To the Virginia Board of Counseling,
I support this guidance document as both an individual and as part of an organization.
As an individual, I have some really painful memories from my time as an ex-gay. An ex-gay is an individual who, instead of identifying as gay, identifies as struggling with same-sex attraction, believing that one can heal from homosexuality. These attractions did not go away, but my enjoyment of life and self-confidence did. Instead of learning to love myself, I only learned to resent my parents as I was taught that my mother was overbearing and that my father was emotionally absent. This was taught to me as a “root cause” of me “developing unwanted same-sex attractions." As someone who was personally impacted by efforts to "heal from homosexuality," also known as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), or conversion therapy, I express a heartfelt thank you for defining it for what it is.
I make this comment as a survivor, but not without scars. There is still, and potentially always will be, lasting effects from this type of therapy. Relationship building is difficult and emotionally exhausting, as I was taught that because I struggled with same-sex attraction, that I was by default emotionally dependent. I was taught to micromanage and "be careful" about my male interactions. The relationships that I have now are extremely valuable, but I have had to work so hard with each and every one of them, overcoming the voice that says "back up." Finding self-confidence was a very difficult road, especially when that voice of shame and self-doubt never really goes away. I've just learned how to cope with it, understanding that these principles and "best practices" that I was taught are not helpful in any way. What has made the adjustment process so difficult for me is that I believed in this wholeheartedly at the time. For about a year, I thought that if I prayed hard enough, stripped away my identity, payed close enough attention, changed my vocabulary, and micro-managed my relationships in the way that I was taught, that I would be the model ex-gay. I was ashamed of myself for who I was, believing that I was an abomination, but I was encouraged to continue "fighting" to be in the acceptable image of God. The only thing that was affirmed in my ex-gay experiences was the shame, which is absolutely unacceptable. I was also falsely lured into this therapy, being told that it would be my method of healing from a suicide attempt. I did not find healing, nor did I find affirmation of my own identity. Thankfully, I got out, but what followed was a time of traumatized silence, moments where I was averted to another man's touch, I couldn't bring myself to fall in love with another man, and I felt emotionally numb.
I am, however, thankful for real, affirmative counseling, which helped me find strength and healing over a very long 2-year period. Nobody should ever have to go through therapy because of therapy, but for those of us who were scarred, we have to do something to find healing. It's difficult for a lot of us, because we don't trust the mental health community after a therapist or counselor is what brought us to need help. That's why I stayed in a traumatized, frozen state of silence for eight years. But, with therapy (not conversion therapy), I have finally found what the ex-gay lifestyle falsely promised me: freedom.
I also support this document on behalf of Born Perfect as Virginia's Born Perfect Ambassador. Born Perfect was created in 2014 by the National Center for Lesbian Rights to end conversion therapy. Few practices hurt LGBT youth more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through conversion therapy, which can cause depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. But some mental health providers continue to subject young LGBT people to these practices—also known as “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts”—even though they have been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the country. This guidance document is a fantastic step in the right direction.