There is a time, I imagine, in the lives of most gay people when they wish, if only for a moment, that they weren't gay. Perhaps it comes when they want to kiss their other half without fear of reproachful look or, worse, a boot to the head. Maybe the trigger is the desire to get married in their local church in a colossal gown, surrounded by chubby bridesmaids. The playgrounds and hallways of school can also be the scene for many an "I just wish I was like everybody else" silent scream. But, for the most part, these feelings pass and many gay people go on to embrace their sexuality, seeing it for what it is: just another part of who they are.
When having these wobbles about sexuality, it can be common to mull over the possible 'escape routes' into 'heteronormality', be it throwing yourself into a straight relationship with gusto, simply abstaining from sex completely or merely restricting your sexual contact to covert assignations. The closet is deep and wide and, despite emptying out considerably since the demonisation of homosexuality became less acceptable, still has many inhabitants. Thank goodness then, gays who don't want to be gay, for conversion therapy! Vulnerable, anxious and scared witless by your predilection for penis, boys? Fretful and confused by your dreams about slamming your face into a large pair of bouncy boobs, ladies? Fear not, there is an answer. It's just a shame that this solution is at least 800 million times more distasteful than the 'problem' it claims to eradicate.
So what is it? Well, simply put, gay conversion therapy is a usually religion-based method of counselling which aims to transform unwilling homosexuals into straight people. That's it, in a tiny nutshell. The gays that just can't help themselves are offered an out that hopes to put them back in.
The major issue for me with conversion therapy is that it requires admission that homosexuality is a 'problem' or 'disorder', that it's a leaky tap which needs to be fixed.
A number of undercover journalists have infiltrated gay conversion therapy - and the majority of them comment on how sinister it is, consisting of little more than scaremongering. On researching this post, I came across many testimonials from 'survivors' of this therapy, some of whom described odd sexual practices and the unhealthy obsessions with homosexual acts displayed by therapists.
The rumours around the Christian clinic owned by erstwhile US presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus have recently resurfaced, with a documentary filmmaker going undercover to reveal a counsellor tried to influence her questions about her sexuality with the help of a trusty old Bible. While the Bachmanns continue to deny any such practices happen in their clinics, filmmaker Kristina Lapinski says she's got the evidence to back it up.
Things are no better in the UK, really. It doesn't really help that the latest 'celebrity' signing up to be a poster girl for the therapy is none other than nobody's favourite virgin and reality TV show doyenne, former MP Ann Widdecombe. Never known to be a shrinking violet when it comes to speaking on God's behalf, a recent example of a GP suggesting gay therapy to a reporter is what set Ann off frothing at the mouth like an excitable rottweiler. Ann, who was so displeased with the Church of England ordaining women that she packed up her cauldron and converted to Catholicism, has claimed that the therapy should be available on the National Health Service, likening it to the treatment available for those wishing to undergo gender reassignment. This logic doesn't quite work, however, as being gay isn't an illness and, can't necessarily be cured. Also, no matter which side of the 'nature vs nurture' fence you do your sunbathing, homosexuality isn't a choice. It's highly unlikely people can be talked out of it, like a house purchase or being afraid of buttons. For someone who, by her own admission, is yet to experience sexual pleasure, Ann (known as 'Widdy' to idiots who think she is some kind of lovable old curmudgeon) has a lot of opinions on it. She's also been spouting about marriage equality and guess what? She's not keen.
As if Ann and her big mouth weren't enough, there's yet another stick waiting in the wings to beat gays. A potential Christian ad campaign on the side of London's iconic and highly visible red buses has been getting a lot of coverage. Aping the recognisable Stonewall slogan "Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!", this po-faced take, backed by homophobic charity the Core Issues Trust, sneers "Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get Over It!" The crusade is also supported by orthodox Anglican group Anglican Mainstream, who, delightfully, consider homosexuality to be a blight on someone's life comparable to alcoholism. In that case, pass me a gin and tonic; I'm really going out in style. Following an intervention by London mayor Boris Johnson and a media outcry, Transport for London have now said that the campaign will not run, as it doesn't "believe these ads reflect TfL's commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London", but how was the idea they could run ever entertained in the first place?
I suppose it's easy to make glib comments about being unsurprised religious groups believe in these magic therapies given they also put their faith in a big beardy guy in the sky, served on Earth by men in dresses, but that is to detract from the real harm this snake oil-fuelled therapy can do. The gay rights movement has fought tirelessly to improve the image of homosexuality, bringing it kicking and screaming (and there's been plenty of screaming) out from covert cottaging into the perfectly acceptable part of human life it truly is. Its transition from the love that dare not speak its name to the love that never shuts the hell up may have been flawed, but if we continue to market the idea that it can all be magicked away like a troublesome blackhead if only we turn to God, we are playing a very hazardous game. The sanctity of marriage - another cause that gets the God squad all misty-eyed and militant - is surely more threatened by mercurial 'post-gays' going into these unions with nothing more to tell them they're not gay any more than the holy scripture. And what if the feelings return? Should the ex-but-maybe-not-so-ex-gay carry on in their marriage, lying to themselves and their partner? How many 'broken' homes or tense, loveless atmospheres is this kind of thinking creating?
Believe what you want to believe. Pray if you want to pray. But let's not fool ourselves or, more importantly, the vulnerable gay people who just want to fit in. Being gay isn't something you sit down at the kitchen table and decide to become. You can no more choose to be gay than you can choose not to.
But, I guess what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so I'd like to set forth my plans for Straight Conversion Therapy. You don't have to get out the good book, gentleman, to join my support group. No, no. Just bring yourself, a bottle of tequila and cancel all your plans for the weekend and we'll try and hammer out this straight thing nonsense once and for all, man-to-man. Leave your details after the beep.