Turning Off Gays

| Mon Jul. 18, 2005 5:09 PM EDT

Salon's feature on Christian groups peddling "reparative" therapy for gay men and women—to cure them, you see, and help them live a normal and happy and healthy lifestyle—is truly horrifying. See, for instance:

Reparative, or "conversion," therapy, as described by its practitioners, resembles something like Freudian psychoanalysis mixed with a dose of Christian theology. The basic theory is that a young boy's futile search for love and affection from an emotionally unavailable father gets contorted into sexual desire for men. "What we are seeing, almost without exception, is the classic triadic family pattern," says Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality). "That is, a distant, detached, critical father, an overinvolved, intrusive, domineering mother, and a temperamentally sensitive, introverted artistic son." As for women, "We see an early breach between the mother and the daughter at an early age."

Very interesting. So if I were to point out that I know gay men who don't have emotionally unavailable fathers, would— Ah, ah, right. It's just being repressed. Okay. And if I know gay women who don't "see an early breach between…" oh, right. Again, repressed. How clever. Luckily, though, the correctional camps are here to help:

This summer, the ministries' controversial methods flared up in public. Gay rights protesters hounded Love in Action after the parents of a 16-year-old boy, "Zach," sent their son to Refuge, an intensive Love in Action therapy program -- apparently against his will -- after he told them he was gay. Just before going into the eight-week program, Zach wrote in his blog, "I can't help it, no, I'm not going to commit suicide, all I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible," he wrote.

According to Love in Action's rules, posted on Zach's blog, clients must report sexual fantasies to the staff. The program specifies the exact length of haircuts and how many times men must shave each week (seven). Love in Action bars jewelry and clothing by Abercrombie and Fitch. The rules prohibit "campy gay/lesbian behavior and talk." New clients are not allowed to talk to or make eye contact with anyone for the first three days. Clients have to wear pajamas to bed and if they get too cozy they "must always have exactly one person between them." Clients cannot keep a diary, and all their belongings are searched every morning by the "Chain of Command." All secular media, including music and movies, are forbidden. Also, during counseling -- no "disgusting" faces.

Naïve as I am, I had no clue that Abercrombie and Fitch—what with all those stores plastered with posters of near-naked women—was actually making men gay. More seriously, though, this is all extremely disturbing stuff. One of the more interesting poll findings that has emerged of late is that the "Christian Right" is really quite popular in America. I have two theories about this. One, that the prominence of a few token wackos on the radio and TV—like Jerry Falwell, who claimed that 9/11 was caused by gay people—makes the James Dobson crowd, the folks running the "correctional" camps and whatnot seem moderate by comparison. Second, for the most part the far Christian Right has been able to couch its attack on gay people in terms that others can, to some extent, sympathize with—like the long decline of marriage as an institution or the corrupting influence of popular culture. But read the Salon story: there's no way to hide what's really going on here. I do wonder how popular Dobson and his ilk would be if this sort of thing was publicized more widely.