Thursday, March 7, 2019

Conversion Therapy

My state has been debating a bill that would try to ban conversion therapy. As you could guess, this is a topic about which I have some thoughts.

I've never engaged in any form of conversion therapy. I'm lucky. That's luck. My inexposure to the torture is not something I chose. I never told anyone I was gay while I was a child, so no one ever thought to force me to go to camps and beat an effigy of my parents or blame my dad for not loving me or undergo shock therapy or pray the gay away and take personal responsibility for my lack of faith when it didn't work.

I was fortunate.

For some reason, I escaped even the private internal torture that a lot of young gay kids and adults experience in believing their sexual orientation could be changed and that they should be ashamed of themselves if their efforts to do so didn't work.

I don't know why, but it just didn't occur to me when I was 12 that liking boys was somehow my fault and that I could like girls if I sought help.  Even as a child, when straight people at church told me that being gay is a choice, I remember thinking "No it's not, because I didn't choose this."

It feels like a miracle that I implicitly knew that there was nothing wrong with me and that being gay was responsible for all of the parts of myself that I liked the most. I don't say any of this to brag. I was just really lucky and I would be oblivious and ungrateful not to acknowledge that. I have many friends now who were not that fortunate and who have lived in states of psychological torture for years because of what they were told and put through as teenagers and young adults. I haven't had to go through that.

Because I was lucky.

I could have just as easily run across the wrong people and ideas at the wrong time and fell into a really tragic situation like many of my friends. But I didn't.

That didn't stop me from experiencing substantial internal trauma around this issue. I bore my secret privately, not because I thought I could eventually change it, but because I saw how gay people were treated and discussed and I was terrified of entering the fray. I sobbed myself to sleep as a seventh-grader and missed classes and failed assignments because of chronic stomachaches that baffled my parents. Those scars don't just go away. But they could have been much worse.

Even though I never thought my sexual orientation could be changed, I did try very hard to convince myself for a long time that although I would always be gay, maybe I could adequately pretend to be straight for the rest of my life to make people happy and not jeopardize my relationship with my religion, which I valued.

By the time I realized that I needed to come out and that it didn't matter if people in my life were too ignorant to understand that there was nothing wrong with me, I was in my late 20s and totally independent. When a few people suggested to me that I consider various forms of conversion therapy when I came out to them I was genuinely shocked.

I was shocked because I was naive.

I really, truly, did not know that conversion therapy was a thing until about five years ago. I do remember as a teenager seeing something on television where a gay guy who attended BYU in the 80s said he was subjected to electroshock therapy. I remember thinking that that seemed barbaric and insane, but I don't think I gave it much thought beyond that.

I must have been aware in some peripheral way that there were people who tried to change their sexual orientation. I'm sure I knew that, even if I can't recall ever giving it serious thought. But I had no idea that there were actual organizations that corralled young scared gay children and subjected them to psychological and physical torture.

When I started coming out and people told me I could change, I did some basic research on the topic, not because I was interested in engaging in conversion therapy, but because I wanted to understand what people in my community had gone through. I was horrified to learn about it. I couldn't wrap my mind around the thought that parents--moms and dads--actually put their children through this. I couldn't understand why parents would want their child to change in the first place. Gay people are the best, ifwedosaysoourselves. Who wouldn't want a gay child?

The teen suicide rate in Utah is alarmingly high. There may be a lot of reasons for this. Over the years people have argued that Utah's treatment of LGBTQ youth is significantly contributing to the rate. Studies have also shown that kids who engage in conversion therapy have a substantially higher risk of suicide and suicidal ideation. None of that should shock anyone.

Conversion therapy has widely been discounted as unethical, abusive, and ineffective. I've never met anyone who has actually changed their sexual orientation through any means. If those people even exist--and I truly believe they do not--they are an exceptionally-rare anomaly.

I sort of thought all of the above was obvious in 2019. When I heard that the state was considering a bill to ban conversion therapy, I, again, naively assumed that it would pass without serious opposition. Even the church, which has guided a lot of the direction of conversations about these types of issues over the years has affirmatively stated that it is not opposed to this law and it does not condone or encourage the practice today.

I was dismayed and shocked when there was substantial push back and new iterations of the bill that watered it down again and again until the bill was killed altogether. I'm told more conversations will happen and the good people who are trying to make a change in the law are going to continue to fight for this. I don't know where this will all land this year or next. I hope that my community will make progress on this issue. I hope that I can be a voice for change here as needed.

But more than anything, I hope that all the straight people reading this will commit to never encourage or promote these truly evil practices, no matter what the law says or doesn't say. I hope that we will all protect the most vulnerable children in our lives from being taught that something is wrong with them because they have a crush on someone who is of a certain gender. I hope we'll shut up and out shout any abusive person who tries in any way to lead a child to believe that there is something he can do to change his sexual orientation.

This matters. In many cases, this is a matter of life and death.

It matters that you and I speak up because not every gay child gets to just be lucky.


(You can locate some helpful support through this link.)

~It Just Gets Stranger

30 comments:

  1. The idea that having a normal, loving childhood is lucky is depressing (but also so true). Hereto children never have to question their attraction or affections. I also can’t believe this is even up for debate in 2019...but then, we have so far to go towards treating anyone who isn’t a straight white man equally, so I’m not actually surprised. Two steps forward and one step back — we may be moving at a snail’s pace, but we ARE moving forward.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn autocorrect, I KNOW I spelled hetero correct!

      Delete
  2. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

    I have to confess something. I have a 12-yo son. He's affirmed repeatedly that he is heterosexual. I've tried very hard to make it clear to him that it's fine if he's not. I spent part of my life (college and before) very not open to the LGBTQ community and I've tried hard to help others who are not open to this community see why my views changed in the hopes of changing theirs. I've been told by several LGBTQ students on campus that they see me as an ally in the administration and I am both honored and humbled by this because I know there is always more I could do.

    I know - none of that sounds like a confession. This is the confession: I'm so relieved my son is not gay. Not because I don't like gay people - I do! Not because I don't condone the "gay lifestyle" (whatever that means) - because I have no problems with it whatsoever.

    I'm relieved because of exactly what you stated: "I saw how gay people were treated and discussed and I was terrified of entering the fray."

    I'm relieved because it's one less thing I have to worry about the world treating him badly about. He gets bullied on a daily basis already. I can't even imagine how much worse it might be if he were to tell the world (my husband's extended family included) that he was gay.

    I hope this doesn't make me a bad person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My oldest is almost 8, and he has personality traits and characteristics about him that make my husband and I wonder if maybe he is gay (are we profiling him? Probably. He may be too young to even know for sure yet). We love him! He is an amazing person, and we will cheer him on and root for him in all of his goals and aspirations, no matter his sexual orientation. But I, too, fear the same thing as Nicole. I am grateful that the dialogue is changing, and in many ways, the treatment of LGBTQ people is improving. We have a ways to go, though, and I hate the thought of my sweet boy not being accepted or told he is of less worth because of something so petty.

      As a side note, the only downside to me personally that I see with him being potentially gay is that I have three boys and no daughters. Ya'll, I NEED a girl in my life of boys, and right now the soonest I'll have a daughter is in a future daughter-in-law, so his lifestyle wouldn't exactly support that goal ;)

      Delete
    2. FWIW, I am really happy that I'm gay. If someone offered me a magic pill that would make me straight, I would flush it down the toilet. You don't need to worry so much, especially because your kids have your support. There are trade-offs, yes, but I don't resent them, and I think I'm a better person because of them.

      Delete
    3. I have six (now adult) children--4 boys, 2 girls. All the time they were growing up, we were surrounded by lots of same-sex families so being gay is as normal to them as being straight. I used to tell them all the time that if any one of them were gay, that would be perfectly lovely and nothing would change and we would love them exactly the same and it was completely normal and on and on and on. One day one of them put their hand on my shoulder very gently and said "Mummy, you're just going to have to accept that none of us is gay. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is and we can't change." :)

      Delete
  3. Oh - and additional food for thought - according to this website (http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy) conversion therapy is still legal in 35 states (sadly, my own included). And now I'll be looking into what I can do to change that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was so happy when i saw Utah consider this, when it appeared to be heading for passage. Then it got gutted.

    i don't care if adults want to do dumb stuff like conversion therapy, but don't force kids.

    I've done conversion therapy, in several different forms. it was damaging. it left me hurt, confused, distant from God and others. It needs to go away.

    i know it's not therapy but when i told my mission president i was afraid i might be gay, he prescribed fasting every Sunday and praying for God to take it away. i did that for five years. it didn't work.

    My first therapist told me i wasn't gay because i had not had sex with men. I felt this way because i was not thankful for the body God had given me.

    Next, a therapist told me it was just OCD, that i obsessed over certian attributes in men, but that didn't mean i was gay

    then i was told that homosexuality was a dragon i was fighting, and i just needed to walk away.

    finally, i was told it was my parents fault. that i was wounded by men, and i beat a representation of my older brother as a way to become straight, hours later, they prescribed therapy was to cuddle with men who gave us a "charge"

    it is hellacious. I often wonder what my life would have been like in the 70's. I probably would have done electroshock therapy willingly. But i have joy when i see kids today who don't hate their romantic inclinations. when i can tell friends and they honestly don't care.

    i'm better than i have ever been mentally. and that happened when i stopped trying to change my orientation. even if you do want to stay in your church, don't try to change your orientation. Call it celibacy. or maybe rethink your goals, it's ok to be gay.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you Eli. I guess I’ve been naive too... I didn’t know this existed until I read your post. Absolutely horrifying. I wouldn’t change my gay son for all the world... he’s a light in my life like no one else. He definitely didn’t “choose”. I knew when he was two years old. When he came out to me a couple years ago, I was able to say, “ummmmm tell me something I don’t know.” I’m glad he was “lucky” enough to have supportive family & friends. It’s still not easy for him, but I can’t imagine the poor kids that aren’t so lucky.

    “Gay people are the best, ifwedosaysoourselves. Who wouldn't want a gay child?”

    AMEN.

    Big hugs from your old babysitter. I’m super proud of you ❤️

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was one of the lucky ones, too. I was always taught that people aren't judged for things outside of their control, and I knew that who I was attracted to wasn't something within my control. Never tried to make deals with God that if I did X thing well, he would 'cure' me, or any other such nonsense. I haven't been able to pinpoint if there is anything that us lucky ones have in common--something that we could condense and then distribute to others so we could create more and more lucky ones out there.

    What makes me crazy is that people who inflict conversion therapy on others say that a bill like this could hurt their business, and that's enough to shelf the thing. If your business is doing the type of damage that conversion therapy does, I am happy to pass a law that hurts the bottom line. Maybe you should restructure your business so it isn't built on the suffering of the downtrodden.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It breaks my heart that anyone could ever think that this type of "therapy" would ever be a good idea. I had some very dear gay friends and I watched them struggle with suicidal thoughts. I watched the pain that other people's judgement caused. I even had one friend who was afraid to come out to his siblings fearing they wouldn't let him be around his nieces and nephews. (Gratefully this didn't happen)

    I am heterosexual. If someone told me I needed to be sexually attracted to someone of my same gender, it would be impossible.
    I hope as a society we can grow more love for everyone. It really baffles me when parents don't show love to their children and kick them out of the house.

    Keep up the good work Eli! The funny snuggie conversation may be what brought me here but it's not what's kept me here. Your authenticity can help so many!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree 100% that conversion therapy should not be "done" to people. Parents should NOT force their child to undergo conversion therapy. But if someone wants to try it (even knowing that it probably won't work), is that something we should have laws to prevent?

    I really am asking here. I would like to understand better. I have learned a lot from your blog and I really appreciate you for that (and for making me laugh all the time. Obviously).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don’t know that any law contemplates preventing a competent adult from voluntarily choosing to engage in these practices. I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to do it, but no one in this country is unable to engage in the practice if they really want to. The problem is the people who are seeing therapists in these situations are incredibly vulnerable and I think therapists should be legally prohibited from encouraging those incredibly vulnerable people to torture themselves, particularly when the evidence strongly suggests that the torture isn’t even effective. There is no benefit to allowing that to happen. I have no problem restricting therapists from destroying people’s lives.

      Delete
    2. Fair enough! Thanks for responding!

      Delete
    3. Think about it this way, a hundred years ago Mercury was prescribed as a treat all medication. We now know that not only did Mercury cure nothing, it actually poisoned and caused more harm than any benefit. BUT, today, if an adult wanted to "give it a try, even though it probably won't work" should they be allowed to ingest Mercury? A physician would face criminal charges for even prescribing it.

      It's so much easier for us to see and understand the treatments on our physical bodies as being beneficial or harmful, but it's more conceptual when it comes to the mental/mind aspect of our persons. However, the principals are the same, if there is clear evidence of a treatment causing serious harm, we immediately abandon it, even put restrictions in place to keep others from inflicting the harm in the same way.

      Delete
  9. Excellent post! Your feelings and beliefs about conversion therapy coincide with mine. My heart hurts for anyone who has experienced this.

    Mom XOXO

    PS I am so happy you are mine!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Someone posted below that you are lucky to have your dad so I want to say you're also lucky to have your mom!

      Delete
  10. This blog is extremely well written and thought out. We are proud of who you are and the positive example you are to us and so many others. You are an exceptional son. Dad

    ReplyDelete
  11. As a 25 year old lesbian woman, I too have been very lucky. I am still very active in the LDS church and still “in the closet.” Your story has always resonated with me in many ways. Although I have never considered conversion therapy, I have strongly considered marrying a man for religious reasons. Thank you so much for the inspiration you have provided through this blog. Although I have not decided on my life path yet, I hope to one day have your same incredible courage!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Being 15 years your senior and a straight active mormon woman, I support you, you are loved. I was married once to someone who wasn't very nice, I PROMISE that being happily single will ALWAYS win over being miserably married. I finally decided this past year that the thing I want most in this life is to be a mom, AND science has afforded me this ability without needing to be married. The church is grumbling about my well thought out, planned, and careful choice, but I shall persevere this too. much love!

      Delete
    2. You're both incredibly brave.

      Delete
  12. I love your parents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ditto -

      Is there a way to petition them to adopt me?

      Delete
  13. Same in Nebraska. A bill has been put forth to ban such therapies as ‘for profit’. Then only people that seem to openly voice an opinion on it are churches with a for profit therapy camp, and clearly homophobic old men. It will be interesting to see how this ends. I too thought it was outlawed everywhere—NOPE!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am as naive as you are, I suppose. I kept driving past those billboards on I-15 that say something like "conversion therapy harms children" or something like that, and my thought was "Of course it does. Is anyone stupid enough to think it doesn't? Why do we need a billboard about this?" I couldn't see any reason to try to sway opinions, because I thought that bill would sail through.

    It sucks that we actually do need a billboard. How is it possible that we still actually need a billboard?!?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Jerry Buie is one of those loud LGBT voices fighting the good fight this week, and I'm lucky enough to know him and have been watching the issue through his FB posts. I don't have much faith in our state government to outlaw this horrific therapy, I think we have to turn to educating people, and most importantly parents. Somehow we must shout loud and far "this doesn't work, this mentally harms/injures/damages". Here are the studies showing no efficacy, here are personal stories from those who've been subjected, etc. It breaks my heart when my gay (mormon mostly) friends tell me they've tried conversion therapy. All I can say is "I'm sorry".

    Also, did you listen to this RadioLab? two Exerts from a 4 part series called UnErased. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/unerased-davidson-gay-cure
    https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/unerased-smid

    ReplyDelete
  16. I was not lucky. I grew up lgbt in the Mormon church and it nearly destroyed me. I'm now a happy adult and I hope no one has to go through what I went through.

    ReplyDelete