Monday, February 13, 2012

Ex-Gay - The Role Of Authority Figures

This morning, I was able to watch a rerun of the show What Would You Do on ABC. This particular episode was quite impactful for me, because of my experience with “ex-gay” therapy.  I have the link embedded, and it is a segment that must be watched.

This situation brought up something that I have wanted to discuss in relation to this, namely, how should we as the LGBT community respond to those who subject their children to “ex-gay” therapy? Do we sympathize for them, as they are obviously confused about the situation, or do we call them out on what they are doing to their children?

Through heavy thought, I have determined that the latter is the correct avenue that our community must take. Forcing children through the psychological and emotional torment of ex-gay therapy should be considered, and is, nothing more than child abuse. To tell a child that feelings that they have had for years make them un-natural and that one must be “fixed”, is no better than beating a child for getting a bad grade on a report card.

Though one may take issue with my comparison (after all, the consequences of physical violence are immediately seen vs. the consequences of emotional abuse are manifested over time), the fact that such differences exist, does not make the comparison less valid. When a father or mother beats a child, the emotional impacts of such a beating are just as real as the impacts of when a parent tells their child that their entire being is despicable.

Many times, when parents subject their child to “change” therapy, it is couched in the language of love. To these parents, this therapy is necessary, because they do not want to see their child suffer with this burden of “sin”. They do not want to see their child live a “lifestyle” which they believe is harmful and will make them go to hell. Such justifications are shouted from the rooftops, echoed as valid by religious leaders, other family members, and those in authority .

But these justifications are nothing more than a smokescreen. Instead of unquestionably loving their child, their actions are motivated by fear – what will the other family members think if they find out my son/daughter is homosexual or transgender, what will those in my religious community think, what about the expectations that I had of my child? Instead of deciding to talk with their child and seek to understand what their child is going through, they automatically assume that something is “wrong” with him or her, and thus shove their child in front of a “counselor”.  These parents choose to uncritically believe what society and their religious leaders tell them, and when confronted with the issue, would rather place their child in harm’s way than re-examine their beliefs.

Too often in our discussion of ex-gay therapy, we look at the facilitators of such therapy, organizations like NARTH and Exodus. But, in all of our indignation about the issue, we never look at the actual perpetrators of abuse – the families that force their children to seek “help”.  Through our inaction, we are not holding these individuals to account for the tens of thousands of lives that have been negatively affected (and even lost) through their actions.  As we struggle to rebuild after the emotional onslaught of hatred, negativity, and falsehoods, they are going through life thinking that they did what was best.

Instead of giving into such passivity, we must stand up to these individuals. Now in “standing up”, I don’t mean that we need to get into a shouting match, or become violent with these family members or friends who have wronged us, but instead, standing up means telling these individuals our story and how their actions have hurt us.  Though this might be hard and embarrassing to some (believe me, I’m in the same boat), such discussions must be had.  As we stand up to those who have abused us, we are letting them know that their actions have consequences.  They cannot, and should not, live life without knowing how their choices affected us.  It is only through conversation, dialogue, and heart to heart discussions of our lives, can we affect the change to make ex-gay therapy a thing of the past.

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