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Conversion Therapy: The Church Tried To Exorcise My Gay Away.

Conversion Therapy: The Church Tried To Exorcise My Gay Away.

I was forced to attend Christian-based Conversion Therapy when I was just 14 years old.

I’m Edward, a 26-year-old freelance performer. Since I was young, I’ve always known that I identify as a cis gay male. Unlike others I know, I thought straight boys were weird for liking girls, because I always found the same gender more attractive. So it wasn’t something I found out suddenly; it was just natural. When I was 14, my parents confronted me after snooping through my phone and realized that I was intimately texting another boy. Most of the messages indicated that I liked him, and they managed to put two and two together.

Source: Edward’s Photo Gallery

“You have a mental problem, and we need to fix it.”

Unfortunately I did not get the dream coming out story, where your parents celebrate you and tell you they love you no matter what. My parents, being conservative Chinese Christians, were simply not having it. The first thing they said was, “You have a mental problem, and we need to fix it.”

My parents, staunch Christians who grew up in a Christian community – met, then married in church, genuinely believed that I needed to go for conversion therapy. I always understood that being queer didn’t align with their beliefs and expectations, so I kept it mostly to myself. But at the age of 14, I didn’t have a choice when they dragged me out of the closet.

The Conversion Therapy Programme.

They sent me to a Christian-based Conversion Therapy program helmed by a pastor. The thing about modern day conversion therapy is, no one ever explicitly labels it “Gay Conversion Therapy”. They don’t advertise it as a place to “fix” homosexual children. Instead, the whole notion of it revolves around abstinence and denying your true identity. At the same time, it is also packaged as a safe space for LGBTQIA+ Christians.

The therapy sessions were one-on-one and took place on a weekly basis. The duration varied, ranging from half an hour to two hours, depending on what they wanted to discuss or rectify. It was a constant cycle of being made to feel guilty for my actions and constantly berated for my perceived sins. The emphasis was on maintaining purity and regressing any behavior deemed “queer” in their eyes.

During the therapy, there were instances where I was believed to be possessed by a menacing, gay spirit.

Source: Edward’s Photo Gallery

Christian guilt played a significant role in the therapy. The pastor constantly reminded me that I wasn’t living up to the Christian Faith’s expectations. The pastor claimed to see my struggle, attributing it to an evil spirit which was leading me astray. These exorcisms aren’t as dramatic as what you see in movies like The Exorcist – it largely involved prayers and placing hands on my head, yelling “begone, come off this man!” right into my ears. Unlike the movies, there was no strapping to the bed, no projectile vomiting. No dousing me in holy water (fortunately). 

One of the Sundays in Church, they even invited someone who was successfully converted over.

He shared that he used to be queer and confused, and thanked the church for standing behind him. “I have a girlfriend now, and we’ve been together for six months. I’ve never been happier,” – I remember he said. The church would then use the “successful case study” to reinforce their notion that I’m likewise wrong and confused.

Another queer friend of mine in the same church went through the same process. For him, the Church managed to convince him that being LGBTQIA+ was inherently wrong. And because he believed it for so long, he actually made a promise to himself a decade back, to abstain from sex with men for the rest of his life. While he did break off from it a few years later than me, he was largely adamant for many years.

Despite their best attempts, I remained true to my identity and refused to renounce my sexuality.

This therapy process for me lasted for about a year. I’m not exactly sure why the Church stopped scheduling these weekly “check-ins” with me, but I suspect that my parents and the Pastor may have realized that their efforts were ineffective. I think I eventually wore down his resolve and perseverance where he goes “OK, there’s only so much I can do.”

I also started becoming more assertive and vocal about my rights as an individual. It became clear that their attempts to change me were futile.

Leaving conversion therapy didn’t magically make everything better. It took years of self-reflection, therapy, and finding supportive communities to rebuild my sense of self-worth and embrace my identity as a gay man. I had to unlearn the harmful messages I had internalized during those sessions and surround myself with people who accepted and celebrated me for who I am.

However, when I eventually let go of my faith, I realized that it didn’t have a hold on me anymore. It became evident that reconciling faith with being LGBTQIA+ was challenging for many people. Conversion therapy preyed on that internal struggle, using guilt and fear to isolate individuals from the queer community.

Today, I’m no longer a Christian and am agnostic. I’m proud of who I am and have found love and support within the LGBTQ+ community. I have built a chosen family of friends who accept and embrace me unconditionally and will continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and speak out against conversion therapy.

My advice on Conversion Therapy in 2023: Do it on your own terms.

In 2023, Gay Conversion Therapy is not as apparent as it was before. Some obvious examples, such as Trueloveis, run with very deceptive marketing techniques in my personal opinion. The hypocrisy of what they preach as a safe space for LGBTQIA+ Christians should be exposed and debunked. To me, it’s not an accepting church nor community if their whole notion is the “We love you, but never do anything romantic with someone of the same sex. But the straights can have all the sex they want.”

If you hear me, relate to these experiences and am looking to pivot or heal from the process, I have some advice which runs in two-folds:

(1) Do this on your own, on your own terms.
If you are actively seeking conversion therapy, my advice is : why do you need to go through any of it? You can do it on your own. If you want to be abstinent for the rest of your life, do it. If you feel like you’ll be closer to God, do it. But you don’t need someone to feed that information to your head. You’re smart enough, and you’re who you are just fine. Do not trust anyone who is selling you snake oil, telling you they have a solution to pray the gay away. Work it out on your own terms. Don’t let anyone influence you.

(2) You have the decision to put yourself back together.
For the ones still going through Gay Conversion Therapy, want to break out of it or have gone through it before – do you realise that they were trying to separate you into two entities? Dissecting your identity into two – your queer self a villain, and your relationship with faith the hero?

At the end of the day, you have the decision to put yourself back together. It can be either or both. You don’t have to give up being gay because of your faith. You don’t have to give up your faith because you are gay. I chose to be gay and agnostic. It doesn’t mean you have to be the same.

You can be anything. You don’t have to choose as well. The day you really see yourself as one and you go – this is a part of me that I don’t want to deny – will be the day it grows a lot easier on you.

Do you face conflict in your religion for celebrating your sexuality or do you have it figured out?

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