QNews Magazine contributor John Taggart opens up about his experiences in “gay conversion” therapy and explains just why it’s so dangerous.
“Homosexuality is not of the Lord,” Father D said quietly.
I sat in a prayer circle, holding hands with a Catholic housemate on one side, and Father D on the other. “Help this child find strength to wash away his sin”.
While he and my friend alternated improvising on saving my soul and speaking in charismatic tongues, I burst into tears.
When I was 21, I had a housemate, who, in years of retrospect, I held very confused sexual feelings for.
Confident, talented and staunchly Catholic, I loved him with an unhealthy intensity, equal parts unrequited lust, and with the inferiority complex of a younger brother (even though I was 2 years older).
After flirting with his Catholicism for a few months, finding spiritual sense in ritual and community, here I was with him and Father D, taking my first steps to address The Big Barrier that kept me from Heaven and true salvation. Sobbing.
All of my internalised shame was released in those tears – all the years of ‘poofter’ on the playground before I understood who I was.
The years of being called ‘Jessie’ by relatives for pushing the ears on my Goofy cap back like a girl’s hair (‘Jessie’ being a Scottish pejorative for an effeminate boy).
All of the punches I’d taken to the gut and the face. The sobs when, at 18, a man I loved 20 years my senior rejected my sexual advances. Or when my Canadian boyfriend dumped me for his cheating ex.
But there was also relief in crying. Hope that with God’s love, I’d reject the sin of that painful angst, and in washing away the sin, so too would the hurt and shame melt.
They told me I was stronger than the evil of ‘homosexuality’, and I believed them.
On my friend’s recommendation, I went to see Father L, who asked me about lustful thoughts and pornography.
When I told him I was gay, he produced a bucket and instructed me to induce vomiting by sticking two fingers down my throat.
I vomited into the bucket, then had to repeat the action multiple times while he massaged my head and chanted about “expelling the evil from my body”.
The vomit literally was my gayness, myself, and I had to expunge it from the inside out.
Afterward, I sat on the floor and he cradled my shoulders, talking about the internal miracles Jesus was performing as my Saviour.
My physical elation was palpable – cured of pain. Father L added a caveat though – some passage in the Bible about an expelled sin returning seven-fold, and being on my guard for Satan.
So… this battle would be a constant work-in-progress. Despite being petrified of Hell, I gave up trying to change myself and abandoned the flat I shared with my friend soon afterwards.
Of course, I was never truly stronger than when I simply accepted my identity.
The social conditions and expectations, not who I am, had created the shame in the first place, yet beyond its burden, I was made responsible for eliminating it – with Almighty God’s help of course.
This cycle of shame and responsibility for shame, of pain and repression and failure, is the legacy of conversion therapy.
I’m lucky – mine was informal and voluntary, some unfortunate months where misguided Catholic priests played with my mind.
For others, more vulnerable, it’s enforced. It’s electroshock therapy. It’s camps. It’s the ritualistic shaming of their identities, then blaming them for that shame when they can’t change who they are. It’s torture. It should be illegal.
Whose childhood is Scott Morrison protecting when he refers to “gender whisperers” in the classroom because teachers might be adequately trained to support transgender youth?
Whose religious freedom do his policies defend, and what rights do those policies ensure? The right to brainwash and torture our vulnerable youth?
The right to force them to vomit and expel themselves? The right to a life of shame, emotional and mental repression and self-loathing?
Don’t be fooled by the phrases like “religious freedom” and “let kids be kids”.
Let adults destroy and abuse kids, for life, is what that means. I’ve been there.
If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
QN Magazine | For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagramand YouTube.