The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Public Affairs head Bishop Deogracias Iniguez expressed disappointment over the recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) allowing LGBTI rights group Ang Ladlad to participate in the party-list elections this May. He said,
“We recognize them, respect them, but their situation is an abnormality. Allowing them to have a chance to take a seat in Congress is approving and encouraging an abnormality which is unnatural.I do not understand what he means by abnormality. After all, abnormality depends on what normal means. But as a psychologist— a scientist who studies normal and/or abnormal human behavior and mental processes, HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT ABNORMAL.
But what constitutes something as psychologically abnormal or not? How do psychologists distinguish abnormal behavior from normal behavior?
The concept of abnormality is very imprecise and difficult to define. Criteria have been set, but, what at first sight may seem quite reasonable definitions, it turns out to be quite problematic.
Deviation from the Average
The assumption is that, whatever occurs most frequently in the population is seen as normal and abnormality is seen as those that occur least frequently.
Mosher, Chandra, and Jones (2005) in a US study found that 90% of men aged 18-44 considered themselves to be heterosexual, 2.3% as homosexual, 1.8% as bisexual, and 3.9% as something else. Among women aged 18-44 in the same survey, 90% said they were heterosexual, 1.3% homosexual, 2.8% bisexual, and 3.8% as something else. CNN exit polls during the US 2008 presidential election showed 4% of the voting population self-identified as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
The Young Adult Fertility Survey (YAFS) conducted in the Philippines reported that 17% of Filipino youths aged 15-25 admitted to having been attracted to the same sex in 1994, whereas 7% admitted to having a crush on someone of the same sex in 2002.
Indeed, homosexuality is statistically rare, however, there is an obvious flaw. If we use this criterion, ethnic and racial minorities would then be deemed “abnormal”. There are about 60 ethnic minority groups in the Philippines that continue to exist and practice their traditional customs. We recognize the aetas, we respect the aetas, but, because they are less frequent in the population, do we say they are abnormal?
Deviation from Ideal Mental Health
The assumption here is that anyone who does not possess the qualities to function normally in society is in one way or another abnormal.
Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information. In the past, the studies of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people involved only those in therapy, thus, biasing the resulting conclusions.
But when researchers examined data of people who were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was quickly found to be untrue. Evelyn Hooker (1957) illustrated this by comparing heterosexual and homosexual men who were functioning normally in the society. She concluded that the two groups did not differ significantly in terms of their psychological adjustment.
Almost more than 35 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1980), a decision that has been strongly supported by the American Psychological Association or APA (2004).
Homosexuality is NOT a mental illness and is NOT an abnormal aspect of human sexuality. There have been no reliable researches on homosexual orientation impairing cognitive abilities (Tuttle & Pillard, 1991), psychological well-being and self-esteem (Coyle, 1993; Herek, 1990; Savin-Williams, 1990), and overall psychological functioning (Gonsiorek, 1991 ; Pillard, 1988; Rothblum, 1994).
I quote APA’s stand on lesbians, gays, and bisexual people:
Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder. (APA, 2008)Subjective Discomfort
The assumption here is if a person's thoughts or behaviors are causing them personal discomfort or unhappiness, then they will be considered abnormal.
This is very ironic. In my professional and personal encounters with LGBT clients and friends, I have observed that one feels distressed when one is still confused and has not fully accepted his or her sexual orientation. They also report fears of being rejected by family, friends, co-workers, and religious institutions because of their sexual orientation. These counseling experiences are supported by empirical researches. Studies have shown that exposure to prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation may cause a homosexual person acute distress (Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 2003).
Coming out—the process of being aware and acknowledging of one’s sexual orientation, is difficult for other LGBTs, but, not for some. When coming out is successful, one reports a sense of happiness. A perfect example is the recent coming out story of the pop singer and actor Ricky Martin. He shared his struggles in the closet and his sense of happiness as he proudly announced he is a homosexual man.
“… the book was the tool that was going to help me free myself from things I was carrying within me for a long time. Things that were too heavy for me to keep inside…Maladaptive to One Self and to the Society.
These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed.
What will happen from now on? It doesn't matter. I can only focus on what's happening to me in this moment. The word "happiness" takes on a new meaning for me as of today. It has been a very intense process. Every word that I write in this letter is born out of love, acceptance, detachment and real contentment. Writing this is a solid step towards my inner peace and vital part of my evolution.
I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.”
The assumption here is that the abnormal behavior is counter-productive to the individual and disrupts and hurts the lives of others.
Is being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender self damaging? Look around you, we are everywhere and we are NOT maladaptive! We are honor students, inspiring teachers, talented designers, successful engineers, artistic directors, exceptional performers, loving parents, passionate lovers, and best friends. Our sexual orientation was never a hindrance to reach our goals in life.
Did it disrupt and hurt the lives of others? Maybe occasionally, our loudness irritated some pikon homophobic men and women, but, also consider how much stress an LGBT person had to endure like chronic daily hassles (e.g. hearing anti-gay jokes, always being on guard to a closeted individuals) and negative gay relevant life events (e.g., rejection by family, friends, and co-workers, anti-gay violence, and discrimination due to sexual orientation). Western researches have shown that LGBTs are at risk for mental health problems (Meyer, 1995) and emotional distress (Ross, 1990) as a direct result of discrimination and negative experiences in society.
So my dear, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, careful with what you wish for, because it could be your heterosexism thinking that could potentially disrupt and hurt the lives of others.