by Lynn Kelling
One of the main themes of my new novel, bare, is conversion therapy and the effects it has on LGBTQ youth. Conversion therapy is a range of practices that claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. They can be psychological, spiritual, chemical, and/or use physical abuse as a way to “convert” people to a straight, heterosexual lifestyle. These practices have been rejected as dangerous and discredited by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but the Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, has supported conversion therapy, and has even supported the use of federal funding for those practices. A deeply ingrained societal bias against LGBTQ people, of the type that has come to the forefront during the recent election cycle, feeds these forms of “treatment” and keeps organizations which practice them around.
In the recent past, techniques in conversion therapy went so far as to include ice-pick lobotomies, chemical castration, and other aversive treatments. In my research to prepare for this book, I sought out the stories of survivors and reports on organizations that have practiced such “therapies”. Though it is believed the most monstrous of these treatments stopped with the end of the twentieth century, there is evidence that the organizations still practicing conversion therapy are not fully disclosing all of their various methods. The stories of survivors speak the loudest, and I used them to inform the experiences of my main character, Ev Myers.
Everything Ev hears rumor of and everything explained in the book was drawn directly from my research on actual experiences. There is no embellishment for dramatic effect.
In these situations, it is purely the fear and utter denial of homosexuality that creates these environments. In specific religious and cultural sects, particularly within the United States, there is an active rooting out of any sign of homosexual or otherwise “inappropriate behavior” in one’s children. Yes, it is most often the parents and guardians, under the influence of teachers, community, religious and political leaders, that force these practices upon someone underage in their care, or upon someone who is otherwise impressionable. Even as an adult, living within an environment where conversion therapy is standard practice and homosexuality is flatly unacceptable can greatly affect one’s ability to accept natural impulses that may point to being within the LGBTQ spectrum. Some are able to deny who they are so strongly within their own mind that not only do they fail to ever identify in any way as being LGBTQ, but even in the privacy of their own thoughts might not see any behavior—such as a man regularly having sex with other men—as identifying them as “gay.”
This warped way of living feeds into Ev’s background in the story. My goal in telling it is to try to expose the way so much fear, pain, and attempts at brainwashing can affect someone who is simply trying to do the right thing and live the best life they can. These are practices that go on every day, all around us, usually behind closed doors and in secret. A family’s “dirty secret” is dealt with by any means available, no matter the long-lasting harm inflicted upon a vulnerable, innocent, impressionable young person. The truth—if it comes out at all—may only do so many years later, usually through the victims. There is usually no way to prevent these incidents, because treatment is sought in private within families. The spread of information, the growth of tolerance and a greater understanding of what it means to suffer such brutal assaults on one’s self-image and trust in loved ones are really our only weapons to fight back.
It’s my hope that Ev’s story will enlighten or inspire others to look into the dangers of conversion therapy. Homosexuality is not a disease, but the continued closed-minded assault on LGBTQ people is a very real plague worth fighting against.