SURVIVOR'S STORY: Norman Birthmark
|Portland Fellowship (Exodus), professional licensed therapy, Taking Back Ground|
AGE AT ATTEMPT:
Why did you attempt Conversion Therapy?
After I confessed my "struggle with sexuality" at revival-style Christian meeting at college, I wanted to learn more about why I had "same-sex attractions" and how to deal with this little life problem as a Christian. The Portland Fellowship was the only theologically-conservative Christian ministry that I knew about. They seemed to have expertise about homosexuality.
What harm did Conversion Therapy cause?
It felt humiliating to confess my masturbation and sexual feelings to a group or therapist each week. Instead of empowering or affirming me, I felt more guilt and shame about my attractions.
Before the counseling, I was proud of the way I was raised; however, the counseling convinced me that my attractions were a sign that I came from a broken home. Before the counseling, I felt like a relatively normal guy; however, the counseling convinced me that my sexuality was a sign that I lacked masculinity and I, a 20-year-old adult, needed to find a heterosexual male role model. And before the counseling, I felt relatively confident; however, the counseling convinced me that my sexuality was a sign that I was socially
and psychologically stunted.
During the two years I attempted this type of therapy, I completely lost my self-confidence and eventually dropped out of school. It took me several years to rebuild my identity and self-confidence—far longer than the time I spent in the ex-gay program.
Was there anything positive from your Conversion Therapy experience?
In hindsight, I realize the experience was part of my coming-out process. At the time, I appreciated knowing that I wasn't the only Christian with "same-sex attractions". I also met one of my best friends through the group who shared my doubts and supported me when I came-out.
Why or how did you leave Conversion Therapy?
I became frustrated with the many mixed messages. The public message was that 'holiness was the goal -- not heterosexuality'; however, most of the 'success stories' were people in heterosexual marriages and I was privately counseled that since I started the program so young that I really should stay open to getting (heterosexually) married. I also became weary of the way the bible was used to justify reparative therapy.
After nearly two years, I realized that my attractions had not changed and my entire daily life was consumed with not having same-sex attractions. In one of my last sessions, instead of hearing my concerns about my lack of change and providing help, I was instead told that I lacked faith and needed to "pray for more faith". That advice hurt -- especially since I had committed so much to the program. I felt like a complete sexual, spiritual, academic, and psychological failure. I never returned after I 'graduated' from the program.
What helped you to overcome your experience?
After stepping away from the experience for a few months, I began to re-assess my beliefs and doubts. I started a Yahoo! Group for conversion therapy survivors and heard other survivors' stories. Most importantly, I kept in contact with the friend from my Portland Fellowship "accountability group" who shared my doubts. Being able to share my thoughts, struggles with someone who knew my exact experience was enormously helpful.
What warning would you give to others considering Conversion Therapy?
I would warn that conversion therapy is not based on science, but a particular fringe fundamentalist ideology. I would warn that conversion therapy is in many ways worse than blatant homophobic hate speech because it convinces LGBTQ people to believe these hateful messages about themselves.
What would you like to tell those who promote Conversion Therapy?
I would tell them to please listen to survivors and consider the damage that they are doing. If they are truly sincere in their desire to help others and not just promote an ideology, then they need to take an honest look at the harm and ineffectiveness of their therapy and/or ministry.
Updated March 2015
This information is presented as courageously and generously provided by the self-identified person above. Conversion Therapy Survivors has not verified the identity of the person or the accuracy of the information provided.