Gay ‘conversion therapy’ is a controversial subject. The notion that people can change their sexual desires or orientations has been lambasted by LGBT organisations, and branded medieval and barbaric. Last month, Boris Johnson labelled the practice “absolutely abhorrent.”
The prime minister said he wanted to prohibit the practice – following a yet-to-be conducted review – during an interview he gave to BBC News in July. He said: “On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country. What we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.”
Earlier this month, the BBC conducted an interview with a man called Gareth, who underwent this therapy with a group called the Core Issues Trust. The trust is headed up by Mike Davidson, a therapist who claims to be able to help people rid themselves of unwanted sexual attraction. The techniques the Trust uses are a far cry from the appalling methods associated with conversion attempts in the past, such as electrocution. But nevertheless, in the BBC report, Gareth, a trained doctor, paints a painful picture of his experience with the therapy – something Mr Davidson contests.
To find out more about what exactly it is the Core Issues Trust offers and does, RT spoke with Mr Davidson, a South African psychotherapist who lives and works in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. He rejects the term ‘conversion therapy’ and claims that there is little difference between what he does and other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Davidson says that he explores people’s “sexual fluidity” and aims to help them align their behaviours with their values, rather than the other way around. It is a controversial position that is strongly resisted by LGBT organisations, and also rejected by all the UK therapy governing bodies.
Mr Davidson argues that it is a question of freedom of choice, and he stresses that he always strives to ensure a potential client has come to him of their own free will rather than through external pressure.
Describing the services he offers, he told RT: “It’s not some exotic, specially designed approach that we are using. We’re trying to say that we are exploring the phenomenon of sexual fluidity. Clients come to us and they are troubled by their behaviours or fantasies, and these don’t align or accord with their primary values. Many of them may be Christian, but some are from no faith and some are from other faith backgrounds, but all of them are just unhappy with these feelings or the things that they’ve been involved in.”
Davidson says many of the people who come to him are suffering from low self-esteem, which he believes often stems from an experience in childhood. To combat this, part of his work – he doesn’t use the term ‘therapy’ – involves assertiveness training to instil more confidence in the client. He says that men in this position often find it very easy to be friends with women rather than men, which then gives masculinity a mystique they find attractive. He adds that this can be reinforced by bullying experiences in childhood, both at school and at home.
Unsurprisingly, he says that in the course of his work he meets people who are dealing with a huge amount of shame. Shame is a powerful motivator, and opponents of “conversion therapy” say that the CIT is reinforcing the shame gay people feel over their attraction. But Davidson sees it another way. He said, “They [clients] should not leave us feeling shamed or embarrassed or anything like that. In our work, we find a very high level of shame, and what we say is where there is shame, that’s a very fertile ground for homosexual feelings. So, we need to work on those feelings of shame.”
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly to some, Davidson is entirely open to the concept of bisexuality. In fact, contrary to what many people who identify as gay or straight believe, he thinks that most people are actually bisexual to some extent.
“I think that the human race is on a spectrum between absolutely gay and absolutely straight, if we want to use those terms,” Davidson said. “My view is that probably there are actually more bisexuals than absolute gays or absolute straights, we’re all somewhere on the continuum.
“That’s why you can have a 50-year-old man who suddenly takes up with another man, but it’s not that he’s been repressing this. If you believe that gay is innate and you’re born gay, then you have to believe that the 50-year-old has been repressing it his whole life.
“But I think it can just be that people have experiences, and experiences can become attractive and they become habitual, and then they become addictive, and then they become completely normalized in a person’s life.”
He added: “My position would be that most of us are actually bisexual, but this labelling gay, straight and bi in between, I think, is faulty. And it’s part of the political language of the socio-political initiative of the LGBT movement, which tried to achieve something politically and in society. But actual human experience is much more fluid and muddied.”
When it comes to the government’s proposed plan to ban the services he offers, Davidson thinks that Boris Johnson, and Theresa May before him, have both been “mis-advised” about what it is he actually does. He also says that LGBT charity Stonewall has become so enmeshed with the government on issues relating to this subject that they are “indistinguishable,” and that the charity feels like “another government department.”
Discussing the PM’s desire to ban his work, he said: “I think Boris has been misinformed about this, and here are my questions: A young man who finds that he’s been abused, and before that abuse, as far as he can tell, things were going normally, but after that abuse, he was confused and then he entered into a gay relationship.
“So now he wants to go back to what he wanted before that experience. Are we saying that he may not have therapeutic access to undo the trauma that he experienced?
“Question number two: a man who is married, who is struggling with same sex attraction, but who with his partner decides he wants to get professional help to deal with this issue, because he wants to stay in the marriage and stay in his family. Are we saying that he cannot access this? Because in both of those cases, if we say they cannot access this help, then we are forcing them to be gay. This is the ‘must stay gay’ culture.”
All major UK therapy professional bodies and the NHS are opposed to so-called ‘conversion therapy’ on logical, ethical and moral grounds. The British Psychological Society states that “sexual orientations and gender identities are not mental health disorders, although exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to [these] abuses. Anyone accessing therapeutic help should be able to do so without fear of judgement or the threat of being pressured to change a fundamental aspect of who they are.”
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