explainer

"Please, just heal me or kill me": A gay conversion therapy survivor shares his story.

Chris Csabs thought gay conversion therapy would be his saving grace. He’d realised he was same-sex attracted at the age of 13, but it was another three years before he opened up to his pastor. By then, the self-loathing was already deeply ingrained by virtue of his church, the desire to be ‘healed’ overpowering.

When he finished high school, he signed up to the now-defunct Living Waters program in Canberra, willingly, desperately.

“That’s one of the misconceptions people have about this, that it’s people being forced into these ‘pray the gay away’ camps,” he told Mamamia‘s daily podcast The Quicky. “But particularly in Australia, it’s generally not like that. It’s people who have basically been taught – well brainwashed – into thinking that they are broken and need healing or fixing somehow.”

To hear about Chris’ time inside the program, listen to The Quicky.

The awful irony of that ideology was painfully clear to Chris when he finished the course six months later. After working his way through the Living Waters manual, the sermons, the confessions, after having his feelings of being less-than consolidated, he emerged unchanged. And as a result, feeling even more broken than before.

He spent the next several years trying “anything and everything” to “fix” himself. Prayer. Exorcisms. Celibacy.

“I didn’t even look at guys. I would avoid men even when I was going to church. Guys would come up and say, ‘Hi. How’s it going?’ I would avoid them and I’d say, ‘Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to the toilet,’ or something. Just in case, by even talking to someone, it would awaken something in me that was not of God,” he said.

“I became unable to function properly in society because I was so frightened that anything could, kind of, feed this demon of homosexuality that was inside me, that I kind of shut myself off to a lot of people.”

Gay conversion therapy in Australia.

A 2018 report by the Human Rights Law Centre, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, and La Trobe University, found evidence that gay conversion therapy is being offered by religious groups in every state and territory, despite overwhelming academic consensus that it is not only ineffective, but damaging and unethical.

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Gay conversion therapy remains lawful in Australia, though the Victorian government earlier this month announced the intention to ban the practice, which Premier Daniel Andrews described as “bigoted quackery masquerading as healthcare”.

However, as Dr Tim Jones, one of the authors of the report, explained, it may not be as simple as making it against the law.

“We didn’t recommend that it become totally illegal, because most people are adults in cultures which do not accept sexual and gender diversity and inculturated into seeking out these practices. So the law is a pretty blunt instrument,” he said. “What is really needed is cultural change.”

“I prayed some terrible things.”

That cultural change happened within Chris’ own household. His parents watched on as their son became a tortured shell of his former self.

“By the time I was 24, I was actually broken and I was really, deeply depressed – just without hope,” he said. “It was just so impossible to keep that intensity of trying so hard to change something that seemed so innate.

“I prayed to God every day. ‘God, I cannot see a light at the end of this. I’ve asked you to heal me, I’ve done everything right. I’ve been so strict with myself, so please just heal me or kill me.’ I prayed to be in car accidents. I prayed some terrible things, you know, and I meant those prayers because living as a gay man was not an option for me.”

The turning point that set him on a long path to self-acceptance was a conversation with his mother, a woman of faith, who sat him down and said words that changed his life.

“Maybe the reason God hasn’t healed you,” she said, “is because you actually aren’t sick.”

To sign Chris’ petition to have gay conversion therapy outlawed in Australia, please visit his Change.org page.

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