by Peter (a pseudonym), a survivor of conversion therapy
Why do people seek out Conversion Therapy and prayer/deliverance ministries?
For me, I did because I thought it could ‘correct’ my sexuality. It is only with hindsight that I now know it was the most destructive thing I could have done to myself.
I was brought up within an evangelical church in South London. My entire childhood was all about going to church on Sundays and learning all about the Bible and its stories. I realised that I was different from other boys at the age of five. I had no word for it but I knew that something was not the same. No one ever mentioned homosexuality to me, but they did promote chastity until marriage and the importance of the ‘nuclear family’ – husband as the head of the house, the wife as the submissive helper and nurturer and then the children. I was conditioned to believe that this was entirely normal. And that is what the church was very good at, conditioning. It was all in the subliminal messaging that all of us Sunday school children received and then watching our parents and other adults in the church trying to live this out. I had nothing to measure it all against.
We were always told that we were to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. I took this to mean that the world was an evil place but all church people were’ intrinsically good’. I guess I took this to an extreme as I was growing up especially when I started to realise that I was gay.
When HIV and AIDS was first spoken about in the early 1980’s I was 12 and knew I was gay. The churches response was that ‘these people’ were pure evil and they deserved what was coming to them. It was also obvious that this was the attitude presented by the media and by society as a whole. For me it was a perfect storm. My awakening sexuality became completely tarnished by attitudes of the church, the place where I felt safe and where I got my spiritual identity from.
For instance, I can remember being told that gay men were no better than paedophiles and people who practiced bestiality and necrophilia. I couldn’t be gay, I simply couldn’t.
Shame crept in and stayed there for a very long time.
The outworking of all this is that I became a classic people pleaser. I had to lead prayer meetings and get as involved as much as I could in the church. I needed people, and God, to like me. I took it too far. I utterly hated myself. I was always on high alert meaning that I over compensated all the time. I was always paranoid thinking that I couldn’t ever present a ‘gay persona’ to people. I was constantly checking my mannerisms and always filtering. The result being that I was always exhausted, even when I wasn’t doing anything. I no longer do any of these things since coming out but the fatigue still remains.
I originally came out in 2004 at the age of 32. In one sense it was a relief to finally be authentic but in another sense it was the foreboding start of a dark journey to try and correct my sexuality. It was suggested that I go and seek conversion therapy which I did. I felt very uncomfortable with going to the sessions and quickly made up my mind that this wasn’t for me. Thank God I did because I don’t know what the outcome would have been and how it would have impacted on my already delicate mental health. Years later after becoming an atheist and coming back to Christ in my early 40’s I had some deliverance and prayer ministry. I saw this as a last resort to finally correct something that had bugged me for my entire life. Of course, I had been conditioned into believing that my sexuality was broken from a very early age so I had no hesitation into thinking and believing that prayer ministry was right for me.
The funny thing about all of this is that I never told the prayer ministers that I was gay. I told them that I had had gay experiences in the past and that I regretted my past sexual behaviour with men. In reality I didn’t regret it at all but the need to be liked and accepted was paramount. I was so full of shame, guilt and fear that I thought they would judge me for being gay if I had told them and that I would be thrown out of the ministry centre. I only felt validated when people liked me and admitting that I was gay to the prayer ministers filled me with utter dread so I told them that it was all in the past even though in reality it wasn’t.
In my head I had separated my orientation from my sexual behaviour. I simply could not be honest with myself, however hard I tried. I received prayer ministry and deliverance for having had gay sex in the past and still had various ‘sexual demons’ prayed out of me even though they never prayed directly for my homosexuality in that current moment.
All the shame and self-hatred got much worse when I was going through this.
I can safely say that it didn’t work. Having conversion therapy and prayer ministry made all my problems much worse. My mental health was shot to pieces. Years of lying to myself and other people had tipped me over the edge. It has caused deep depression, PTSD, an anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation and panic attacks. I am currently seeing an excellent therapist and I’m glad I sought help for this. I am working through my issues and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Even thinking or writing about this time is still exceedingly painful. I feel deeply ashamed that I went through with it and bringing it up again has been very difficult for me. My primary hope for writing this is for people to understand some of the short and long term effects. It was all so coercive and I still feel ashamed that I agreed for it to happen to me. Of course, at the time I was in agreement because all I wanted was to be accepted by the wider church community. It was so important for me to be liked by people in the church and very difficult to know when things were going too far.
I guess what I’d like people to realise is that the shame runs very deep and it takes time to heal. It is only now that I’ve begun this healing process that I’ve been able to forgive everyone involved, and define myself in others way than as a ‘victim’.
In short, good mental health and safeguarding policies within church settings are of paramount importance. This is why a complete ban on conversion therapy with no exemptions is needed. All LGBTQ+ people’s lives are way too precious to be messed around with.