A series of small failures

The past and present colliding — at the perfect moment
November 6, 2008, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In 2001, I wrote an article for the Advocate (a typo-ridden version can be found here: http://www.affirmation.org/news/pass_or_fail.pdf)

The story was about two BYU students who had been expelled — not for being gay, but for acting on their “same-sex attraction.”

At the time I wrote the story, I was obsessed with the history of homosexuality in the Mormon church, and especially with the way BYU treated gay students in the 1960s and 1970s. I sought out men who had participated in electro-shock reparative therapy, and finally found one man who agreed to be interviewed about his experience.

John Cameron, of the drama department at the University of Iowa, graciously spoke to me about what he went through as a BYU student — unlike many men who were forced to undergo the therapy, or be expelled, he did it voluntarily. He wanted to change. Though what I suffered at BYU doesn’t begin to compare with his ordeal, I knew what it was like to feel trapped. You’ve spent years, and amassed credits toward graduation at this institution of higher learning. (Taking time out to serve a mission only made it worse… time to graduation can stretch into six or seven years!) All you want to do is finish and move on. So you do what you have to do. In my case, I moved frequently to stay under the radar and not have to go through a church court. (As a BYU student, you vow to obey certain standards; if you don’t, you can be disfellowshipped, or worse, excommunicated, which means expulsion. And as an official member but no longer a believer, it’s impossible to pass the interview, which includes the questions “do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?” as well as “Do you believe <whoever> is a prophet today?”)

John Cameron was one of 14 men who took part in the experiment in the mid ’70s. Thankfully, a graduate student named Max Ford McBride wrote a dissertation on it. I have a copy of his dissertation (thanks to Connell O’Donovan). I don’t know if the dissertation is still on the shelves — The Mormon church has a tendency to rewrite its history.

“Effect of Visual Stimuli in Electric Aversion Therapy”

A Dissertation Presented to the Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree

Doctor of Philsophy

by Max Ford McBride

August 1976

The first person who signed off on this dissertation? D. Eugene Thorne, Committee Chairman. Then I. Reed Payne, Committee Member. Then David G. Weight, Committee Member. And finally, Darhl M. Pedersen, Department Chairman.

There’s some freaky shit in here. The List of Tables includes:

1. Means and Standard Deviations of Nude and Clothed Male Therapy VCS and t Test Showing Significant Pre and Post Differences Between Groups

4. Means and Standard Deviations of Nude and Clothed Female Therapy VCS and t Test Showing Significant Pre and Post Differences Between Groups

In other words, they used porn — clothed and nude photos of men and women, and measured their responses. When they responded inappropriately, they were shocked. These men suffered mental and physical trauma. (And, by the way, looking at porn is definitely against BYU standards.)

Women were not experimented on, because in the Mormon church, women don’t really count. Which probably explains why I was never excommunicated.

Here’s an interesting paragraph from the first chapter, “Introduction and Statement of the Problem:

“Aversive conditioning procedures have been successful in treating homosexuality (Feldman & MacCulloch, 1965), alcoholism (Franks, 1960), exhibitionism (Evans, 1968) and pedophilia (Marshall, 1971). Eysenck (1971) specifies that aversion therapy is a behavioral technique principally used for disorders that are “socially undesirable or undesirable in the patient’s own long term interests, but which he finds reinforcing at least in part.” Wolman (1973, p. 384-85) defines aversion therapy as the “response inhibited by the evocation of an incompatible response to which the person reacts with avoidance.” The conditioned stimulus (CS) is followed by an intense unconditioned stimulus-unconditioned response (UCS-UCR) combination and according to learning theory, after an appropriate number of pairings the CS will no longer elicit pleasure but displeasure (pain and anxiety). The chief goal of aversion therapy is to reduce the probability of inappropriate response patterns which interfere with normal societal adjustment. The diminution or modification of inappropriate response patterns will encourage the likelihood of acquiring and strengthening appropriate alternative behaviors (McConagny, 1967).

The men involved had to sign waivers that included, “I fully realize that these procedures are experimental in nature of their design and application, and that their application to me will likely produce a great deal of discomfort; and that, perhaps, tissue or organ damage could result.”

John Cameron was not cured. 

More later.


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