Dr. Gonsierok was one of two featured speakers at this program, which took place at the House of the Beloved Disciple in Minneapolis on Tuesday, January 29, and was prompted, in part, by recent efforts on the part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis to promote the discredited ideology and “scientific findings” of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH).
The other speaker invited to share his perspective on this issue was Jeffry G. Ford, MA, a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist.
Highlights of John Gonsiorek’s presentation comprised Part 1 of this two-part series, “Debunking NARTH.” (This series has also been published online at The Progressive Catholic Voice, under the title, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo Science of NARTH.”)
Following is Part 2, comprised of highlights of Jeff Ford’s presentation at the House of the Beloved Disciple on January 29.
Part II – The Ex-Ex-Gay
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Jeffry Ford’s story is that he was formerly the executive director of OUTPOST, an “ex-gay” ministry located in Minneapolis. For ten years, Jeff claimed to be a “former homosexual,” and was a national speaker for Exodus International, the governing board and communication hub for most ex-gay ministries.
Today, however, Jeff identifies as a gay man and is a nationally known consultant and speaker on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) issues. Jeff dedicates his time and energy to challenging the unethical and dangerous use of pseudo-scientific theories associated with the ex-gay movement, a movement that includes NARTH. In particular, he addresses the complexities involved with the anti-gay theory and practice known both as “reparative therapy” and “sexual conversion therapy,” which purports to prevent and cure homosexuality.
The story of Jeff’s journey away from the world of “ex-gay” ministry is featured with those of other “ex-gays” in a publication entitled, Finally Free, complied by the Washington, DC-based Human Rights Campaign.
Learning how to pass
Raised in a religious home, Jeff responded to his growing awareness that he was attracted to other males by rationalizing that “something had gone wrong” inside of him. He felt shame and a sense of “badness,” and struggled to keep secret his homosexual feelings. Yet his mother, says Jeff, could tell that something was going on. She would have “little talks” with him that invariably started with: “Jeffry, do you know what it is to be a queer?” She also attempted to “butch” him up and would give him examples of what was wrong about being effeminate and queer. She even sent him to a wrangling camp on a ranch in Arizona. Looking back on this experience, Jeff says with a wry smile: “It just didn’t work.”
Nevertheless, by high school, Jeff had “learned how to pass” – learned how to date girls and keep his true desires “under wraps.” In his junior year of high school he became involved with evangelical Christianity, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In this rigid, fundamentalist form of Christianity, Jeff found a way to hope and believe that “something” was going to take his homosexuality away; that somehow God, through Jeff’s personal acceptance of Jesus, was going to heal him and set him free.
He began to sublimate, repress, and deny the homosexual feelings he was experiencing. Despite some “dalliances” involving other men – encounters that he never talked about and felt “incredibly shameful about,” Jeff married at the age of twenty. Yet when neither his evangelical Christian faith nor his heterosexual marriage made his homosexual desires disappear, Jeff sought counseling. The Christian counselor he saw at Bethel College was in his own way, says Jeff, compassionate and caring.
In retrospect, however, Jeff can also say that this counselor was misguided in his understanding about homosexuality. He asked Jeff to undergo “aversion therapy” – a form of electric shock “reparative therapy.” Jeff ended up doing forty sessions of this humiliating type of therapy that left painful scorch marks on his forearms. Even after realizing that this type of therapy had failed to take away his homosexual desires, Jeff continued to pursue anything he could so as not to be gay.
The two biggest lies
At one point during his presentation, Jeff shared the DVD documentary film, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement.
The various testimonies contained in this DVD – from former ex-gays and psychologists – attest to the fact that the ex-gay movement pushes what former ex-gay Daniel Gonzales describes as the two biggest lies that drive people into any form of therapy to either change or repress their sexual orientation and/or its expression. These lies are that: 1) a person cannot live their life as a gay person and be a good Christian, and 2) being gay is not a viable or fulfilling way to live one’s life.
One Catholic ex-gay featured in the documentary notes that often after “conversion therapy” fails, many “faith-based” therapists will say that the only choice left is celibacy. They realize that the success rate of changing homosexuals to heterosexuals is “very, very poor.” So they try to take a new approach by saying, “Well, if you can’t change then be celibate.”
To be sure, the lives of ex-gays seem to be dominated by hopelessness, guilt, internalized shame, and feelings of defectiveness. More than one commentator in the film noted that the sense of worthlessness that ex-gay ministries foster compels many gay people to take unsafe sexual risks. As one former ex-gay noted: “If you serve a mean God, you become sort of mean also.”
One psychologist in the film offered the following insight: “The repression of sexual desire actually makes the idea of acting them out more titillating, makes a person more likely to think sexual thoughts. For those struggling to suppress their homosexual feelings, this repression actually leads to an increase in the acting out of unsafe sexual behaviors – behaviors that might not occur if they were more accepting of their homosexuality.”
One young man interviewed confirmed this, saying that: “I never really dated anyone – male or female – until I made the choice to accept my sexuality.” That acceptance allowed him to start dating, an experience that he describes as “fantastic.” “I was no longer meeting men in dark places having anonymous sex,” he said, “but actually having a relationship for the first time.”
Of course, for some gay people, getting to the point of having a relationship requires breaking free from an ex-gay ministry of one form or another. Breaking free, however, can be a very protracted and painful experience as it’s often within these ministries that many gay people have their family, friends, and their sense of faith and community. Yet despite the pain of being ostracized by family and friends, the vast majority do indeed break free. As one former ex-gay declares: “I’d rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I’m not.”
Yet what of those who claim that conversion therapy has worked for them? According to Jeff Ford, ninety-six percent of such people fall into the first two of three categories, the first of which is comprised of people who, despite claimed success, still struggle with homosexual feelings and/or behaviors. The second category is comprised of those who are single and celibate. Only four percent of those who claim that “reparative” or “conversion” therapy has been successful now consider themselves to be heterosexual. Interestingly, almost all of these people work in the ex-gay counseling field. It would seem that for reparative therapy to be successful, one must quit one’s job and become an ex-gay minister and/or therapist and dedicate one’s life to it.
Jeff noted that in the ex-gay world, the expression of same-sex attraction is never talked about as an act of love. It’s only ever understood and talked about as an incarnation of evil. Furthermore, if you accept the “lie” about the normalcy of homosexuality then you forfeit your place in heaven.
Jeff’s questioning of this dogma against his inner sense of being loved and accepted by God as a gay man was an experience of “deep grace and forgiveness.” It was a liberating experience for him.
Says Jeff: “The ex-gay movement tends to blame the parents and/or supposed experiences of childhood abuse for changing the direction of one’s natural (i.e., heterosexual) sexual orientation. If your unmet needs can be met in ‘healthy’ ways, i.e., in non-erotic same-sex friendships and relationships, then not only will your unmet needs be met, but your heterosexuality will bloom and blossom. That’s the hope and that’s what they promise. And some people will do almost anything to believe this – from years and years of counseling to prayers and exorcisms.
“The problem,” continues Jeff, “comes when people do all these things and yet continue to experience same-sex attractions. They feel like a failure, yet you’re not supposed to talk about such feelings of failure publicly – only in private with your counselor. There’s a lot of restraint on your personal freedom. The extent of this restraint depends on which ex-gay ministry you’re involved with. Some of them demand that you don’t listen to certain types of music, read certain types of books. You can’t be left alone with another person of the same gender. It’s very cult-like, very controlling.”
Accurate answers, powerful insight
Jeff certainly has a powerful story to share, and he did so eloquently at the House of the Beloved Disciple on January 29. Without doubt, much of this power comes from the fact that Jeff speaks from experience. After all, he studied and practiced reparative therapies for years. Such personal and professional experience, says Jeff, allows him to offer “accurate answers and powerful insight” into the workings and ideological underpinnings of the ex-gay movement.
Also, unlike many so-called “experts” in the pseudo-science of conversion and reparative therapies, Jeff’s writings have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Most recently his article, “Healing Homosexuals: A Psychologist’s Journey Through the Ex-Gay Movement and the Pseudo-Science of Reparative Therapy,” was published in The Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy (Haworth Press, Volume 5, No. 3/4, 2001). It was simultaneously published in the book, Sexual Conversion Therapy.
Jeff also maintains a comprehensive website entitled, Reparative Therapy: A Pseudo Science. It contains a wealth of information, resources, and a detailed account of his “journey through reparative therapy.”
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
“Conversion Therapy” and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH
Former “Ex-Gay” Shares His Experience of NARTH
Far from “Innocuous”
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality