In the United States, there are currently only 13 states (plus D.C.) that ban gay conversion therapy for minors. Only 13.
And that’s why, unfortunately, the new film The Miseducation of Cameron Post staring Chloe Grace Moretz is so damn relevant. The film recently released its first trailer and for many the story of a young gay teen getting sent to conversion “therapy” is all too real.
Below are five accounts of what it’s truly like to experience what many describe as “living hell.”
They Told Me My ‘Gay Lifestyle’ Would Cause Disease
For a year, I attended weekly individual therapy sessions where I was encouraged to blame my distant relationship with my father and over-involved relationship with my mother for my same-sex desires. I was also guided to “remember” an original wounding—in particular, sexual or physical abuse—that I had not experienced. The main cures were to build “healthy same-sex non-sexual friendships,” become more “masculine” and date girls.
At 16, I was the youngest participant among 300 others struggling with their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In breakout groups, we learned about how to become more “manly.” We were told that if one walked, talked and sat different from others of our gender, this was evidence of dysfunction that could be altered to instill heterosexual desires.
And I read books and listened to audiotapes about how to have a “corrective and healing relationship with Jesus Christ.” These materials talked about how the “gay lifestyle” would create disease, depravity and misery. I was convinced that doing what I was told would change my attractions—and confused about why these methods supposedly worked for others but not for me.
I eventually realized that this “treatment” wasn’t working for me—or for others. It was a painful process, but I also experienced freedom in knowing I had done my best to change before recognizing that it wasn’t possible.
— James Guay, TIME.com
He Screamed in My Face for the Demons to Get Out
When we got there I was taken, alone, to a small white room with the pastor and two assistants. Imagine knowing you are about to head into a small room to get demons out … I mean where would they go? Would they be swirling around us? Would I see them? I thought I was going to encounter Satan right before my eyes.
He started saying he would exercise the demon of the occult. I had what I would consider a full-body spiritual experience. I was shaking in my seat. I have theories about that now: I think it was a trauma response — when I was a kid I’d have constant nightmares about demons so I always believed that there was spiritual warfare happening over me — but at the time the shaking made me think it was actually going to work. When we got to the demon of perversion the pastor was praying, but this time he was so much more aggressive. He grabbed my head and put his hand above my eyebrows, staring into my eyes. He was about two inches away from my face screaming for the demon to get out. This went on for hours but that demon wouldn’t budge. The pastor got even more forceful and at this point two assistants were trying to hold me down, yelling and praying in tongues. This went on for six long hours. My parents were waiting outside the whole time.
— Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, The Cut
They Told Me I Was the Only Gay Person in the World
For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions with a counselor. I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get H.I.V. and AIDS.
But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.
— Sam Brinton, NY Times
We Were No Longer People By The End
The first step ― which usually lasted six months ― [is] where they “deconstruct us as a person.” Their tactics still haunt me. Aversion therapy, shock therapy, harassment and occasional physical abuse. Their goal was to get us to hate ourselves for being LGBTQ (most of us were gay, but the entire spectrum was represented), and they knew what they were doing…. The second step of the program, they “rebuilt us in their image.” They removed us of everything that made us a unique person, and instead made us a walking, talking, robot for Jesus. They retaught us everything we knew. How to eat, talk, walk, dress, believe, even breathe. We were no longer people at the end of the program.
They were able to turn us against ourselves. This is what drew so many people to suicide. We all shared a sense of loathing towards who we were and who we loved. It wasn’t just your regular ‘I hate myself.’ It was a disgust with the person you were and you wanted to do anything you could to change… Watching people disappear just became a fact of life after a while. You got used to it.
— T.C., The Huffington Post
They Got Joy Out of Torturing Children
I came out to my parents when I was 15, a couple weeks later they kicked me out of the house and told me I was going to go stay with my grandparents for a few weeks. Instead, they dropped me off at a conversion therapy camp where they signed over their parental rights and guardianship to this family who promised to make me straight.
For me, a lot of the therapy was wearing a backpack full of rocks to face the physical burden of being gay. They made me face a wall for up to 18 hours. When I kept fighting they would add more and more rocks. It got up to be 40 pounds, and they didn’t stop taking rocks out until I decided to give up on fighting and start playing along.
There were two boys there when I first got there that both identified as gay. They had to fight each other to be more manly and if they weren’t hitting each other hard enough, then the man who helped run the camp would step in and do the punching for them. It was in their best interest to hit each other as hard as they could. I felt like they got some weird joy out of torturing children.
— Alex Cooper, Pink News
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, and Tiger Beat. Her favorite Housewife is Bethenny Frankel and when she’s not watching RHONY, you can probably find her obsessing over her tuxedo cat Tom or hoarding drugstore lipsticks.