In his Daily Show, political satirist Jon Stewart spoke recently about various LGBT issues, including current efforts of Texas Republicans to endorse the practice of reparative therapy − or, as it’s also sometimes called, “pray away the gay” therapy. In an effort to qualify some of the techniques used by reparative therapists, Stewart quoted an Op-Ed that I wrote in 2012 for the magazine The Advocate about my own experiences undergoing a form of reparative therapy with a psychiatrist in Canada. As read by Stewart, my former psychiatrist “threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes,” and he “ordered me to bottle my feces and to sniff it whenever I was attracted to men.”
Along with Bill Maher, Jon Stewart has long been an advocate for LGBT issues, using political satire to poke fun at serious issues by highlighting the insane–or maybe just the inane. While Stewart correctly states that every leading national psychological and psychiatric organization has denounced reparative therapy, I can add that in their May 2012 Position Statement, the World Health Organization stated that reparative therapies “lack medical justification and threaten health,” that they cause “long-term effects such as . . . feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.” Stewart went so far as to compare reparative therapist efforts to “bring out the heterosexuality” in a gay person to “giving a woman a C-Section who’s not pregnant. You won’t find what you’re looking for, but you will leave a scar.” As a survivor of reparative therapy I can vouch for the scar. In fact, I have long believed that reparative therapy is akin to a psychic lobotomy, where the “surgeon” probes into the psychosexuality of the individual, cutting and scarring their way toward the establishment of a “different” sexuality, while the “patient,” severely undermined by lifelong messages of heteronormativity, becomes co-conspirator in their own loss of agency.
Less than 50 years ago Mike Wallace enthusiastically anchored one of the first primetime TV documentaries about homosexuals, the disparaging “CBS Reports: The Homosexual,” in which it was stated, among other things, that
“the average homosexual . . . is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one-chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city–the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristic of the homosexual relationship.”
This was not presented as satire, but fact. While it’s always tempting to dismiss Wallace’s documentary as “dated,” even “ridiculous,” it is important to remember that people like Jon Stewart would not even be finding the satire in issues like reparative therapy had it not been for generations reared on the misinformation of documentaries like Wallace’s. The fact that Stewart, as an Emmy Award winning political commentator with significant clout and a national podium to boot, is even speaking out against the methods and madness of reparative therapy speaks to our culture’s increased understanding about what at one time not so long ago was (insanely and inanely) defined as criminal and psychologically disordered: loving a person of the same gender.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.