[Guest Post] Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous by Violet Grey

I’m delighted to be welcoming the lovely and talented Violet Grey (she/her) back to Coffee & Kink with another guest post. This one is really important and also really challenging.

If you’re a straight, cis person, please take the time to read and absorb this one. If you’re queer and/or a conversion therapy survivor, please take care of yourself if you decide to engage with this <3

Amy x

Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous

TW for conversion therapy, spiritual abuse, trauma and suicide

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know banning conversion therapy is back in discussion. Despite promises by the UK government to ban it back in 2018, conversion therapy is sadly still legal, with no swift action being taken to criminalise the practice. In its lengthy history and the outpouring of horrific survivor accounts, it has undergone a rebranding in recent years, but it is just as dangerous as ever. 

Being a bi person of faith (Christianity and Quaker teachings) I know not all Christians support conversion therapy. In fact, most I know are vehemently against it. However, it is a large, systemic problem in the church that needs confronting. 

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy (sometimes known as Cure or Reparative Therapy) is a pseudoscientific practice of “repairing” or “curing” an LGBTQ+ person (usually teenagers and young adults) to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to cisgender. 

It is usually undertaken by religious communities (in this case, I’m talking about Christianity), but is also known to be done by a select few medical professionals. It stems from the belief that being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender is wrong, and therefore should be treated. 

Such “treatments” to “cure” or “repair” someone of their homosexuality, bisexuality (often referred to as SSA or “Same Sex Attraction” in these circles,) or trans identity have included, but not been limited to: 

  • Biblical “counselling“: a mixture of psychotherapy-style sessions with spiritual advice. It is not uncommon for the counsellors to have no qualifications in counselling and people will be asked to sign a waiver acknowledging this. 
  • Praying and scripture study: Also known as “pray the gay away,” or praying for God to help the person with their “struggle” of Same Sex Attraction, again often reinforcing self-loathing. 
  • Physical torture, including starvation and beating
  • Exorcism
  • Electroshock Therapy 
  • Forced sterilisation and surgeries 
  • Chemical castration: The use of anaphrodisiac drugs to reduce a person’s libido or sexual activity. While it can be used to treat certain cancers, this has been used on LGBTQ+ people to “reduce homosexual urges.”

The medical community has denounced conversion therapy as a dangerous pseudoscience (with incredibly high failure rates) that contributes to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even suicide in those who undergo it. There are countless studies with findings all pointing to the same conclusion: conversion therapy doesn’t work, and you can’t “make” someone straight any more than you can “make” someone gay.

Being LGBTQ+ it is not a choice, it doesn’t disrupt the family dynamic, and it is not caused by childhood trauma. We just are who we are. 

Rebranding: Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner

Rebranding of conversion therapy has been happening in the last fifteen years or so, primarily since the legalisation of same-sex marriage across many parts of the world. Since then, in my experience with homophobic views, they have shifted from “being gay is a choice” to “God may have made you gay. It’s just the act of homosexuality that’s a sin” in order to come across as more accepting. 

This is just as bad. One: love (and sex) is not a sin. Two: it gaslights the person through spiritual abuse. Three: it leaves already vulnerable LGBTQ+ people with two choices: 

  • A lifetime of celibacy. So no masturbation, no same-sex relationship, no sex, no nothing. 
  • A heterosexual marriage with someone we might not even love. 

Either way the options are clear: a lifetime of misery, or a lifetime of misery. But hey, God loves you, right? 

Biblical “counselling” and prayer is being championed in the wake of this so-called progressive view, to “help” people who want this so-called help. However, this toxic doctrine has been internalised in not LGBTQ+ people, but the very people claiming to help them. 

These views usually echo in the various groups: 

  • Folks who like to Bible thump and control
  • Christians who still believe sexuality is a choice
  • Well-meaning Christians

Now, “well-meaning Christian” interlinked with homophobia does sound like an oxymoron, and it is. However, with such messages being preached from the pulpit or in a mistranslated Bible verse (there are 450 English translations of the Bible!) these views will either be all you know, or even be considered a liberal take – especially if you come from a conservative background.

Their view, from my experience, does not come from malice (though I don’t justify it at all.) They genuinely feel they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping, but conversion therapy doesn’t help and in fact, can and does still cause significant harm.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

For the well-meaning folks, who believe in “hating the sin and not the sinner,” I just want to say this: I’m not trying to attack you or limit your faith. But from a fellow Christian, and a queer one at that, this take is still hurting people and we need to acknowledge this. Then we can enact truly positive change.

Sadly, this doctrine of “tolerance but not really” further reinforces self-hatred in the name of love. It reinforces distress that shouldn’t be there in the first place, and is not justifiable with any of Jesus’ teachings. 

We are called to love our neighbour and consider the fruit we bear, but if the fruit we produce leads to trauma, self-loathing and even suicide, we can’t dig our heels in with, “But the Bible says…”. There is no Biblical justification for the torture we as a community have, and continue to, put LGBTQ+ people through.  Who are we as Christians to tear two adults in love away from each other and condemn them to a life of misery?

Breaking Up with Toxic Doctrine

The truth of the matter is that Leviticus, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah were about sexual violence and abuse of power. 

We are using the Bible as a weapon when it was never meant to be. The Bible is a rich, historical document full of context to be learned, as well as a religious text. Literalism is killing people and if we want to try to be more Christ-like, we need to focus on what Christ was about: love. 

Now, there is a shift towards churches becoming LGBTQ+ affirming and progressives, both clergy and parishioner, are leading the way through thorough research of doctrine. However, it goes without saying that there is backlash against this. So while we are making positive baby steps, we’ve still got a long way to go. 

Violet Grey describes herself as “your 20-something lady who loves to write. I write erotic fiction, along with real-life sex stories, thoughts on sexuality, kink, BDSM, and generally whatever else is on my mind.” Check out her blog and give her a follow on Twitter!

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[Guest Post] “Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage” by Ari Potter

Today’s post is a continuation of my sharing awesome pieces by new voices to sex writing! When I put out my call for pitches I was overwhelmed with the response and the extraordinary quality of so many of the ideas. What I loved about this piece by Ari Potter was her honesty around the trials and tribulations of getting past the problematic ideas around sex that come from a conservative upbringing, and the way she’s told it with a straightforward and humorous tone. Definitely a writer we need to see more of! 

Heads up: this post uses the p-word that is sometimes used to refer to sex workers. It is used in the context of quoting something that was said many years ago, and not in a derogatory way by either the author or myself.

Now, over to Ari…

Amy x

“Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage” by Ari Potter

I am in bed with a recent partner. We are taking a pause to hydrate and I’m supposed to be thinking about how I want to be fucked: this DJ takes requests. Our conversation turns to sex and childhood and, with a delicious situational irony, it transpires that we have both shaken off prudish attitudes conferred by quasi-religious upbringings. My own were inherited from relatively liberal Bengali parents. It’s not that sex was wrong, per se, but the constraints under which it could be enjoyed were strictly limited: within marriage, to one person, of the opposite sex to you, for life.

Of course, they never sat me down to convey this diktat. Indeed, the sex talk that I got from my parents was clinical and secondhand. When watching a subtitled Les Miserables aged eight or nine, I asked my parents what a “prostitute” was. They told me to look it up, which led me to asking what this “sex” thing was that you could be paid for. Again, they delegated their responsibility to a book, and a Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedia with an illustrated cross section of two torsos missionarily-connected provided me with a scientifically functional but practically useless understanding.

Over the years, no more is said about the matter, but it becomes understood from their general reticence about me hanging out with boys that All Boys Want Is Sex and Sex Outside Of Marriage Is Very Bad. There’s more than a pinch of It’s Especially Bad For Girls! too, but they reassure me that’s not because they think that, but more because everyone else will.

Predictably, they learn through my adolescence that ‘you can read anything but you can’t do anything’ is a recipe for parental disaster. I have decided to ignore much of their advice on anything, considering everything from “don’t drink” to “get home by 4pm” under the same broad category of “too strict and reasonable to ignore”. So when the first peers start copping off with each other, I join them. Yet, unlike with the other rules that I have wholesale dismissed, the one about sex has some sticking power in my mind. Aged 15, it’s not that I think my parents are wrong, it’s that I think they don’t understand that it’s OK for me to sleep with my first boyfriend, because we’re in love and will one day marry. Obviously.

(Editor’s note – I laughed so hard at this because I had EXACTLY the same train of thought as Ari at nearly the same age. Spoiler: reader, I did not marry him.)

The gradual dismantling of these archaic views on sex were a demonstration of hypocritical insistence on conservatism – constantly making exceptions to exempt your own behaviour while trying to maintain an increasingly unsustainable dogma. When I sleep with my next boyfriend (I’m 17 or thereabouts now), it’s okay… as long as you’re in love. After that it becomes fine if you’re in a relationship. Which is amended to add the exception of ‘and on holiday’ (?!) and then finally disappears entirely by the time I’m 21 and in theory, a fully fledged adult. Oh, with the now hilarious exception of “I don’t let people go down on me because I’m holding something back for The One.” (Ingenious spin for “I don’t have the patience to let inexperienced partners practice on me!”)

My parents don’t realise how far they have own-goaled. By my mid twenties, armed with the view that safe, consensual sex that doesn’t harm anyone is to be celebrated and recently out of a long term relationship, I am keen to make up for lost time. What becomes clear to me is that my introspection doesn’t match my enthusiasm. While I want to explore my desires, the conservative hang ups from my past leave me too ashamed or bewildered to interrogate what I want. The result is a peculiar mix of willingness to try things that means I go along with others’ kinks without knowing my own.

It leads me to question how much I enjoy sexual experiences on a purely physical level. A public, group encounter with a masked man at a party was certainly anecdote-worthy, but was it hot? Being decorated in various constellations of latex and rope makes me smile to recall, but out of context feels faintly ridiculous. Pegging makes me feel as though I am able to confidently take a lead, but does it turn me on? More importantly: does it matter?

Dan Savage, on his sex podcast, describes a good lover as someone who’s GGG: good, giving and game. And, rightly, the model assumes reciprocity. Yet, I find that my conditioning around sex and shame leaves me unable to be frank with willing partners. I don’t want to only be a participant in someone else’s fantasies without indulging my own, but they are
buried and when one surfaces I second-guess how much it is mine.

‘So what do you want me to do?’ asks my bedfellow, again. Good question.

Ari Potter is a Bengali-British writer who’s particulary interested in gender, mental health and cultural identity. She’s previously appeared in gal-dem, Orlando and Litro. By day, she works for a health and social care charity, and, separately, has recently launched her own campaign on consent and sex education. Thanks to Ari for this brilliant guest post.