“It is physical and emotional abuse and it needs to be called that, and groups should not be allowed to hide behind religious liberty as a veil to legitimise what they do” – David Turner, survivor of gay conversion therapy.
Many like David, have been subjected to aggressive physical coercion – electroconvulsive shock therapy, hormone castration, etc. – as a part of conversion or reparative therapy in the past and not all have survived. Conversion therapy is a pseudoscience which attempts to ‘convert’ a queer person into a straight person through counselling and psychotherapy. It’s not just parents-in-denial but even homosexual individuals who voluntarily reach out for therapy to escape the social stigma of being queer, which itself speaks volumes about the discriminatory environment in our society.
Earlier electroconvulsive therapy which could lead to memory loss, hypnosis, nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica and other methods that easily qualify as sexual harassment cases were frequently used as part of reparative therapy. Use of such methods has reduced in comparison but mentally scarring counselling sessions are still quite prevalent. Currently, the individual is brainwashed into believing that homosexuality is caused by “insufficient male affirmation in childhood” or due to a childhood trauma or the most commonly used argument – “an uncaring father and an overbearing mother”. Instilling such notions isolates the individual from their family thereby pushing them into depression by evoking feelings of self-hate and violent tendencies.
There are no set guidelines or rules under which such organisations perform these therapies, i.e., they can vary in degree from merely speaking with the clients to torturing them. The victims of such practices seldom raise their voice as that would require disclosing their non-normative sexuality as well as other private information they disclosed during the treatment to the public. Look at a comparison review of The Holosync Solution and Omharmonics for some sane examples of therapy.
Eugen Steinach, an endocrinologist of the 1920s, ill-famed for his controversial experiments on sex glands was the first to claim that he could change one’s sexual orientation by transplanting sex organs of the desired sex onto the ‘infected’ person and the rest followed suit. Iconic psychoanalyst Freud, known for his sexist views, in fact, supported homosexuality openly. He said, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness.”
Conversion therapy was once upon a time sentenced by the law in some of the most progressive countries. In the biopic ‘The Imitation Game’, Alan Turing, father of modern-day computing had to endure hormonal castration as a means of ‘conversion’. His treatment depressed him to the extent that he went on to commit suicide a couple of years later. Alan Turing’s story is one of the only ones to get coverage. It was only when people observed that even torturous methods didn’t have an ounce of effect that people finally began to accept that homosexuality is not a perversion.
American Psychological Association was one of the first institutes to declare that homosexuality is not a disorder in 1974. In USA California, New Jersey, Illinois, and the District of Columbia all passed legislation to ban the therapy and now 21 other states have introduced legislation that aims to do the same. Ironically, a statement has come after Israel’s Ministry of Health issuing a statement against the practice, and said “sexual inclination is part of a person’s identity and requires no treatment or conversion”, citing no scientific evidence to support this type of therapy.
In the UK, a country that decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, according to a survey conducted in 2009, of 1,300 UK therapists 16% had attempted conversion therapy. In conservative nations like India, the little attention the problem of conversion therapy has gained has been from a well-known yoga instructor and political leader, Baba Ramdev, who claimed that he could cure homosexuality with yoga. Further, there is also a thriving community of doctors in India who charge exorbitant amounts of money for conducting conversion therapy.
Activists in China are fighting for banning reparative therapy relentlessly.
Most of these therapies are conducted by religious groups and are largely discredited by the medical and mental health establishment and are declared as fraudulent.Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who has written extensively about the conversion therapy movement has named it a “concentrated burst of homophobia”. Members of National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) – the largest organisation that practices reparative therapy – have been accused of sexual harassment. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), an organisation run by former NARTH board member, has been shut after being charged for the same. Exodus International, another such organisation was shut down with an apology for the harm it caused to the LGBT community. Its president, Alan Chambers, further went and declared that 99.9% patients felt no change in their sexual orientation whatsoever.
The concept of there being a possibility of repairing someone essentially comes from the baseless presumption that they are broken, ill. If not consumer fraud or physical harm, such practices reaffirm the myth that homosexuality is a disease that the youth needs protection from, thereby amplifying the stigma. It’s high time that people accept that the only thing that homosexual people need protection from is prejudice and not homosexuality.