Sunday, June 10, 2012

The insidious harm of ex-gay "therapy"

Courtesy of some people coming forward in Australia, the existence of "ex-gay therapy" in Australia is generating headlines, both in News Limited's holdings (Christian groups try to cure homosexual teens with brainwashing treatment) and in the Age (Ministries preying on gay shame). For once, it seems, the attitude of even News Ltd's holdings towards anti-gay sentiment is unabashedly negative.

The Age article actually features an interview from someone who works at an ex-gay program. Haydn Sennit, "pastoral care worker" for the Sydney ex-gay group Liberty Christian Ministries, answered a few questions, and in the process revealed something about the attitude that such ministries have to people who say they experience no change in sexual orientation. Simply put: if a person doesn't change, it's their own fault for not trying hard enough. Some sample quotes:
Some people give up, while others keep going and it’s different for every individual
Success is varied and it depends a lot on a person’s personal commitment.
And the kicker:
Some give up entirely because it’s so hard and it’s actually their disappointment with themselves that gets them undone.

Yes, they do get "undone" by disappointment in themselves. But not in the sense that they fail to experience change as a result of giving up. They get undone in the sense that their desire to give up after failing to experience change is turned into evidence of their weakness. The victim-blaming rhetoric that Sennit here is propagating prevents would-be ex-gays from acknowledging that they have tried to change as hard as they could, that they literally could not try any harder to change, and that they still wouldn't change even if they could. They are told to blame themselves for failing to do something impossible, and are told that their inability to experience change, even after monstrous effort at it, is evidence of their own weakness, not of the impossibility of the task before them.

Yes, ex-gay therapy teaches people to hate and fear their own desires for sexual intimacy. Yes, it teaches people to be ashamed of themselves, to think of themselves as "sexually broken" instead of just as gay. But the cruelest and most insidious lesson that they teach is that, no matter how much effort a person makes to change, it will never be enough. Those who admit to themselves that they will never change are made to think of themselves as weak-willed failures. No wonder so many of them become suicidal.

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