This week I watched a documentary on the British television channel BBC Three about the controversial subject of gay conversion therapy. The documentary caused an outpouring of anger, frustration and, above all, disagreement amongst gay, lesbian and bisexual people on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I was angry. I was frustrated. However, I found myself beginning to finally understand the concept of GCT. I'd always thought that the idea was to "switch off" someone's sexuality and "teach" that person how to fancy the opposite sex. I was wrong.
We were shown a 17-year-old boy who had same-sex attractions. In other words, he was gay. By the end of the show, we were shown that he was now in a relationship with a girl. Success! Well, not really. The boy admitted that he still had same-sex attractions (in other words, he was still gay), but he simply chose not to act upon them. So there we have it! It's pretty simple. Any sane person, gay or straight, understands that you can't switch off sexuality. I don't think gay conversion therapy is about this, though; it seems to be about choosing not to act on that attraction to the same sex. This opens up a whole new argument, an argument that I've thought about for over 10 years.
I came out when I was 21, but I knew I was gay when I was 15. During the years between 15 and 21, I guess you could say I carried out my own self-administered gay conversion therapy, and I'd bet that I wasn't in the minority. I tried to convince myself that I could hide my sexuality. I tried to ignore the fact that I fancied men, and I forced myself to imagine how much easier my life would be if I were straight. It would be easier. I would not have to come out to anyone, I would be able to have kids the "natural" way and I wouldn't have to disappoint anyone. Like I said, I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only closeted person to go through these thought processes. But here's the difference between me and the 17-year-old we met on Gay to Straight this week: I decided that being gay wasn't wrong. I began to accept that I was different but not ill. I told myself that I didn't have a "condition" and therefore it couldn't and shouldn't be treated. I understood that for whatever reason, I was not like the majority of the population who found the opposite sex attractive. I knew that my life would be more complicated than my straight friends' lives in regard to relationships, at least for the first part of my adult life, anyway.
The reason I say that I began to understand what gay conversion therapy is while watching the documentary is that I finally saw through the false science, made-up statistics and "success" stories that we are often presented with when we see programs on this subject. I saw through all of this. At one point we were presented with a homophobic father who did not want his son to be gay, because he thought it was disgusting. "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," he said with an air of arrogance that his wife seemed to gush over. This is when everything clicked into place in my mind and things became a lot clearer to me. Of course it's impossible to switch off someone's same-sex attractions, and surely that's what makes someone gay (or bi). Of course we should all be angry and frustrated with the documentary, but what people seemed to miss was the reasons why these men had enrolled in gay conversion therapy in the first place. They enrolled because they were scared of disappointing their families and friends, who were very vocal about their dislike of homosexuality.
This is what GCT is all about. Forget the group hugging in the forests, the manly embraces that were allowed as long as you said you were not getting any sexual pleasure from them, and forget the ludicrous claim made by an "expert" that no gay man has ever had an emotionally healthy relationship with his father. All of that is obviously complete crap and serves simply as a smokescreen to cover up the rampant ignorance regarding homosexuality that still exists in many parts of the world.
So I do now understand what gay conversion therapy is all about. It's a form of abuse that parents (not necessarily homophobic parents, but ignorant, at least, and selfish for sure) inflict on their children because of their own beliefs.
I know that people take part in these camps and schools of their own free will, but here's the question that the documentary failed to even ask: Why do so many gay men and women around the world not feel the need to convert? I'd suggest that it's because they have more supportive and understanding families, live in more forward-thinking communities or simply have been allowed to come to their own conclusion that being attracted to the same sex is not wrong.
I get that two men can't conceive children naturally, and without procreation the human race would, in theory, eventually cease to exist. But what does this really mean? Some men and women cannot have children, and some men and women choose not to have children. We don't send them to conversion therapy to teach them to hate themselves, do we? Of course not. That would be just as ridiculous as sending a 17-year-old gay boy to a camp where he takes his shirt off and plays catch with other gay boys.
I understand gay conversion therapy now. I understand that I do not need to frustrate myself by even bothering to argue with the false data and fake science. I understand that I should empathize more with the boys and girls, men and women who are sent to these groups or who are made to feel that it's their only option. I understand that as a society we still have years to go before we can say that we're truly civilized. I also understand that until parents everywhere respects their child's right to embrace his or her sexuality (even if they don't necessarily agree with being gay), there will be more teen suicides, more cases of self-harm and more miserable teenagers growing up in a world that doesn't allow them to live freely.
I finally understand it, but I still don't like it.
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