News, studies, political and social commentary brought to you by our community writers - this is an area for education and debate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can conversion therapy really convert people from gay to straight? Stacey Dooley Investigates

Some people don’t like the colour of their hair so they dye it. Some people don’t like their nose so they get a nose job. Some people don’t like being gay so they have therapy to ‘become straight.’ It’s just not that simple though, is it?
A few months ago I posted a blog in response to a Channel 4 News feature with Leslie Pilkington, a qualified psychotherapist who believes that homosexuality is an illness that can be ‘cured’ through conversion therapy. This is an idea which continues to haunt much of America’s gay community, as Stacey Dooley investigates in the second part of her new series ‘Stacey Dooley in the USA.’
BBC3 Presenter Stacey Dooley
The upcoming episode, entitled ‘Gay to Straight’, reveals that despite opposition from mental health organizations, there are licensed therapists across the United States offering a controversial type of therapy to ‘turn’ gay people straight. Stacey Dooley travels to the American West to meet young men taking part in gay conversion therapy to find out if it is possible to change your sexual orientation.
One of the young people Stacey meets is 19-year-old TJ who, with encouragement from his parents, has been taking part in gay conversion therapy for the last five years. The clinic TJ attends in Arizona states that it does not work with ‘gay people’ but focuses on individuals who want to get rid of the feelings they have for members of the same sex ‘as a result of issues in their lives.’ TJ says he is no longer attracted to men, but the reality is that he does not fancy women either and still enjoys watching gay porn.
Also featured in the documentary is Danny who believes gay conversion therapy has enabled him to remain married to his wife Erin for five years and have children together. Stacey spends time at the family home and tries to understand why someone would want to change themselves and why a woman would take a chance on a man battling with his homosexuality.
Stacey Dooley with Danny, who underwent gay conversion therapy, and his wife Erin
Stacey also visits a camp deep in the northern Arizona wilderness that is aimed at gay men who hope bonding with male friends and embracing their masculinity will lead to the ‘change’ in their sexuality that they’ve been searching for.
Stacey Dooley with Matt and Ryan, two attendees of a gay conversion camp
On the flip side, Stacey talks to 26-year-old David who has tried various ‘gay cures’ but discovered they were not for him and, after accepting his homosexuality, now lives happily as an openly gay man with his boyfriend, Angel. He speaks about how hard it was to realise it wasn’t others’ acceptance he was searching for, but acceptance of himself.
The documentary really is eye-opening in its approach to exploring the subject of ‘gay cures.’It reveals shocking opinions held by some Americans, with one parent stating that asking if she’s okay with her son being gay is like asking if she’s okay with him being a terrorist. It’s no wonder these young people feel like they have to be a different person in order to live up to their parents’ expectations.
Watching these people battle with who they are is very sad and makes me appreciate the position I am in today, happily engaged to the woman I love. In my opinion, sexuality is not a choice; we are born the way we are and there is nothing we can do to change that, we can only choose to hide from it. I’m sure there are people who are happy to hide from their sexuality, whether to avoid potential shame or persecution, or for some other personal reason, but I don’t believe people should feel as if they have to do that.
Many people reading this will be able to understand what living two lives effectively feels like before you make the decision to come out about your sexuality. For me, it was an extremely scary and worrying time. I don’t think I could have coped with having to deal with those feelings of guilt and fear for the rest of my life.
There is no scientific evidence that gay conversion therapy has changed anyone’s sexual orientation, and many of the young people interviewed in Stacey Dooley’s documentary describe their same sex attractions as a constant struggle. Conversion therapy may appeal to some people as a ‘way out’ from accepting their sexuality and natural feelings, but hopefully one day it will be written in the history books as a no longer used bizarre attempt to ‘cure’ homosexuality, just as blood from a bull was used in the medieval times to try to rid people of freckles. 
Stacey Dooley in the USA airs on Monday 29th October on BBC3 at 9pm.