Come one, come all, read all about it— The homosexual can be cured!
At least, that’s what many conservatives have tried to purport since the late 1800s. During this time, there have been countless gimmicks marketed as “cures” for “the homosexual”, many of which are hauntingly familiar. And, despite the declassification as a mental illness from the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, there are still organizations today that tout a medical basis for reversing homosexual urges. (For more information, look no further than former presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann’s husband’s clinic: here, here and here). Sadly, not many of us had the opportunity to come out to an automatically accepting family. There are some who had to leave their former lives entirely in order to escape the most horrific attempts of conversion and yet more who continue to be inundated with these techniques. The very thought that someone’s sexuality ought to be different is rooted in ignorance and the attempts are not only disgraceful but also discredited.
While attempting to change a person’s sexuality is most definitely a psychologically traumatic experience and most methods are utterly reprehensible, there are a few throughout history that are laughable. So behold, ten of the most interesting, disgusting, and absurd practices used to change gays and lesbians:
In the late 1800s, a neurologist, Graeme E. Hammond, believed that homosexuality was a neurological disorder rooted in nervous exhaustion. He suggested that bicycling exercise would restore health and heterosexuality. What’s more, he thought women were the “fighting sex” but culture encouraged them to be lazy. So, if we take up cycling, then we’ll become better soldiers than men.
Jesus believed in demons and because homosexuality is a sin, it must be rooted in demonic possession, or so the argument goes. There are still many fundamentalist churches in the United States today that practice exorcism (the expulsion or attempted expulsion of an evil spirit from a person or place) as a means of ridding people of their homosexual desires. In fact, exorcism is practiced by these churches as a means to “cure” many “abnormal” behaviors ranging from mental disorders to misbehavior in children.
3. Alcohol Followed by Brothels
As homosexuality was first being defined and studied in the late 1800s, many doctors attempted to find solutions. A Munich psychiatrist, Baron Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing sent his gay male patients to indulge in alcohol and follow-up with a trip to the brothel as a means of ridding them of their same-sex desires. The idea was that an experienced sex worker would know what buttons to push in order to desire a woman. On the other hand, homosexual women were simply referred to their husbands.
1917 was the first year a surgical technique was used to stop men from being gay. A common belief at the time was that homosexuality was a form of hermaphroditism, so Eugen Steinach’s approach was to transplant testicular tissue from heterosexual men into homosexual men. There was logically no success.
5. Pray the Gay Away
The famous ex-gay group, Exodus International, made headlines last year when they finally announced they were closing their doors. Since the 1970s, this group in particular has largely been used as evidence that if you believe, pray hard enough, and work on your faith, you can ultimately be relieved of your homosexual desires. Many Christian groups today in the United States still hold this message to be true despite evidence to the contrary. Although there are no large-scale organizations that purport this message any longer, some smaller churches still implement this technique.
The same man who sought to change homosexuals through the use of brothels is also one of the first to suggest hypnosis as a means of treatment. A common tool in 19th century, Von Schrenck-Notzing reported success in 12 of 32 patients. Even today, there are hypnosis tapes like, “Gay and Unhappy”, which the APA condemns and has no actual proven effect.
7. Cocaine, Strychnine & Genital Mutilation
The 19th century was an unsupervised experimental time period in which physicians, surgeons, and psychiatrists alike attempted any and all methods to justify their beliefs on changing sexual orientation. Denslow Lewis, a gynecologist, believed that the ultimate life attainment was a relationship with the opposite sex. He noticed that women brought up in wealthy homes could develop sexual hyperesthesia (excessive sensitivity to stimuli) and become lesbians because “luxury fosters the pleasures of modern society”. His cure? Applying cocaine solutions, “surgical liberation of adherent clitorises” and the administration strychnine. Only two of his cases resulted in “success” by becoming respectable wives. Unfortunately one of the women he experimented on went insane.
8. Cold Showers
As recently as 2011, Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department sponsored a government training camp on conversion therapy. One of the country’s prominent psychologists, Hong Kwai-wah claims to have had success with a combination of techniques including cold showers. The government has defended their position by stating that “they want to include all sides on the issue”, even if they’re misguided.
9. Covert Sensitization
Here’s how it works…pair sexual desires with emotionally painful consequences. The patient is instructed to visualize natural desires, say an attractive woman, and then think of a negative association, say vomit. The consequence doesn’t have to be so disgusting, either—the therapist might have the patient find flaws in the person the patient is attracted to. The ultimate goal was finding a systematic way to desensitize the person from the desire. This therapy is no longer considered beneficial for treating homosexuality since countless studies show no change in orientation; although, it is still in use for other behavioral disorders.
10. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Aversion therapy was the basis of covert sensitization. Similar in technique, the patient is subjected to images, recordings, or visualizations of sexual desires and then exposed to unpleasant sensations including toxic odors and in the worst cases, electric shock. These shocks are not an insignificant bolt of electricity, rather it induces seizures as a means to cure mental defects. The use of these therapies has lead to LGBT people experiencing severe consequences ranging from depression to suicide attempts. ECT is still in use today; however it is done under anesthesia, with no external stimuli, and only used for legitimate disorders under extremely controlled circumstances. (Unfortunately, gay patients in the past were not provided with this anesthesia).