UPDATE: A quick search through Apple’s app store can no longer find the Exodus International ‘gay cure app’. No official word on whether it has been removed, but a petition asking for it’s removal based on the grounds that it offended a group of people did reach more than 100,000 signatures.
Some people think you can switch from liking boys to girls or vice versa at the flick of a switch. Some people think that they can ‘fix’ homosexuals and make them straight again. Not from any ‘bad’ intentions but because they genuinely believe they can.
And now a niche religious organisation has released an iPhone app that helps gay people become straight, so they can be at one with God again.
It’s conversion by repetition. Those who sign up, those who become involved must be willing to repeatedly deny who they think they are in order that they become the person they think they should be.
MM news editor Rick Morton shares his opinion on the latest in ‘conversion therapy’.
If you listen to a small minority, you can change your sexuality just like you change your distaste for asparagus or fear of heights. Just like that. It’s not just religious groups that think so, but they are included in the count of organisations that have tried.
The essence is that one must concentrate a lot, think a lot about being of an opposite ‘persuasion’ and then stop touching themselves inappropriately to images or thoughts of ‘homosexual practices’.
Easy as, right? Wrong. Not only is the idea of conversion therapy just a little off, it’s downright dangerous because it finds vulnerable people who already dislike themselves, tell them they’re broken and try and fix them. I don’t believe it could or would work.
One such organisation that practices this therapy is Exodus International. They’ve been running courses for years and a website as well. And now, thanks to the wonders of mobile computing, Exodus International are bringing their expertise to an iPhone app to make not being gay easier to do while on the move.
Mobility guilt, yours for free.
The app is mostly a direct port of information available on the website but, importantly, it’s available while you’re out and about in case you are overcome with sexual urges and need to keep your hands busy fiddling with an iPhone instead of, you know, the same sex.
It reminds you that being homosexual is a condition that can be changed with hard work and dedication; like a flat tyre on the gayest car on Earth. Heterosexuality is a destination for gay people. Heterosexuality is moderation, or even sobriety. Homosexuality is alcoholism. Hedonism. Importantly, with God’s love, it can be cured. So the app says.
“While many consider ‘success’ to be a total elimination of same-sex attraction, others would say that “success” is living in congruence with their beliefs. Exodus does not have a compiled body of data that notes a “success rate” over its thirty-year history, but anecdotal evidence is similar to what other groups dealing with life-dominating issues such as Alcoholics Anonymous seem to show. About one third of the individuals who come to an Exodus member ministry turn from homosexual behavior towards heterosexuality whether that includes marriage or celibacy in singleness. Another third of the individuals who contact us do return to homosexual behavior and still another third waffle between the two. Regardless of the life choices made after contact with an Exodus ministry, many say they are better off for having had contact with an Exodus ministry and have benefited from their interactions with Exodus staff.”
Though it isn’t exactly a science (we’ll get to the studies in a minute), this controversial pursuit of ‘normality’ has a name. Reorientation therapy. It’s also called conversion therapy, a play on the common misconception that gays can be ‘turned’. My first and essentially last girlfriend still laughs about the fact she ‘turned’ me. She didn’t.
It should be pointed out that the wish to be ‘normal’ is not a religious thing. And, because numerous ex-gay programs set out with good intentions, it’s generally not borne out of any sense that homosexuality is evil. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most people of a strong religious persuasion view it as a sin that can be corrected with love and guidance, though this rather misses the point made by gays throughout the ages that they are born that way. Bank robbery is a sin that can be corrected with love and guidance, more often than not, but not homosexuality. In the same way that love and guidance, while admirable, won’t get rid of any of your birthmarks.
I often have this conversation with friends of mine who believe my being gay is a result of environmental factors in my upbringing and that they can be reversed, like the polarity of a magnetic field. I’m gay in the same way that they are straight; vividly and uncontrollably. In the same way that a bus is a bus and a train is a train and that no amount of study or straining will make it any different. Unless you’re a really good welder.
Even if you wanted change to be the case, which I did, for a long time, change is never as easy as reupholstering your life.
Meet Benjamin Gresham, a Sydney lad who thought he had to – and could – choose between his strong faith and his
homosexuality. He voluntarily entered an ex-gay program to convert him to heterosexuality and nearly ended his life because of it. He wrote last year in SX News:
“Even though I grew up in a Christian home, it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I started going along to church, reading my Bible and taking my faith seriously,” he says.
“At 15, my faith became more to me than just stories or historic figures. God became a real part of my life and my church was like my home. It was everything to me!”
Conflicted by bullying at school – a Year 10 student told him he wasn’t going to heaven because ‘God doesn’t send faggots to heaven’ – Ben gathered the courage to tell his church leader he was gay. At the age of 16.
“I managed to get out the words ‘I am gay’. The look of disappointment on his face was too much for me to take and so I burst into tears, only to be interrupted by him saying ‘you can change, many others have become straight, you just have to believe’.”
And so Ben entered ex-gay programs for three years, an intensive cycle of 60 day prayer blocks, Bible study, church attendance and lessons on ‘why homosexuality is wrong’.
For three years Benny voluntarily completed a course that told him he was broken and, worse, that he could be fixed without any solid evidence that he could.
“As a gay man, I simply believed that God would not love me unless I was straight.”
The problem was, of course, that Benny couldn’t change and he eventually realised it himself.
“As I battled between my faith and sexuality, I started to hate myself and felt like I had failed God. It was at this time I was diagnosed with depression. My depression escalated and led to self-harm. I attempted to commit suicide twice.”
Ben is the human face that should throw caution on to research conducted into ‘conversion therapy’, notably a study conducted by Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse and released in 2007 which is considered groundbreaking and the most wide-reaching of such studies.
It studied 98 participants in Exodus’ ex-gay programs from around the world and found that a significant number were able to change their orientation from homosexual to heterosexual without any adverse effects. Which is all well and good except the authors confirmed there was no ‘one cause’ of homosexuality they could pinpoint. There is the added dubious principle that just because people say they have changed, that they actually have.
Science has yet to come up with a sure fire way of knowing if an individual is gay other than by asking them, which is notoriously unreliable, especially when that individual wants so desperately to be straight.
And we shouldn’t be relying on dubious science when there is so much at stake. When there are programs that rely on bad science to warp and change the very essence of people. To make them hate themselves or think that they need to change; especially when they’re doing nobody any harm. You know what they say about good intentions.
And that’s really a lesson beyond the gay community as well. Leopards don’t change their spots; and nor should we demand they become tigers. There is nothing to be gained from changing anybody who is a harmless person.
Indeed, you’d cause a lot of harm if you tried.
*Ben Gresham is now a youth co-ordinator for Freedom 2 b[e], a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from Christian backgrounds. He’s in a loving relationship with his boyfriend Sam and finishing a degree at university.
What do you think? Is providing this service helping or hindering gay people? Have you had any experience with programs like this?