Why Pay $550 To Change?

Jim Burroway

July 13th, 2006

The ex-gay therapy group “People Can Change” have issued a press release touting a survey they conducted to understand what motivates gay men who undergo sexual reorientation therapy. According to the press release:

According to conventional wisdom, the answer is inevitably “internalized homophobia” or societal pressure.

But a new survey of almost 200 same-sex-attracted men who are pursuing change paints a very different picture: Out of 18 possible motivations listed in the survey, outside pressure was the least frequently cited motivating factor reported by the 189 survey respondents.

The report carries the unwieldy title, “Why Change? Survey of Men With Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions of the Factors Motivating Their Desire to Change” (PDF: 117KB/26 pages). The 189 survey respondents were out of approximately 1,100 registered participants in People Can Change’s online discussion forums. That calculates out to an exceptionally low 17% response rate — one of the lowest response rates I’ve ever seen in a survey.

With such a low response rate, one might ask why so many declined to participate in the first place. Did they look over the questionnaire and decide the questions or responses didn’t really apply to them? Were they put off by it somehow? One might also ask how different the results might have been if that 83% had participated. With such an exceptionally low response rate, it’s very important to ask questions like these.

But that doesn’t appear to bother the folks at People Can Change, since they apparently got what they wanted. The results pretty much echo everything most ex-gay therapists and ministries say about gay men, which makes this survey essentially a marketing survey — to verify their messages are resonating with their clients.

And resonate they do. Why did these men want to change? The top ten answers given were straight out of the ex-gay theorists’ cookbook (respondents could choose more than one answer):

1) Want to heal emotional wounds (91% identified this answer as a motivating factor): “I believe my SSA feelings are as a result of past emotional hurts and bad experiences…”

2) Values (90%): “Homosexuality conflicts with my deeply held values and beliefs.”

3) Expectations of unhappiness (90%): “I believe I can never truly be happy living a gay lifestyle.”

4) Spirituality (87%):Regardless of what any religion teaches [emphasis mine], I feel God wants me to turn away from homosexuality, and/or I feel more peaceful spiritually when I turn away from homosexuality.”

5) Male friendships (86%): “I want to be able to have “normal’ male friendships.”

6) Conscience (86%): “Living a gay life just feels wrong to me.”

7) Family (85%): “I want to have a wife and children, or I want to hold together an existing marriage and family.”

8) Masculinity (85%): “I want feel more manly, like a regular guy, and for me that is a heterosexual man.”

9) Compulsiveness (85%): “For me, homosexuality is or was addictive, compulsive, obsessive, and/or self-destructive.”

10) Religion (84%): “My religious faith (religious community, faith tradition, scripture) tells me that homosexuality is wrong.”

Other motivational factors included depression or dissatisfaction (84%), wanting increased heterosexual interest (80%), identity (“my homosexual feelings don’t feel like who I really am inside”; 78%), shame (73%), fear of rejection (65%), gay relationships (could not or didn’t believe “I could find a lasting, meaningful relationship with a man”; 56%), fear of disease (56%) and outside pressure (55%).

Now, I don’t know how they can say that this proves that “internalized homophobia” is not a factor. Depending on how you define it, several of these answers could easily be recognized as “a prejudice carried by individuals against homosexual manifestations in themselves and others, [causing] severe discomfort with or disapproval of one’s own sexual orientation.” You know, prejudice that says that homosexuality is the result of an “emotional wound,” or that homosexuality is incompatible with decency and values, or that it is impossible to be gay and, well, gay.

But that’s okay for People Can Change. After all, it means that because they have found a small number of their members willing to echo their organization’s talking points, they don’t have to change their literature. But more importantly, this little marketing survey shows that they can continue to charge $550 per person to attend one of their workshops, with the enticement of moving on to a more advanced workshop for an minimum $200 deposit.

And life-change coaching services. Don’t forget about that.

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