Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 70(1) February 2020
Issues around Transgender and Reparative Therapy.
The Work and Life
of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Sr.,
Written by his wife, Linda Ames Nicolosi
My husband, psychologist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Sr., passed away suddenly in March of 2017. He was only 70, and he had fought throughout his career to help men with unwanted homosexuality. He was a Catholic, because he believed the Church represented the fullness of the truth about life.
He was also a larger-than-life, exuberant, fearless man who refused to worry about the consequences of expressing his beliefs.
Joe had ardent convictions about the truth of male and female design. Any chosen identity that conflicts with this design, he believed, was a violation of our human dignity, and thus, a false identity. We have been created to live in harmony with our bodies, and to use our bodies for the purposes for which they were made; thus, anal and oral sex, and the creation of children through surrogates, and the deliberate removal of the opposite-sex parent from a child’s life, will, he knew, have consequences.
As the creator of Reparative Therapy, he dedicated his career to helping people align their lives with their worldview and faith. His clients were not only Catholic but Evangelical, Muslim, Hindu, secular. Anyone, he stressed, is free to live his life as gay. But he believed that a gay identity is only a superficial layer of identity— not our truest self. We are inevitably gendered beings, and our fullest humanity calls us to live out our biological design.
As Joe’s longtime literary collaborator—we wrote four books together, including Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, and A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality (which has been published in a number of foreign languages) — I had an inside view of his struggles with the psychological profession. I learned through the years was that the psychological profession had become an empty shell of its former self, jettisoning a vast trove of insightful clinical case histories from psychoanalysis for the new, superficial “behavioral health” that ignores unconscious motivations and focuses on “adjustment” in the narrowest sense of the word. The 1960’s mantra, “I’m OK, you’re OK” had finally won the day.
I could see that a tyrannical “herd of independent minds” now rules the profession, and that any thinker who offends a favored group would be quickly ostracized.
Joe, not surprisingly, thought the idea of transgenderism was an outrage. He knew that the project of defying nature— amputating a man’s genitals, making him sterile, pumping him full of synthetic estrogen for the rest of his life, and giving him artificial breasts— could never “re-invent” him as a woman, no matter how much the culture “celebrated” such a transition.
Of course, Joe saw the intellectual inconsistencies. If that same client wanted to see a psychologist to better align his sexual attractions with his sense of himself— that is, if he were to recognize himself as a man designed for heterosexuality— he would be laughed at by the culture and by his profession. “You’re gay and you must embrace it,” would be the message. So that meant you can “become” the opposite sex— but you can’t do anything about your homosexuality!
A number of years ago, my husband was prevented from speaking at a panel to which he had been invited by the American Psychological Association (APA,) by the outrage of gay activists. Although he and several other highly qualified psychologists applied to sit on a policymaking APA task force on homosexuality, only gay activists were permitted to shape APA’s policy. They knew his testimony could have been pivotal, and they needed him marginalized.
Now, because the profession has allowed this intellectual imbalance to occur, the new—and truly urgent—problem, is fear; fear of being a lonely voice of intellectual dissent, and of losing jobs, losing malpractice insurance, losing hospital privileges. Activists have gained such critical mass within the profession that no one dares defy them.
Until his death, Joe did persist in defying them. And I thank him for his courage.
Joe loved the Catholic Church and said many times, “The Church will always be home to me,” even though he was angry with parish-level leadership for abdicating its rightful role in resisting cultural decline—particularly, for its timidity on gender and family-related issues. There was also active resistance to his work from many parish priests. In fact, my husband got himself into significant trouble many years ago for speaking to a Catholic newspaper about the homosexual activity going on in the local Southern California seminaries which he had learned about through his distressed seminarian friends, some of whom had been “hit upon” by their superiors. His frankness was considered by the Church as a betrayal.
Joe was also a tender-hearted man. He would sometimes tell me, with tears in his eyes, about how hard it was to hear from his clients about abuse and neglect they had received from their parents, especially their fathers. “One thing I can’t stand,” he would say, “is seeing the suffering of a child or an animal.” And he was generous; when we travelled, he always offered our son and myself the better room, the better bed, the best seat in the restaurant— it was second-nature to him to insist that his family should be protected by him.
Joe believed that as gendered beings, we can only grow to fullest maturity through our gender, and that the current move by the gay community to annihilate gender distinctions is a destructive one.
Why is the gay community so determined to annihilate gender— and to insist that our gender identity can be in opposition to our biology?
Not because the gay community is more enlightened; because, he believed, most homosexual and gender-dysphoric people have experienced a life-changing attachment loss with the same-sex parent- a trauma that leaves them with a deficit that in adulthood, becomes eroticized. He explained this idea in detail in an article in the Catholic online magazine Crisis at www.crisismagazine.com/2016/traumatic-foundationmale- homosexuality.
What about the “born that way” claims of gay activists? My husband recognized that inborn factors predisposed some people to this attachment loss. Many of his clients were temperamentally sensitive, passive, artistic, lacking in emotional resilience, and somewhat more feminine and gentle than the typical male. These inborn factors, he believed, were the sum of the “born that way” theory, but they need not doom a man to feeling unacceptable to, and different from, his own sex.
My husband was able to give so much to his clients because he had received so much himself. So many times I heard him say, “I had wonderful parents. They argued, they fought, they threw dishes around the kitchen. But my brother and I always knew, without any question, that we came first in their lives.”
He often talked about his dozens of cousins, and the simple, family-centered lives they had enjoyed in their inner-city, New York Italian neighborhood while growing up -when parents were content (or at least kept any objections to themselves) to center their lives on children and family, and when husband and wives who didn’t get along, made the best of the situation and often ultimately discovered that you don’t run off to “find” a new soulmate, so much as you eventually discover that soulmate right there with you at home.
Joe, the eternal optimist, fully expected to "live to 100." But, he told me a few months before he died, "if my life were to end now, I could be content.” My husband’s years of clinical observations still remain available for discovery in his books, and on the internet at his web site, www.josephnicolosi.com