Gabriel Arana On His “So-Called Ex-Gay Life”
April 11th, 2012
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Gabriel Arana. His gig as web editor at The American Prospect has kept him pretty busy. Also keeping him busy lately is the work that he’s done in this remarkably personal account of his experience in ex-gay therapy as a patient of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). While a freshman in high school, Gabe’s parents discovered the he had a crush on another boy at school after snooping through his emails, they signed him up for Nicolosi’s therapy:
After our initial meeting, I spoke with Nicolosi weekly by phone for more than three years, from the time I was 14 until
I graduated high school. Like a rabbi instructing his student in understanding the Torah, Nicolosi encouraged me to interpret my daily life through the lens of his theories. …I came to believe that my attraction to men was the result of the failure to connect with my father. Whenever I felt slighted by my male friends — for failing to call when they said they would, for neglecting to invite me to a party — I was re-experiencing a seminal rejection from my father.
…My parents were surprised at how the therapy blamed them for my condition. Initially, Nicolosi had told them they were one of the cases that did not fit the mold of the “triadic relationship” — in other words, that my sexual orientation was not their fault. Once it became clear that Nicolosi held them responsible, they disengaged. They continued paying for therapy but no longer checked in with Nicolosi regularly or asked what he and I talked about. I was happy to defy my parents. Whether the grievance was that my curfew wasn’t late enough or that my parents didn’t give me enough money, I had a trusted authority figure validating every perceived injustice. Any complaint became evidence of how my parents had failed me.
As I progressed in therapy, I felt that I was gaining insight into the source and causes of my sexual attractions. The problem was, they didn’t go away…
Gabe started therapy in 1998, the same year that the ex-gay industry began its major public relations offensive with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other major newspapers featuring ex-lesbian Anne Paulk, a major cover story in Newsweek featuring Paulk and her ex-gay husband (and Focus on the Family employee/Exodus International board chairman) John Paulk, and television commercials featuring Michael Johnston. John Paulk and Johnston would later fall to scandal, Paulk when he was photographed by Wayne Besen in a gay bar in Washington, D.C., Johnston when it was revealed that, despite being HIV-positive, engaged in unprotected sex in orgies with men he met on the internet. But in those heady days in 1998, the ex-gay movement made significant inroads into America’s consciousness, not only to the detriment of gay people, but to their families as well for bearing the blame for their children’s sexuality. But mainly to the detriment of the clients, which is where Gabe’s account becomes harrowing. It all came to a head a few years after counseling while Gabe was off to college:
Realizing how close I was to impulsively deciding to kill myself, I went to the college dean’s office and said I was suicidal. He walked me over to the Department of Undergraduate Health, and I was admitted to the Yale Psychiatric Hospital. During the intake interview, I had a panic attack and handed the counselor a handwritten note that said, “Whatever happens, please don’t take me away from here.” I had signed my full name and dated it. More than anything, I feared going home.
It was gray and cold my first night at the hospital. I remember looking out the window of the room I was sharing with a schizophrenic. Snow covered the ground in the enclosed courtyard below. Restless, I gathered a stack of magazines from the common area and flipped through the pages, noticing the men in the fashion advertisements. I tore out the ads and put them in a clear plastic file folder. I lay down in bed and held the folder against my chest. “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK,” I murmured.
In this article, Gabe talks with two other former patients of Nicolosi’s: BTB’s Daniel Gonzales and Ryan Kendall, who testified at the Prop 8 trial about the harm he experienced in ex-gay therapy. In the sometimes very small world of the ex-gay movement, Ryan and Gabe were paired up as therapy partners. Ryan lived in Colorado, Gabe in Arizona, and they would talk on the phone a few times a week to form “genuine nonsexual bonds.” Seriously, you really need to read the whole thing all the way to the end when Gabe catches up with Nicolosi a decade later.