Man Affirmed: a response to Boy Erased

legislation Nov 20, 2018

Instead of focusing on the end goal of therapy, we should focus on the methods used. "Conversion therapy" doesn't really exist - the term is a pejorative phrase used to describe any therapy that attempts to change sexual orientation. There are many different ways that people try to change sexual orientation - Boy Erased depicts a small fraction of these.

Boy Erased is a film about one young man's experience with therapy to change his sexual orientation. It's been advertized on various podcasts and on NPR, and is getting a lot of positive press. While I have not seen the film, nor do I plan to, I want to speak directly to the reason the film was made. Advertising surrounding it talks about "conversion therapy" in general being harmful. Some news outlets have headlines saying the film depicts the "horrific damage" of gay conversion therapy. I've seen the trailer and read some reviews, and I absolutely agree that the tactics depicted in the film are not OK and not helpful. But the therapy described in the film is not representative of all therapies that have change as their goal. Nor does "conversion therapy" per-se actually exist. Rather, there are therapies that work well with many other emotional issues that have been repurposed for use with same-sex attraction. There are also other methods people have used in the past, and perhaps still use, that are aversive and harmful. The problem is that all those types of therapies get lumped by LGBT activists under the umbrella of "conversion therapy", without regard to whether they are good or bad therapies and without any research to back up the claim that they are all harmful and unsuccessful.

Joe Dallas, an advocate of therapy to help people with same sex attraction, addresses these issues in an opinion piece on The Stream:

"... the average person doing ministry to same-sex attracted people has never even seen a counseling session in which people behaved the way they do in Boy Erased."

He continues:

"The fact that strange techniques are used to enforce a position is an indictment against the techniques, not the position. The belief that homosexuality falls short of God’s will is not an abusive belief to express, nor is it a self-hating belief to embrace. The fact that a belief has been practiced wrongly by some cannot be held against all who hold, and practice, that belief."

If you have time, read Joe's article - it's an excellent response to the content of the film. What follows is my own experience with therapies focused on change.

When I went into therapy, both at a weekend retreat and in working with a licensed counselor, I was in despair. I couldn't figure out how to reconcile the feelings I had been feeling with my faith. I wanted to keep a strong relationship with my wife, but could no longer continue simply repressing my feelings and cutting myself off from others. I wanted and needed real solutions.

The therapy I experienced did not guarantee change was possible, but did recognize that some people had found certain therapies to be helpful in both effecting change and in creating inner peace. There were a few points they made, and that my therapist continued to reinforce:

I am good and valuable just as I am
We cannot make progress until we love ourselves just as we are
Becoming whole and learning to listen to emotions rather than repress often results in resolution of same-sex attraction
Avioding other men contributes to the problem rather than fixing it

It is quite difficult to describe in one article all methods and positive outcomes of the therapies I've been through. Other articles on this blog attempt to address what I have done to get help. My point here is to affirm that there are helpful, good therapies that do not have gay lifestyle affirmation as their goal.

My experience with therapy has been overwhelmingly positive. I have never had anyone leading therapy tell me that I was worthless, that my feelings were hateful, or that it must be that I "hate my father" if I have these feelings (as the boy in the film is told). On the contrary, those participating in my therapy clearly loved me. They helped me see my self worth and helped me work through many difficult emotional issues.

One of the exercises I did helped me come up with a number of affirmations to help me rebuild my confidence. These came directly from my soul, and have been an incredible healing power in my life:

As a man among men, I am good, I am strong, and my opinions matter.
As a man among men, I defend the defenseless.
As a man among men, I feel.
As a man among men, I fill needs others can't.
As a man among men, I am true to my God.

Before therapy, even though I was 36 years old, I had never felt like an adult. I had always felt like a small child. This therapy, with change as its goal, instead of erasing the boy within, has affirmed the man I have become.

Don't focus on the goal of therapy in laws regulating it. Focus instead on whether the therapies used are inherently harmful in any setting.

(Photo removed due to concern's for my family's safety)