Friday, February 24, 2012

A Rather Dubious Connection

I remember when this first hit the news, my reaction was disgust and anger that these students "outed" one of their fellow students by secretly filming his homosexual encounter in a dorm room, leading to his suicide.  Now that one of the accused students is fighting the criminal charges, there are more details coming out that suggest a bit more ambiguous connection.  The February 24, 2012 U.S. News & World Report explains that Tyler Clementi's suicide was five days after this embarrassing revelation, and Clementi had already come out to his parents before headed off to college, and was "out" to many of his fellow students.

The notion that Clementi committed suicide because of being outed is suddenly a lot less plausible.  If he was willing to tell his parents (which would be about the last people that you would tell if you were deeply ashamed of your homosexuality), and other students, being outed, even in such a repulsive manner as having your actions exposed on the web, does not seem like a suicide-inducing action.  Worse: as this February 24, 2012 Los Angeles Times article points out: they never posted this on the web:
The defense maintains that Ravi did not post the video to the Web, though the images were sent from Clementi’s room to another computer in the dorm -- one where Ravi and his friend, Molly Wei, were.
“Nothing was transmitted beyond one computer and what was seen was only viewed for a matter of seconds,” Ravi’s attorney, Steve Altman, said in a prepared statement Oct. 31, 2010.
More importantly, five days later?  This is hardly an impulsive action, based on the delay.

May I suggest another explanation?  Suicide rates are quite high for homosexual adolescents, and at a statistically significant level of homosexual males:
RESULTS: Suicide attempts were reported by 28. 1 % of bisexual/homosexual males, 20.5% of bisexual/homosexual females, 14.5% of heterosexual females, and 4.2% of heterosexual males. For males, but not females, bisexual/homosexual orientation was associated with suicidal intent (odds ratio [OR] = 3.61 95% confidence interval [CI = 1.40, 9.36) and attempts (OR=7.10; 95% CI=3.05, 16.53). CONCLUSIONS: There is evidence of a strong association between suicide risk and bisexuality or homosexuality in males.

Read More:
Perhaps Clementi gets off the college, spends some time having homosexual sex, finds that it really doesn't make him feel any better than any did before, and decides to kill himself?  A lot of energy is spent telling the lie that "you can't change" when the evidence shows that yes, at least some homosexuals can change their sexual orientation (not just behavior).  The abstract from Robert L. Spitzer, "Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation," Archives of Sexual Behavior 32:403-417 (2003):
This study tested the hypothesis that some individuals whose sexual orientation is predominantly homosexual can, with some form of reparative therapy, become predominantly heterosexual. The participants were 200 self-selected individuals (143 males, 57 females) who reported at least some minimal change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least 5 years. They were interviewed by telephone, using a structured interview that assessed same sex attraction, fantasy, yearning, and overt homosexual behavior. On all measures, the year prior to the therapy was compared to the year before the interview. The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year. Reports of complete change were uncommon. Female participants reported significantly more change than did male participants. Either some gay men and lesbians, following reparative therapy, actually change their predominantly homosexual orientation to a predominantly heterosexual orientation or some gay men and women construct elaborate self-deceptive narratives (or even lie) in which they claim to have changed their sexual orientation, or both. For many reasons, it is concluded that the participants' self-reports were, by-and-large, credible and that few elaborated self-deceptive narratives or lied. Thus, there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians.
And before you dismiss Spitzer as some sort of homophobic crank: Professor Spitzer was one of those who led the effort to remove homosexuality from DSM-III in the 1970s.


  1. In the AP account I read, which went into some details of the communications and timeline, several things stood out; in particular:

    The only clear cut "prejudice" was the gay's mentioning Dunkin Donuts at the end of a short entry after he'd met his roommate's parents (but that could be humor especially after Biden's comment). In general they seemed to be OK with each other (gay about roommate: he's occasionally an "asshole" but otherwise fine, roommate just didn't care about the other's sexual orientation, not counting reserving the room for a tryst with a 25 year old outsider).

    He came out to his family just before going off to college and his mother had a very negative reaction. And the two had a phone conversation just before he committed suicide.

    In general, there just didn't seem to be a harassment case there and there was a quote from the prosecutor that public pressure was why he was going all Inspector Javert on the roommate.

    For further thought: you get randomly assigned a gay roommate in college. You're OK with him, but if you have the slightest suspicion he might kill himself or whatever this case suggests that you ought to seriously consider withdrawing for the term for some BS reason; the risk to yourself could be high in the current environment of academia.

  2. Spitzer recently retracted the 2003 paper you cite, as noted on his Wikipedia page.

    The Archives of Sexual Behavior declined to publish the retraction. Alice Dreger of Psychology Today reports that upon hearing Spitzer's request, editor Ken Zucker told him, "You didn’t falsify the data. You didn’t commit egregious statistical errors in analyzing the data. You didn’t make up the data. There were various commentaries on your paper, some positive, some negative, some in between. So the only thing that you seem to want to retract is your interpretation of the data, and lots of people have already criticized you for interpretation, methodological issues, etc."

    And the band played on, he noted ironically.

  3. Yes, I saw this mentioned recently. Essentially, he decided that the people who claimed to have changed their orientation weren't trustworthy. Unlike the ones who claimed that they hadn't changed.