A Modest Lifestyle Proposal

Nathan Richardson

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical piece called “A Modest Proposal,” in which he facetiously suggests that people start eating children in order to solve hunger problems. Swift did not hate children or actually think eating them was a good idea. Being satire, the purpose of his paper was to expose distorted reasoning by applying it to an obviously absurd scenario.

In like manner, the following is an attempt to reveal the distorted reasoning surrounding advocacy of the homosexual lifestyle and agenda by applying that reasoning to eating disorders. The purpose of this fictional dialogue is to demonstrate how irrational those arguments can be. They sound ridiculous if used to support an eating disorder, but they are the same arguments used to support homosexuality. Forty years ago, they would have sounded ridiculous when applied to homosexuality, too, but people hardly blink at them now. The arguments haven’t improved; they’ve just been repeated so many times that people have stopped examining their validity.

There are some obvious differences between eating disorders and same-sex attraction; no metaphor touches on all points. This imaginary conversation is intended to make a point about faulty reasoning leading to dangerous conclusions—conclusions that hurt people instead of helping.

A Conversation on Eating Disorders

I don’t know much about eating disorders, do you?
Yeah, I’m pretty informed on that topic.
I just saw a TV program about eating disorders. What a difficult condition!
Yeah. People who are anorexic or bulimic have very difficult lives.
My heart really goes out to such people.
Mine too! I’m glad you have sympathy for them. Many people in this world aren’t very understanding of conditions like bulimia.
I definitely feel for them, but I will admit that it’s hard for me to understand. Like, on that program, they talked a bit about a girl who’s bulimic. Why would she do that? It’s so contrary to what our bodies were designed for.
Because she’s bulimic.
How can you tell she’s bulimic?
Because she does those things.
But what makes her do them?
Her bulimia does. She’s bulimic.1

Biological Roots

But how did she get that way?
Look, it’s just the way she was born. It’s inherited genetically; it’s predetermined at conception.
I’m not sure that makes sense. Why do you say that?
They’ve proven it.
Hmmm, that’s hard to believe. Whatever proof you’re talking about, I’d have to see it.
Well . . . it’s out there. For one thing, it’s been observed in animals, so that shows it’s naturally occurring.2
What does it matter that it’s been observed in animals? I don’t see the point.
Well, that shows that it’s a biologically determined condition. It’s natural.
Even if it occurred naturally among wild animals, that wouldn’t make it any less a problem.
What do you mean?
I mean, just looking at it from a natural selection angle, an animal that exhibited such a behavior probably wouldn’t live very long, much less reproduce.
Still, it’s obviously an inborn condition that’s passed on through your genes.
How could a condition be passed on through your genes if it prevented you from passing on your genes?
Are you denying that it’s genetically inherited?
Look, I don’t rule out the possibility that there could be some biological component—I’d have to read up on it. But saying it’s 100% genetically determined is a bit much, don’t you think?

Environmental Roots

Well, what else could it be?
A good way to find that out would be through scientific research.
Assuming the research you mention is unbiased, what does it say?
Well, I’m no expert, but many people with eating disorders have a lot of experiences in common. Difficult events in their lives, social pressures, or feeling like they lack control in their lives.
You’re saying you think it could be environmental instead of organic? That it develops because of experiences that happen in a person’s life rather then because of genetics?
Sure. Let’s consider all possibilities.
Nope, that can’t be it.
Why do you say that?
Not every bulimic has had the same experiences, so experience can’t explain them all having the same condition.
Well sure, there’s variation; not everyone who’s bulimic has had the exact same experiences.
Right. So that means it can’t be acquired through experience or environment.
But there are many common types of characteristics and experiences among people who struggle with that problem. Wouldn’t you say that that indicates that those characteristics are probably related to bulimia?
So you’re saying they do this as a response to things that happen in their lives, rather than being born that way?
It seems reasonable that it might at least be a factor.
You’re saying they choose this lifestyle?
Well, the lifestyle, yes. I mean, it’s not that they aren’t being influenced by some difficult compulsions, but it’s within their power to refrain from doing it, with some work and time.
This is not a choice! Who would choose such a difficult lifestyle when it brings so much pain and suffering?
Why would you want to persist in one when it brings so much pain?
Because it’s who you are. Your body and soul yearn for it. Their food orientation means they feel differently about food than you do. They don’t want these feelings. They didn’t ask for them. But these feelings are very real.
I know their feelings are real. I don’t doubt that they feel very compelled to do what they do. But that doesn’t mean it’s “just who they are.” There’s probably underlying reasons for the unusual behavior.
What, you think it’s a mental illness?
I suppose, technically. It’s a practice so counter-intuitive and contrary to nature. If someone persists in harmful habits even when they know it’s hurting them, isn’t that kind of descriptive of a mental illness?
I resent you calling it a mental illness.
A mental illness doesn’t make you a bad person.
But if it were a mental illness, they would know. It’s happening to them, so they should know the most about it.
One of the effects of some mental illnesses is to make it hard to see your condition for what it really is.
There are thousands of bulimics, and you’re saying they’re all wrong about themselves? Are you implying that they can’t see clearly enough to recognize that?
I don’t know. Maybe. It seems reasonable that while you’re in an unhealthy behavior you may not be able to think clearly about it enough to change it on your own.
What about people who aren’t anorexic or bulimic but still support their lifestyle? Why would they be wrong?
I don’t know. Maybe they haven’t learned enough about the condition. Maybe we could all use some help in understanding the condition and changing it.

Motivation to Change

I’m all for people learning more about the condition, but for the purpose of accepting it, not for the purpose of changing it.
Why not?
You shouldn’t try to change them. Bulimia isn’t wrong, it’s just an alternative eating style. They have a right to live whatever lifestyle they want.
OK, but what about those who want to change?
They only feel that way because society pressures them to conform. People shouldn’t try to change them.
Aren’t you doing them a disservice by withholding help?
Why would that be a disservice to them? I’m supporting them in their lifestyle.
But it’s so closely connected with physical and mental health problems, like depression.
Bulimia doesn’t make a person depressed; it’s only when others speak negatively of bulimia that makes a person depressed. It’s people like you who do them a disservice by trying to change them.
How do you figure?
You don’t accept their lifestyle, so they feel like freaks and then get depressed. They don’t need to change; they just need to know that this is normal.
I’m not saying they should be made to feel like freaks. That would be wrong. But denying that it’s out of the ordinary only keeps them in the negative pattern and prevents them from getting help.

Possibility of Change

What help?
Therapy. Treatment programs.
Look, those so-called “recovery programs” don’t work.
Some do.
The best programs only have a success rate of about fifty percent.3
To me, that shows that some programs work. How is that proof they don’t work?
They can’t be doing what they’re claimed to do if they only help some people and not everyone. Since they don’t “cure” everyone, they’re ineffective.
Does a treatment have to be effective for everyone to be considered effective at all?
What do you mean?
If a new drug that prevented heart failure had a success rate of fifty percent, wouldn’t you still try it? Don’t you think it’d be foolish to completely dismiss it just because it didn’t work for everyone?
Well, most bulimics don’t want to change anyway.
How do you know that? Do you speak for all people with eating disorders?
It’s obvious from public opinion. Most don’t want to change.
I doubt that, but even if it were true, what about the ones who do? Shouldn’t they be allowed to try and change?4
It’s pointless to try. You can’t change someone’s food orientation. No one has ever gone from being anorexic or bulimic to what you call “normal” eating.
Of course people have.
Show me someone who has.
I don’t know that I can think of someone I know personally, but there are books about it, and I’ve read personal accounts online.
Those people haven’t really changed. If you followed up a couple years later, you’d find that a lot of them relapsed.
That doesn’t mean they can’t overcome it. It just means they need more therapy, time, and encouragement.
But no one “overcomes” it permanently.
Of course they do. Many lead normal lives later.

A Habit before It Ever Happens

No, even if they never binge or purge again, they’re just denying their bulimia. Deep down inside, they’ll always be a purger.
How can they still be a purger if they’re not purging?
Anorexia and bulimia are a part of who you are. A lot of people are probably bingers and purgers their whole lives without ever knowing it.
What? How can you be a purger if you never purge?
Happens all the time, my friend. A lot of people unconsciously suppress their inherent bulimia.
If you can be bulimic without actually binging or purging, then how would you ever know who was bulimic?
By trying it out. That’s why people need to explore their inner food orientation.
What? You want someone who’s never been anorexic or bulimic to try it out?
If they don’t, they may never know.
What are you saying?
They need to be informed and to experiment to find out what their eating style is. There’s support websites for that and even school clubs now.
So not only are you in favor of withholding help, you’re actually encouraging people to experiment with such a dangerous, addictive behavior?
I wouldn’t put it that way.
I’m sure you wouldn’t.
What’s wrong with people trying it out, to see if they prefer it?
Look, when have you ever heard of an addiction that was helpful to sample? A person could get stuck in the unhealthy cycle. It’s the nature of addiction.
If they sample a behavior and persist in it, that doesn’t mean it’s an addiction. It means they were naturally inclined to the behavior all along, but society made them hide it.


Wow. In the last five minutes, you’ve asserted that this harmful lifestyle is predetermined and inborn, and that people with this condition are completely powerless to change it. Not only that, you’ve recommended that people who’ve never had the condition should dabble in it to see if they develop it.
Like I said earlier, I’m the one who’s sympathetic to them. I have their best interest at heart.


Thanks to Jeffrey Robinson for a statement that gave me the idea for this dialogue, in his speech “Homosexuality: What Works and What Doesn’t Work,” TheGuardrail.com. Thanks also to my friend Tessa Farr for helping me develop this analogy. Neither of them, of course, are responsible for any factual errors I might have made.

1. This is called the nominal fallacy, or the nomological fallacy. For a discussion of it, see “Reconsidering the Way We Talk about Same-gender Attraction.”

2. Even if homosexuality were definitively demonstrated in animals, it would be irrelevant to human behavior, laws, and morals. “For some people, what animals do is a yardstick of what is and isn’t natural. They make a leap from saying if it’s natural, it’s morally and ethically desirable. Infanticide is widespread in the animal kingdom. To jump from that to say it is desirable makes no sense. We shouldn’t be using animals to craft moral and social policies for the kinds of human societies we want to live in. Animals don’t take care of the elderly. I don’t particularly think that should be a platform for closing down nursing homes.” Paul L. Vasey, quoted in Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “The Animal Homosexuality Myth” National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). In the words of an internet forum participant, “Sure, it’s not ‘natural’ to wait until marriage before you have sex, but it’s also not ‘natural’ to wait until you have a bathroom present before you relieve yourself.”

3. Eleanor Kurtus, “Applying Group Therapy to Eating Disorders,” School for Champions.

4. Even an article in Slate magazine (hardly a bastion of religious conservatism) acknowledged that those who wish to change should be not only allowed to, but should be able to receive help from professional therapists, without repercussions to either patient or client. William Saletan, “Shades of Gay: The Heterogeneity of Homosexuality,” Slate, 1 Apr. 2009.


  1. Nathan, I thought this article was hilarious and informative on how people today let their opinions be swayed. It is a good piece of writing. 🙂

  2. Nathan, This is a great article. There are many people who have same-sex attraction who are keeping any desire to take it beyond just that, under control. There are people who have SSA who are happily married and have children. I think it is an insult for people to think that practicing a homosexual lifestyle is the only avenue available to people with SSA. It is not giving them any credit for making their own decisions.

  3. Highly amusing article. The only problem is that while bulimia and anorexia are well recognized as dangerous and unhealthy disorders, non-heterosexual lifestyles are not more dangerous than heterosexual ones as long as safe sex is practiced. The argument is akin to likening something like, I don’t know, Mormonism to bulimia, which would go something like this:

    Hi there. Have you heard about bulimia?
    Oh, sorry. I’m not really interested.
    So you aren’t aware that bulimia is another testament to a good relationship with your diet?
    I haven’t really thought about it.
    Here, why not take this free copy of “Bulimia for Beauty.” I know in my heart that if you look over this book and consider it carefully, you’ll feel a burning in your bosom, confirming it to be true.
    Uh, thanks.

    Equally logical, equally imprudent.

  4. LOL! Well, when you put it that way … 🙂

    You raise the question of whether there is any harm to homosexual behavior as long as physiological consequences are averted. I believe there are. Granted, that’s largely an intuitive belief for me at this point, but as I read more on the topic, it makes sense.

    I guess I just think that a practice that diverts so much from nature must have consequences, even if they are not as clear cut as medical consequences. Like, if you had a friend who was a cutter (deliberately cuts their skin when they’re anxious, etc.), but they were careful and used sterile equipment and were never in any medical danger, would you think there was no problem? To me, that indicates that there might be something more, and help should be offered, if they want it. I don’t think the most loving thing to do is to say, “Hey, no infection, no problem. You’re doing fine.”

  5. Your intuition has no place in this debate since such a thing could be used to argue for or against anything. For instance, if I believe (intuitively of course) that even if all physiological consequences are averted there is still great harm in weekly church attendance (granted, this is largely an intuitive belief for me at this point, but as I read on the topic, it makes sense) is this a good enough reason to consider church attendance a mental health issue? Of course not. See how easy it is to use “intuition” as proof of anything you please?

    Moreover your assertion that homosexuality is negative because it “diverts from nature” is irrelevant. I see that you aren’t a big fan of the fact that homosexuality has been demonstrated throughout the animal kingdom in various species (here is photographic evidence if you are THAT stubborn). Perhaps I feel that people praying “diverts from nature.” Is it necessary for me to impose this belief on everyone else? No.

    Your entire premise might be worth a reasonable person’s consideration if homosexuality was in any way like bulimia or self-injury, comparisons which I find not only disgusting but simply factually inaccurate from a psychiatric and/or psychological perspective.

    I said good day, sir.

  6. Your intuition has no place in this debate.

    I didn’t intend for this to be a debate, Zac. I was sharing my thoughts and you were sharing yours.

    See how easy it is to use “intuition” as proof of anything you please?

    I didn’t call it proof; I’m calling it one reason that I lean toward caution.

    I see that you aren’t a big fan of the fact that homosexuality has been demonstrated throughout the animal kingdom in various species (here is photographic evidence if you are THAT stubborn).

    I’m well aware that homosexual behavior has been observed in animals (see footnote 2 above). My point is that this fact is irrelevant to the question of whether human homosexuality is moral or desirable.

    But I can see how I created your misunderstanding. Perhaps “diverts so much from nature” was not the clearest way for me to say it. What I mean is, diverts from what we were created for, from the type of life we were meant to have. (And of course, what that means will depend on a person’s religion, or lack thereof.)

    Is it necessary for me to impose this belief on everyone else? No.

    Zac, what have I done to impose my beliefs on anyone?

    Your entire premise might be worth a reasonable person’s consideration if homosexuality was in any way like bulimia or self-injury, comparisons which I find not only disgusting but simply factually inaccurate from a psychiatric and/or psychological perspective.

    I have acknowledged and discussed the obvious differences between homosexuality and eating disorders or cutting, as well as the similarities (see post 5 in this series). If you don’t see any similarities at all, that’s OK. I do, but we don’t have to agree.

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