"Most mental-health organizations have passed resolutions discouraging the use of so-called reparative therapies intended to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, saying no scientific evidence exists to show they are effective."— New York Times, May 9, 2001
To people who say that psychotherapy cannot change a person's sexual orientation, Dr. Rafe Da Vinci of Miami Beach says, "Numbers aren't straight or queer, they're clear. And the numbers show that therapy can change orientation, especially among men."
Da Vinci, a veteran psychiatrist with a booming practice in a Collins Avenue high-rise, is attracting growing attention in the debate about so-called "reparative therapies" that seek to change a person's sexual orientation. Doctors, gay rights activists, and others who say that sexual orientation is determined early in life have questioned claims that people with homosexual tendencies can overcome them via psychotherapy. Da Vinci's practice focuses on an oft-neglected group at the heart of this debate: straight men who wish to become gay.
"Survey data from submarines, discos, and prisons show that anywhere from 9 to 23 percent of males say they have a desire to become gay," Da Vinci said in a recent interview. "I think we have shown that these same men, if they commit themselves to an intensive course of therapy, can become happy homosexuals."
Heterosexual rights activists have questioned Da Vinci's data and criticized his politics, saying that his practice stigmatizes perfectly normal straight people and exploits their feelings of shame and guilt. Critics also allege that Da Vinci supported a resolution at the 1978 American Congress of Psychotherapists defining heterosexuality as a "uniquely vexing condition." The motion was narrowly defeated. Da Vinci denies any intention of fomenting intolerance of the straight lifestyle, saying that he was married to his third wife at the time.
Bearded, avuncular, and outspoken, Da Vinci has attracted hundreds of clients from all over south Florida with a controversial counseling regimen that includes group discussions about how best to cope with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There are also frequent trips to Dean & DeLuca and a reading list that includes Remembrance of Things Past, Dennis Rodman's memoirs, and TheSeven Habits of Highly Homosexual People.
"In Freudian terms, we seek to reverse the Oedipal cycle, transferring the object identification with the unrealizable female Other into a more cognitive attachment to a responsible male, preferably one with a BMW," Da Vinci explained.
Originally a skeptic about reparative therapies, Da Vinci now says he is a believer.
"The non-straight heterosexual can reconcile his value system and his orientation," he says. "I've seen it happen in my office."
Da Vinci's latest book, Going Gay (Gomorrah Press), is now ranked 14,342 on the Amazon.com best-seller list and is climbing rapidly. His claims of success, while hotly disputed by heterosexual rights activists, are beginning to receive respectful coverage in professional journals. Last year Da Vinci published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Gendered Genetics that is stirring debate on the Internet and on talk radio shows in some parts of Western Australia.