Gay And Trans People Who Have Been To Conversion Therapy Are Sharing Their Traumatic Stories, And It's A Reminder Why It Needs To Be Abolished

    "The Christian counselor's idea was that I was gay because my relationship with my dad was inadequate and because I hadn't been affirmed in my masculinity when I was younger."

    Conversion therapy is an awful and dangerous practice that tries to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression through behavioral modification and psychoanalysis. Clearly, this is not how sexuality works nor is there any reason for people to try and change their sexualities. But we live in a heteronormative culture which results in many gay and queer people being sent to conversion therapy or choosing to go themselves.

    If you didn’t know, nearly 700,000 LGBTQ adults in the US alone have received conversion therapy, and half of them received it as adolescents.

    We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about their experience with conversion therapy. Here are some of the stories they shared:

    Note: Some of these submissions are from this Reddit thread.

    1. "I went to a gay conversion camp at 17 years old. On arrival, we were given extensive forms to fill out. Questions about our hobbies, likes, dislikes, and all that kind of stuff. I thought that 'least favorite smell' was an interesting question on the form. On the second or third day in I was given some, in hindsight, incredibly laughable gay erotica and was allowed to return to my room. As soon as I returned to my room I heard some commotion outside the door and then the pungent smell of curry slowly seeped into my room. Waves of the smell came through periodically over about three hours. This was the smell I had listed on the form as my least favorite and this was their attempt at making me straight by associating attractive men with the smell of curry."


    man in a suit leaning over to talk to a teen sitting in a chair

    2. "It was very difficult and I have mentally blocked most of my memories of the camp. I do remember singing songs about traditional gender roles, and how they give glory to God. It was a Catholic faith-based bible camp, and my parents did not choose to send me there. I went to a private Catholic school, and I had confided in a teacher that I was having same-sex feelings, and she recommended I go to the camp. I chose to go because of my internalized homophobia. Because of my faith-based upbringing, it’s still very hard to cope with who I am. But I’m young, and maybe things will change."


    people standing up in a small room watching as two men enter the room

    3. "My conversion therapy was mostly through 'self-help' books. I was motivated by Bible College teachings whose founder was secretly grooming and sexually harassing his younger youth minister and employee into a homosexual relationship while teaching and preaching the 'Sun' of homosexuality. I had a 'pray the gay way' session that was in the form of an exorcism. I spent most of my life in the closet with fear of going to hell and am now working to help others unashamedly love themselves and be loved."


    closeup of a hand gripping the shoulder of a man

    4. "When I was 12, I expressed to my parents that I wasn't comfortable with the gender I was assigned at birth. It felt alien to me. My stepmom stormed out of the living room and my dad screamed at me and said I was fucked up in the head. Five days later I had to sit in a pastor's office for two hours after school to 'pray it out of me.' This continued for a year until I got smart and lied saying I was cis. I can't wait until I go to college."


    young man sanding in front of another in what looks like a church or group meeting

    5. "I'll never forget the day I came home from school my freshmen year to see my parents sitting, waiting for me with serious looks on their faces. They had, of course, found gay porn in my browser history. My heart sank. This led to regular visits with my local Mormon leader and a Mormon therapist that he recommended. This guy got a lot of business off of church referrals. I alternated sessions in private and with my father. The therapy was oriented to 'repair' the relationship with my father that must have been broken."

    "I was also given tips like fasting and praying, or singing my favorite church hymns to myself when I saw a guy I was attracted to. Things were more intense at church. I went to a series of speeches geared toward the youth of the church where one speaker talked about how watching porn would lead you down an inevitable path that ends by you becoming a homosexual and then a child molester (which obviously isn't true). I was told that sexuality was a sin, specifically, homosexuality was a sin in the same category as murder because it perverted the tools for the creation and destruction of life. I poured myself earnestly into scripture reading, praying, fasting, and doing every absurd thing my therapist asked. I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame, disgust, and fear. My father must have seen it written on my face one day while driving to therapy. He told me that if I didn't want to keep going I didn't have to. I only began to question things when after all my efforts, the promised heterosexual feelings never did come. It set me on a path to question everything else about my worldview. It was a long road after that coming out, and now most of my family has come around. My very shy mom even bought a book about gay Mormons and gave it to other moms that she SUSPECTED of having gay sons. I've since come out, get married, and am living proudly on my own terms. It did make me stronger having gone through it, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone."


    teen standing in front of peers in small room

    6. "I went to a catholic summer camp for that exact reason when I was 17. I remember being hit with a yardstick if I was mildly disobedient (ignoring nuns and teachers and camp councilors). I remember I was also not allowed to eat if I didn't read verses from the bible out loud. I tried my best to muddle through all the stuff. But anxiety was getting me halfway through the two weeks, making me appear more problematic than usual. So they set me in a tent instead of a cabin for a week where it rained five days in a row. I also remember them calling my parents repeatedly to tell them how abhorrent I behaved, which obviously led to more trouble."


    pastor at the podium

    7. "I was put in Church of Christ conversation therapy by my parents. Basically, I was just told I had a mental disorder for an hour a week for, like, six months. Also, I was told that as I grew up I would grow out of it, and that all I had to do was pray and trust God. A different kid at the same church as me came out and was completely rejected. Total disfellowship. After that, I lost my respect for that congregation. I still respect real Christians but those are very rare in churches these days."


    man approaching podium in front of group of teen boys

    8. "I attended a live-in program in Memphis from September 1997 through September 1999. I found the hardest part of the experience was the hypocrisy. I went through many horrible experiences, but the lack of integrity of the organization's leaders to those of us who trusted them is shameful. I've been fully out since 2004, but sometimes I still feel like an 'Indiana mole woman.'"


    closeup of someone's back as they look at the colorful window ahead

    9. "Man, I don't even know anymore. I went through a year and change of conversion therapy because my parents are just homophobic as can be. Sessions ranged from horrible to 'meh, not awful' based on who I was seeing at the time, 'cause I was passed around between a few therapists whenever the previous one 'didn't cure me.' There were lots of dumb attempts at 'fixing' me by creating silly associations. I remember specifically there was a strong attempt to try and connect gay thoughts to jail time in my head, that messed with me for a little."

    "This all happened as I was turning 14 and continued 'til 18 when I could refuse to attend. It sure didn't turn me straight, but it did give me some internalized homophobia, too. Basically, I just hate myself, other people can do what they'd like, and I don't really mind. I just never got to grow up and develop sexually, never got to experience my teenage years without being berated, and I'm going on 12 years of depression now because of it."


    teens and young boy standing in a line while a boot camp couch yells at them

    10. "Keep in mind this all happened based on the suspicion that I might be a lesbian: my parents did not find out for sure until years after I moved out. I went to 'straight camp.' The actual point was a reform-style camp in order to basically learn traditional gender roles. The trick was that camp was set up with classes and you got a leader person assigned to you. Everyone went to different classes depending on what they 'needed to work on' or 'what they struggled with.'"

    "You can guess what classes I got. In some classes, they would rip into homosexuality alongside things like pedophilia and necrophilia as all being somewhat equally horrific. Homosexuality was seen as being even worse than necrophilia because it was someone else being 'tricked' and 'assaulted' by someone who claimed to care. They believed and taught that homosexuals were scum for being so selfish and so conceited to think they had the right to steal the innocence of someone else by making them go to hell. They said homosexuals were lustful freaks who can't control themselves. Even worse, they said gay people force themselves on someone else because there is no way TWO adults can consent to sex if they are the same gender. Obviously, one must be a traumatized victim and the other a vicious monster." 


    teen talking to a woman behind a desk

    11. "I became religious in my teens and came out to my parents so that they could take me to a Christian counselor, in hopes that I could become straight or at least asexual. I was part of an online community of other gay people trying to convert, and some of the people in that community claimed to have successfully converted. My parents thought it was fine that I was gay (my mom more so than my dad) and didn't want to take me to a Christian counselor, but I was adamant. By the time they caved and finally took me, I wasn't Christian anymore. So my time with the Christian counselor was half-hearted and I was dubious of most things he said. His process was based on the idea that I was gay because my relationship with my dad was inadequate and because I hadn't been affirmed in my masculinity when I was younger."

    "He wanted me to do more 'manly' things and get closer to my dad. My relationship with my dad was fine and I didn't have any interest in sports, so I didn't follow his advice. The counselor asked me what I liked about men. I said I wanted to be held. He said, well why don't you find an athletic, assertive girl? A well-muscled one. That will do the trick. I was skeptical then and it is laughable now how little he understood what gay people want."


    group of men looking ahead

    12. "I was bisexual and I knew long before that I really enjoyed wearing girls' clothes more than boys' and playing with my mom's makeup. At sixteen, I had an amazing girlfriend. It just so happens that she and I were the same height and pretty similar build, and when one day she decided it would be fun to dress me up in her clothes and give me a makeover I pretty enthusiastically went along with it. Cue my dad unexpectedly coming home to find his oldest 'son' dressed to the nines. When my stepmother got home he ordered her to go through all my things, including my computer and my journal. Church 'counseling' along with complete isolation from all things "worldly" ensued. The psychological torture, there and at home, drove me to a suicide attempt, which led to me being thrown out because 'I was a danger to my younger siblings.'"

    "I lived with my mother after that and eventually moved into a roommate situation with some really great people. This was all over 20 years ago. Since then, I've seen my four younger siblings at their weddings twice in the past twenty years. I have twenty years of being closeted and so emotionally repressed that I barely recognize myself. I have a string of broken relationships because I'm so emotionally messed up that I just can't trust a soul. I have a broken marriage with the most amazing woman I've ever met, and a son I can't live with full-time because we share custody.

    I'm just, just starting to heal now. I started therapy a few months ago. I finally came clean with my therapist about being transgender, which gave me the courage to reach out to my old high school girlfriend from earlier in the story (I'm good friends with her and her husband), and finally to come out to my ex-wife. These people that I never trusted? Yeah, they immediately expressed support. Even my ex-wife. Total, uncompromising support."


    bus full of teens

    13. "I am a woman and when I was 18, I told my parents I was attracted to and dating a woman. They flipped out but I was young and in love and didn't care. My dad asked if I would be willing to go talk to the minister at church about this with him, and I agreed because I wanted to make him feel better. We went to a 'Christian therapist' maybe three or four times. He talked to us separately and we read the bible and prayed and he tried to convince me it was a sin. I disagreed with him and told him I was happy with who I was. After the third or fourth meeting like this, he told my father and I that there was nothing more he could do unless I recognized my sin and wanted to change, and I didn't, so that was that."

    "But over the next few years, my family was never ok with it. I learned to just not talk about it ever because it made them cry a lot. Now I'm 25 and dating a man, which my parents don't approve of either, but that's a different story. I never felt bad though about leaving them out of the loop about my love life, and that mostly stems from the way they treated me when I told them I was dating a woman."


    teens doing push ups while coaches look on

    14. And finally, "I went to a 'special psychologist' or 'psychiatrist,' but he was a 'former gay man' who had since turned his life over to God. The first eight times, my mom went with me. This was moments after she found out that my lifelong friend and I were actually dating each other (and having sex) for much of that time. We started around twelve and were together until our senior year in high school. While we were there, the guy basically said that my desire to be with men was due to my desire to 'conquer' the other man."

    "Starting on the ninth visit, I was going by myself. I was mostly doing this to appease my parents, as they were under the impression being gay (well, bisexual in my case) was a choice, and that I could change it if I wanted to. It was kinda nice getting some of the feelings out that I'd been keeping largely to myself. I've never kept a diary/journal or anything. He's telling me about his former life, and how much he hated/resented the fact that he found men attractive, and liked having sex with them. I was telling him about how much I absolutely loved my guy. I  told him how I didn't feel the slightest regret for what I'd done. I wasn't that big into religion as a kid, certainly not as much as my parents were. 

    Sometime after the 12th to 16th week, I started getting this creepy vibe from the guy. Like he wanted to make a move on me. So I told my parents, and that was the end of that. To this day, we haven't brought it up. And my parents really don't even acknowledge that I'm into guys. It's always just 'You'll find the right girl someday.'''


    Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.