I occasionally have inquiries about my own experience with ex-gay / reparative therapy. I was a client of Joseph Nicolosi for about a year between 1999 and 2000. What I’m most frequently asked about is not why I entered therapy but why I stopped trying to become straight. My effort and desire to become straight continued after my last session with Nicolosi which is why I phrased the previous sentence “why I stopped trying to become straight” and not “why I left therapy.” Maybe someday I’ll sit down and write about things that happened before and during therapy but for now click below to read the extended interview.
I know this post is supposed to be about leaving therapy but can you quickly sum up how you got involved with Nicolosi?
Originally two things drew me into therapy with Nicolosi. 1) My religious faith at the time wasn’t compatible with my sexuality and 2) I viewed homosexuality as contrary to having a normal productive happy life. Had I simply had the religious problem I would have sought out some faith-based Exodus affiliate, which even at the time I had no interest in. When I was a freshman in college the year I started therapy I was realizing I was gay or as Nicolosi puts it, a non-gay-homosexual. Anyhoo, it just so happened my university library had a copy of his book (Repairative Therapy of Male Homosexuality) which I read pretty much straight through in one sitting and decided that’s what I wanted to do.
Do you feel like you gained anything positive from the experience?
Young guys who are realizing they’re gay often suffer from a long string of issues like depression, poor body image, self-esteem, fear of rejection. Nicolosi says these things are what causes one to crave men. Nicolosi doesn’t aim to directly treat the same-sex-attractions, he aims to treat what he believes causes them. Queer theorists tend to agree young gay men face these same issues because they have grown up in a culture of institutionalized discrimination where they don’t get to do all the normal things other kids do like take a date to the prom without worrying about it. Bem’s theory about Exotic Becomes Erotic is very much the same same chicken and the egg debate. Don’t get me wrong, talking to a psychologist about that string of issues was great. Maybe that’s why I’m not as “loud and out there” about my time with Nicolosi as some ex-ex-gays because he really did help me become the person I wanted to be, confidant, self assured and not to mention hotter since he encouraged me to start going to the gym. As that part of my life began to improve I found it easier and easier to ignore the same sex attractions.
About those attractions, did they change before, during or after therapy?
I’m probably a Kinsey 5. I was a 5 before therapy and I still am now. During therapy I saw the world through tinted-glasses. Every single thought of physical attraction or gender relations that went through my mind was analyzed for how it related to my efforts to change. Any sexual thought about a guy was immediately deconstructed and processed along the lines of “what is it about this guy that I’m drawn to?” or “what does my attraction to this guy represent about my own self image?” and so forth. It was an exhausting, unsustainable and dare I say unhealthy mindset. So while male-attractions were whisked off for endless processing before they could register as arousal, each occasional female attraction was exalted upon a pedestal. At the peak of that dichotomy of repression and exaltation virtually all my social time was spent with the sort of guys Nicolosi was having me demystify. Even under those circumstances my perceptions of how I related to the opposite sex never changed. I went on one straight date which is probably my second most awkward dating experience ever. (the first most awkward dating experience was a blind date the gay magazine Instinct did a photo essay on) I never had any qualms about masturbation but rather the qualms came from fantasizing about guys. There was a period of a couple months where a good portion of my fantasies were about girls. I remember telling myself at the time it was difficult (more likely distasteful) to think about guys. The fantasies about girls were never vivid or exciting and tended to be more focused on working to imagine a girl than imagining a specific activity with her as with guys. Forgive my vagueness on this matter of fantasy but it really came at the peak of my distortions. Memories of this experience having sat for years it’s hard to distinguish what’s reality and what lies I used to tell myself I have simply come to believe as a valid experience and memory. There are times in life we look back on and say “God, what was I thinking?” and cringe. No matter how hard we try to recall that mindset it simply can not be brought into view. This period of my life where I attempted to twist every thought that crossed my mind is one of those mindsets I can’t even begin to comprehend again.
So then what made you eventually decide to leave therapy?
By then l I was downright pro at ignoring my same sex attractions and after a year or so of weekly therapy I was feeling so much better about myself and basically Nicolosi and I ran out of things that needed to be talked about so we decided I’d stop making appointments and it was agreed that I would simply continue to live as my “genuine self” and provided I stuck to what he’d taught me I’d gradually become straight over time. The parting was definitely amiable.
Unlike Love In Action’s program which forbids participants from keeping a personal diary, central to therapy is being honest and introspective, examining your own emotions and learning from them. There’s really no point in paying to talk to a therapist is you’re not going to be honest with them and yourself. In the end being honest to myself about my own emotions is what got me out of being an ex-gay. Here I’ll get specific.
In retrospect yes Nicolosi had me work to “demystify” the alpha-type males I was attracted to by getting to know them. I don’t recall him ever explaining that part of the theory in much detail or giving the concept a name. I tried that for nearly two years and along the way I felt trying to connect with the sort of guy I was attracted to at the time was silly, unsatisfying, force and felt un-genuine. I agree, the mystery of the guys I was attracted to helped feed the attraction. However actually working to get to know these guys turned into a big hassle that never introduced me to new meaningful friends or people I had any continuing desire to spend time with. I felt as though I’d worked to demystify the type of guy I was physically attracted to, realized there was nothing special I was missing out on and moved on.
You’re saying it was straight boys that caused you to stop being an exgay?
No way! Also central to Nicolosi’s theories is the idea same-sex relationships were fundamentally broken and disingenuous. Before and during therapy I had never so much as kissed another boy and grown up in an American Baptist church so I was willing to believe this notion of gay relationships being broken. That notion that same-sex relationships are inherently flawed and thus not an acceptable life was one of the primary reasons I was interested in pursuing change. I never had any desire to live as a celibate homosexual. Whichever way I went in life, I ultimately wanted to end up in a life-long relationship. I believed being gay would not allow that and thus I had no choice but to change. In therapy Nicolosi set me up with a support pen-pal named Nic who was my same age and also in college and a client of Nicolosi’s. Nic and I both felt the same way about wanting to have life-long relationships and viewed homosexuality as an impediment to that. Throughout our daily email correspondence (which continued on well after we both ended therapy) we both came to the realization that if (and it was a big IF a the time) either of us somehow ended up in a genuine, non-disfunctional same-sex relationship, that would be morally acceptable and we would be happy and ultimately be more willing to accept our affliction. Don’t misread that last sentence and think I got involved with Nic, I meant each of us having our own individual relationships. The summer of 2001 I was at home at my parents place and was romantically involved with a local guy for the summer. Also contrary to the stereotypes my first relationship was not about being taken advantage of or shame-filled unprotected sex but rather he was one of the most caring and compassionate guys I’ve ever been involved with. I don’t know anyone, gay or straight, who has had a better first relationship. Needless to say this pretty much shattered everything Nicolosi had told me about how same-sex relationships are doomed and supposedly about disfunction, power and satisfaction of carnal desires. Before that relationship there had been doubt cracks in the wall but afterwards I was ready to accept I was gay and would have relationships with guys on MY own terms, not the flawed sort Nicolosi told me I was doomed to.