I want to start by saying that this in NOT a Donnie McClurkin/ Barack Obama diary. Please respect my request not to turn it into one. Rather this is a diary wherein I try to explain to some members of the dkos community exactly why the ex-gay movement and reparative therapy is such a painful hot button issue for many in the gay community.
If you're looking for somewhere to continue to vent your spleen on Obama/McClurkin, look elsewhere. I hope that most of us can by now understand that principled people can fall on both sides of that disagreement, and that we've reached the point where continuing to hash it out is counter-productive.
Now: What is reparative therapy (also known as conversion therapy)? Good old wikipedia offers a very thorough entry on the subject for those who want a general overview more complete than I plan to offer here. The long and the short of it, however, is that reparative therapy is a set of methods used to attempt to "cure" gay men and lesbians of their homosexuality. To give a sense of the history of the movement, consider how such conversion was approached during the 1940's up until about 1973, when homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness: (from wikipedia)
Practitioners who view same-sex orientations as resulting from learned behavior may adopt behavioral modification techniques. These may include masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, and social skills training. The most radical involve aversion therapy such as electroconvulsive therapy. Documented cases include electric shocks being administered to patients' genitalia, "sometimes paired with disturbing images, including a bowl of feces and pictures of Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions." In another case plethysmography, which uses electric sensors attached to a person's genitals to measure sexual arousal, was used in conjunction with shock therapy to electrically shock the patient's penis when he became sexually aroused by same-sex images.
I think this history is important: these pratices ended less than 40 years ago. They occured at a time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness and was consider a crime nearly everywhere in the country.
This is part of the connotation of "reparative therapy" in the gay community.
Happily, these barbaric practices are a thing of the past. But that doesn't really change much. Reparative therapy is, if anything, now a more insiduous kind of evil.
I first realized I was gay when I was 11. I knew almost immediately that I couldn't tell a fucking soul that I was gay. It was 1981. I spent 12 years desperately wishing I wasn't gay. It was abnormal. It was hated. "Fag" "Queer" "That's so gay!"
And I was lucky. My parents were and are lefty professors. My mother may not have a homophobic bone in her body, and my father has about as few as a straight white male born in Mississippi in 1940 could be expected to have.
And it was still torture for me. My peers, the messages I saw on television, everything around me told me that it was Wrong to be gay.
In that context, reparative therapy offers a false hope for anguished teens who choose to pursue it. It extends the self-loathing and puts off acceptance. It implicitly supports the notion that it's wrong to be gay, and that there's a need to cure homosexuality. It gives homophobic parents something to do rather than accept and unconditionally love their children. It gives self-loathing gay teens something to do rather than come to terms with who they are.
The problem isn't just that people are proffering a "cure" to homosexuality. That, alone, is frankly problematic enough. The problem is that
The medical and scientific consensus is that conversion therapy is potentially harmful and that there is no evidence that it is effective. No mainstream medical organization endorses conversion therapy and many have expressed concerns over some of the ethics and motivations surrounding its practice. A survey of the American Psychological Association rated conversion therapy as "certainly discredited", along with topics like "crystal healing" and "dolphin-assisted therapy".
The so-called "success stories"-- as if going back into the closet is success. It's a fucking regression. Of course we can pretend to be straight again. We did it for years, in some cases decades. And it surprises anyone we can learn to do it again??-- these "success stories" become poster children for anti-gay extremists. For those who think homosexuality has no place in the world. For those who think it is an "abomination."
The ex-gay advocate of reparative therapy is anathema to the gay community. He is poison in the air. A spreader of false "hope," a purveyor of self-hatred in the guise of (god's) love.