Truth Wins Out thanked Board member Gene Stone today for writing a riveting story in New York magazine, “The Tiger Cure,” that highlights the danger of therapy that attempts to turn LGBT people from gay to straight. Stone’s journey includes a parade of anti-gay psychiatrists who gave him damaging advice – including one who had him hire a female sex surrogate named Tiger. Ironically, it is through his encounters with Tiger, that Stone came to finally accept himself and realized that one’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.
“Ex-gay therapy doesn’t work and consists of crackpot ideas that cause grave psychological harm,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “The only ‘cure’ is self-acceptance, which allows LGBT people to lead rich and fulfilling lives.”
In great detail, Stone explained that in the 1970’s and 1980’s he realized that he was gay, and went through incredible lengths to convert to heterosexuality. Much of this was at the urging of anti-gay doctors who held strong biases against LGBT people. Stone writes:
“Homosexuality is a crippling mental disorder,” Dr. T. told me. “But it’s more than that. It destroys a person’s life. Imagine going through life knowing that the most basic act of a human being, sexual intercourse, is something you can never do right.” The narrow features on his face contorted as he talked.
This is a paraphrase of his comments, because at this point it became almost impossible for me to pay attention as my level of fear skyrocketed. I had two choices in life: become straight or become a pervert.
Stone goes on to detail the horrible history of the failed movement to cure LGBT people.
Given psychiatry’s brutal view of homosexuality, various forms of conversion therapies were widely practiced to “cure” homosexuals. In what I think is the best book on the subject, Gay American History, author Jonathan Ned Katz outlines many of the reparative therapies used—including hypnosis, sex hormones, therapeutic castration, aversion therapies, and even lobotomies. The surgeon best known for the last was Walter Freeman, whose modus operandi was to enter the brain through the patient’s eye socket, using an instrument resembling an ice pick. A recent article in The Advocate noted that up to 40 percent of the 3,400 lobotomies that Freeman performed were on gays. (Freeman later became notorious for botching his work on John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary, leaving her with permanent mental and physical disabilities.)
Between the thirties and the sixties, many thousands of men (and a lesser number of women) were treated for homosexuality, sometimes with devastating techniques that ruined patients’ lives. Luckily for my generation, ice picks were discarded and conversion therapy centered on methods ranging from behavioral modification and sex therapy to prayer and even exorcism and other ineffectual and sometimes downright frightening techniques.
Unluckily for everyone, conversion therapy hasn’t been eradicated. According to Wayne Besen, founder and executive director of Truth Wins Out, the organization that battles anti-gay extremism, there are no exact numbers on how many conversion therapists are practicing. They don’t advertise. But to prove many clinics exist, and that influential people are running them, Truth Wins Out led a 2011 undercover sting operation at the one headed by, of all people, Marcus Bachmann, the often-rumored-to-be not-quite-so-hetero husband of former Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, where it turned out the patient was given clear instructions on how to change from gay to straight.
At the urging of his doctors Stone took extreme measures to become straight:
Dr. K. believed in behavioral modification. He told me to place a rubber band around my wrist. Every time I had “gay thoughts,” I was to snap the rubber band, causing pain. Eventually I would associate the thoughts with the pain.
Eventually, this led to sessions with Tiger, a sex-surrogate, who offered better advice than all of the shrinks combined:
It was Tiger, the woman given the task of making me straight, who helped me undo all that conditioning. “You’re gay,” she finally said. “I think we know that now. It’s not that big a deal.” I didn’t believe her—I’d spent too many years thinking it was.
I still have festering wounds that hurt, but I also have come to understand that I am gay, and that a battalion of therapists in gray cardigan sweaters armed with machines, ice picks, or prayers can do nothing to change that. Best of all, I don’t want them to.
Today, every respected medical and mental health organization rejects attempts to change one’s sexual orientation. This includes the American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Truth Wins Out thanks Stone for courageously sharing his story to ensure that others do not follow in his footsteps,” said TWO Associate Director Evan Hurst. “We hope his words of wisdom and personal struggle will help lead to increased acceptance of LGBT people.”
Truth Wins Out is a nonprofit organization that fights anti-LGBT extremism. TWO specializes in turning information into action by organizing, advocating and fighting for LGBT equality.