10 things you’ve always wanted to ask a guy who’s been through gay conversion therapy
Bryan Christopher, a 47-year-old gay writer now living in California, spent decades with gay conversion therapists trying to ‘cure’ himself of homosexuality. He discusses his experience, and explains why he now wants the practice outlawed.
1. Did you want to be “fixed” of being gay from an early age?
Yes. I came of age in the 1980s, in Waco, Texas – right in the epicentre of Southern Baptism. I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay in high school, and it was difficult to come to terms with. I was convinced something was wrong with me, and I think a lot of that came from the church. I made it a mission at 13 to change.
So, I would go through a journey for two decades, with the sole purpose of fixing what I thought was broken. I continued forward, I dated girls, I went to college, I became a born-against Christian. That led me into the world of Evangelical fundamentalist, where I would spend the next 15 to 20 years. I was convinced that God would heal me, God would fix me, if I was obedient.
2. Did anybody sense what was going on?
No, people didn’t think I was gay. I do remember one experience in high school when I was working at Baskin Robbins – an ice crime parlour – and some kids arrived and started yelling ‘faggot’ at me. But everyone called everyone gay back in school – people didn’t know. I had a girlfriend as a teenager, I was playing it straight. If I flashforward to when I was 31 and I came out to my Mum, for example – they say mothers have intuition, but she never knew. Neither did my Dad.
Nobody in the world knew until my freshman year in college, when I became active in a group called Campus Crusaders for Christ. A friend in the group approached me and told me that he had same-sex attractions. I was still so repressed and so in-denial that I couldn’t even tell him back. I waited another year to tell him the truth – that I “struggled with same-sex attraction”. It was the first time I’d ever uttered it out loud.
3. What prompted you to seek “gay conversion” therapy?
During college I immersed myself in what I would now call ex-gay propaganda: leaflets and books written by people who have supposedly converted, many of whom are now married with children, living happy, heterosexual lives. In college I’d tried my best to be straight – I joined a fraternity in attempt to live a heterosexual lifestyle, and ended up falling in love with a frat brother.
But I didn’t go to see a proper conversion therapist until I was 24. I had moved to Los Angeles, pursuing a career in acting. One night I was running in the Hollywood Hills, and I remember that I just wanted to run off a cliff. That was when I checked myself in to a Christian refuge, and found Melvin, a Men’s Spiritual Mentor.
4. What did the “gay cure” therapy involve?
We would pray. Melvin’s approach was that he didn’t know how to ‘cure’ me exactly, but he knew God would come to help. He wasn’t even a licenced therapist, but he believed in the healing power of Jesus Christ – for $30 a session. We met weekly in a local pizza joint, and at the end of our talk we would pray in public together. Sometimes we met in his office, and Melvin would put his hand on my shoulder and speak to God.
He was very animated in his prayers, he’d ask God to “lead him to your truth”, “heal him of his wounds”, “heal his brokenness”. There was something therapeutic about being able to speak openly and share my struggles honestly. For another human being to affirm me like that. But within a year I became very frustrated because nothing was changing.
5. Why did you persist with gay conversion, even when it wasn’t working?
I stopped seeing Melvin when I was 27 – I concluded that after three years he did not have to the keys to heterosexuality, and I was disillusioned. I was still having feelings for so many guys, I hadn’t changed one iota.
I vowed that I needed to see a real ex-gay therapist. That’s when I sought out Joe Dallas, a former leader of Exodus (the ex-gay ministry group that disbanded in 2012). My Bible study leader had sent me his book – Desire from Conquer – in 1994. It became my Bible. He was once ‘active in the homosexual lifestyle’, as he put it, but then he was ‘cured’. He got married and had kids. I thought if this guy can change, I can too.
He had a ministry in Orange County, California, that sought to heal broken people of their affliction. I began to see him every week for the next year. At first, I just thought ‘Oh wow, there’s hope.’ I was so convinced that whatever was broken, he would be able to find it and fix it. I’d spent three-and-a-half years with Melvin, and three-and-a-half before that with a psychotherapist. They hadn’t found the heterosexual switch. Maybe Joe would. I went to Joe full of optimism and hope.
It was like a psychotherapy session, we would sit across his office from each other at the Christian ministry clinic. I paid him $35 for an hour-long session. We would delve into my history, childhood, everything. ‘This is who I am and this is what I’ve been.’ He treated it as a disease, like alcoholism, and he was my sponsor.
6. Do you think gay conversion therapy ever worked? Even a little bit?
No. I became very disillusioned. Seeing Joe was sort of like the Wizard of Oz. I had been following the Yellow Brick Road of ex-gay conversion. When I finally saw the Wizard behind it all, it wasn’t so magical.
Joe was just a human, and he was still struggling. He had this persona of being the leader of an Exodus. He’s still going strong today, though in California they recently outlawed conversion therapy for minors.
7. Did you continue hooking up with guys while undergoing “gay cure” therapy?
Most of the time, yes. In my 20s – around the time I was having therapy with Melvin – I was seeing a college basketball player called Doug. We struck up a friendship, and it became romantic. But it got to the point where I was too afflicted, and eventually, I broke it off. I was trying to heal myself.
And there was another guy I met while a member of the Evangelical Promise Keeper’s Men’s Movement. We were supposed to be keeping each other accountable for not masturbating, and I had gone through a miraculous eight months without it. But then, at the UCLA swimming pool showers – very cliched, I know – I met one guy, and I’d built up so much sexual energy … because I’d basically denied that I was a sexual being.
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8. How were your relationships with women after your “gay cure” therapy?
Shortly after giving up on my therapy with Joe, I met a woman called Ashley, and we hit it off right away. I felt like we were in tune to the same channel. I felt like God was pulling a rabbit out of the hat – ‘Wow, maybe she’s the one who’s coming to save me, maybe she’s the wife I’ve been praying for all these years.’
Even after I cheated on her one night in New York (with a male waiter), she stayed with me. The sex was difficult – I’d had sex with women before in college, but it was always as a fraternity boy when drunk. I ordered some guidance videotapes, which told you how to bring a woman to climax. Unbeknownst to her, I was always visualising the dudes in the video when we did it.
Me and Ashley finished when I found my boss, Charles. We got together after a work party, and we’ve been together ever since – that was around ten years ago. The plot thickened, of course, when Ashley herself came out as a lesbian. She’s now married with a child. I saw photos of her wedding day – they were both in beautiful wedding dresses.
9. Have you discussed your gay conversion therapy experience?
Yes. I started writing a book in my late 30s. I’m now 47, and it’s just been published. It was very hard to write, of course: I had to relive all the Evangelical voices of condemnation, all the shame. I wanted my family to know the whole story, from the beginning. I wanted them to understand more fully that I didn’t choose to be gay. The only choice I really had was to live openly and honestly, or continue to live in shame and secrecy. Ashley’s read my book too – she was very supportive.
10. Do you think gay conversion therapy should be outlawed?
Yes, my book has a political message. As I began to finish it, around 2012, we saw the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we saw marriage equality. I thought maybe my story could deter somebody from entering conversion, or sending their kid there. It scares me that our new Vice President, Mike Pence, has supported it in the past. I know that world, and I know he truly believes all that. I’ve already sent him a copy of my book, maybe he’ll have a compassionate approach. Conversion therapy is making too many kids kill themselves.