Gabriel Arana On His “So-Called Ex-Gay Life”

Jim Burroway

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.

TwirlyGirly

April 11th, 2012

Jim:

I registered for an account at American Prospect, but when I try to access the articlethrough the link you provided the page says “access denied.”

The article doesn’t appear on the site either using the search feature or when looking at the list of articles written by Gabriel Arana.

Is is possible you were given an “advanced copy” and that the article has not yet been posted to the site?

Gabe Arana

April 11th, 2012

It should be live now, sorry about the delay!

Gabe

Jim Burroway

April 11th, 2012

Twirly Girl, it was my mistake. I had a massive brain fart when I scheduled this post. It ended up going up here before it went up at Te American Prospect. My apologies

StraightGrandmother

April 11th, 2012

OMG that story is so powerful.

I was literally on the edge of my seat reading it. Gabe tells his story in a way that straight people like me “get it”. I can’t imagine how a man who is gay or a woman who is a lesbian, who did experience emotional conflicts over their sexual orientation as a youth, will feel reading the story.

I really like the end of the article when Gabe calls Nicolosi. Nicolosi seems like a coke head to me, always after his next high. “Sorry Gabe that my therapy didn’t work for you, it is NOT my fault though, it is YOU and your family’s fault because in my opinion you never properly bonded with males. So that’s on you man.”

“BUT chasing my next high, we now have new and improved therapies (like a commercial for Tide laundry detergent, the never ending new and improved products) and these have me on a natural High, I am SURE this new man talk is just the ticket.” (and if that doesn’t work well then he will move onto the Next New and Improved…)

Nicolosi knows that he is a failure. It was interesting that he only sent 9 men to Spitzer, only 9.

Where is the Spitzer rebuttal published? I would like to read it.

At 137 clients each having a session one time per week at $75 per session this works out to $41,100 PER MONTH! Cha-Ching! I would like to know how much Gabe’s parents spent on Nicolosi.

Stephen

April 11th, 2012

Very good piece. Nicolosi is clearly selling snake oil. I wonder how he still has a license. Hardly surprising that he blamed the author for failing him not the other way round.

I was particularly interested in the emphasis on masculinity, as socially defined. Part of a panic that set in as social roles started to change during WWII.

This ‘distant father/over-controlling mother’ malarkey was popular among Freudians in NYC in the 50s and 60s. Gay men trying to change were a significant part of the population who frequented psychiatrists offices. Didn’t work then, either.

When my mother discovered my homosexuality in just about the worst way that she could she spent years tormenting herself that it was her fault. I’m glad to say that we achieved a genuine reconciliation before she died, though I could never forget the things that were said to me. I would have been a lot less forgiving with Nicolosi but would probably not have written as well about him.

And really, how does he still have a license?

Tony P

April 11th, 2012

Wow, I read the whole article. Nicolosi is a fraud, that much is clear but he doesn’t want to believe he is a fraud.

cd

April 11th, 2012

Wonderful article.

jerry

April 11th, 2012

I agree with those who say Nicolosi is a fraud. It strikes me that he portrays the classic definition of insanity. Just keep doing the same thing over and over expecting to get different results.

If this reparative therapy had any basis in reality, conversely it would be possible to reverse engineer a str8 dude. Make him gay for a month then reconvert him back to str8 if he wants that.

Won’t happen, of course, and quacks like Nicolosi will keep popping up. There are still places in the world that “cure” left-handedness. That didn’t work on me either.

robert helmreich

May 5th, 2012

You might be interested in faculty teaching at Yale in the late 50s. Seldon Bscon in sociology who went on to Rutgers, I believe taught every stereotype about mom, distand dae, etc Irving Child, in psychology collaborated with John Whiting of Harvard and looked at society cross-culturally. Their conclusion was that homosexuality is a universal (n animals as well as humans). So, my alma-mater went from antediluvian to state of the art.
Great article and one I hopw will influence many, especially the young who may stiff suffer from angst about their orientation
bob

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