Sara, a Facebook friend, suggested I watch the latest episode of the TV program House (Season 6, ep 19 The Choice available in the US at Hulu. It was written by David Hoselton and directed by Juan J. Campanella)
If you have never seen the program, Dr. House and his staff routinely uncover the causes and cures for impossibly sick people with the most obscure ailments. In this episode, the patient, Ted, fell sick on his wedding day at the altar. As the story unfolds we discover that Ted “used to be gay” but changed through treatment prior to meeting his bride.
Throughout the episode Ted experienced a dazzling array of symptoms (loss of voice, fainting, heart attack, stroke like symptoms, severe headaches and even a spell of lactating!) As the medical team put Ted through a series of tests including EKGs, MRIs, HIV test, spinal taps, and a bunch of other things I couldn’t keep track of, Ted’s story unraveled and his fiancee discovered his secrets. Ted had a boyfriend for three years (Cotter), but decided to leave off being gay, so he went to a straight camp. As House called it, Dr. Liberace’s He-man Quackery Camp. There he received all sorts of treatments including getting pumped up with hormones and Electro-convulsive therapy. House: To zap the fabulous out of him! Run an EKG to see if they straightened him or just scrambled him. Ted felt he was cured although he suffered erectile dysfunction when intimate with Nickie, his bride-to-be. In response Dr. House ordered yet another test, this time to check the vascular flow to the penis. I wonder what the medical bill is for these patients after Dr. House gets done with them.
In the end Ted’s physical symptoms had nothing to do with the ex-gay experiences. Or I don’t think they did. It got complicated. They used the ex-gay story line to share a message about the healthiness of just being yourself and the pain that comes to so many (in this case Ted, Nickie and Cotter). One of the female doctor raised excellent questions about consent, and how unfair it was to Nickie, that she was going to marry a gay man without knowing all the facts. House ultimately pronounced to Ted, “Some things you are born with.” In the end Nickie left Ted as he shouted, “I want to marry you. I need to marry you!”
Surprisingly the episode did not mention religion at all, a conscious choice by the writers I am sure. If they did any research into the ex-gay world, they would have come across a lot of religious materials. They must have decided to go for a secular route and leave God out of it.
When Ted cried out to Nickie, “I need to marry you!” it shot right through me and nearly caused me to cry. Ugh, how many memories that scene brought back for me. For so many years I felt so desperate to be a husband to a woman, to be seen as normal in the world. Like the Ted character I despised the idea of being gay. In my case I wrapped it all up in Jesus and turned my journey to de-gay myself into a noble religious pilgrimage. Sure my faith motivated me, but so many other factors weighed on me, pressured and coerced me. And how much easier my life seemed as a “straight person.” Not that it was any easier internally, but outwardly the world treated me more kindly and with greater respect. I received all sorts of rewards and privileges once I was perceived as straight.
Sadly the straight experiment failed miserably for me hurting lots of people including my wife at the time. It caused me damage–psychological, emotional and spiritual damage. My failed attempts to straighten myself out also caused physical symptoms in the form extreme lower back problems ultimately resulted in a herniated disc. I started ex-gay treatment at age 17. It was about that time that I first started having back problems that lasted until my early 30s. After I accepted the reality that I was gay and began to get therapy to undo the damage of years of conversion therapy, my back problems went away. It’s been over 10 years since my back has gone out.
This episode of House had very little to do with medicine, like most episodes, but more about human lives and relationships. It spoke to the secrets we keep and the hopes we harbor, sometimes irrationally in the face of reason. It portrayed Ted as a tortured soul running from reality. I would not be surprised if we were to see the next few scenes that Ted would still insist that he did not want to be gay and then look for another cure. Hopefully someone like Ted finally comes to his or her senses and realizes that so often it is the anti-gay society that is sick that needs to be fixed and from that well-spring of rejection comes so much pain and confusion. That pain and confusion can be overcome. It doesn’t take a medical breakthrough, rather hard work, a healthy support system and often professional help to undo the damage done through conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry.
If you want to find out about real life ex-gay survivors, check out the Beyond Ex-Gay website where you will find lots of narratives, artwork and articles. Also, take a lot at ex-gay survivor Dr. Jallen Rix’ new book Ex-Gay No Way — Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. See Jallen’s video here.