Praying the gay away. You’ve heard of it. It’s the idea that homosexuality is not only a choice, but a very sinful one at that and that it must be eradicated from your soul and mind with prayer and strict religious rules. There are camps for it. There therapists, counselors, priests and nuns who will try and “help.” I like to think that these are becoming fewer and fewer as society progresses, but there are still parents out there who need to realize that they are only making things tougher for their confused or scared LGBTQ children by berating them or sending them to be “cured.” The stories below are from those same kids who posted their personal experiences to Reddit.

My parents sent me to a few different Christian counselors when I came out. The first guy they sent me too was unbelievably harsh and angry. I was a very shy and timid 18-year-old who had just graduated from an extremely rigid Christian high school so I had heard all of the reasons being gay was bad before, and I was used to being kind of stoic and not letting my emotions show through, but this man was just beyond anything I could’ve imagined. I went to him every weekday for two weeks straight and the sessions were just two hours of this guy berating me and yelling at me and telling me how I was doomed to hell and that sex with men would never satisfy me the way God could. One line that is burned in my memory forever is “there is a hole in your heart that a man’s genitals cannot fill” just because it was super weird and if I had not been so frightened, I probably would have laughed.

I went to two different therapists affiliated with Evergreen, which at the time was Mormondom’s anti-gay counseling organization. First counselor was great, a woman, mother, Mormon. First thing she acknowledged that my feelings of “same-sex attraction” wouldn’t go away in “this life,” so at no point did we ever try to cure me. Instead being gay was framed as a temptation I was meant to fight off while focusing on the very Mormon goal of finding a woman to marry and live happily ever after with. She used the analogy of a knight fighting off a dragon to save a princess. I was supposed to be the knight. That was about it. Every week we’d meet, I’d talk about how hard it was not to look at gay porn, we’d set goals for ways to “fight the dragon” and be a good Mormon, and that’s about it. After about a year my bishop thought a man would do better at straightening me out so I changed counselors. My new counselor and I got along great. His approach was similar: never call it being gay, call it same-sex attraction. Focus on the part of me that wants to get married and have a family. Focus on obeying the church’s commandments. That’s it. After a while though we let most of that go and focused on the anxiety and depression I had caused by being a closeted gay man. Everything else became secondary to helping me be healthy and functioning. That’s about it. As far as reparative therapy goes I feel I lucked out.

I went to a Lutheran high school and the administration found out about my sexuality my senior year. They confronted me about it and I sort of bullsh-tted my way out of getting expelled by saying I knew it was wrong and I was fighting it. I could’ve outright lied but they could have had evidence… Obviously they had evidence enough to confront me. I avoided direct anti-homosexual therapy but there were suddenly a couple of assemblies held with speakers talking about homosexuality and how it can be compared to murder, how two plugs don’t fit, something about puzzle pieces, and all the while I just felt everyone staring at me… It was a small school, there were only 50 kids or so in my graduating class. I was sort of a pariah by my senior year. My car was vandalized (and of course no one was ever held responsible for it). I had friends, but people who didn’t like me outnumbered the people who did. And the people who didn’t like me really didn’t like me.

My parents sent me to Christian counseling and forced me to take one of those pills that people said would “fix” you being gay. I never took them. Learned to palm them and then flush them down the toilet early on. The counseling though…I’m not sure why this freaks me out so much. But, in essence, I was led into a tiny, tiny room in the back of a building. It had no light except for a lamp on the male counselor’s desk, and since I had school, all my appointments were at dusk. The whole small room felt like a cave with a fire. The counselor talked to me about the Bible, how important it was to not be gay, and that I needed to change. What struck me was just the weird setting, like I wasn’t allowed to be viewed by anybody or anything. That feeling was exacerbated when my mom cut me off from the world. I had no internet, no friends, nothing. All I could do was sit in my room and reread some of the same books. I didn’t have the yelling counselor but I had the silent judgmental one with the passive aggressive tendencies. After six months of that, my mom decided that it wasn’t working. She became fed up waiting for results and decided to blab the two sentences I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “What are you, the Devil? Begone!” There’s something about being the called the incarnation of what your parents believe to be the ultimate evil. Anyway, after that, I was sent to another counselor recommended by my grandmother’s sympathetic friend. This new counselor was and is one of my favorite people of all time. On my first appointment, he could somehow tell I didn’t care for Christian teachings, and so he pulled out a Bible while my mom was there and played it up heavily. As soon as she left, he scoffed and tossed it aside. I’ve known this amazing man who did more to save my life than anybody else I’ve ever known for eight years now, and whenever I return to that town, I always go and see him.

I grew up in the Midwest and led a pretty G-rated religious life. By the time I started facing my severely suppressed gay feelings I had developed full blown homophobia. On my first day of being dragged into a group counseling program I barely looked up from the floor the entire time. I judged the guys there like they were lesser humans and refused to socialize with any of them. After several times of attending, I started realizing they were real people with big hearts and amazing stories. I started accepting them for who they were and in turn started to accept myself. In fact, I now attribute those first anti-gay meetings to the reason I fully embraced who I am today-a happy and thriving gay man comfortable in my own skin. 

I became very religious when I was a teenager, without having “acted” on my homosexuality, just knew I was gay. I was in Romania, a country where, after the fall of the communist dictatorship, a lot of western neo-protestant preachers came to bring Bibles and “the word of the gospel” to the poor godless nation. After having a very deep religious experience (I interpreted it as supernatural then), I became a very deeply religious person and, of course, one of my first self-goals was to become a straight man. The first people I ever came out to were people from my congregation, with the idea to get help. I had many sessions in which they prayed for me, mostly by praying and “laying hands”. At some point, the prayers started to include sections about the “spirit of homosexuality” and how God should help me become free of said spirit. They were still my friends so I was very happy to get this help and genuinely believed that I could become straight. My best friend arranged for an exorcism. It came down to the two of us sitting together in an isolated area and he praying for me, laying hands, and commending the unclean spirit of homosexuality to leave my body. Guess what, I started laughing like a madman. Even if I totally believed in the whole thing and wanted to fully participate in it. I immediately thought that I was laughing because I was possessed and of course, my friend said the same thing in his prayers: “Aha, evil spirit, you are laughing! You are laughing because you are scared of the power of our lord Jesus Christ!” and all that. Anyway, after 30 minutes nothing more exciting happened so we concluded that we needed to pray more. After cutting about 10 times, I stopped and thought that this was not going to work. I returned home to my friend and showed him. He freaked out, so he shipped me off for a few days to stay with a friend of his in a Christian commune, called Jesus Army. After one more week I returned home to Romania and had my first “wait a second, you are kind of a cool guy, why are you doing this to yourself” thought. And that’s where I started the slow journey of accepting myself. I decided to put away religion and lock it in a drawer, I stopped praying and started to see if I can just go out, meet someone, get a boyfriend and live happily ever after. It did not really happen like this, but it is getting better. I found acceptance, love and also the message that I can be gay and OK and I did not need to change.