Have you noticed an uptick in stories about ex-gay ministries, reparative therapies, and the slogan “Pray Away the Gay?” You have Republican presidential primary candidate, Michelle Bachmann to thank for that. The family business she liked to talk about in her early speeches is actually a Christian counseling center run by her husband, Marcus. Like most of these benign sounding places, this clinic actually offers treatments to alter or suppress sexual orientation and gender differences. Hat tip to Truth Wins Out for breaking the story.
Seems everyone is running their own “news” story on the topic, and ex-gay survivors who have been public about their stories are getting calls from various news outlets for an interview or sound-bite. Lots of satirical pieces have gone up on-line, some real funny stuff. Shoot, I even have seen an increase of sales of my DVD, http://www.homonomo.com. At the heart of it all though, most people realize that this is no joking matter. Not only are these treatments ineffectual, many people who have endured them say they caused considerable psychological and emotional damage.
The media does not typically do a good job with the ex-gay story. In fact, they often end up helping promote ex-gay treatment and give spokespeople access to the airwaves. It’s not like we are talking about a political issue with two opposing opinions. This is about appropriate, safe mental health care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, including those distressed over their identities and feelings. Instead of providing informed help based on tested treatments in accordance to recognized standards of care, often unlicensed, misinformed, religiously motivated practitioners with a strong bias against inclusion and equality of LGBTQ people serve up their own version of re-fried Freud mixed with a heaping portion of macho Jesus.
But what about someone who is desperately unhappy with being LGBTQ? Don’t they deserve to go to someone and get the help they want?
People deserve to get that help they NEED. Help that will HELP. We go to medical professionals because we cannot always accurately diagnose our conditions let alone know what sort of treatments to pursue. If I went to my fabulous family doctor complaining of abdominal pains and with the proclamation, “It’s appendicitis! Quick open me up and take the sucker out!” he would likely calm me down and carefully walk through a series of approved and sanctioned protocols and tests to determine the cause of my distress. “Peterson, turns out, you will live. You just have gas. Lay off the chips and salsa for awhile. Oh, and get some exercise.” Stupid doctor, what does he know about my appendix.
A skilled, knowledgable, ethical mental health professional will help a distressed individual unearth the causes for their aversion to being LGBTQ–and there are many possible reasons that get piled up inside a person leading them to cry out for help, even help that likely will ultimately harm them. An informed clinician will also know about LGBTQ-affiriming treatments proven effective in helping someone integrate their identity and desires into the rest of their lives.
Ex-gay survivor and sexologist, Dr. Jallen Rix, (my friend Marvin Bloom refers to him as “the ass whisperer”) just posted a video where he discusses the media and Ex-Gay Movement. Check it out.
And speaking of ass whispering, David Rattigan just published <a href="http://Guardian Article“>a piece in The Guardian about Frontline, a church in Liverpool, England NOT the deworming medicine for dogs. Recently The Guardian profiled the positive community service work Frontline did in Liverpool. Sadly in addition to excellent programs to help the homeless, sex workers, and others, seems Frontline is also in the business of straightening out queers. Influenced by L.I.F.E. ex-gay ministries in New York City, the Liverpool Church runs its own branch of LIFE.
I attended L.I.F.E in NYC back in the early 1980’s as a young person looking for answers about my sexuality and faith. In addition to meeting some new friends, having raucous praise times, receiving Bible lessons, and sharing spaghetti dinners with fellow strugglers, I also got tangled up with an exorcist who tried to extract demons of homosexuality from my anus. She suggested they crawled up there during a sex act. Really I’m not making this up. I was desperate to try anything, but soon after the session started, I felt so uncomfortable I aborted the procedure. Likely the “therapist” assumed it was the demons in my anus who were making a fuss and influenced me to shut it down. In his piece about the Liverpool LIFE program, David quotes me about these US-based anti-LGBTQ treatments getting exported to the UK. (As if tobacco, greasy burgers, and the Jonas Brothers was not enough.)
Surely Marcus Bachmann does not get caught up with butt demons. I imagine the talk and prayer therapy they offer at Bachmann and Associates runs along the lines of many reparative therapists. They assume something bad happened in the past–blame the parents, capitalize on any hint of childhood abuse, hunt down any gender variant experiences or influences, then they push a series of outdated, debunked treatments mixed in with scripture, gender policing, and prayer. They offer their services with a smile and assurances of how much they care about people who are hurting. Sadly they likely exacerbate the emotional and psychological torture their clients hope to alleviate. These dangerous, unethical treatments are denounced by every major medical association for good reason. Health care providers seek to “Do No Harm,” but the majority of us who endured these treatments point out that we experienced great harm.
My hope is that in this current news cycle about reparative therapy the public will gain more understanding about how unnecessary and how destructive these treatments and theories are to those who endure them. I also hope the public hears the stories of people who have successfully resolved the conflict with their faith and sexuality, and about the peace and joy so many of us have discovered in being authentic, and the informed and affirming people in our lives who helped us along the way.