I’ve often thought that coming out these days is easier than it was in decades past, but it is still not uncomplicated. Information about homosexuality is freely available online now, but there is also information out there that can be caustic. An article, “The shocking truth about religious ‘gay cure’ therapy by someone who failed to turn straight,” reopened my eyes to how traumatic and damaging certain sources of information can be for those looking to come out of the closet.
There are two paths that come from the realization that you are gay: acceptance and denial. This statement does not mean that they are as simplistic as they sound – a path to acceptance can be long and complex. But the path of denial can be downright destructive. LGBT people still have higher rates of suicide, especially young people, and that fact betrays some serious issues.
I’ve read about, studied, and lead group discussions about organizations that claim they can change a person from being gay to straight. One of the most notorious examples is Exodus International. Their website claims that they can give “…hope and help to people seeking freedom from homosexuality” (“Exodus International”). This is one way of looking at it, but in the long run this type of approach can cause long-lasting damage.
When I was in college I went to a local ex-gay group with a lesbian friend to see what I could learn from it. Both my friend and I had been out for years at that point and were confident in who we were. We sat in a conference room with about a dozen others while a woman spoke about God’s intent for everyone, and how we should all be what God wanted. By the time we left we didn’t think we were straight, but we certainly had a strange feeling like something was wrong with us. I can’t imagine how someone who is just coming to terms with her or himself might feel and react to this type of situation.
The problem with this is that God’s intent is interpreted differently by everyone, and this version of God’s will can cause harm to others.
Since 1997, the American Psychological Association has condemned reparative therapy because of the harm it can cause. “…the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation” (Herek). In a study, those who suffered through reparative therapy reported things like issues with self-esteem, self-hatred, depression, social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, increased substance abuse, and being dehumanized. (Glassgold, Beckstead, and et al ).
For anyone considering something like this, know that success rates for these programs are extremely low and are documented in scientific literature as such. They can cost thousands of dollars with no results at best and psychological trauma or suicide at worst (Levin). I would urge anyone with thoughts of conversion therapy to check out sites like PFLAG and Beyond Ex-Gay.
Most of all know that you are not alone, and that other people have walked these paths before. Read their stories, connect with them, and make informed decisions. This isn’t an issue about religious convictions or what God wants. This is an issue about life, making the most of one’s precious time on this earth, and being true to yourself.