Exodus International was founded in 1976 by gay Christian men who, at the time, were unhappy with their sexual orientation and eager to believe antigay activists’ Freudian habit — unsupported by reputable and unbiased research — of blaming parents for the formation of politically incorrect sexual orientation, and of telling gay men to pretend to be straight by butching up their behavior, taking a leap of supposed “faith” into a doomed heterosexual marriage, and proclaiming their heterosexuality loudly enough to drown out all signs to the contrary.
Within a few years, the wiser of Exodus’ co-founders left the organization, acknowledging that they had never been heterosexual and that ex-gay dishonesty had damaged their spouses and families.
But in 1979, a glimmer of hope emerged for would-be “ex-gays” when gynecologist William Masters and psychologist Virginia Johnson released a book, Homosexuality in Perspective, that they claimed was a result of years-long research. Conversion therapy was one focus of this work.
According to psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jack Drescher, M.D.:
In their study of 151 homosexual men and women with “sexual inadequacy,” they divided the latter term into two categories: “the sexually dysfunctional and the sexually dissatisfied.” The latter were defined as “men and women who expressed the desire to convert or revert to heterosexuality” (p. 240).
The book claimed to offer observations from the research participants as well as followup regarding short-term and long-term failure rates, although Masters and Johnson admitted that their followup methods were unsound since they relied upon subjective claims of conversion-therapy participants and not objective measures of the subjects’ attraction and orientation.
The data was impressive and served as a basis for much ex-gay literature. But it now appears that much of the key data may have been falsified by Masters.
Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I’ve done for my new book Masters of Sex . . .
When the clinic’ top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him. Kolodny‚Äîwho had never seen any conversion cases himself‚Äîbegan to suspect some, if not all, of the conversion cases were not entirely true. When he pressed Masters, it became ever clearer to him that these were at best composite case studies made into single ideal narratives, and at worst they were fabricated.
Eventually Kolodny approached Virginia Johnson privately to express his alarm. She, too, held similar suspicions about Masters’ conversion theory, though publicly she supported him. The prospect of public embarrassment, of being exposed as a fraud, greatly upset Johnson, a self-educated therapist who didn’t have a college degree and depended largely on her husband’ medical expertise.
With Johnson’ approval, Kolodny spoke to their publisher about a delay, but it came too late in the process. “That was a bad book,” Johnson recalled decades later. Johnson said she favored a rewriting and revision of the whole book “to fit within the existing [medical] literature,” and feared that Bill simply didn’t know what he was talking about. At worst, she said, “Bill was being creative in those days” in the compiling of the “gay conversion” case studies.
Maier has published a book, Masters of Sex, about Masters and Johnson — their personal relationship, their studies, and the impact of their work. Says Drescher:
Apparently Masters and Johnson may be just the latest in a long series of conversion therapy proponents, who when pressed, have been unable to substantiate their findings to outside sources.
When will Exodus International remove its praises of Masters & Johnson from its website and publications? And when it does, will it admit that the articles were false, or will it leave a decade’s worth of readers with misinformed and unchanged minds?