Believe it or not, Christian gay conversion therapy worked for me. But probably not in the way my therapist, pastors or grief-stricken parents hoped it would. More like in the words of Ariana, “thank u, next”.
Growing up in a Christian household, I was torn between the idea of running away from home and finally accepting that I might be gay with the hope that God might just love me enough to make me straight and take away my “sin”. A few years after finishing college, I enrolled in Bible school. Even though I was outwardly positive, on the inside I was deeply depressed. There was a part of me that I could not seem to “pray away”. One night on my way home from my youth group, I spontaneously stopped at the beach to spend time alone watching the city lights. I was reflecting on how much I had grown, the dreams I had, and the person I wanted to be. Next thing, there was a knock at my window, a stranger asked me if I wanted a blow job. That night my life hit crisis point. In my mind, I had committed the ultimate sin and was going to hell. My upbringing told me I needed help, so I reached out.
The therapy was offered to me by my church leaders out of compassion and love. Of course, it wasn’t explicitly called gay counselling or conversion therapy – because that might’ve raised a few rainbow flags. My faith, sexuality and ability to function had hit a crisis point, and at the time I fully believed that the therapy would heal me and “set me free me from my sin”. I suppose a lot of people voluntarily go through therapy with similar hopes.
Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion and controversy around gay conversion therapy in New Zealand. Notably, last year a bill was presented to ban the practice completely. As someone who underwent and survived therapy, I can understand the negative and long-lasting impact conversion treatment can have. It brought up feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts, and a sense that the only viable way out was to run away from my family and religious circle.
At church, I had been taught that homosexuality was a matter of nature versus nurture, nature being everything determined by our genes and nurture referring to our environment during childhood. And since science hadn’t found a gay gene, the only possible explanation for homosexuality was the way you were raised. I remember my mum messaging me to ask, “What did we do wrong, what could we have done better”? It was upsetting to think that this religious worldview caused my family to think my homosexuality was their fault.
Naming my “sin” was one of the first steps of my gay conversion therapy. In an early session, I sat with my therapist, my sin (which was now known as Frank), and a circle of empty chairs. Each chair represented a close family member. In the empty chair next to me, I had placed Jesus, and in the empty chair to my right, I’d placed my imaginary eight-year-old self. From a previous session, my therapist had concluded that Frank had first entered my life at that age, which was key to his power. So, rather passionately – and together with Jesus, 8-year-old me and my therapist – we prayed for Frank to be broken off my life. I started to cry and remember it felt like built up flood waters were bursting the banks – I was crumbling. At the end of the session, I was instructed to put Frank anywhere in the room. So I picked up imaginary Frank’s chair, walked over to a closet, hid the chair inside, and closed the door. I put my homosexuality back in the closet.
In my final session, my therapist concluded that because I told him I was watching straight porn instead of gay porn, the treatment had worked. For me, however, it helped me realise and embrace my sexuality. No matter what I told myself or what people promised me, deep down I knew that Frank would a part of me forever. I was gay and I wasn’t going to get any straighter, at least on the inside.
I left therapy but l was still searching for acceptance. At my lowest, I thought that ending my life would free me from my struggle. Eventually and ironically, I found acceptance in God’s own truth. The bible says that we were all “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139). God created me as he wanted me to be. Wow! It’s neither nature nor nurture, it’s the way I was intended in the eyes of God.
Now, as an openly gay man who still loves God, I am passionate about starting a dialogue to change mindsets about religion and sexuality. I want everyone to know that they’re perfectly and wonderfully made – no matter what their religion, parents, friends, or whoever says – especially those struggling with their identity and feeling accepted. I know those words would’ve been powerful and life-changing to hear, particularly when I was going through some dark times.
Despite what you might think, I will always be thankful for my therapist and church leaders. Not for trying to convert me, because straightening me was never going to fix me, but for recognising my need for healing and helping me through it. Therapy didn’t convert me, it freed me from the chains I had tied myself down with and ultimately gave me a new appreciation for God.
While I am thankful and don’t regret my decisions, all I really needed was someone to talk to and tell me that it’s all part of God’s plan. I didn’t need to be changed, just guided into being the best version of myself, gay, straight or whatever! And while I eventually got there, gay conversion therapy for many people can make the problem much, much worse.
In my opinion, gay conversion therapy should be banned. It’s a religious bandage on something that can’t be prayed away. The fact that this type of therapy exists today (in 2019!) only points to wider issues in some churches not accepting gay people and blaming parents and families rather than supporting them. Love shouldn’t be used to change people, instead acting in love should be used to embrace ambiguity with open arms. Judging someone doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.