sexual orientation changes, they were also improving psychologically and interpersonally.
  • Of the psychotherapists surveyed, 82 percent said they believe therapy can help change unwanted homosexuality. They further indicated that on average, one-third to one-half of their patients had adopted a primarily heterosexual orientation.
  • And more than 95 percent of the psychotherapists said they either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that homosexual patients may be capable of changing to a heterosexual orientation.
One of the pre-eminent scientists who helped homosexuals gain acceptance was convinced that they can.
"More than a generation ago psychiatrist Robert Spitzer helped millions of Americans get instantly well. In 1973 Spitzer, a professor at Columbia University, led the charge to have homosexuality removed from diagnostic manuals as a mental disorder. In a stroke, a segment of the population once considered sexually deviant was declared mentally sound. Last week Dr Spitzer appeared to take a troubling step away from that clean bill of health. In a study presented at the convention of the American Psychiatric Association, he argued that some 'highly motivated' homosexuals may be able to turn themselves into heterosexuals. . . He interviewed 143 men and 57 women who had sought help – in some cases through religious groups that openly oppose homosexuality – to change their sexual orientation. His surveys convinced him that 66% of the men and 44% of the women had indeed achieved 'good heterosexual functioning.'" ("Can Gays Switch Sides"Time, May 21, 2001)
After enduring a decade of criticism in 2012, Dr Spitzer retracted his findings on the grounds that it is impossible to conclusively judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. It seems to me that the need for people to self-report their sexual orientation, which could be influenced by personal/political agendas, will always be a weak link in any study of the field no matter which side you are on, just as LeVay assumed the sexual orientation of dead subjects.

This is a recommended book sharing the experiences of Christians who had overcome their homosexual orientation.

What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?

The Bible Is Clearly Against Homosexuality

This was actually a large part of the workshop, but I have kept it brief here because it's a bit dry. The main point was to refute alternative views either that

  • The Bible's disapproval of homosexuality is culturally conditioned and does not apply today
  • The Bible is not against loving, monogamous, permanent homosexual relationships
The workshop also made clear that the Bible is against homosexual practise rather than homosexual orientation. So while it is possible that some people have developed the orientation through their childhood environment and never before experienced heterosexual attraction, that in itself is not a sin, and over time they can still be healed.

Some of the verses on this topic are: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:24, Genesis 19:1-25 (Sodom), Judges 19:1-30 (Gibeah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20.13, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

Should Christians Impose Their Views And Standards On Others?

This is one of the key issues I have been struggling with personally, given that it is so fashionable these days to demonstrate your open-mindedness by showing support for the LGBT movement. In particular, because having considered all the information above, this is the point when you ask yourself if you should actually do anything about it. And as I said before, I do have LG friends and relatives, and I have never let that affect the relationship in the past. In fact, I used to study with my lesbian JC classmate and we would check out girls together, and she would tell me my standard in girls is very low. Then again, she also introduced me to Fiona Xie way back then ... so I guess her standards were definitely higher than mine.

If we accept that Christianity is against, homosexuality, the question is on what grounds we would have to impose this view on others who are not Christians. Is there an absolute standard of moral right and wrong, or are all these standards just conditioned by religion and culture? Or should right and wrong simply evolve with the cultural norms of the times, which is why more and more countries are legalising gay sex and marriage?

From a layman's perspective, it does not seem right to impose a religious belief on someone outside the religion, although it is certainly helpful to clarify the religion's stand for those within it, which was the purpose of the workshop. However, from the Biblical perspective we are all created by our Maker - whether they believe it or not - and just as we are called to spread the good news of salvation, so we should also spread the Maker's instructions pertaining to how we should live. Obviously this normative view will not likely be shared by the person you are trying to explain it to. And that is what makes it so difficult. But the ultimate validation will only come when Christ returns and until then, we have to put our faith in this.

The strongest argument I can see to live and let live is that homosexuality doesn't hurt anyone else. Of course this is probably an unnatural act, since humans were not designed for this kind of intercourse. But while most of us would not do this, who are we to impose our ideas of morality on those who do?And that is why my mind drifted off to perhaps my only original thought in this ... if you follow this line of argument, is there going to be any right and wrong? You could make the same argument for bestiality or necrophilia or any of the crimes against nature. So if we don't subscribe to some standard defined for us, where do you draw the line?

I am transcribing the proceedings of the workshop and some of my own supplemental research/thoughts here, because quite a few people asked me about it. I hope you have found it useful :) Apologies for the long delay, I've spent most of the past week taking care of the family's haze-related ailments