(NPR - Morning Edition) Conversion therapy — a controversial psychotherapy that tries to help gay men and women become straight — is in the news again. Marcus Bachmann, the husband of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, runs a counseling clinic that reportedly provides the therapy. His wife has had to face many questions about it lately, prompting her to say Thursday, "My husband is not running for the presidency ... neither is our business."

The debate about the value of conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, has been raging in psychological circles for more than a decade.

About three years ago, the American Psychological Association came out with an official position paper on it. The APA said that it was basically a bad idea, and that there was no evidence that it was possible to change sexual orientation. Therapists also shouldn't tell their clients that change was possible, the APA noted.

This morning on Morning Edition I profile the conversion therapy experiences of two men. They represent two sides of a debate that hasn't been resolved despite the APA's position.


One side feels that therapies which seek to make gay people straight are invariably harmful. The other says the therapies can help gay people who are profoundly uncomfortable with same-sex attraction.

The first man I spoke to, Rich Wyler, went through the therapy and says that it genuinely changed him in a positive way. "The actual dynamic between me and the male world shifted," he says. He says he's a heterosexual now.

The second man, Peterson Toscano, sought to change himself through 17 years of therapy and was utterly traumatized by it. One of the programs he went through made him write reports of all of the sexual experiences he could remember, then read them aloud to his family when they came to visit him.

The APA's position infuriates Wyler. He feels like the the group is saying that he doesn't exist, that it's impossible for someone attracted to the same sex to change that orientation. He also pointed out that at the moment, a man who wants to become a woman — a transsexual, that is — can, according to APA policy, ethically get treatment to help him with this goal. But a man like him who wants to be attracted to a woman cannot.

"That makes no sense whatsoever," Wyler says.

But Toscano feels the APA position is necessary. He's seen first hand how conversion therapies harm by coaching gay men and women to annihilate a part of themselves.

"The vast majority of people who try to change cannot, and the distress that's caused is real," says Toscano. "It's not just that this doesn't work. It's destructive."


Listen to a recording of the complete report here.




What I find notable about this report was the first subject, Rich Wyler, who apparently was able to change his sexual orientation.  Part of his reasoning in pursuing that therapy was his discomfort at that orientation.  My immediate question is: "WHY was he discomforted with being gay?"  I have to guess that a considerable portion of that discomfort comes from his social environment, from a community both secular and religious that looks askance at homosexuality and indeed, castigates it as unnatural and against their biblical code.

My next question is: "What if that negative environment wasn't there?  What if Rich's assessment of his homosexuality were based PURELY on his own personal comfort level and was based on a living environ which was at least neutral if not actively supportive?  Would he still pursue such a reorientation if his surroundings held a more positive attitude toward it?"

I would be very interested in knowing what percentage of gay men and Lesbian women pursuing such therapy did so because of the negative societal influence on their decision to do so, never mind the potential sub rosa agenda of such treatment facilities to eliminate such behavior for religious reasons.

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Replies to This Discussion

You ask the $64,000 question.  I think we both know the answer.
Swell ... I can REALLY use the money!
Well, PHOOEY!!!!  :-P~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If we could change, I think the species would have died out a long time ago; the ability to refrain from satisfying the sex impulse isn’t something that natural selection would particularly favour.  What I personally find attractive is not something that I think could change though force of intellect or wishing either.  If you have a ‘thing’ for something, as most people know, there’s nothing that can be done for it.  The positive feedback you get from satisfying that drive is so much better than almost anything - why would you want to change anyway?
That said, I think that it must be almost unbearable for the Iranian gay man, surrounded by people who want to bury all gays under walls.  You can imagine that in Iran, the want to fit in and be holy isn’t just a matter of keeping up with the Joneses; it’s the want to survive.  These people who are seeking to change the object of their affections are trying to reconcile two enormous parts of their lives: their family and their sexuality in a way that also gets them brownie points with their invisible friend.  The ‘therapists’ too, I imagine, believe themselves to be doing the right thing for these people who are at the end of their tether.
So this tension builds to a point where people choose mental torment or worse for the want to fit in, so unimaginable is the unconditional love of their families or even the passive acceptance of their community.  That’s so terrible and tragic because the only thing needed is for people to give up their prejudice and hate.  They don’t lose anything more than that.  They’d be able to thank Jesus for the compassion and everything.
The suicides and self mutilations that rack up year on year are the price we all pay for allowing petty and small brained religions the right to influence education and ethical debate.  Whenever an equality law is shouted down, the toll of human misery increases.  We pay this price why?  So that moralists get to feel moral and another generation gets to be told that they’re not normal, that they’re wicked? 
If Bonkers Bachmann is elected then those are the judgement and ethics she’ll bring to the Whitehouse; that the happiness and rights of the individual had better be denied lest the religious moralists feel wronged by the state.  It’s religion’s fault for requiring it and it’s our fault for tolerating it.  We need to join in and sort it out!
Very nice.
Damned well put!!!

In theory, perhaps. In practice, hell no!


I've known of one person that suffered from unwanted same sex attraction which turned out to be caused by remnants of the trauma that he suffered as a child. He told me that part of the therapy that he had to assist him with his issues was that he played pretend to be gay and straight as to provide him with experiences about his sexuality so that he could find out what he is comfortable with and not. 

Nowhere near "pray the gay away" conversion therapy of course, but it contained some elements that seem to be used by people like mr. Cohen and mr. Reeker for their conversion therapy.

As I recall, Mr. Reeker used aversion techniques as a part of his therapy.  Anyone caught doing so from my point of view goes to the back of the classroom, must stay after class and write 50 times:

I Will Not Fuck With Other People's Minds!

Agreed, either that or he should get a tattoo across his face which says:

"I am partly responsible for the damage that caused "Kraig" to commit suicide."


OOOOO, a modern-day equivalent to The Scarlet Letter!  Promising!!!

I imagine that in some cases people could change their orientation.  Really really rare cases.  It wouldn't matter except for the political and religious implications.  If someone says that they used to be gay and now are not, maybe that really is their experience.  If someone reports that they used to be straight and now they are gay, maybe that's also true.  For people who start straight, then experience gay temptation, maybe it's "once you try gay, it never goes away".  That would give significant power to the people who say that gays "recruit" to increase their numbers.  Plus, it must mean that gay sex is really really really good, to be able to convert people - sort of like cocaine.  Personally, I think it's bullshit.


There have been a few people who changed their "race", or at least passed as a different race to the point where their communities and even their families didn't know they started out as one race, and wound up being another.  No one would have done that if not for oppression.


If someone starts out gay and learns to pass as straight or even become straight, that's because of opression too.   Who knows the inner mind, whether they were bi and never knew their "opposite sex" side, or "truly gay."  How to tell?  I have no idea.


I know for myself, there is no way in gods green earth I would want to be straight.  Being gay is the best thing I could imagine.  Being among gay people is the best thing I could imagine.  I'm a highly productive member of society, I contribute to the well being of many people, and to my community, and I love and am loved.  What the fuck is wrong with that?

Another well informed, thoughtful opinion on the subject.  not.



Here's what bothers me most about this video.  Even though I've always thought A.C. was a narcissistic, manipulative, bigoted asshole, I thought she was and intelligent narcissistic, manipulative, bigoted asshole.  But here she's really stupid.  What happened?




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