When I was a teen, confused and scared about being gay, I turned to a young handsome friendly priest for help. He seemed different from the older priests, more keyed in to the everyday world, approachable. I told him I was struggling with gay desires. He then abused me, but not in the way most people might think.
He told me it was wrong to be gay, but I need not fear because Jesus could heal me and make me a whole, normal man. He had me lie on the ground as he prayed over me to drive the evil from my body.
That began a nearly 20 year quest to find the elusive cure to my chronic homosexuality. As a young person, I never failed to find an adult minister in Catholic and then Protestant Churches who attempted yet another treatment to straighten me out for Jesus. Fasting, prayer, 12-Steps, exorcisms, a whole host of misguided, futile, and ultimately dangerous methods designed to shame me and suppress not only my orientation, but my personality, my dreams, and my will.
I recently wrote about the Tina Fey sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and how Kimmy’s 15 years in a bunker with a crazed and abusive religious leader reminded me so much of the 17 years I felt trapped in churches and gay conversion therapy programs. I got the message early on that I would be more valuable if I were straight and masculine presenting.
My parents never pushed me into these “ex-gay” treatments, but at first they felt happy I was seeking help. They assumed my life would be easier, free of hurtful discrimination if I were straight and heterosexually partnered. Like most other people in the country, religious or not, they were Straight Supremacists. Heterosexuality was the only acceptable, holy, natural orientation, and with it came loads of perks amd privileges–legal, social, and religious.
My life got derailed by messages that undermined my sense of self, that capitalized on the fear surrounding the HIV/AIDS Crisis, and the negative messages in the media, on the playground, and from the pulpit about gays and anyone who did not conform to gender norms.
I ultimately came to my senses and came out gay. Now I have been working to restore the years the locust of fear, shame, and intolerance have eaten away. It has been work–therapy and much of it, processing my experience through words, art, and comedy, and reeducating myself about LGBTQ people and our history, literature, and spirituality. I have come to a place of joy and contentment, comfortable in my own skin, thrilled to be in a healthy, life-giving relationship with the man I love, and inspired by the many transgender, gender queer, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people who enrich my life.
I am thrilled that President Obama is taking a stand to stop the harm that comes from gay conversion therapy on minors. For too long misguided, untrained, and straight supremacist ministers and religious-based therapists have preyed on young people and abused them with toxic levels of shame all the while insisting how much they love and care for the young person. No doubt some of the many adults who attempted to help me were sincere, but they were also sincerely wrong. It is time to undo that damage and keep it from happening further.
Now that President Obama is taking a stand, I call on Secretary of State John Kerry to do likewise and denounce the global trafficking of gay conversion therapy that has been exported from the USA. Much like the failed tobacco industry turned to foreign markets when American smokers quit or seriously cut back, ex-gay groups and practitioners have agressively push gay conversion therapy in Eastern Europe, Uganda, South Africa, Singapore, and throughout Latin America.
Finally, beyond denouncing gay conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth, let’s demonstrate our family values and make robust efforts to adress homelessness among queer youth, partiularly transgender and gender queer young people who experience a world of woe at home, on the streets, and even at times from older gays and lesbians and LGBTQ organizations. Let’s affirm, support, and stand in solidarity with LGBTQ young people.