The New York Times profile of ex-gay therapy and those who claim it has helped them is, to the paper’s credit, timely and relevant, with reference to California’s new bill banning the harmful treatment for minors and the two lawsuits challenging it. But the article is otherwise an unfortunate puff piece for those who profit off Christian men’s internalized stigma — even hawking several ministries by name — without any mention of those who survived the traumatic psychological manipulation and came out stronger on the other end.
The Times highlighted several subscribers to ex-gay therapy who all seem to define homosexuality as some sort of sex addiction with no potential for meaningful relationships, including lawsuit plaintiff Aaron Bitzer and infamous reparative therapist Joseph Nicolosi:
BLAKE SMITH: [For most of my life,] every inch of my body craved male sexual contact.
AARON BITZER: I found that I couldn’t just say “I’m gay” and live that way.
JEREMY S.: [Having gay sex almost daily] wasn’t working for me.
CAMERON MICHAEL SWAIM: [The gay life] just doesn’t settle with me. There’s got to be a way to heal this affliction.
JOSEPH NICOLOSI: I don’t believe that anybody is really gay. I believe that all people are heterosexual but that some have a homosexual problem, and some of these people attempt to resolve their conflict by adopting a sociopolitical label called “gay.”
This is a very narrow portrayal of what it means to be gay, one focused through lenses of conservative moral judgment that ignore decades of social science and the millions of same-sex families that now populate communities across the country. When gay men are unhappy being gay in society, it makes absolutely no sense for them to then turn to the people who reinforce the idea that society should not be inclusive of gays. These “therapists” prey on the guilt imposed upon these men (and a few women) by their families and the belief that gay men are only defined (and apparently extensively defined) by sexual acts.
By spreading these ideas unchallenged without a thoughtful rebuke from those who have disavowed ex-gay treatments is wholly irresponsible. These ideas may be exotic and intriguing as far as journalism fair may go, but they are incredibly harmful — particularly when families buy into them and impose them upon their vulnerable children — to present unchecked. And for many men, the treatment is not only a reinforcement of self-hatred, but an expensive investment as well. The final sentence of the article presents an insightful clue to the scheme at hand:
Five years from now, Mr. Swaim hopes, he will be engaged or married. In the meantime, he is trying to scrape together enough money to start seeing a reparative therapist.