Though the medical community used to be divided on the issue, today it is in agreement: Conversion, or reparative, therapy not only does not work, it borders on the unethical. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, “opposes any psychiatric treatment … based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or … that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.” Still, that hasn’t stopped various true believers from trying to “cure” homosexuals anyway. Here are some techniques—from the old to the modern—that have been used to try to make gay men straight.
Some conversion therapy encourages gay men to bolster masculinity by developing strong, non-sexual relationships with other men. One former patient remembers his counselor in a gay-conversion program subjecting him to “holding therapy,” during which, he writes, he “was instructed to lay in [the counselor’s] arms for a solid hour to ‘feel the strength of another man.’” Other therapists recommend going to the gym “as well as bath houses to be nude with father figures.”
Beating Your Mother in Effigy
Some believe that male homosexuality is caused by over-bonding with one’s mother at a young age. In 2012, a gay member of a counseling group in New Jersey was encouraged “to beat an effigy of his mother with a tennis racket, as though killing her”—so furiously that his hands bled as the other men in the group egged him on. “It’s my mother,” he remembersthinking. “Detach, detach, detach.”
One former patient described his course of electroconvulsive therapy, in use today, as “The Month of Hell.” The treatment, he told the Huffington Post, “consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.”
Some 19th century psychiatrists prescribed frequent trips to the brothel together with large amounts of alcohol—the idea being that prostitutes were experienced enough to spark even a gay man’s desire for women. Even Oscar Wilde once visited a whorehouse to develop “a more wholesome taste.” It didn’t work. The experience “was like chewing old mutton,” he saidafterwards.
In the 1960s, psychologist Ian Oswald would give his gay patients nausea-inducing drugs and surround them with pitchers of urine before playing audio recordings of men having sex. The nauseating “overdose,” he hoped, would lead men “to turn to women for relief.”
In 2009, a church in Connecticut uploaded a video showing a homosexual 16-year-old boy undergoing an exorcism surrounded by members of his congregation. “Come on, you homosexual demon,” one shrieks as the boy rolls around on the floor. “Loose your grip, Lucifer!”