By Dr. Nadia El-Awady
IslamOnline’s Health & Science Editor

What Constitutes Normal?

NARTH comments on the issue of normality in an article that summarizes a paper written by Irving Bieber, M.D called “On Arriving at the American Psychiatric Association Decision on Homosexuality.” The article notes that Dr. Bieber was one of the key participants in the historical debate that culminated in the 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the psychiatric manual. His paper describes psychiatry’s attempt to adopt a new “adaptational” perspective of normality. During this time, the profession was beginning to sever itself from established clinical theory-particularly psychoanalytic theories of unconscious motivation-claiming that if we do not readily see “distress, disability and disadvantage” in a particular psychological condition, then the condition is not disordered.

On first consideration, such a theory sounds plausible. However, we see its startling consequences when we apply it to a condition such as pedophilia. Is the happy and otherwise well-functioning pedophile “normal”? As Dr. Bieber argues in this article, psychopathology can be ego-syntonic and not cause distress; and social effectiveness-that is, the ability to maintain positive social relations and perform work effectively-“may coexist with psychopathology, in some cases even of a psychotic order.”

Indeed, as some prominent cultural observers have noted, the political drive toward ever-greater equality has turned Americans against any conclusion which entails values and consequences- resulting in our culture’s trend toward rejection of all evaluative conclusions as unkind and “undemocratic.” Legal scholar Robert Bork sees this as a natural consequence of democracy untethered from its Judeo-Christian roots of self-restraint and responsibility, after which it began to be dominated by the philosophy of radical egalitarianism.

Dr. Bieber describes the deletion of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as “the climax of a sociopolitical struggle involving what were deemed to be the rights of homosexuals.” He describes the difficulty of putting homosexuality in an appropriate category: Is it a developmental arrest, or an illness? Is it a constitutional disorder, a genetic misprint, a habit? Through his long-term research on the subject, Dr. Bieber concludes that homosexuality is not a normal sexual adaptation.

Gay activist groups believed that prejudice against homosexuals could be extinguished only if, as homosexuals, they were accepted as normal. “They claimed that homosexuality is a preference, an orientation, a propensity; that it is neither a defect, a disturbance, a sickness, nor a malfunction of any sort.” To promote this aim, Dr. Bieber reports, “Gay activists impugned the motives and ridiculed the work of those psychiatrists who asserted that homosexuality is other than normal.”

Lesbian activist Camille Paglia offers the following observation:

Homosexuality is not “normal”. On the contrary it is a challenge to the norm…. Nature exists whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction…. No one is born gay. The idea is ridiculous…homosexuality is an adaptation, not an inborn trait….We should be honest enough to consider whether homosexuality may not indeed be a pausing at the prepubescent stage where children anxiously band together by gender….current gays can’t insist that homosexuality is ‘not a choice;’ that no one would choose to be gay in a homophobic society. But there is an element of choice in all behavior, sexual or otherwise. It takes an effort to deal with the opposite sex; it is safer with your own kind. The issue is one of challenge versus comfort.

A simple definition of normality offered more than 50 years ago is that it is “that which functions in accordance with its design.” Homosexuality would quite obviously not follow that simple definition.