In light of the new film Boy Erased, a film about a boy who is forced through gay conversion therapy by his Fundamentalist, Southern Baptist parents, I have decided to tell my story about my own experiences. Boy Erased is in theaters now in the States. It will be in theaters February 21st in Deutschland.
I’ve never been able to hide my sexuality…not even as a young boy, everyone always knew. My voice and mannerisms make it easy to detect. It was just as apparent when I was four years old as it is today. Because of this, I never had to officially come out to my parents, family or anyone else. I lived my life until the age of 21 as an effeminate, closeted gay man. The irony and absurdity was painful. No one could ever speak about the White Elephant in the room. There was nothing I could say or do to make those around me feel comfortable.
I had no friends throughout my 12 years of schooling, not even one. This was partially due to my mother raising me with the mentality that everyone who wasn’t a devout Christian, and anyone who drank alcohol, was a corrupt and indecent person and I shouldn’t speak to them. It didn’t help that I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere…which meant I had no friends nearby that I could play with.
I was teased and bullied mercilessly all throughout elementary, middle and high school. “Get away from me faggot,” they would say. I sat alone for every lunch and was always the last to be chosen for basketball or dodgeball. I was isolated in every way possible. I felt that God was punishing me for my sexuality.
I was 10 years old when my parents caught me watching gay porn. This is when dial-up internet had just become a thing and my parents had no restrictions on our computer yet. They didn’t know what to do. We would all pray together, me and my parents, next to their bedside, “Heal me and make me whole again,” we would say. In my head I was thinking “God, why did you curse me with this disease!?” This is when my feelings of shame, extreme guilt and suicide began. I cried myself to sleep almost every night for most of my childhood.
Six long, painful, lonely years went by and I still wasn’t straight. Prayer hadn’t helped change me at all. The corporate church I grew up in had a therapy department. My parents decided (gay conversion) therapy, via the church we attended, might be helpful. This therapy’s main goal was “To help people who were same-sex-attracted to not act on their feelings.” The main conversion tactics they used were shaming and guilting. They did not address my emotional needs at all. This group of “People struggling with homosexuality,” was called “Exodus International.”I remember my “formerly gay,” counselor would play audio tapes of gays and lesbians giving their “testimonies,” of “overcoming homosexuality” and “living a normal life.” I remember thinking the ENTIRE time I was listening to these people, through every session:
“How can my feelings of attraction for other men be wrong or immoral!? It feels so NATURAL to desire other men.”
He would ask if I had snuck out to have sex with other men…I would regretfully admit to my “sins.” He would reiterate what I already believed in every session: Homosexuality is a sin against God. And in order to be a good person, I cannot live my life as an openly gay man. I cannot act on my sexual or emotional feelings for men…ever. For me, that meant living a life of agony and grief.
I would leave these sessions feeling INCREDIBLY confused, depressed, guilty, ashamed, suicidal and even more lonely than I already felt. I knew I would never be attracted to women. From the very beginning, I knew this was a goal I would never be able to accomplish. I was embarrassed for not being able to change. I felt an insurmountable amount of guilt because of my sexuality. Moreover, I was confused why God would create me in such a way *and* I was angry at God for creating me this way. I wept after every session because I was ashamed of the person I was and the person I could never be. I wanted to die.
It made everything worse that I had no one that I could confide in about my therapy sessions. Every week after my therapy I was forced to dry my eyes so that I could go directly to choir practice at my church. I was always afraid that someone who knew me would discover that I was in conversion therapy. I feared more teasing and bullying. I was forced to keep it a secret to everyone I knew. I hated living this miserable lie. What I wanted more than anything was a miraculous death.
After two years of these weekly sessions, I told my parents that I didn’t think the therapy sessions were working to change me…and so they let me quit the therapy. Occasionally I would run into my “ex-gay,” therapist in our church. I would immediately feel nervous as he spoke to me. I was worried some of the kids I knew would discover that I’m gay and had therapy sessions with him. I was worried they would out me…not that everyone didn’t already know.
My parents say they love me. Growing up, they showered me and my two sisters with hugs and kisses everyday. They did what they thought was *right” in their eyes; but, to my detriment, they never took the time to think *for themselves.* They simply believed and regurgitated everything they had been taught without ever questioning any of it. I remember my father repeatedly saying “No one is to question God’s authority or the Bible’s authority.” As Karl Marx once said:
“Religion is the opiates of the people.”
This is exactly the case with my parents and sisters. They let themselves be manipulated by the corporate Southern Baptist churches they grew up in….and they are still brainwashed today.
I must clarify: I do not believe organized Religion is inherently evil, nor do I believe my parents are unethical people. They are simply people that have been conditioned by church members to believe that thinking and rationalizing for yourself is selfish, immoral and goes against God’s will. These church leaders use this reasoning to gain control over other’s lives for money, power and for other selfish desires. It’s a tale as old as time, we all know this story.
Brainwashed people do not realize they are allowing themselves to be manipulated and used by others. Although it’s unintentional behavior, it can and will lead to a plethora of negative impacts on the people around you, including society as a whole. It has undoubtedly and unfavorably impacted my growth and development both as a child and as an adult. The analogy of Indra’s Net is more than appropriate. Every action we make affects everyone else on this planet.
When I was 21 years old I made the bold decision to come out and live my life as an open and free gay man. Again, I didn’t need to come out…everyone already knew. I invited my parents to stay the night with me at my college apartment so that I could tell them. I was nervous as hell. After I told them, my mother cried and my father told me, “This will lead me down the path of destruction.” Later my oldest sister and brother-in-law came to visit me at my college apartment and told me the same. Rejecting their opinions was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done…and I’m so glad I did. For if I hadn’t I would still be miserable, lonely, depressed and still believing the toxic morals I had been taught. If I hadn’t rejected their opinions I would surely still be a part of a LGBTQ repressing church and still believing all the lies I had been taught as a child. I would have never have moved to San Francisco, where I became liberated, I would never have become passionate about people, government or Sustainability, and I probably never would have moved to Deutschland. Coming out altered my entire life’s plan for the better.
After the first month of coming out I felt comfortable in my own skin *and,* for the first time in my life, I was proud to be who I was: A normal human being. I laughed louder than ever before and made lots of gay and sexual jokes (and still do). I was finally free to be who I was.
I started dating after I came out. After all, that was the main reason why I came out: I desired a relationship. I would talk about guys to my mom…and she simply ignored every word I said with no response at all. It filled me anger. It was unfair that my sisters got to talk about their boyfriends with her but when I did the same I was ignored. This is one of the many reasons why I quit speaking with my family. They chose not to understand, accept, love and support me. They say they love me…but we all know that not accepting someone for who they truly are is not love. Recent scientific studies have revealed what I have known for a long time: Having your family not accept you is equally as hurtful as experiencing gay conversion therapy.
A few years went by, I graduated college and made the bold decision to start a new life in San Francisco. Even though I was in an open-minded place I was new and alone. I had no friends yet and because of this I was severely depressed and struggling with suicide. I felt as if I had no reason to live. I called suicide hotlines but, in all honesty, these hotlines do not benefit me. I wanted and needed to talk to a real person…not a voice over a phone. I attempted suicide twice and thought about it at least 1,000 times over. I thought about all of the different ways I could kill myself: Jumping off a freeway, buying a gun, overdosing myself. The list goes on.
Despite the trials and tribulations that San Francisco initially brought, it was incredibly worth the difficult journey. I eventually made new friends. One of these new friends told me for the first time that:
“Homosexuality exists naturally in ALL species on Earth.”
That’s when I made the connection: Homosexuality IS NATURAL…and everything I had been taught was a lie. If you know any LGBTQ person that have a family that do not accept them please make sure they are aware of this simple fact. It was life-changing for me.
It took me ten years to stop believing that homosexuality is a sin. It took me ten years to stop praying to God to change me and “Make me whole and pure,” (i.e straight). It took me ten years to stop praying “Why me oh God?” It took me ten years to stop making suicide my first line of defense when something went wrong in my life. And truth be told, the trauma associated with that part of my life still affects me – how could it not? It is scars from the very lonely, repressed childhood that I bear. A new study published by the Journal of Homosexuality, has found evidence that:
“When a parent attempts to change their LGBTQ child’s orientation, they double the chance of attempted suicide compared to those who did not undergo the practice.
What’s more, suicide attempts triple if the therapy goes beyond just the parents and therapists or if religious leaders are brought in.”
This new scientific data is incredibly beneficial. It gives us proof that gay conversion therapy is indeed harmful to any and all of it’s victims.
My resilience is an example for all LGBTQ people or people struggling with suicide. I have successfully learned how to build friendships that can replace the family I no longer have. If you know someone struggling with suicide and would like to help my advice is: Simply be a friend. Provide them with moral support, comfort them in times of desperation and encourage them in times of need. Also, If you live in the US or Deutschland you can also sign one of the petitions below AND be proactive in making gay conversion therapy illegal. Talk about the issue with your friends and family members. Talk about the new research that is now being published.
If you’re in the US and would like to volunteer you can also text TREVOR to 40649 to join their campaign at the Trevor Project. Their goal is to end suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning young people.
Thank you for reading!
For the US:
“Parents who try to change their child’s sexual orientation increase suicide risk dramatically.” November 10th, 2018. Smith, Gwendolyn.