‘Conversion therapy’ hits the big screen while laws play out in states
“When I first came out to my dad when I was 16, I was looking for his acceptance and approval about being gay. He was loving in that moment and said he cared and he’d be there for me, but he thought it was a phase, and he wanted to get me help,” said Shurka, now 30. “He didn’t raise us religious or anything. He just didn’t think I’d be successful if I was a gay man.”
This is what’s known as “conversion therapy,” “reparative” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” in which someone goes to therapy in order to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s often performed by religious leaders, but licensed clinicians are also engaged in the practice.
“Cameron Post” features a teen girl who is caught kissing another girl and is sent away to a camp that aims to change her sexuality. It’s set in the 1990s.
‘It was based on a lot of stereotypes’
Most of what he experienced was talk therapy, Shurka says. Each therapist operated from the same premise: Everyone is born straight. People who are gay or have a gender identity that is different from the one they were assigned at birth had experienced some form of trauma that “made them gay.” Being gay was like being an alcoholic, he was told; the behavior needed to be avoided at all costs to be healthy.
“I had a good upbringing, and it was a loving home, so what they decided my problem was that I had too many female role models. That’s why I wasn’t allowed to speak to my mom and sisters,” Shurka said. He was also told to ditch his female friends because his therapists didn’t want him to “relate to women as my peers.” They also told him to walk, talk and dress differently.
“It was based on a lot of stereotypes of what it means to be straight. Nothing about it was about being myself,” Shurka said.
Shurka kept at the therapy because he wanted to do what he was told.
“I tried. I really did. I wanted to please my parents, and I was told how horrible my life would be if I came out. I gave it my everything for it to work. Even if my mom broke the rules and would speak to me, I would throw a tantrum, because I believed what these other adults were telling me. My mom says she felt like she lost me then. It was traumatic.”
Shock treatments and exorcisms
Other people Shurka has spoken with about their therapy experiences say they’ve gone through shock treatments, aversion therapy and even exorcisms.
JONAH’s “treatment” involved telling the men to touch their genitals while standing naked in front of the mirror as a counselor watched, the investigation found. Counselors also advocated “healthy touch” and held cuddling sessions with the men. Other times, the men were encouraged to beat effigies of their mothers or engage in violent re-enactments.
“Research shows people are likely born gay, or it occurs so early in life that it is not under people’s conscious control who they are attracted to,” Glassgold said. Legitimate therapy “helps someone create a life that is fulfilled where they can work and play and love” as themselves.
‘I try to give them realistic outcomes’
He experienced same-sex attraction but didn’t want to, he said, but by addressing the trauma in his life through therapy, he was able to shift his attraction. He’s married now to a woman and has five children.
He said he’s dedicated his life to helping others who struggle with unwanted attractions.
“I specialize in trauma and work with clients to resolve that trauma. People who want help. There’s no electric shock or shaming,” said Doyle, who practices in the Washington, D.C., area. He says he doesn’t promise anyone that they will be straight. “Each individual is unique, but I try to give them realistic outcomes.”
Most scientific studies have shown the opposite. And while all the major mental health associations object to the practice, Doyle believes those objections are politically motivated.
He believes that participants’ horror stories involve practices that are not done by ethical mainstream practitioners. “I know I am not calling people bad or evil in my work,” he said. “And I do have gay friends, and they support me, even if they don’t necessarily agree with everything I say, but I don’t agree with everything my wife says, either.”
A ‘painful journey,’ a ‘positive outcome’
By the time Shurka turned 21, he knew that such therapy was not for him.
His attraction to men wasn’t changing. He started to question his therapist, and he asked other men who had been through the treatment whether they felt any different.
“Even the ones who were married to women and have kids, they’d all admit to me in the end, their attractions never went away. It was all about not acting on the behavior,” Shurka said. The other men’s stories prompted him to quit.
It took him two more years to recover from the treatment, he said, and then he came out again. He’s now close to his family again and happy he can use his experience to try to help others.
“I feel lucky in a way. I survived this when there are so many suicides for people who have gone through this. I know though that I’m going to have a great life, and I know if I can help others and tell them that ‘you can find clarity and growth and get what you want out of this life,’ then I’m proud that I could turn my own painful journey into something that will have a positive outcome.”
News credit : Cnn