Robert Caro

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PROLOGUE

It was a weeknight when I came home from work and walked in to the house where I noticed both my parents in the kitchen. I’d done it almost every day, but this time around, things seemed different. The air was tense, and I could feel something impending. Walking in to the kitchen, I saw my mom fervently washing the dishes quietly with her back towards me and my dad sitting next to the table with one leg over the other, quietly looking down. My eyes traveled to the rectangular object on the table and my heart stopped.

There, lying on the kitchen table was the gay porn Falcon video I stashed in my room, adorned with butch leather men on every surface of the VHS tape sleeve.

My heart dropped, and my surroundings began spinning in slow motion.

I was caught and there was no getting out of it.

I was closeted and still living with my conservative Romanian Pentecostal parents, because in my culture, you don’t move out until you’re married. Needless to say, all my friends at the time got married in their early 20’s, and I was still a good Christian boy “waiting for the right girl.”

My parents took me to the garage and ordered me to smash the VHS tape to pieces with a hammer while they prayed to cast out any “gay demons” in “the name of Jesus”.

My mom didn’t speak of the event again, and my dad told me to “just stop being gay”. If it were possible, I would have, but I couldn’t and I didn’t. I was living a double life where, at church, I was a good Christian boy, while on my free time, I’d sneak away with men I’d meet online or at the bar.

I was miserable, depressed, and torn.

There had to be a way out of it, I thought. That’s when I stopped by the local Christian book store. I peered through the shelves in the men’s section looking cool and casual on the outside while my stomach was in knots on the inside. Topics of how to be a godly man, sexual purity, fatherhood, warriors, sports, and the like took precedence.

Tucked away was the book on how to break free from the “bondage” of homosexuality. This had to be the answer, I thought. If I read this, followed its instructions, and prayed hard enough, God would turn me straight.

Or so I thought.

I read it, answered the questions after each chapter, did my self-reflections, prayed, fasted, did altar call after altar call, and shed many tears, but God just wouldn’t turn me straight.

That’s when I decided to take it a step further. I wanted to makes sure I tried everything possible to avoid eternal damnation.

At the very end of the book, there was information for (the now defunct) Exodus Ministries, in its heyday, one of the largest conversion therapy programs in the country located in Dallas, Texas.

Living in Phoenix at the time, it wasn’t realistic to go there. I reached out to them, and they referred me to a counselor in Chandler, Arizona. I called, got the information, and quickly realized I couldn’t afford it. But I couldn’t let money get in the way of heaven, so I convinced my parents to fund my conversion therapy.

MEMORIES OR THE LACK THEREOF

It was dark as I pulled up into the little office center where the therapist was located. It was a nice building with a rustic brick facade, manicured landscape and large wooden doors.

The foyer opened up in to the front desk where a girl politely checked me in. A few other guys were sitting there and I wondered if they were there for the same reason I was. I was so nervous and uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to expect.

After a short wait, “Michael” (who’s name is changed) came in to introduce himself and brought me back in to one of the offices.

Michael was probably in his early 40’s, medium build, head shaved bald and pale skin. His pleasant disposition was not overshadowed by a little swoosh in his step and a slight lisp on his tongue.

Maybe he was an “ex-gay” and the femme characteristics never went away–who knows?

I can remember sitting across from Michael, tense with fists either on my side or entwined like pretzels.

I had a handful of sessions with him, but oddly enough, that period of my life seemed to all but have vanished from my memory. I wish I could remember our conversations, the questions, the exercises, but it’s as if it had all been wiped from my memory.

There are many studies and reports on the ties between emotional trauma and memory loss. For example, something called Local Dissociative Amnesia affects specific moments of a person’s life. The Cleveland Clinic reports: “Localized memory loss affects specific areas of knowledge or parts of a person’s life, such as a certain period during childhood… Often, the memory loss focuses on a certain specific trauma.”

Could my experience in gay conversion therapy have been so emotionally traumatic that the my brain blocked all memory?

I do have a few lingering flashbacks however, such as wondering why my therapist had a slight lisp and swish in his step; my mom and dad grilling him on his sexuality while I sat watching; being in a large room with group of straight men, watching a video on pornography with a nearly naked woman disrobing on screen; breaking out in group sessions and having to admit the ways we sinned that week; me being the only gay person in a group of straight mormon men, and not understanding why; having to do homework logging my homosexual thoughts and actions for review; feelings of shame, fear, emotional pain, anxiety, and contemplation of suicide.

The experience was as bizarre as it sounds.

The conversion therapy was abruptly ended by my parents. Not because they saw the damage it was causing, but because they were too cheap to pay for my therapy. "You don't need counseling" they said, "you just need God. Pray, and God will change you."

Their reasoning may have been ridiculous, but it was their frugalness and disbelief in therapy (as a whole) that actually saved me from continuing on a path that could have ended differently.

This kind of pseudo-therapy comes with a list of potential negative outcomes.

In a recent analysis by the American Psychological Association, they list consequences including self-reports of anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, hopelessness, deteriorated relationships with family, loss of faith, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, suicidal ideation, self-hatred, and sexual dysfunction–just to name a few.

Public Health England reports that "52% of young LGBT people reported self-harm either recently or in the past compared to 25% of heterosexual, non-trans young people, and 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide compared to 26% of heterosexual, non-trans young people."

During the Q Christian Conference in Chicago, I came to realize just how many people  went through gay conversion therapy as I have.

It was staggering.

One man I met at the conference is a father and now-divorced husband who told me his story. He had been attending conversion therapy while married to his wife for nearly a decade. He finally accepted himself, came out publicly, and is living a happier, more fulfilled life. Coming out came with a price, however; his ex-wife is being difficult, to say the least, and while some of his children respected his decision, others have not.

Down the line, it was my deep belief that “God is love” that led me out of the mire of depression, shame, and self-hatred. I have a beautiful life with my husband, two dogs, and a cat. We’re surrounded by love and support. We have been fortunate to have an amazing group of friends in town and out of town. Believe it or not, there are some Romanians that love and support us as well.

You lose a lot when you come out, and it’s scary. But ultimately, you gain even more than you could imagine.

EPILOGUE

A couple years ago, I had a job interview with a digital marketing company. I got dressed, grabbed my portfolio, resumes, business cards, and drove to their office. As I was driving, the streets seemed eerily familiar to me. I turned in to the small street that led to a business center with brick facade and manicured landscape.

As I turned into the parking area, I looked straight ahead, and there before me, was my old ex-gay therapy office.

I hit the brakes and just stared. Eventually I pulled closer and noticed that it was closed, permanently. The marketing office was just across the way, and as I walked up to the office door, I couldn’t help but smile thinking how funny God can be.