I almost couldn’t believe it when my friend sent me the YouTube of Richard Cohen, author of the book Coming Out Straight, who believes that smashing a tennis racket against a pillow while screaming at his parents will “purge” him of whatever it was that made him gay. In effect, he’ll ungay himself of being gay.

I actually could not bear to watch Cohen’s video uninterrupted, and had to stop and start it several times because of the fury and grief that laced through me the moment it began. As it turns out, Cohen and his voodoo claims of “curing the gay” was just the tip of the iceberg: it seems Christine O’Donnell, an up-and-coming conservative Senator, is also advocating the “pray away the gay” ministries. I, myself went through six years of a similar–though perhaps less religious and more psychologically-based–treatment. My 89,000-word (yet-to-be published) memoir, CROSSING STYX, details it all, from meeting my former psychiatrist, “Dr. Alfonzo,” soon after coming out and being rejected by my family, to learning the techniques behind his version of primal therapy, and finally, to isolating myself for years in a therapeutic house called “the Styx” while believing myself to be “not homosexual.” Instead of Cohen’s tennis racket we used an aluminum baseball bat; instead of “non-sexually” cuddling a parental figure, Alfonzo injected us with Ketamine, an animal anesthetic, and “reparented” us as our new “daddy.”

Despite the fact that I wrote an entire book to, in part, “warn” others of the kind of primitive logic that still runs rampant, while ruining people’s lives, a part of me wanted to believe that what happened to me was more the exception, and less the rule. A part of me still finds it difficult to comprehend how anyone–I repeat: anyone–could come to believe that screaming at their parents, no matter how much they deserve to be screamed at, while smashing a tennis racket, a baseball bat, or even, for that matter, a golf club, against whatever soft surface they desire could purge them of their sexuality. It purged me of none of mine. If anything, batting and screaming at my Tormentors served only to dig down deep into my Shadowy Pandora’s Box of rage that ended up subsuming me for years, but out of which I emerged, following one long and dark night’s journey, still very much, for lack of a better word, “gay.” If Cohen wants to help, truly help, anyone, he will learn kindness toward himself, forgiveness for those who wronged him, and the difference between the socially constructed and largely inauthentic “identity” of homosexuality, and his own very personal experience of love and intimacy and sex with another human being of the same gender. He will stop displacing the effects of childhood abuse with same sex desire. The logic behind Cohen’s “bash the racket against the pillow and become straight” therapy, and other “cure the gay” therapies just like it, is fallacious and leads nowhere but back to the self-hatred that caused the individual to want to engage in such a form of self-imposed chastisement to begin with.

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PETER GAJDICS has been published in numerous international journals, including The Advocate, The Q Review, New York Tyrant, The Gay and Lesbian Review/Worldwide, Gay Times, The Printed Blog, and Opium, where he won their 2009 500-word memoir contest. Peter has received a fellowship from The Summer Literary Seminars, and is an alumni of Lambda Literary Foundation's "Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices." He lives in Vancouver, Canada, and can be contacted at [email protected]

13 responses to “Ungaying the Gay”

  1. dwoz says:

    You know what it all comes down to? Guys are assholes. We are. We suck, and not in the good way.

    Women may be jerks, but we’re worse.

    Thus, the “gay lament” is that you’ll end up inevitably with someone who is an asshole. (“you” in the generic sense).

    Because guys are.

    Let’s just admit it. I can’t for the life of me figure out how women put up with us. Except that we have a monopoly on the proper equipment.

    The gay “problem” is that a gay will never end up with someone that will improve him. It’s a degenerating spiral of least-common-denominator.


  2. Judy Prince says:

    Peter, it’s just too horribly pathetic that what you write here NEEDS to be stated, still still still:

    “The logic behind Cohen’s “bash the racket against the pillow and become straight” therapy, and other “cure the gay” therapies just like it, is fallacious and leads nowhere but back to the self-hatred that caused the individual to want to engage in such a form of self-imposed chastisement to begin with.”

    Yet, it must be. And thank you for it.

    • Agreed. It’s horrible that this stuff even needs to be said. It’s tragic just how hateful and stupid people can be, that they make people so ashamed of themselves that they wish to be “ungayed.”

  3. Gloria says:

    Your statement that, “If Cohen wants to help, truly help, anyone, he will learn kindness toward himself, forgiveness for those who wronged him…” is so kind, Peter. What a peaceful angle to look at this from.

    And man, if childhood abuse made you or Cohen gay, do you think it’s what me so straight? If only I’d known… If I bash a baseball bat into a pillow, will I finally dig chicks? (What a ridiculous, flaw-filled theory.)

    • dwoz says:

      I think it comes from the “If you Name it and Claim it” school of pop psychology. Like, if you never acknowledge that your parents were ogres, you can’t ever address their influence on you and negate it.

      There’s maybe the tiniest glimmer of validity to that, but I think when it turns into some kind of ritualistic response, it loses whatever value it might have had. It has to be an epiphany rather than a ritual.

      If you’re just ritualizing your issue, then you’re overlaying a bad pattern with another bad pattern, and you end up with a moire of wrongness.

  4. I am so glad you posted this! It is, indeed, astonishing how primitive some current beliefs are. If it weren’t so hard and painful for young men, it would be hilariously funny. I mean, pah-lease, hitting a pillow with a tennis racket?! Absurd!

  5. J.E. Fishman says:

    The moment we stick a label on a person we make him or her a little less human. So is it a wonder that these labeled people then have self-esteem issues and feel like they need to “overcome” or be “cured” of the very thing that led them to be labeled?

    I think the incredible and disturbing persistence of homophobia comes from the self-hatred some people feel at having to apply a label to themselves that somehow doesn’t comport with the views of the mainstream. Self-hatred is one of the most powerful, despicable forces in humanity. It causes us to harm ourselves or to harm others, and harming others is always, ultimately, a path toward self-destruction.

    Thus all this labeling makes society poorer. How sad for all of us — straight and gay and in between.

  6. Always good to read you, Peter.

    I so often think about how we look at slavery and women being unable to vote and other old modes of thought that were at one time upheld as normal and even “morally right,” and the awful shame of that now, and how homosexuality is the remaining frontier where so many people just let their prejudices rip and still hide behind “moral” grounds. While racism and sexism still thrive, to be sure, all but the most marginal nutcases at least feel the imperative to hide and couch their hatred. Yet it seems that all anyone needs to do when pulling out the big hate guns about homosexuality is to cite religion and hide behind its auspices, as some justification for their own intolerance, arrogance, raging. I very often wonder how history will portray these days and the way so many held on tightly to their right to oppress gay people. It’s cringe-worthy, what future generations will rightly have to say about the shameful rhetoric and laws of today.

    • Thanks for your comments, Gina – and it’s also always great to hear from you.

      Re the laws of today – of course, I agree. Laws don’t necessarily mirror morality, do they. When I was going through my lawsuit against that psychiatrist, I had it in my mind that there should be laws prohibiting any kind of treatment to “change” a person’s sexuality. Now I am convinced that any prolonged attempt at trying to “change” a person’s sexual identity is akin to a psychic lobotomy, whereby the “surgeon” (in my case, that psychiatrist) probes into the psycho-sexuality of the individual, cutting and scarring their way toward the desired establishment of a different sexuality, while the “patient,” already severely undermined by lifelong messages of heteronormativity, becomes co-conspirator in their own loss of agency. If the laws of today mirrored morality, what is ethically and humanely responsible, we as a society would have caught up to this and outlawed these barbaric forms of therapy long ago, just as physical lobotomies have now been outlawed.

  7. Beautiful recounting of utter horror. You write w/ eloquence about something no one should experience. And I’m very glad you filed a medical malpractice suit, Peter. You endured torture, not treatment.

  8. Denn nur mit dir werde ich glücklich sein, nur MIT DIR mein SCHATZILEIN!!!!

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