I am an openly and unashamedly gay man — and yet, when I hug a male friend, gay or straight, I don’t need an instructor in my ear reminding me it’s a non-sexual hug. It is, contrary to the mythology of the ex-gay movement, possible to be a healthy, gay-identified man without foisting your sexual attentions on every other man that comes along.
A BBC documentary broadcast earlier this week followed several ex-gay men, some of whom need coaching in how to desexualize an embrace. As 35-year-old Aaron received a group hug on an Adventure In Manhood camping weekend (similar to but not to be confused with Journey Into Manhood), his group leader, Arizona therapist Floyd Godfrey, provided a running commentary:
This is non-sexual. Nobody’s sexualizing this with you. This is just healthy buddies. You don’t have to have sex with a guy to feel loved or to get healthy touch.
Asked how he felt during the embrace, Aaron affirmed:
I’m a man, and I have emotional needs … and I’m not gay.
Watch the clip below:
Then there was TJ, 19. During a session with Floyd Godfrey, TJ reported a reduction in his “same-sex attractions”:
I’ve even noticed, I’ll experience a severe diminishing of the SSA feelings, but that’s not necessarily true of the addiction to [gay] pornography. … Where I’ll still be struggling with the pornography issue, but I’m not going through my day, I’m not being triggered by guys that I’m seeing, I’m not feeling the needs. But I’m still struggling with the pornography. So I’ve really seen that distinction grow over the last couple of months.
If the bizarreness of this confession were not already apparent, presenter Stacey Dooley explains:
It’s a really odd one, cos TJ will stand there and tell me that he absolutely doesn’t feel sexually attracted to men any more, when he sees a lad crossing the street that’s quite handsome, doesn’t do anything for him; the feelings have gone, they’ve diminished because of Floyd. Then in the same breath he’ll say, but I am still watching gay porn, and I’m masturbating to gay porn. I know I’m not a genius, by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but if you’re mad keen on gay porn and straight porn isn’t doing it for you, maybe there are still gay elements of you…?
TJ later explained his friendship with a fellow struggler, an older male, also same-sex attracted, who helped him remain accountable by offering him support when he was tempted to look at gay porn. Asked whether there was any sexual element to their relationship, TJ replied:
We’ve even gotten to the point where I spent the night over at his apartment the other night, and we were just, you know, wrestling around and just being boys, and there was no attraction.
The show was presented largely through the eyes of ex-gay clients themselves, leaving the producers open to the charge of having only shown one side of the story. But what a story — is much counter-argument needed when the ex-gay movement does such a fine job of making itself look ridiculous?
But as well as the absurd, there was also the tragic. In particular, the guilt reparative therapy places on parents, as well as the guilt some Christian parents put on their gay children, came across very strongly.
“Skylar’s dad has been told that his poor relationship with his son may have contributed to Skylar’s attraction to men,” said the presenter at one point, before we witnessed Skylar’s father tearfully confessing how his inadequacies as a parent made his son gay.
Elsewhere, a Mormon dad told cameras how difficult it was to take the news that his failings had turned his son homosexual. His son, now-married with two children, despite his same-sex attractions, told the presenter that he and his wife were doing everything they could to prevent his own child growing up gay:
I try to make sure that I’m conscious of them, their feelings. Jude was always more independent. … Desmond’s a bit quieter, and kinda reminds me of me a little bit, so with him, I may have to make more of a conscious effort.
If one of his sons came out gay, he said, ”I would have to take a good look at myself and see, what did I do, where did I mess up?”
The documentary ended with an interview with Dr Joseph Nicolosi, the pioneer of reparative therapy, who repeated his irresponsible and pseudoscientific mantra that poor dads are to blame for gay kids:
[What about gay people that will tell you, "I've got a perfect relationship with my parents. My dad was spot on. Mum was great. Everything ticked along nicely"?]
I will tell you very clearly. Over the many years of work that I have been doing – thousands of men – I have never met a homosexual who had a loving, respectful relationship with his father.[Really?]
Viewers in the UK have until Sunday November 11 to watch Stacey Dooley in the USA: Gay to Straight free online through BBC iPlayer.