We should call 'gay cure therapy' what is really is: an abusive and bigoted form of torture.
We should call 'gay cure therapy' what is really is: an abusive and bigoted form of torture, writes Michael Segalov.
It was in the early years of my secondary school education that I first became aware of my sexuality, when I realised that I was probably gay. I won’t go into details, I’ll spare everyone the blushes, but you know the cliché: I was lost, confused and had hormones all over the shop when I fell in love with a very close friend. A youthful love that was unspoken and unrequited.
I didn’t have the language to explain exactly what it was that I was feeling, but I knew deep down it was a facet of my personality that would never change. It didn’t stop me hiding it though, yearning every day that it could be another way. While my friends were experiencing young love and romances, exploring sex and lust and heartache – learning what it was to fall in and out of love – I suppressed each and every emotion. I convinced myself if I ignored who I was in time, just maybe, it would go away. I have no doubt that I’m still healing, still recovering from the damage this has done.
It was only in my first year of university that I was forced to confront my reality, that I wouldn’t be settling down as I’d always imagined in matrimonial harmony with a nice Jewish wife. Even writing that down now sounds so ridiculous, but I’d convinced myself throughout my most formative years that this would be the plan. The occasional romantic encounter through adolescence was written off in my young head as a blip, nothing important.
It was only when someone I found myself lying down in bed with another man at the age of 18, that I finally accepted that for me a life in the closet wouldn’t be worth living. That despite the hardship and heartache that would no doubt follow I’d have to reimagine what my future might be. Rather than spending the night with him though I ran back to my house, I sat alone, and I cried.
This process of acceptance is one that most LGBTQ+ people are forced to navigate before they’re able to embrace and celebrate their identity, and it’s a mindset that far too many are still never able to reach. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make that journey as easy and painless as possible: to be supportive, to be understanding, to not put our very right to a safe existence up for debate. And yet British broadcasters seem unwilling to take on this task, our safety and security being used for cheap material, with little consideration of the consequences.
It has been just a couple of months since Piers Morgan and ITV invited an advocate of bullshit ‘gay cure therapy’ onto national morning television, platforming a man who believes being gay is unnatural and needs to be fixed. Last week BBC Radio Kent Tweeted a poll asking whether gay cure therapy should be banned, you could answer yes, or “it’s an acceptable practice.” The BBC have since apologised and deleted their post. In practice ‘gay cure therapy‘ can be anything from counselling and psychoanalysis to “the application of electric shocks to the hands and/or genitals; “nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli”; and masturbatory reconditioning.”
As these calls for the banning of the despicable ‘gay cure’ practice in Britain once again return to the mainstream, no doubt there’ll be more incidents. As far as I’m concerned though, it’s a matter that shouldn’t even be up for debate. There’s certainly no reason for broadcasters to try and be ‘balanced’.
The reality is we wouldn’t let anti-Semites grace the sofas and airwaves preaching vile hatred that argues Jewish people like me need curing of their illness. There’d be no LOL twitter polls from the BBC asking if listeners thought we needed to be fixed. British law is lagging behind on the question of ‘gay cures’ being outlawed, but that’s no excuse to legitimise and give space for people to peddle their bigotry and their hate. It’s important that the law is updated to outlaw this harmful practice, but rather than creating an environment where our identities are dissected and debated the government should pass urgent legislation and get the deed done.
Even the language used to cover this topic creates an implication that homosexuality is a defect that – even if not ‘fixable’ – we’d rather live without. The narrative suggests that to be gay is less desirable than to be a heterosexual, that we’re somehow lesser or dealt a bad hand. I fail to see why we don’t just call ‘gay cure therapy’ abusive torture.
I think back a lot to my fragile headspace during my adolescence, how much I resented and struggled with a sexuality over which I had no control. It took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality, in fact, to be honest, I’m still coming to terms with it all today. There are some incredibly important people in my life with whom I’m still yet to have that conversation, there are situations still when I don’t correct the assumptions made about me. I hadn’t heard of ‘gay cure’ therapy as a teenager, but if I had done who knows what I might have done.
According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth, and they’re almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual counterparts. It’s irresponsible to separate these statistics from the latent homophobia that debates about ‘curing’ a sexuality – as if it’s a disease that needs treating – perpetuate.
The willingness of so many to see queer people’s right to exist debated in some form of sick game by our national broadcasters is a tragic reminder of the reality facing LGBT people, that we’re a long way before our right to live free from prejudice and hate. Young queer kids face enough of a struggle when navigating a world that isn’t accepting. No more debate, no radio phone ins or televised arguments. Let’s just ban this vile practice straight away.
Michael Segalov is News Editor at Huck. Follow him on Twitter.