Thinking Straight

I read with interest Emily Sargent’s article in the Times, 31 January 2024 titled – “Conversion therapy? It must be banned. I should know.”  Reading this article, led me to delve deeper into Emily Sargent’s work, and I discovered a series of seven podcasts called “Thinking Straight,” which explore conversion therapy, and advocates for an extensive ban. Emily is a non-Christian, lesbian reporter, and brings her unique position to the table.

I have my own unique position as someone who was a lesbian for 30 years, before becoming a Christian, and choosing to leave that identity. I was not coerced, forced, or counselled into that position. I did not, nor do I have, internalised homophobia. What happened was that I fell in love with Jesus, and he changed my life!

It is hard for somebody who has no faith to understand the concept of unwanted same-sex attraction. We live in a society that tells us some are born that way; and that is fine, unless of course you meet Jesus and decide you want to follow Him. That is the point in time that faith demands you take a long hard look at what following Jesus means. That is the time you make a conscious choice to surrender your own understanding to God, and trust that what he says is always going to be better than your own choices. No one asks you to surrender to God, except God – and that conversation is for us to have with Him, no one else. Jesus alone can lead us to salvation, and if we are of a mind to desire that, we must close our ears to what the world says is desirable and open our minds to what he says is possible.

In the Times article we are presented with the reporter, Emily, who has zero concept of why anyone would have unwanted same sex attraction. Emily approaches a counsellor who helps people with SSA, with a fabricated story of desire to change. Her goal appears to be to prove that talking therapy is offensive and damaging and amounts to conversion therapy.

Yet how could Emily’s conversation with the counsellor go anywhere that makes sense?

Emily had no concept of why she would want to leave her lesbian relationship and could only see hurt and pain in doing so. An understandable conclusion for someone with no faith. Additionally, she was lying; every answer she gave built on deception. The more she got into the counselling sessions, the greater the entanglement must have become, as one lie led to another. The counsellor had no hope of finding any significant answers to Emily’s supposed unhappiness, and she had no choice but to persevere in trying to help Emily find answers to her fabricated discontent.

Emily states in her article, “The process of talking with Carol (the name she gives her counsellor), quickly became destabilising. I dreaded the sessions, which were making me feel wrung out and depressed. We went over relationships with my parents with a fine-tooth comb, hunting for things that had gone wrong.”

Had Emily actually experienced unwanted SSA, then the counselling sessions would have been vastly different. There would have been no fruitless hunting, as she would have been more receptive to consider and explore possible reasons for her unhappiness. Likewise, had Emily gone into that counselling session, being honest about her contentment with her same-sex attraction, then the counsellor would have never gone down the route of exploration. However, Emily lied, and explicitly said that she wanted to explore her SSA. What she reports on in her article, and experienced in the sessions, as far as I can see, is a therapist who is doing her job, trying to help Emily explore her feelings. This is a therapist who appears to be genuine, yet unaware of the deceit and the trap she had walked into.

I do not know whether Emily has ever had counselling for a genuine issue in her life, one which she did not have to lie about? If she has, she will be very aware that counselling is difficult, it is there to sort out the roots of emotional problems, and that can be painful. Counselees often feel “wrung out” after sessions; it is emotionally challenging to process our feelings. And with the added pressure of keeping up the deceit, I am hardly surprised that this was difficult for Emily and caused her anxiety. Anyone who has ever told a lie and then tried to keep that lie going, knows the toll that can take.

From what I heard of the counselling appointment on the podcasts, I hear someone who is trying to help Emily to understand her feelings. Emily is telling her that she does not want this same sex attraction, and her counsellor is trying to help her explore some probable causes of it. I suggest that to call this talking therapy, “conversion therapy,” is a desperate attempt to try and close down any faith driven support for those who have freely chosen this path. I cannot find anything in Emily’s report that saw her being told her that she had to change. She labels her experience ‘conversion therapy, ‘when the truth is, she was not subjected to anything that said she had to change, nor was she pushed down that path.

One of Emily's concerns appears to be how someone less confident than her, may be affected by the counselling. She is worried that someone ‘coming out’ to a counsellor, would not be affirmed in their identity and would be encouraged down a different route (despite that not being something she experience with Carol). And yes, that could happen, and in response I point to the person who has unwanted SSA, who is unhappy and uncomfortable, who is told by their counsellor, “pull yourself together, you're gay, get over it.”  What of that person who is not affirmed, is there a difference in their rights? You may be sceptical, but this has happened to a number of people I know, and for one friend in particular, this reception caused a suicide attempt. He did not want to be gay; he had gone to a counsellor for help and support to live a life free of the SSA and was ridiculed for not embracing his sexual feelings.

What we need in counselling rooms is compassion, but also a safe place for people to explore their own questions. Whether it is someone straight who is exploring their identity, whether a Christian who is exploring their faith, whether a member of the LGBTQ+ community who is exploring their gender or sexual fluidity, ALL deserve a space to talk through their personal feelings and convictions without being affirmed or condemned in their choices. Sadly, the ‘liberal’ lobby are shouting loudly to try and ensure that Christians counsellors who want to help individuals explore their sexuality are shut down, unless they affirm them in a specific sexual identity.

Emily’s experience is a sham. She went in with a lie and continued to add to that lie. Another lie was exposed as Emily says in her article:

“We talked about how sexual trauma could potentially make people gay. “Is that something you’ve experienced?” she asked. I had (in my childhood), but I said no. “Are you sure?” she pressed. Again, I said no. “It’s just … you look a bit upset?”
 
Another lie – perhaps Carol naturally noticed the truth, that Emily had experienced sexual trauma as a child, but her pressing in to explore is turned on its head and painted as being something terrible. Counsellors are trained to read body language and to notice cues; Carol was doing her job well; it is just that she was not expecting to have a counselee who was blatantly out to trick and deceive.

I am not surprised that Emily felt uncomfortable. Not only was she saying that something she loved was unwanted, but she also had to be hyper vigilant to ensure her cover did not slip. Had Emily genuinely felt that her same-sex attraction was unwanted, the discussions would have been profoundly different. I say this because Emily has no idea what it feels like to live as a lesbian for a number of years and then decide that this is not a life that she wants to follow. She is obviously going to be incredulous about the factors that lead to SSA, because she is fulfilled and happy in her life and has no desire to change. Sadly, in the mind of the many people pushing for a ban on talking therapies, anyone admitting to having unwanted SSA is deranged, unhappy, incapable of making a decision, coerced or homophobic.

Perhaps the truth is, that when you do not understand why someone chooses a different path, it is easier to throw mud at them than to take time out to understand them and appreciate their right to make different choices than you. If the counsellor does not speak your language, choose a different counsellor. If you want to act on your sexual feelings, who am I to stop you. Conversely, when someone says that they do not want to act on their sexual feelings, why not afford them the same courtesy and accept that they have the right to seek counselling, in the same way as everyone else.

I recognise that there are some forms of damaging conversion therapy still prevalent today and condemn all coercive practices. Let those who have actually undergone these practices speak out, rather than trying to manufacture evidence through blatant deception of an innocent woman.

Talking therapy is not a coercive or damaging practice, and I urge those who have fallen prey to that lie, to consider how important it is for everyone to have access to a safe space to talk through their feelings. I am all for parity, let us ensure that everyone has access to talking therapy, even if we do not necessarily agree with the choices they have made.

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