Reporting for Think Progress, my buddy and sometimes podcast partner,Zack Ford, writes about the extraordinary success of Chaim Levin and Ben Unger, two gay men who endured conversion therapy at the hands of a group called JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing.) This gay conversion therapy group out of New Jersey is now permanently closed after losing a lawsuit that accused it of consumer fraud.
Zack spoke with both Levin and Unger about the experiences of coming out and speaking out against the damaging treatment they received. Like many ex-gay survivors, it was not a smooth and easy road. It takes work to undo the damage.
“It was really really hard for me to adjust to general life,” Unger explained, noting that he struggled with major depression and anxiety. “JONAH constantly put in our heads that everybody hates the gays, the gay lifestyle is terrible, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable life.” Growing up in a conservative Orthodox Jewish community, he’d been exposed to such messages much of his life before his year with JONAH reinforced it even more intensely. “It sticks with you.”
Unger vividly recalls struggling with simple everyday experiences in the immediate aftermath. “I remember being on the subway after JONAH and thinking — neurotically — how everyone was looking at me and talking about me and thinking about what kind of a faggot I am. That’s just the word that was in my head. It was hard.” Very expensive therapy was required to help him work through the anxiety, depression, and haunting voices he dealt with on a daily basis.
Levin’s experience was quite different:
When Levin did finally allow himself to identify as gay, it made a huge difference. “I drew so much power from coming out,” he recalled. “Once I came out I was able to stop focusing on who I’m attracted to and start paying more attention to being abused and things I experienced at school.” Unfortunately, dealing with the abuse of his past, including sexual abuse by his cousin, would create many new obstacles for him moving forward.
But coming out can open a can of worms. The article goes on to talk about these two men entering the world of gay dating and the complications of shedding an old identity and developing a new one. I can attest to the years it can take to shed the skin of shame and doubt and homophobia that gets woven around a person who submits to gay conversion therapy. It is difficult and scary work.
Zack writes about the trial, the power and challenge of speaking out, and how these two men learned to live new lives. It is well worth the read for any ex-gay survivor and those who want to better understand the complications of coming out after trying to go ex-gay. It is not simple. In fact, I would like ever LGBTQ-friendly therapist to read this piece before working with ex-gay survivors. Thank you Zack for such a thorough and thoughtful piece.