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Going Undercover in the Crazy, Tragic World of Christian Gay-Conversion Therapy

Ted Cox posed as a gay man to infiltrate gay-to-straight therapy programs. What he found was equal parts shocking and tragic.

Over the course of the past two years, writer Ted Cox posed as a gay man. He attended weekly meetings for several months at two churches in California and a two-day camp at a ranch in northern Arizona in February, both geared toward one end: turning homosexual men and women straight. Last week, I sat down with my friend, Cox, to hear about his experience going undercover in Christian gay-to-straight therapy programs. 

Sena Christian: What made you want to learn more about the Christian gay-to-straight movement?


Ted Cox: I was born and raised in the Mormon church and even after I became non-religious, I was still fascinated with religion. This was a cool intersection of religion, subculture, sex and equal rights.

SC: What exactly interested you?

TC: I first heard about gay-conversion therapy from a segment on  The Daily Show , called  Diagnosis: Mystery  and Jason Jones interviews one of the most infamous names in ex-gay therapy who's  Richard Cohen . What bothered me about the segment is that they didn't touch on the  religious background  behind these programs. There is no such thing as atheist, agnostic or non-religious groups trying to make gay people straight. Evangelical Christians, especially, tend to be heavily involved in this movement.

SC: Tell me about gay-conversion therapy.

They promote this idea that they can make you straight. That's their public message. As you dig deeper, you find out that people are actually suppressing their sexuality. They tell people these programs will make you free from homosexuality through faith and prayer; the programs will help you find the strength to live a chaste, Christian life. That doesn't necessarily mean heterosexuality, or marriage and happy children; so what it means is leaving behind your urges, desires and actions.

[These programs] say homosexuality is the result of emotional or psychological scarring in childhood, where you don't properly identify with your parent of the same sex. They say you're not born that way, it's not genetic, but it is your choice as to whether or not you act on those feelings and attractions. 

SC: How do they suggest one can repair emotional damage?

TC: They can't seem to agree. It could be praying, studying scripture and going to church. It can be through therapy with a licensed counselor. It could be like the camp I attended where you act out traumatic events through your childhood or go through  holding-touch therapy . These programs have been around since the 1970s. In earlier versions, men would have their testicles strapped to electrodes and they'd be electrocuted while being shown pictures of men. This was the idea of shocking the gay out of you.

SC: When you went undercover in the Christian gay-to-straight movement, what did you expect to find?

TC: I didn't know what to expect. Part of the adventure was: What would it really be like? There are weekly groups [with] prayer, scripture study, singing of hymns, some lesson addressing the emotional wounds leading to homosexuality. There's a lot of bonding with the men in these programs. They spend a lot of time together partly because, I'm guessing, they're still attracted to, and would rather hang out with, other men. But also because they can't find friendship within their churches; there are a lot of people they haven't told or can't tell and so they end up bonding together.

SC: Did you ever come out as straight?

TC: I told two people. One is the leader of one of the weekly meeting groups and it seemed his biggest concern was the fact that I was an atheist and unsaved. He was more concerned for my eternal welfare than for the fact that I had lied to him. The second man I told was one of the guys I'd really bonded with at the camp in Arizona. He was upset I had lied to him. I don't blame him.

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