Gay conversion therapy: one woman’s experience

Genevieve Jacobs 21 August 2020 10
Young woman

Gay conversion therapy has been defended by some despite widespread support for the ban. Photo: Creative Commons.

Next week, it’s likely that the ACT’s gay conversion ban will pass the Legislative Assembly.

For legislation with bipartisan support, there’s been a lot of noise about this bill: robocalls, and reports that Trinity Christian School’s leaders claimed the bill could result in criminal charges and that it poses a threat to teaching Christian values in schools.

The ACT government says that is a willful misunderstanding of legislation designed to protect people from damaging practices that are not backed by clinical evidence.


READ ALSO: Robocalls spark outrage over conversion therapy laws


But who would undergo gay conversion therapy in the first place? And why would someone defend the process?

Michelle (not her real name) sought Christian counselling about her same-sex attraction and contacted Region Media to tell her story.

Michelle says her issues began in adolescence – “a confusing time for everyone” – when she started experiencing strong attractions to other girls. Michelle (now in her mid-twenties) says she was “overcome with shame and disgust” and was deeply troubled by her feelings.

She wasn’t raised in a religious faith and never discussed sexuality with her parents although she heard homophobic jokes occasionally during her childhood. But as puberty bubbled up, Michelle began to feel intensely different from everyone around her and feared being found out at school.

“One big way I tried to work through it was to deny my feelings and pretend they didn’t exist. That was a coping mechanism,” she says. “But that only goes so far, and I didn’t know what else I could do.”

Unsure where to turn, she told nobody about her fears. The closest thing to help or context for her feelings came from reading young adult fiction.

In her final years at school she became a Christian and says that the world suddenly started to make sense. It was “a completely transformative experience on the inside” to read The Bible, and feel “totally gripped” by the historical and religious persona of Jesus.

“I was coming to learn about a God who loves me to bits, to know I am precious in his eyes and full of worth as a person regardless of whatever desires I experienced. He could see all my brokenness and love me, regardless,” she says.

But if God loved all of her, why not her sexual orientation too?

Michelle says reading The Bible convinced her that “homosexuality and living out those desires are not part of God’s good purposes for humanity”. She believes that God created marriage between a man and woman as the only place where human sexuality can be expressed.

Deciding to finally disclose her same-sex attraction to her Christian friends was frightening.

“I was fearful of being rejected, of people being scared to touch me,” she says.

“But it was nothing like that at all. I had great shame but it was met with acceptance and love. I came to see that these desires were not going away. My friends shared the same belief as me – that same-sex attractions are not good to pursue.”

Michelle spoke only to other Christians, while the help she sought also came only from within her church.

(It is important to note that many Christian denominations do not share the approach or beliefs that Michelle experienced.)

“I asked for help finding a counsellor to stop having these feelings. It was not about getting rid of them but thriving and having a flourishing life and not having intrusive thoughts. I did not want to have these desires,” she says.

The counselling didn’t focus on forcing her to be heterosexual. There were other life issues she also needed to address, but she says the therapy was mostly about finding a way through feelings she didn’t want.

“Lots of people believe sexuality is core to our identity. I don’t believe that. I have found deep, deep joy in my life without sexuality being fundamental to who I am as a person,” Michelle says.

“The point is I’m not enslaved to my sexual desires whatever they are. I felt like I could live a deeply joyful flourishing life without being consumed by these attractions. I am secure in who I am now.”


READ ALSO: Laws to ban gay conversion therapy introduced in Assembly


Michelle is clear that nobody should be coerced into conversion therapy. She acknowledges that she made her own choices of her own volition as an adult, while the bill is directed towards protecting minors and people whose decision making is impaired, although she’s worried about who that includes.

Michelle is “sad and fearful” about the bill and concerned that people like her might somehow be prevented from access to the same support that she chose.

“The bill is written as though they have never heard of people like me experiencing what I have,” she says.

“The bill functions in a different world view that’s not compatible with what I believe.”

If this article has raised concerns for you, support is available through QLife between 3:00 pm and midnight on 1800 184 527, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.


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10 Responses to Gay conversion therapy: one woman’s experience
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mddawson mddawson 7:30 pm 23 Aug 20

From some of the comments here it seems clear that some have not bothered to read the legislation. You will find it here: https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/View/b/db_62955/current/PDF/db_62955.PDF

yikes yikes 2:47 pm 21 Aug 20

What bothers me about this bill is its circular logic: This bill only applies to you if you are a protected person. If you experience unwanted same-sex attraction then you are, by definition, a protected person – and thus it would be illegal for anyone to offer you the counsel or help you’re after.

If we take Michelle at her word, that she doesn’t believe her sexuality is core to her identity, and wants the tools to live life like that – shouldn’t we let her? Would we really want to say hers can’t be a good life?

    mddawson mddawson 7:23 pm 23 Aug 20

    The legislation clearly states: protected person means – (a) a child; or (b)a person who has impaired decision-making ability in relation to a matter relating to the person’s health or welfare.

sv sv 2:10 pm 21 Aug 20

That is just a ordinary story of client directed outcome informed counselling best practice, nothing at all related to “Conversion Therapy”. Referring to her experience as Fay Conversion therapy is a complete misrepresentation! Of course young people and adults can seek help for whatever they want to seek help for, including deeply personal feelings, emotions and thoughts related to their sexuality. This can be for all manner of issues related to sexuality, such as seeking help to come out as gay, to talk about attractions, sexual identity at al. What kind of town are we living in that wants to legislate and control what gets talked about in the counselling room!! Where does this end? In the meantime our hospital system isn’t working and my kids no longer have a bus they can catch to school. Crazy stuff!

Deref Deref 1:26 pm 21 Aug 20

The perpetrators of this horrendous act should be put behind bars for a very, very long time.

ticktock2 ticktock2 12:42 pm 21 Aug 20

I find the notion of conversion therapy deeply concerning. Worse still is the perverted obsession that most of the world’s 4000 religions have with human sexuality – both in concept and expression – that lends itself to this practice.

To condemn someone for same sex attraction does a lot of damage to young people trying to get a grip on life and how they express themselves as loving, caring beings.

Conversion therapy is, by its very nature, an act of cruelty and condemnation in the worst possible form.

Claiming divine authority to justify such cruelty is criminal.

Lerenor Lerenor 11:49 am 21 Aug 20

Michelle says reading the nail gun shooters guide convinced her that “not shooting herself in the hands with a nail gun was not part of God’s good purposes for humanity”. She believes that God created nailguns as the only place where human sexuality can be expressed. Deciding to finally disclose her desire not to shoot herself with a nail gun to her nailgun club friends was frightening. “I was fearful of being rejected, of people being scared to touch me,” she says. “But it was nothing like that at all. I had great shame but it was met with acceptance and love. I came to see that these desires to not shoot myself with nails were not going away. My friends shared the same belief as me – that not being shot with nails should not be pursued”. Michelle spoke only to other nail gun club members, while the help she sought also came only from within her nail gun club

Shameful and unbalanced reporting from you ms. Jacobs, that makes this genuinely dangerous religious ideology (responsible both indirectly and directly for the serious harm and even death of numerous lgbt+ people) seem like just a matter of ‘personal preference’ and not (as it is) a serious public health issue. If I went around saying I was a doctor and advising people to drink bleach (or to nail gun themselves in the hands), I would be rightly locked up. same too for these so-called ‘therapists’. One anecdote from a true believer does not change that

    Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 3:15 pm 21 Aug 20

    I’m not sure what your reference to a nail gun infers, but I suspect that it has something to do with the gospels that narrate the crucifixion of Jesus (no nail guns were involved by the way). To then infer that being a Christian requires you to believe that it’s great to have nails shot into your hands is not only a stretch but also highly bizarre. I’d suggest you re-think your analogies if you think that this is any sort of useful contribution to the topic of gay conversion therapy.

Patrick McIvor Patrick McIvor 8:39 am 21 Aug 20

Hi Genevieve. I’m a survivor of LGBT conversion practices, and Michelle’s story was once mine too. The doublespeak in her statements are quite sad. “I asked for help finding a counsellor to stop having these feelings. It was not about getting rid of them… I did not want to have these desires.” But Michelle still does have these desires, and the therapeutic claims made by those who “helped” her were false. And that’s where the bulk of the harm comes from – the false and misleading claims about what ’caused’ my homosexuality and what can ‘cure’ it. I found that during my conversion therapy I was hopeful, and excited about a future where I could live up to heteronormative ideals help up by mainstream society and by the church. And this was doable for long enough to get married and have two children. I hope in publishing *obviously* problematic stories like this Genevieve, you can reflect on the pain that conversion therapy has caused my wife, and the future fallout for my children. I was once saying the same statements as Michelle. But human sexuality can only be coiled up for so long before someone breaks.

    Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 3:32 pm 21 Aug 20

    Hi Patrick. While I sympathise with what has obviously been a very sad and unnecessary experience for you and your wife, I would say that I’ve not perceived this sort of narrow-mindedness with the Catholic Church in recent times. To me, while the Church was once very much in the “fire and brimstone” game when it came to a range of sexual “transgressions”, both straight and gay, in the last few decades, I would have said its approach has been significantly more compassionate and, possibly, tolerant. While I don’t see the Church sanctioning same sex marriage any time soon (not for reasons related to a perceived wrongdoing on the part of gays by the way), I also find it hard to envisage them sitting in judgment on any individual, whatever their offence (remember the Church follows the teachings of Jesus, who tended to frown on one person sitting in judgment on another). As I say, I don’t know your circumstances but my own experiences suggest this would be far less likely to happen today, at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.

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