As I sat in the theatre watching Boy Erased, I found my palms beginning to sweat and body beginning to shake. I was surprised. It has been six years since I had been subjected to the pseudo-psychological practice called “conversion therapy” that was being portrayed so dramatically on the screen in front of me, but as the protagonist Gerrard sat in a room being forced to name the sins of previous generations and told he needed to express his pent-up anger towards his father if he ever hoped to be cured of his sexuality, images of my own time in therapy flashed into my head.
I spent a year going through conversion therapy during my senior year at Moody Bible Institute, an evangelical college in Chicago. I went not because I particularly desired to go, but because I was told by my professors that I couldn’t be an authentic Christian unless I sought to overcome my “struggle” with my “same-sex attractions.” My faith was the most important part of my life and my desire to be in line with the will of God was my highest aim. So, I committed to meeting with an ex-gay professor once a week to pray and seek healing for my disordered sexual attractions.
Week after week, I would make my way to the professor’s office where we’d repeat the same practices. First, I would confess all of the times that I had “sinned” over the week – any time I had thought lustfully about a man, any time I looked at pornography, and any time I masturbated. If I had “sinned” (and I almost always had “sinned”), I would be met with a harsh rebuke about how lazy and broken I was. I’d then be led in a prayer of confession and would ask God for forgiveness. The professor would then anoint my body with holy water, ask God to cleanse me and break the chains of demonic oppression that was making me feel gay.
The remainder of the counseling session was spent reviewing periods of trauma in my past, usually stemming from having an abusive father, and asking God to heal the damage caused by each individual event. The theory behind conversion therapy is that most “disordered” sexual desires come as a result of being
I faithfully attended conversion therapy sessions every week for the entire year. Some days I enjoyed my sessions – talking through trauma is a helpful exercise after all – but more often than not, I left feeling defeated and with an overwhelming sense of shame. I was told time and time again that wasn’t only that I was a disordered sinner, but that I was hopelessly enslaved by the devil and would end up destroying my life if I allowed my homosexual desires to “win.”
This rhetoric caused me tremendous anxiety – I began having regular panic attacks and struggled with overwhelming depression and suicidal thoughts. Multiple times over the course of my senior year I found myself hospitalized because of my panic attacks. The weight of the burden was unbearable. If God wasn’t healing me, then perhaps I was truly lost. Maybe I was truly beyond hope. Maybe I needed to give up.
By the grace of God, I made it through my senior year and graduated from college. I left Chicago and moved home to D.C. and found myself completely burnt-out and angry at Christianity and at God. After a full-year of this shameful therapy, nothing changed. After countless nights sitting up in bed convulsing because of my fear that I was broken beyond repair, I felt like my whole religion was a sham. I decided to try the other alternative – to for once in my life, let myself express my queer sexuality and see what happened.
And as I did, I experienced what I can only describe as liberation. When I allowed myself to
Coming out was my salvation. Repressing my sexual identity and seeking to change who God created to me was one of the most limiting and harmful experiences of my life. Conversion therapy not only damaged me as a person, but it all but destroyed my relationship with God. And in the years since coming out, I have discovered that my experience is the experience of most people who go through this “treatment.” Whether through “therapists”, pastors, or professors, those who’ve
Conversion therapy, in all of its forms, is an evil and reprehensible practice. It’s founded on the idea that certain aspects of a person’s natural identity are broken and should be fixed – through prayer, through therapy, and sometimes, through dangerous, medical procedures. There is absolutely no psychological validity to any form of conversion therapy, and all those who advocate for it theologically are arrogantly suggesting that they know better than the Creator how people should look, act, and love. To seek to change the fundamental nature of any person is an affront to the Creator in whose image they are made. And beyond that, it causes veritable psychological harm to the individuals forced to undergo this pseudo-psychological practice.
All people who believe in the beauty of love and the dignity of every human being must be compelled to speak up against conversion therapy in all of its forms – both in religious contexts and as a psychological practice – and continue to make it known to all LGBTQ+ people that they are beautiful, healthy, and whole just as they are, in all of their queerness. We must fight in our faith communities and in our state capitols to ensure that conversion therapy is banned in order to protect the lives of the thousands of LGBTQ+ young people that may be subjected to it. Until conversion therapy is illegal and marginalized in communities of faith, there is a tremendous danger facing all LGBTQ+ individuals.
If you are interested in joining the fight to end conversion therapy, sign up for the National Center for Lesbian Rights #BornPerfect campaign here.
Brandan Robertson is a noted author, activist, and pastor, working at the intersections of spirituality and social renewal. He currently serves as the Lead Pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego, CA and serves as the Executive Director of Metanoia.