Gay People Who've Been To Conversion Camp Reveal What It Was Like
Warning: what you are about to read is highly upsetting.
If you've grown up as a gay person in the USA, you are probably well aware of the various issues that face our community. One of which being a completely legal practice called "conversion therapy," which is rumored to turn the user straight. Studies show it doesn't work, however, desperate and homophobic family members will turn to any solution they can find to hide who their children are.
[Serious] Gay people of Reddit , who had to attend gay conversion camp for some reason. What is your story?
Here were some of the hair-raising stories.
My story isn't that bad, but this specific camp made us list our hobbies and likes and such. they'd put up pictures of conventionally attractive dudes in the middle of an activity (my favourite thing i listed was 'drawing') and ask us how we felt about them. gradually they'd take away one small thing that we liked (for example theyd take my pen, then pencil, then notebook) and asked how we felt about the dudes again. eventually we sat in an empty room as they asked us how we felt. i think this was an attempt to make us associate seeing hot guys with losing everything we loved, but it was so horribly done that i cant imagine whoever thought of that was over the age of 10.
Man I don't even know anymore. Went through a year and change of conversion therapy because my parents are just homophobic as can be. Conservative Christianity accepted blindly with little critical thought will do that I suppose. I don't blame them too much, they only got it from their parents to begin with. Sessions ranged from horrible to "meh, not awful" based on who I was seeing at the time, cause I was passed around between a few therapists whenever the previous one "didn't cure me".
Lots of dumb attempts at fixing me by creating silly associations, similar to some other commenters. I remember specifically there was strong attempt to try and connect gay thoughts to jail time in my head, that messed with me for a little.
This all happened as I was turning 14 and continued till 18 when I could refuse to attend any more. It sure didn't turn me straight, but it did make me somewhat homophobic too. Basically I just hate myself, other people can do what they'd like, I don't really mind. I just never got to grow up and develop sexually, never got to experience my teenage years without being berated, and I'm going on 12 years of depression now because of it.
It wasn't a camp, but I was raised by Scientologists and they have a sort of conversion therapy they use to cure all "aberrations" like asthma and homosexuality. It's funny since L. Ron Hubbard doesn't actually say much about homosexuality. The only thing my seniors could show me said that homosexuals are constantly stuck in the same "tone" on the "tone scale," which is basically a chart of human emotions that places failure, apathy, and body death as low emotions, and happiness, creativity, and total knowingness (his word not mine) as high emotions. He believed all homosexuals were stuck at 1.1 on the tone scale, the number for covert hostility, which means that all gay people are supposedly full of secret, evil intentions. That was a bad place to be on the tone scale, and he believed that it was based on false purposes that you were holding onto. I won't go too off-topic with all the Scientology background, but L Ron Hubbard made up a lot of words and it's always hard to talk about without some translating.
So there's this process called the False Purpose Rundown that is very expensive to receive, but you are also required to do it if they find out you have this abberant behavior. I worked as an auditor in training at a local org (what they call churches) from the age of 11 up until I was 15 and performed two of these rundowns for two different gay men. The process is a mix of forced confessionals/interrogations, a lot of repetitive, hypnotic questions, and some other nonsense. It was heartbreaking both times, because these men genuinely wanted to change. They would sit in my office, crying, begging for the realization that would finally make them straight. Eventually a realization would come, but nobody was cured, just more repressed. Both men got in trouble later for their aberrant behavior, and I got in trouble for not actually curing them.
So being a gay teen at the time, I did not have a lot of faith in the process, but still felt like I was a disgusting pervert. I spent my nights doing the Scientology version of praying the gay away. Scientology states that if you believe something with total certainty, you will just believe it into existence. Scientologists also believe that they are the reason the Berlin wall fell, so if we can make a wall fall, surely we can change our orientation, right? It didn't work.
Because of a medical condition and some anonymous abuse concerns from neighbors, I was allowed to leave staff and I got to be a normal 15 year old with a 2nd grade education and no connection to anyone in the real world. So I decided to come out to my dad like a complete idiot, and he tried to take me to the org so they could fix me. I ran away and lived at our library for a few weeks, but I was worried about my mom and my survival skills were terrible. I went back home and he took me to the org.
I was usually a very, very obedient kid, but not being wholly in the church gave me a little confidence that there was a world outside, and I did a lot of secret reading about sexuality at the library, which wasn't allowed. The attempt to convert me wasn't successful, and I tried to stop engaging with them. They are tenacious to say the least, so it wasn't actually my decision, and the process was pretty devastating. On one hand, my feelings felt valid, but I had been so thoroughly indoctrinated that it was hard to understand what was right. They were trying to groom me to get me back on staff since I'd already done so much training, and they thought this little aberration would be an easy fix. My dad's church was also being much kinder than my old one since I wasn't on staff there, and that was very confusing to me. But one day three men showed up to my house, angry that I was taking too long and bogging down the process. They yelled at me on my lawn for a while. At one point I got into a yelling match, my first in my life. Looking back, I'm amazed I talked back to them. The one man did most of the talking and asked me why I didn't just decide to be straight. I asked him if he could just decide to be gay if he wanted, and he said he could. All of my learning at the library taught me that this man was probably bi, and that gave me an indescribable feeling: for the first time, I realized I knew something that the church didn't. And I probably knew even more things, and there was even more to learn in the world outside the church! I ran away from the three men and hid at a park like some kind of lizard.
Shortly after all this, my dad was forced to excommunicate my mom who was relatively bedridden and suffered from a lot of undiagnosed physical and mental disorders. Sometimes she would walk outside naked or hit her head against the wall repeatedly. She had 30 days to leave the house. This was great timing, so I bought an old car with some money I saved and drove her to a new city in a different state. We started life again, homeless in a strange place, but free.
This was all 11 years ago. I live with my partner now and have a happy, boring life. We have a dog and friends, and so many books! My mom is now mentally and physically healthy and completely self sufficient. I forget about the journey it took to get here, but I'm so grateful for the life I have.
The Ghost Of A Building
I'm a guy. So when I was 14, I was 100% a virgin and hadn't even kissed anyone. I'd been looking at and printing pictures of nude men (because I'm gay). My mother found them and asked my relatives what to do. I ended up at a church-sponsored conversion "camp" for six weeks. I wasn't fully aware of what the place was at the time other than that I was in trouble coz of the pictures and it was church-related.
It wasn't what you're probably imagining. It was basically an old mall that was empty and it was being converted into a weird church. There were maybe twelve kids there that I knew of, but TONS of adults (like 80ish). To this day, I don't know why they were there... if they were looking for conversion or maybe they were church employees. It was a bit like being at church with mostly all adults. Kids were kept apart. You didn't go outside. The food was like concession food (nacho bar was about all I ate). And lots of Kool-Aid. There was worship every evening in a space with a glass ceiling and it was very awkward. I would mostly stare up out the ceiling.
The practice there did involve a lot of things that I believe are now illegal: shock therapy, using heterosexual images, and isolation. I was a polite kid and was really compliant to what they wanted, so I actually think I was let off easy for the most part. The weirdest thing about this place was communal showers (there was nowhere to shower alone). Going and showering was my favorite thing because... I would shower as frequently as I could and take my time.
A few years after that, I broke down and told my mom all about what had happened. I don't think I could have broken her heart more. She was so apologetic and... she's a great mom now. She changed her mind on a lot of it and didn't know how to handle homosexuality. The only thing that bothers both of us is that I was afraid to talk to her about it then... and that if I'd spoken up maybe things would be better for some other kids who ended up at that awful place.
Probably the weirdest thing in all of this: I ended up buying a house a mile from that awful horrible place. I drive by it once or twice a week. It's abandoned now. It has no power over me. It is just weird that I ended up so near that place.
I was outted to my parents by a friend of theirs that saw me hanging out with my girlfriend at the time. They didn't tell me they knew and instead set up an ambush for me - since I was still going to their church to try and keep up appearances I went to what was supposed to be a youth group meeting on a Friday night.
Well, it wasn't a youth group meeting - the senior pastor and the youth pastor and their wives along with some of the deacons at the church were there and no one else. I turned around to leave - since I was already living in my car and hung out at college most of the time I just figured I could do that until I graduated a few months later. But I was forcibly restrained while they tried to perform some kind of exorcism on me - we weren't even Catholic, my family went to some Jesus Camp evangelical cultish church.
They spent hours praying over me while I was tied to a chair, they then made me watch lesbian erotica after they gave me water mixed with an emetic agent that made me vomit and have really bad abdominal pain. It didn't make me not like women - I just ended up being humiliated at finding the women attractive while vomiting on myself until I passed out from dehydration.
I don't know what they had planned for me long-term - there was mention of a christian in-patient program for "same sex attraction" - but when they let me go to the bathroom to clean up I overpowered the woman sent with me to supervise and ran away. I didn't go home and I found out that my girlfriends parents made her withdraw from school and sent her to live with family a few states away. I ended up homeless for a while until one of my faculty mentors helped me figure out some living arrangements.
This kidnapping and abuse happened in the United States and yet I couldn't go to the police - I knew that they'd only harass me further and nothing would come of trying to press charges. Gay conversion is legal in my state - and quietly supported by the conservative masses including the police. I've steered clear of churches, religion, and my family ever since.
I remember all too well the moment I realized that this was going to be a long difficult summer for me. On arrival we were given extensive forms to fill out. Questions about hobbies/ likes/ dislikes and all that kind of thing. Least favorite smell was an interesting question on the form, my 17 year old self thought. On the 2nd or 3rd day in I was given some, in hindsight, incredibly laughable gay erotica (probably a strong word) and allowed to return to my room. Or at least what you would expect a particularly naive grandparent in the 1990's to give you, anyway. As soon as I returned to my room I heard some commotion outside the door and then the pungent smell of curry slowly seeped into my room. Waves of the smell came through periodically over about 3 hours. This was the smell I had listed on the form and this was their attempt at making me straight by associating attractive men with the smell of curry.
This Is All Legal
When I was 12 I made the big mistake of telling my mom about a crush I had on another boy (we were having a normal conversation about how my school day was and I just said it without even thinking for a moment about the consequences).
That led to my mom and dad basically interrogating me and getting me to admit that I'm gay. They then told me that as christians they couldn't accept me and that they would disown me and kick me out unless I "changed". I cried and told them that I had already prayed for that but it didn't work.
A few days after that at night they had some men basically kidnap me (completely legal) and take me to a church-run conversion therapy camp (completely legal). I was locked up in a small room most of the time I was there. The methods they used for the "conversion" were pretty much torture, either psychological torture (by telling you how broken you are) or actual physical torture (too upsetting to describe). I was forced to go to this camp every school break from when I was 12 till I was 15.
Obviously none of it worked and all that happened was that I fell into depression and my grades suffered (I was an all A student before that). It pretty much ruined my childhood and my education. I never really recovered from it. When I grew up I cut off my parents from my life and I haven't heard from them since.
I'm not sure this qualifies but my stepmonster kept forcing me to go to a church camp every summer that she picked out. The counselors went out of their way to tell me how 'bad' gay people were, how they were going to hell, how they were terrible people who touched small children, standard 'anyone different is a monster' BS.
The adults liked to follow me around to make sure I wasn't, ah, too friendly with the other girls. I couldn't even go change to get into the pool without an adult present. They seemed to be convinced that I was one of them there evil gays and would force myself on another girl. So instead all the grown ups spied on me, at age 12, while I was alone- even changing, going to the bathroom, swimming, etc.
I actually used to like to sing, so they'd force me to sing religious hymns over and over and over until my voice gave out, and even wrote a special "gays are going to hell" song just for me that they forced me to sing to them whenever they wanted. If I refused, they'd lock me in the canoe storage while everyone did whatever. I started to hate music. I wasn't allowed to sit with boys (I honestly don't know why) at lunch, and counselors took it upon themselves to steal my food right off my tray and refuse to let me go get more because I'd "never get a husband if I was fat". I said I didn't want to get married anyways and they acted like I'd stripped naked and ran in front of the pope.
Even when I tried following their rules or playing their games it wasn't enough. I wasn't allowed to play kickball or baseball or anything with the other kids, and when I tried to sign some songs instead of singing, they taped my hands together so I couldn't because "we don't know what you're saying. You could be saying anything and pretending it's the song lyrics." I guess they thought I was sending out my gay signal? Who knows.
Anyways, I finally, finally aged out of the camp and my stepmonster was so pissed we couldn't afford to send me to the "adult" camp (ages 15+) out of state. So I didn't have to go anymore. My younger sister later told me she'd asked about the camp after I'd moved out and her mother- my stepmonster- said there was no way in hell she'd send her child there. Apparently there have been lots of accusations over the years from kids that were swept under the rug but eventually someone finally investigated and the camp was shut down.
So it might not have been a conversion camp, but I think that's what they were going for.
So, throw away account here. I wasn't forced to go to a camp, but I was forced to go to a conversion therapist for a year and a half after my parents found out I was a lesbian.
The experience wasn't horrible aside from being made to go to the therapy sessions, and I felt slightly bad that my parents were paying for something that I knew wouldn't work. My therapist was also fine, just biased. We talked a lot about the 'root of my problem' with 'not trusting men' which was bullshit and I basically just made things up to placate both them and my parents into feeling like I was making progress and 'getting better'. I'm not proud of it, but I faked my conversion just to not have to go through it any more. Granted, I was 15 at the time and wasn't the best at looking at things long term.
After the 'conversion' was finished, I pretended around my parents that everything was fine, but I was secretly still dating girls and looking for a long-term partner. I eventually came out again when I was in my 20s, to a lot of accusations and resistance. My family has since shunned me and I don't have much contact with them. I guess I'm considered the black sheep, and I'm not sure if most of my extended family even knows. I know my mother told me that my uncle was never to know because, in her words, "he would kill me if he found out". I do have a support group of friends, so I'm doing okay now in case anyone's worried.
I became religious in my teens and came out to my parents so that they could take me to a Christian counselor, in hopes that I could become straight or at least asexual. The Bible suggested this was possible in [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]. I was part of an online community of other gay people trying to convert, and some of the people in that community claimed to have successfully converted. I had also contacted Pastor Stephen Bennett who claimed to have converted, so it seemed possible to me based on all these thing, as wildly unlikely as it seemed.
My parents thought it was fine that I was gay (my mom moreso than my dad) and didn't want to take me to a Christian counselor, but I was adamant. By the time they caved and finally took me, I wasn't Christian anymore. So my time with the Christian counselor was half-hearted and I was dubious of most things he said.
His process was based on the idea that I was gay because my relationship with my dad was inadequate and because I hadn't been affirmed in my masculinity when I was younger. He wanted me to do more manly things and get closer to my dad. My relationship with my dad was fine and I didn't have any interest in sports, so I didn't follow his advice.
The counselor asked me what I liked about men. I said I wanted to be held. He said, well why don't you find an athletic, assertive girl? A well-muscled one. That will do the trick. I was skeptical then and it is laughable now how little he understood what gay people want.
When I stopped seeing him, he offered to give me a book about gay conversion. I had been playing along so far, pretty half-heartedly, so I thought why not. I accepted the book, and then he balked. He said that he only wanted to give it to me if I really wanted to convert. I realized I had to tell him the truth for the first time and told him I wasn't actually interested in converting, and left.
Went to a catholic summer camp for that exact reason when i was 17. I remember being aquatinted with a yardstick if i was mildly disobedient (ignoring nuns and teachers and camp councilors). I remember i was also not allowed to eat if i didn't read verses from the bible out loud. Tried my best to muddle through all the stuff. But anxiety was getting me halfway through the two week, making me appear more problematic than usual. So they set me in a tent instead of a cabin for a week where it rained 5 days in a row. I also remember them calling my parents repeatedly to tell them how abhorrent i behaved, which obviously led to more trouble. However one clergyman i remember for being a good man. He would go out of his way daily during the two weeks to make sure i was actually okay.
You Don't Have A Mental Disorder
Didn't go to camp but I was put in Church of Christ conversion therapy by my parents. Basically was just told I had a mental disorder for an hour a week for like 6 months. Also told that as I grew up I would grow out of it, and that all I had to do was pray and trust God. A different kid at the same church as me came out and was completely rejected. Total disfellowship. After that I lost my respect for that congregation. I still respect real Christians but those are very rare in churches these days.
I am Bi-sexual, and in summer 2001 and 2002 I went to 2 different summer camps. A mormon one, and generic bible camp. While i hadn't come out at that point, and this wasnt a conversion camp, it was very...discouraging. And why I think the camps are as bad or worse then people realize, cause this wasnt even meant for it and it was suck.
2001 the mormon camp had 3 things stick to me. 8am prayer, that went out of its way to pray for personal purity and calling out 'unclean' urges. Now i get it, summer camp for 11-16. But I remember it saying 'towards those like you' a few times.
The other two are linked. They had a buddy system, and a buddy buddy thing. They paired you with someone, but also you and that someone werent allowed alone together and always had to be with another buddy group. Felt weird, why not do groups of 4 if you dont trust em
2002 was more...behind the scenes. I can sum it up with a simple example. Want to see yourself in a new cabin/group? hold hands with someone of the same sex
I was sent to therapy. I knew as soon as I started fantasizing that I was bisexual. I knew long before that that I really enjoyed wearing girl's clothes more than boys and playing with my mom's makeup. By the time I was 12, I also knew, thanks to my upbringing, that I was going to burn in hell for eternity for being who I was, that the devil was in charge of my life and I had to rid (how??) his influence if I was going to be saved. So I became a very accomplished liar, almost totally emotionally closed off (if nobody sees my soul crushing depression, they'll never question why it is, and they'll never find out the truth until they get to Heaven and I'm just not there!). I also (this was in the early nineties) drew homophobia around me like a coat of armor, for which I still feel awful.
Anyway, cue being sixteen. I had an amazing girlfriend (real, not fake - I was/am bi). It just so happens that she and I were the same height and pretty similar build, and when one day she decided it would be fun to dress me up in her clothes and give me a makeover I pretty enthusiastically went along with it. Cue my dad unexpectedly coming home to find his oldest "son" dressed to the nines (and looking pretty good according to my girlfriend).
He got my stepmother to drive my girlfriend home while lecturing her on various sins, and he practically stood guard while lecturing and yelling. When my stepmother got home he ordered her to go through all my things, including my computer and my journal, where they found allllll about their little old son and his apparent desire to burn in hell. All the s* about my depression and serious, years long obsession with and flirting with suicide and active participation in self-harm? Yeah, that was to be expected with a deviant like myself. Only God and The Church could help.
Church "counseling" along with complete isolation from all things "worldly" ensued. I was lucky to have not been physically or sexually abused like many people here, but the psychological torture, there and at home, drove me to a real suicide attempt, which led to me being thrown out because "I was a danger to my younger siblings."
I lived with my mother after that, and eventually moved into a roommate situation with some really great people. This was all twenty+ years ago. What do I have to show for it? I've seen my four younger siblings from their marriage twice in the past twenty years. My youngest brother was one, and he's an adult that I just don't know now. Twenty years of being closeted and so emotionally repressed that I barely recognize myself. A string of broken relationships because I'm so emotionally fucked that I just can't trust a soul. Lying is as easy as breathing, and I can't ever show or admit a flaw, about anything to anyone. A broken marriage with the most amazing woman I've ever met, and a son I can't live with full time because we share custody.
I'm just, just starting to heal now. I started therapy again a few months ago. I finally came clean with my therapist about being transgender, which gave me the courage to reach out to my old high school girlfriend from earlier in the story (I'm good friends with her and her husband), and finally to come out to my ex-wife. These people that I never trusted? Yeah, they immediately expressed support. Even my ex-wife. Total, uncompromising support. I wasted decades of my life, literally, living in fear and self-hatred because of that experience. But I'm finally getting better.
What Kinds Of Games Are These?
Well I AM gay and I had to go to "Christian service camp" when I was in high school. But at the time no one knew I was gay (even me, really). They preached a bunch of "love the sinner, hate the sin" We did kumbaya bs around camp fires and all that camp-type stuff with a whole bunch of Jesus added. I have kind of blocked it out but I remember a few of the leaders organized these activities to challenge our beliefs. One of these activities included putting some of us in a makeshift "jail" because they were trying to make them renounce Jesus. They would taunt them and and mock them and crap like that. Another time we all had to walk around outside blindfolded asking the counselors questions in order to figure out how to get to heaven or hell while blindfolded. The "angel counselors" always told the truth and the "devil counselors" always lied no matter what they were asked. You had to figure out how to ask in such a manner that you knew who was trying to take you to hell with them. I went to hell. Shocker. Although the worst and probably weirdest thing was on the last night, they set up a cross laying flat on the ground and one just past it erect with a standing platform. We kind of formed a line and would lay down on the cross while the person after us would hit the cross next to our hands with a big rubber mallet. So we could feel the vibrations and hear the sound of the beating echoing through the woods. Then we would get up and stand on the next cross with our arms up and others would mock us and yell all kinds of slander. Then more crying and praying at the campfire.
Breaking up is hard to do.
And when you get the law involved, it's even worse. But sometimes people don't need the law's help to make things overcomplicated, they just have a grand ole time making that happen themselves.
People on the front lines of human cruelty include divorce lawyers. These are their stories.