i’ve written about my experiences with reparative therapy before but i couldn’t find what i posted back in the day to a board i used to hang out on. there was some discussion of the great lie that is reparative therapy on the twitters and the reddits after Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the folks who supported reparative therapy as recently as the early 2000s, recanted his support for its alleged efficacy. while i applaud Dr. Spitzer for recanting…better late than never, he’s but one doctor on a long and shameful list of doctors who supported “reparative therapy” at one point, and many of those doctors still often end up in advisory positions to the people who think it’s a good idea to try to turn your child heterosexual and cisgender by any means necessary.
this is mostly going to be a post about the gay, and i know that you’re thinking “but i’m sure trans people get thrown into this kind of therapy, too,” but my experiences with reparative therapy are solely post-transition, and i think we all know that many people who transitioned earlier in life and/or longer ago got harassed by the transition-industrial complex for being gay. at least i only got sent to reparative therapy…they did worse to other people i know and care very much about (TW: sexual assault) so i feel like i got off easy. the trouble, of course, is that none of this should have happened in the first place since reparative therapy, like every other attempt to force a change in sexual orientation, is morally, ethically, and socially reprehensible. homosexuality is not a disease.
i got sent to a “youth camp,” replete with locked doors akin to a prison, in Utah. i’d rather not name which, though it is one of the primary choices that Evergreen International, an LDS Church-funded program for those seeking “freedom from homosexuality” which covers for a lot of non-consensual degaying that seems to magically happen every summer with “orientation-troubled teens.” i mean, uh, seriously, they even used to tell parents that you can send a “happy heterosexual son or daughter” back to school that fall. they downplay their nefarious side and claim to be for adults seeking this “freedom” but that’s only part of what they do.
after i transitioned, you know, lying through my teeth about how i liked the boys and i wanted to be a princess so i’d be allowed, it didn’t take long for my fancy to turn to other girls. i got outed in fairly spectacular fashion, along with my first girlfriend Rebecca, because we were making out in a broom closet and about half the school seemed to witness us doing so after the door was opened. we weren’t the only queers in our school, thank God, but it didn’t take long for my piece-of-crap little New England town to all know that Erica was a homosexual. needless to say, when i came out to my mother in an attempt to get out ahead of this, it did not go well.
seven months passed, and then i got shipped off to Utah. i was not suspicious that we were going there at first, as we had relatives there, but we ended up driving out on some stretch of I-15 i’d never seen before, and i ended up checked in to something that, i assure you, looked nothing like But I’m a Cheerleader and looked everything like a minimum-security prison. there were some pretty draconian rules…of these, skirts figured into my loathing strongly, i had to shave my legs, and i had to dye my hair a “normal” color. we couldn’t touch each other, which is vexing when someone’s crying her eyes out and you can’t put a comforting hand on her shoulder? it all felt so empty, and getting locked in your room was kind of bad. they had a two-week “evaluation” period and then decided how long they’d keep you there by asking your parent/parents. i only made it two weeks, for reasons i’ll discuss later.
“but erica, weren’t you on hormones?” why yes, yes i was. it’s amazing what a bunch of phobes will believe when a parent says they’re “supplements.” my little sister and i joke to this day about how i need to remember to take my “supplements”. i think they were legitimately too stupid to know what those pills were.
“were there people there who had gender issues?” yeah, probably, but i was scared of my own shadow on the trans front back then on top of the fact that none of the boys looked comfortable in their hyper-masculine presentations, and none of the girls were happy at all about anything, so i kind of pinged on almost everyone. if i knew now what i knew then i probably could have been more effective there, but i still believed i was some impossible freak of nature and that trans people were rarer than platypi because that’s what i’d been told.
“but people’s sexual orientations change!!!!!” perhaps yours did, and that’s your experience. despite degaying camp and six months of a “restorative sexuality”-focused therapist, and all the shit that you get for being a visible dyke, from how it was as a teenager to how it is in my life these days, i’m still gay. i don’t know, or give a shit, if it’s nature, nurture, noodles, or what the fuck have you, some people are gay. some people are straight. some people are bi. some people are pan. some people have sexual orientations that have changed, and some don’t, and i’m just not into boys. it’s not internalized transphobia (and yes, i have been told that’s what it is!), it’s not because i’m an expert u-haul navigator, it’s not because i’m a rape survivor, it’s because this is just how i am and i am happy this way.
so anyways, my mother’s check bounced for the next eight weeks they intended to keep me in because i was a “hardened socialized and enabled lesbian” so they put me up for a couple of extra days to prepare for her to come get me. i thought better of it, grabbed my stuff from the “reception center” and made a break for it at lunch, when our jailers were busy doing other things. it was a good two miles out to a highway, and it didn’t take long for a passer-by to pick me up…and i spent the entire ride to Provo praying that this gentleman wouldn’t see a teenager gussied up like a 50s housewife as easy prey. as it turns out, he was indeed a gentleman. when he let me off, he said he always looks for people by “that camp” since “they shouldn’t do bad things to you folks.” he gave me quarters for the payphone and the UTA, his business card, and made sure i knew where i was going. i count that man, who i exchange holiday cards with to this day, as a blessing in my life. i knew my mother would have found the money somehow, and i knew it would have gotten worse. i still owe him $6 in quarters, actually. he has a lovely family and i bet he’s saved others since.
i took the three buses (this was back when the UTA sucked) to my aunt’s house in north Salt Lake. though she hadn’t seen me in some time, she knew i was coming, dragged me out to The Pie to feed me properly, spent the next three days making sure i was in a good way, and even took me to the ZCMI to buy me some pants so i wouldn’t look like Stepford Erica anymore. i have a lot of good aunts, but i think she takes the cake. when she put me on a flight back east she told me that she’d never treat her children like that, which she’s definitely lived up to through three of her four kids turning out queer, including the other trans woman in my family, my awesome cousin.
my mother did not take it well and i ended up dealing with the “restorative sexuality” (that’s what he called it) therapist, who mostly tried to hypnotize me and tell me i was straight. you can imagine how well this went, but it kept up for a while until he proclaimed i was too “willful” and was not interested in “fixing” myself. well, of course not, since nothing was wrong with me in the first place. reparative therapy, as the title suggests, is the ultimate concern troll. it’s a bunch of people who really believe that their being concerned that you’re queer can somehow justify their actions to attempt to “convert” you to heterosexuality, which is modeled as what is “normal” and expected. it’s proof that no matter how much you yank things out of the DSM, someone will always have a problem when it comes to human sexuality (think like Cathy Brennan and her trolly troll squad, lol), and that some people will throw endless amounts of time and money trying to cure fictitious ills while completely ignoring that right here in the US, right here in whatever state you’re in, someone else’s children are dying of actual disease.