10/19/2012 04:40 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Aspect of 'Ex-Gay Therapy' That No One Is Talking About... and Should Be

One of the most disturbing aspects of so called "reparative" or "ex-gay" therapy is the one that no one is talking about directly. Granted, every aspect of reparative therapy stinks. None of it is based on science; nothing about it is based on anything but the desire for one element of society to change another element of society into something it isn't. What reparative therapy is and does is bad. Mathew Shurka's recent video describes it well and from the heart. With the recent passage of California 's landmark new law, we have been, and are, discussing what this practice consists of, and the discussion has broadened to other states.

But we are not calling out and discussing who is conducting these therapies, or why.

As a dad, I am in a state of constant vigilance as to who is taking care of my kids. What are their credentials, background and references, and are they safe? I may seem intrusive and even heartless in this pursuit for my kids' care in health and education, but hey, these are my kids, and I am vigilant against someone doing them harm, and that includes "therapists" whose practices are regarded by pediatric agencies as harmful. Most of the people who are sent to "ex-gay" consultations are kids. Even if parents, ignoring pediatric experts, believed in the heinous goals of reparative therapy, even if they wanted the spurious results it "promises" from a protective, parental mindset, they should have at least some fear of who might be preying on their kids.

The subject of "recovery" is not a foreign one for me. In my 20s I drove myself to rock bottom as a young alcoholic. I have recently celebrated over three decades of continuous sobriety. A major aspect of that sobriety is working with others who are trying to stay sober and sharing experience, strength and hope. This is the theory by which many reparative therapists claim to operate. They present the illusion that they are "recovered" and that to maintain that "abstinence," they must work with others grappling with the same issue.

Because sexuality is not a "recovery" issue, their assertion is fallacious. Pretending their argument has validity for a moment, though, we see that there is another huge difference between my experience and theirs that brings in even more concern about who they are and what they are doing. In my case, the substance of the addiction is physical. There is an actual chemical that is required in my system to get me drunk and cause a slip. That chemical has to be ingested by me to turn me back into a practicing alcoholic. That is not true in their presumptive case. Sexuality starts in the mind and the emotions. One does not have to be performing actual sex acts to be in the depths of one's sexuality. Seduction, fantasy, the emotion behind a touch, even the right look -- all can embody the totality of heterosexual or homosexual feelings fully. I cannot embody alcoholism when I continue to be stone-cold sober physically. It is why alcoholics in recovery avoid "the first drink" at all costs.

Why do these men who claim to be cured by a therapy with a dismal track record eagerly clamor to become therapists and hands-on advocates, and why are they allowed to do so? The analogy of the "ex-gay" being in recovery and working with others in need for the well-being of both is a false one, even in the context they would have us believe. By analogy, their engagement in sexual discussions and sharing of emotions with gay clients is like a recovering alcoholic going on a wine-tasting tour with a practicing alcoholic, swirling the wine in his mouth and spitting it out. In recovery terminology, that would not approximate sobriety; that would be a major "slip." An "ex-gay" performing "therapy" on someone trying to "recover" from same-sex attraction is therefore not abstinence but participation. If they were truly "cured," they should be avoiding anything having to do with homosexuality like a reformed smoker would avoid a smoke-filled room.

Consider the following "ex-gay" therapists who have been public:

  • Aaron Bitzer is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging California's new law protecting minors. He claims to have been cured of his homosexuality, but rather than starting a new life of avoiding homosexuality altogether, he now seeks to be a therapist to discuss and listen to other men's gay experiences.
  • David Pickup, a Glendale, Calif., therapist, protested the new law coming into effect. He told Fox News that he's been a member of NARTH for more than eight years after he went through his own "ex-gay" treatment and now seeks out patients with whom to discuss it. Pickup stated that he's had thousands of sexual interactions with men but describes himself as a heterosexual man with a homosexual challenge.
  • Richard Cohen, author of Coming out Straight, describes having a bisexual past in which, among same-sex attraction incidents, he had a boyfriend during his first three years of marriage. His brand of "therapy" includes intimate physical cuddling as a "reparative" technique, claiming this intimacy to be nonsexual. (Warning to single gay men with "loves to cuddle" in your romantic wish lists: Your favorite form of intimacy may turn your partner straight -- at least according to Richard Cohen's line of thinking.)
  • Joe Dallas, an "ex-gay" leader and speaker in southern California, claims to have had a promiscuous, bisexual past. He recently shared feelings about a sole protester at a Chik-fil-A in his blog, writing, "I liked you immediately." Joe apparently spent his hour-plus time in the Chick-fil-A anti-gay gorge fest obsessing over the gay man outside with a sign rather than focusing on the family with whom he was eating protest chicken.

The list goes on.

Vulnerable participants seeking out this therapy, pressured by external or internalized homophobia, should not be subjected to individuals who are likely to be using them for some subconscious or even conscious self-gratification.

A recent article described the experience of Chaim Levin thus:

The turning point was in October 2008, when Levin said his "life coach" told him to slowly undress and touch himself in front of a mirror while the life coach stood several feet away. The exercise lasted about an hour, and all Levin could think about was how badly he wanted to leave the center and never go back. Afterwards, he went home and vowed never to tell anyone about it.

Right now, nothing is really being done to stop this predatory situation under the guise of "therapy." These charlatans are taking a practice that is at best wrong-minded, dangerous to self-esteem and demoralizing and making it completely traumatizing.