Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bias (Part 2)

Last time I talked about some of the problems of selection bias in statistics, in particular in studying gay Mormons.  So how can the effects of this bias be lessened?  I think there are several ways, but they are difficult to pull off.

There needs to be a way to get a cross section of the population.  Let's suppose our population of interest is the adult men in the church.  One possibility might be to make a random selection of wards within the population of interest (say, members living in the US) rather than recruiting people online or other such highly biased method.  Anonymous surveys passed out in Elders/High Priest quorums might be appropriate, but care should be taken.  Make sure that the questions on the survey are worded to encourage the kinds of honest answers that are relevant.  For example, "I consider myself to be (a) gay (b) bisexual (c) heterosexual (d) same-sex attracted (e) other" might not be a good question, since many men might interpret their identities as heterosexual, despite being a 4 or 5 on the Kinsey scale.  A better way might be a survey that first assures them of their anonymity, explains the purpose for the survey is for a trusted organization (like, perhaps, LDS social services) to gain accurate information in helping to guide the youth of the church, and asks them if they have ever found themselves attracted to members of the same gender, regardless of the way they define their orientation.  There's probably even a better way to word the questions.  I'm just shooting from the hip here.  But the wording of the question has to assess attraction, not identity, if it is to be a useful measure for answering the kinds of questions for which we want answers.

This kind of survey would require a lot of trust from church leaders, possibly working with LDS social services or some other entity within the church.  But without this kind of data, I'm afraid the results are not very strong.  They may have merit for the portion of the population that is likely to respond, but still fail to generalize to the church as a whole.

Getting good data is always a difficult task, and data about a cultural taboo (sexuality is often a taboo subject within Mormon culture) is particularly hard.  But until we have good data, we have to regard any results with an appropriate level of skepticism.  Too many times throughout history, faulty data has led to some very poor decision making because of selection bias.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bias (Part 1)

When I say "bias," I'm not talking about personal bias.  I'm talking about selection bias.  It's the bane of statisticians all over the world.  It gets into your data and makes all the results suspect.  It's notoriously hard to prevent.  Let's say we want to do some research on domestic violence.  We want to recruit a large representative sample of the population.  Well, one of the most infamous forms of bias is volunteer response bias.  Those who have a bone to pick will be far more willing to be part of the sample than others.  If we allow them to, they will hijack the data and make all the results meaningless.  Yet for so many studies, even those published in large peer-reviewed journals, this kind of thing often happens.  In my example, if I were trying to recruit a large sample, those who had very strong feelings about domestic violence would be the first to turn in surveys and share it with their friends.  Even if my forums for disseminating the questionnaire were unbiased and universally available, this bias upends my results.  However, if my main forums for disseminating the survey are primarily viewed by those with interest in domestic violence issues, the bias compounds.  Would my resulting data be useful?  Sure.  But it would not be a good representative sample of the whole population, and I would have to take that into account when interpreting the results.

I have reason to believe that there are a large number of Mormon men who are attracted to other men, who also have been sealed to wives to whom they are committed.  They do not identify as gay, nor do they frequent forums where these issues are discussed.  They have told nobody about their orientations, sometimes not even their wives.  Why would they need to bring it up?  They might feel threatened by the gay rights movement and so largely ignore anything to do with it.  They might only rank a 4 or 5 on the Kinsey scale.  These people are a very important demographic and we have absolutely no idea how big it is.

Some people will say that this group can't be very big, because few people could pull that off.  To this crowd, I say "Wake up and smell the coffee!"  I've met people who feel the exact same way about coffee.  There's no way a whole group of people could eschew morning Java and still function normally.  Or teen sex.  It's naive, they think, that a church teen program could actually expect to convince a majority of its members to wait until marriage before sex.  Sorry, but despite the doubts, it is currently happening within the Mormon church.  So I think it's possible that the silent gay-oriented Mormon population could be very much larger than expected.

So what of this recent study on gay Mormons and marriage?  It's useful as a research tool, but I think it's naive to infer results about the general population using the study.  There's way too much chance for selection bias.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why the Church Cannot Support the Gay Rights Movement

In the 1960s and 1970s, the sexual revolution (or "free-love" movement) was in full swing.  The idea was that two consenting adults had a right to sexual relations regardless of previous societal customs of marriage fidelity and laws against adultery and fornication.  This flew in the face of most of the religions of the time, and still does today.  The movement was a particular affront to the LDS doctrine of the Law of Chastity.

The gay rights movement, by attaching so closely to the "consenting adults" argument is bound tightly to the free-love movement.  Like it or not, gay rights and free love are intertwined enough that to argue against free-love is to argue against gay rights.  The Church is completely set against the free-love arguments, and as such, is bound to be against the gay rights argument, too.  The Church will not budge on the Law of Chastity.  As long as people view gay rights as an argument about consenting adults, the Church will not be able to change its stance.

Some people try to tie this issue to the revelation on the Priesthood, which expanded the blessings of the Priesthood to those of African heritage.  But that revelation did not conflict with any fundamental doctrines of the church.  In fact, it was consistent with the pattern that had been set anciently of exclusiveness followed by expansion.

So how does the Church address gay rights?  First, there is an attempt to extricate gay rights from the sexual revolution.  The Church-preferred term of "same gender attraction" is an attempt to detangle the two movements.  The focus on individuals and traits is very different from the focus on sexual permissiveness that the traditional gay rights movement has espoused.  In the Church's official page on the subject, this focus is clearly visible.

For those who advocate change in the Church, please be aware than any suggestions that in any way curtail the importance of the Law of Chastity cannot be favored by church leadership.  The leadership will follow the example of Christ when he was confronted about the woman taken in adultery.  He did not condemn the woman, but rather than condone her behavior, He encouraged her to change the behavior.  The Law of Chastity is one of behavior, not of identity or predilection.  

So,as long as the gay rights issues can be separated from free-love, the Church can take a stand for rights, and does.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Do Marriages Fail?

It has been said time and time again that marriages between gay and straight partners are unlikely to succeed.  The reason, most people believe, is because of incompatibility.  In fact, even among straight partners, incompatibility is often cited as the reason for a failed marriage.  However, recent research points to a different conclusion.

After studying the behaviors of many couples over long periods of time, some scientists are coming to the conclusion that kindness and generosity are the principle indicators of marital success.  It's not just purposeful acts of kindness that we're talking about here, but actually showing interest in our partner's interests, whether or not we feel the same.  For example, when one spouse comments on an event, what does the other spouse do?  If the other spouse's reaction is usually to actively follow up positively, then the marriage is likely to succeed, regardless of other factors in the marriage.  If the other spouses reaction is typically to ignore or belittle the remark, then the marriage is likely to lead to dysfunction or divorce.  (See an article about this here.)

Okay.  Now let's apply this research to a so-called mixed orientation marriage.  If each spouse is actually interested in and supportive of the other, the marriage will likely succeed.  That can be difficult if one spouse doesn't want to know about the other's orientation.  If one spouse expects the other to suppress their orientation rather than allow open and honest communication, success in marriage is going to be much more difficult to achieve.  On the other hand, if one spouse insists on making the other uncomfortable and ignores their concerns, that will similarly make success unlikely.

So what if a marriage has picked up some of the bad habits?  There's always hope.  If one spouse takes initiative and models kindness and generosity, the other will usually pick up on the patterns and marriage can improve.  Kindness begets kindness, as is often said.  Most people are trying to do the right thing, and most people don't want their marriages to fail.  A spouse who looks for the positive motives in the other's behavior is more likely to react with kindness, even if they disagree.

I think that most of these unsuccessful mixed orientation marriages fail not primarily because of incompatibility, but rather due to uncharitable behavior that builds up over time and develops into something that looks like incompatibility.  Ironically, neither companion may recognize this, as both fully intend for their marriage to work.  They may truly love one another.  But without kind, supportive behavior, success becomes difficult.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Body Art

I'm a guy who is attracted to guys.  I can't help but be impressed by a trim young man who keeps healthy and fit.  But I don't understand why these young men often deface their beautiful forms with body art.  In Mormon theology, our bodies are gifts from God, temples which our spirits inhabit and in which we commune with the Holy Spirit.  Tattoos and piercings are not in harmony with the respect we owe our God for gifting us these mortal bodies.  And personally, I think it's terribly ugly.  It turns out that I'm not alone.  Although it's looking at guys' views of tattooed girls, this article examines the man's point of view.  Men think women without tattoos look more attractive.  But women with tattoos look more sexually promiscuous, and are therefore easier to approach -- remember guys usually have a big fear of rejection.  

Despite my gay orientation, I still think like a male.  To me, guys look more attractive when they haven't got tattoos or piercings.  And I think like a Mormon, sexual promiscuity is not an attractive trait.  The culture that grew around the gay community, though, encourages body art.  It's one of the reasons I never identified as gay when I was growing up.

In general, as a church, we need to teach our youth whose orientations are gay that they do not have to follow the culture that has grown around the gay community.  Drinking and smoking, body art, promiscuity, these things are not a necessary part of a gay orientation.  Following the advice of the prophets is still the best way to live, even if you don't fit the mold of the ideal Mormon kid.