Religious Freedom to Discriminate: Unraveling Archetypes, Anachronism, and Apartheid for Our Collective Survival – Part IV

(photographer unknown) Warning:  This essay contains content intended for mature audiences.  Parental supervision is advised.

Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not me.”  In america, this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure.  It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. – Audre Lorde[1]

 The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.  In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.  — Audre Lorde[2]


In this series of essays I have explored some of the reasons why religion and religious people remain problematic for LGBTQ people attempting to live harmoniously within U.S. society.  These reasons include:  anxiety, sadism, superficial interpretations of spiritual texts, the absence of the higher purpose of mutually desegregating civilization, the abuse of political power, the misappropriation of federal law, the lack of interfaith dialogue with state legislators and governors, and the lack of knowledge about state legislators’ and governors’ sexuality.  In Part IV of this essay series, I am offering a brief case study on W.R.D. Fairbairn, an archetype of the mythical norm, and also a sexually-self-loathing psychoanalyst whom I consider to be one of the grandfathers of conversion “therapy,” and sexuality apartheid.  In the interest of our collective survival, it is important to understand how the lack of positive regard for one’s erotic power can lead to scapegoating and apartheid.

Part IV

I encountered the writings of W. R. D. Fairbairn, a devout Anglican-Episcopalian, in seminary.  Fairbairn was introduced as one of a few British Object Relations Theory psychoanalyst worthy of studying.  I was most intrigued by his theories on the “Internal Saboteur,” which modern Object Relations theorists call the “persecutory object.”  To put it simply, the persecutory object is an ego structure that attacks the erotic, diminishing one’s ability to love and be in relationship with others.  In its most afflicted states, the persecutory object only allows for relationship with one’s self, and can lead to self destruction.  As a pastoral counselor who practices lovingkindness meditation, I wanted to know more about Fairbairn’s views so that I might understand how lovingkindness meditation might help ease the persecutory object’s intensity.  While researching Fairbairn’s work, I found “The Treatment and Rehabilitation of Sexual Offenders,”[3] an article about his work converting homosexually active men in Scotland in the 1940s into heterosexual men.  The “proof” of his success was that the men who stayed in psychotherapy with him did not report to him that they were arrested again for having sex with men.  Convinced of his successful treatment Fairbairn, who believed, “…perverse sexual tendencies are not just unfortunate excrescences which in some mysterious fashion become attached to an otherwise normal personality, but integral components of the structure of the personality itself…”[4] recommended that gay men be put in “…special communities for offenders – settlements with a group life of their own, in which offenders can participate, and which is psychologically controlled with a view to its gradual approximation to the life of the community at large…”[5]  Fairbairn’s theories were the result of a sublimation of his own sexual self-loathing.

Fairbairn’s biographer John Sutherland[6] wrote that Fairbairn’s mother fondled Fairbairn’s penis, ostensibly to teach him not to touch it and to ensure he was not.  She told him that touching his penis would result in paralysis.    In Fairbairn’s journals he wrote that seeing his young female cousin touch her vagina, when he was a child, made him envious of her inhibition. He found their mutual masturbation games and mutual anal penetrations pleasurable, but anxiety producing.  Fairbairn said he adopted a “female attitude.”[7]  He said, “I much preferred [it] when anyone said I was like my mother – which didn’t happen very often.  I wanted to be like my mother.  She was much better looking than my father; but my preference went deeper than that.  I think I must have identified myself pretty strongly with my mother; and that may have to do with my adopting a feminine role – as I undoubtedly did.”[8]  Like his father, Fairbairn developed paruresis, and suicidal ideation when he had a full bladder.  Fairbairn had vagina envy well before a strange man in a park inappropriately touched the young Fairbairn’s penis.[9] In this bizarre and twisted encounter that I do not encourage pedophiles to misconstrue as therapeutic behavior, the male molester not through touch but through undermining Fairbairn’s mother’s lies, encouraged Fairbairn to have a healthier relationship with his penis.[10] Bizarre.

In light of this bizarre biography, how is it that Fairbairn, a man who had been fondled by his heterosexual mother several times, was frightened by her into masturbatory abstinence, who possessed vagina envy, had a feminine attitude, and was deeply identified with his mother before he was molested one time by a man, chose to single out for treatment in separate settlements homosexual men and not heterosexual women who fondled their son’s penises?  Scapegoating. Is there anything we can learn from the known dozens[11][12] of Christian men married to women as Fairbairn was, who advocate against the LGBTQ community while also secretly engaging in sex with men?  Probably.  Ironically, Fairbairn’s theories on detoxifying the persecutory object, coupled with practices in lovingkindness meditation, may help.

Fairbairn believed nothing short of an exorcism could detoxify the persecutory object, but he never witnessed a detoxifying exorcism. Nothing in his biography or articles suggests he knew anything about meditation.  Given my research with African-American Buddhist lesbians in the Insight tradition,[13] I found that a majority of these 31 women did not possess a strong persecutory object.  Their practices in meditation retreats, regular meditation at home, lovingkindness meditation, and understanding nonself as interconnectedness and interdependency, made them remarkably relationally resilient in the context of racism, sexism, homophobia, and Christian supremacy.  Here is additional good news.  The anointed and pious who rally to make LBGTQ community members more despised and more vulnerable through separatist legislation are actually in a position to learn from the despised people they are harming.  They can learn that lovingkindness meditation and understanding human beings as being interdependent (a concept Fairbairn embraced) are ways to lovingly embrace one’s erotic power.  Lovingly embracing one’s erotic power can help detoxify the persecutory object, thereby lowering the defense of sublimation that seeks sadistic satisfaction (through warping the Religious Freedom Restoration Act against LGBTQ people), while simultaneously easing the process of mutually desegregating civilization.

Though the potential for the process of mutually desegregating civilization is good news, there remains a major theological obstacle.  Many Christians are taught that the erotic itself is impure and thus all people with an erotic impulse are impure.  A Theology of the Impure is needed to aid the anointed and pious in the ability to lovingly attend to their erotic power, and aid the despised and the vulnerable.  A Theology of the Impure will be the subject of the last part of this series.

[1] Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde, 1984, 2007, p. 116.

[2] Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde, 1984, 2007, p. 53

[3] W. R. D. Fairbairn, “The Treatment and Rehabilitation of Sexual Offenders, (1946)” Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, 1952.

[4] Ibid., 291

[5] Ibid., 295.

[6] John D. Sutherland, Fairbairn’s Journey into the Interior, 1989.

[7] Ibid., 75.

[8] Ibid., 78.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Ibid.

[11] (accessed August 2, 2016)

[12] (accessed August 2, 2016)

[13] Pamela Ayo Yetunde, “A New Spelling of Our Names: An Exploration of the Psycho-Spiritual Experiences of African-American Buddhists,” (dissertation, Columbia Theological Seminary, 2016).

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