Gay Conversion Therapy Ads Harmful to Young LGBTIQ+ People
(Trigger Warning: depressive episodes, religion, gay conversion therapy.)
Last Thursday, I read an article stating that a round of ads about gay conversion therapy had gone up on Facebook targeting young LGBTIQ+ people. Being a proud gay man myself, seeing this immediately reminded me of some dark days I experienced seven years ago. Going to a Christian high school left me with a lot of internalised homophobia, and only after many years of personal growth and lots of love and support, was I able to reach a state of self-acceptance around my sexuality.
Please note: I don’t think religion is the enemy. I know some fantastic faith-based people who love and respect me and my queer friends. But in my experience, running gay conversion therapy ads targeted at young LGBTIQ+ people, who are vulnerable and still forming their identity, can be very harmful.
When I was young, I had no visibility of people like me. I didn’t want to be me. I didn’t want to be so effeminate, I wanted to be into things that other boys were into, and most of all, I wanted to be attracted to women instead of being attracted to men. I got very heavily involved in church because I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to. Religion offered me a place where I had a purpose. I thought that if I could be ‘good’ in all other aspects of my life, the good would drown out the fact that I was same-sex attracted. I became a ‘good’ Christian boy, even getting baptised, hoping that I would go into the water gay and come out straight.
But my attractions didn’t change. I was getting frustrated that people at school were asking me if I was gay, like they knew this big secret about me that I was working so hard to hide. I began crying myself to sleep, constantly praying to be cured, it became habitual that I sign off a prayer “with forgive me for my sins, and please God cure me of my same-sex attraction. Amen.”
By the time year 11 came around, it had been two years of crying myself to sleep, trying fasting and still reading my bible. I didn’t get why it wouldn’t change, so I started reading books around sexuality and religion because I figured if I understood scripture better, I could beat this. God would see how much I wanted it and bless me with a straight lifestyle.
Halfway through year 12, I started making plans to check myself into conversion therapy, because I just couldn’t do it any more. I found a place on the other side of Australia and began having conversations with my mum about moving east for a while after I graduated. I never told her why.
Luckily, I met someone else who was same-sex attracted and also a Christian. I decided that I would live a celibate life. Being same-sex attracted wasn’t a sin, only acting on it was. But to do this, I needed to tell my parents why. I couldn’t handle for the entirety of my life my parents asking me “why don’t you have a girlfriend?” So I was talking to my friend about telling my parents, and he said to me, “Matt, as a Christian, you are a representation of Christ, and Christ wouldn’t want to be perceived as gay. Don’t you think you are being a little bit selfish?”
I lost it. I was so afraid that telling my parents could mean I could lose them. How could jeoperdizing my relationships with them be selfish? That was the turning point for me. I decided that conversion therapy wasn’t necessary because there were 3,500 verses in the bible that talk about love, so that should be what is most important.
If you had asked me back then if I could take a pill and wake up straight, I would have taken it in an instant. Today, I can say without a doubt that I would choose to be a gay man. I love the way being with a man makes me feel, I love the community that I am a part of, I even love the resilience that I had to develop through the hardships of coming out. I know now that I never needed conversion therapy – what I needed was self-love and self-acceptance, which can be really hard to gain in a world where representation and visibility aren’t what it should be. I love the “it gets better” campaign, because it’s so true – I would not be the person that I’m proud to be today if I wasn’t gay. For me it didn’t just get better – it got better than I ever could have dreamed.
So if you’re reading this and considering conversion therapy, know that you’re not alone in how you feel. However, there is no scientific evidence proving that conversion therapy works. In my experience, self-acceptance feels far better. I wish I could give you a simple solution for gaining self-acceptance, but to be honest, that journey is one that differs for everyone. In saying that, here are a few things that helped me…
Tips for Same-Sex Attracted Self Acceptance:
- Watch queer cinema – Watching movies was the first time I was able to see people that were like me – movies like Prayers for Bobby, Love Simon, Jungen, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, just to name a few. You won’t relate to every character, but it helps to see a variety of different gay and bisexual men.
- Get involved in community – We are lucky here in Perth to have so many opportunities for gay and bisexual men to get involved in the community. If you like sport, culture, gaming, or even joining LGBTIQ+ inclusion group at your workplace, there is something out there for everyone. Grab a copy of OUTinPerth magazine and look at the back page for how to get involved in your community.
- Attend workshops for men who have sex with men – I may be a little bias, because I now run these workshops at the WA AIDS Council, but being in a safe space and discussing same-sex attracted experiences, hearing other people’s journeys, and sharing your own can be a very valuable experience. These workshops are promoted on the M Hub Facebook page.
- Link in with the Freedom Centre – The Freedom Centre is a safe space for young LGBTIQ+ people (under age 25). They run regular drop in sessions where you can meet other LGBTIQ+ people and talk to peers who can help you with any issues you may have around your gender and sexual identity.
- Talk to someone – Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing this with friends or family, know that there are people out there who understand what you’re going through and can help you:
Health Promotion Officer for Gay & Bisexual Men’s Projects
WA AIDS Council