shurka 300x125 Reparative Therapy: Best Training Ever In How To Lead A Double Life

(Damon Dahlen, The Huffington Post)

That is the description given by Mathew Shurka, the subject of an extensive investigative report on “ex-gay” therapy from Lila Shapiro at the Huffington Post. Mathew was put into “ex-gay” therapy at the age of sixteen by a father who wanted him “fixed” when he confessed a crush on a boy:

But Mathew was only beginning to think about his sexual identity. About a month before, he’d confessed to his father, a wealthy businessman, that he had a crush on a boy and was feeling confused. His father, who declined to be interviewed, worried that Mathew’s sexuality would prevent him from being happy and successful. “Let’s get this fixed now,” he declared at the end of a meeting with his son and the therapist, pounding his fist on the desk. The therapist told the Shurkas that because Mathew was so young and sexually inexperienced, they could expect to see signs of progress in as few as six weeks.

Because he was young and impressionable (and not surrounded by support, it seems like), Mathew wanted the therapy to work:

Mathew wanted to believe the therapy could work, and he tried to follow John’s advice. When John told Mathew he identified too closely with female family members and friends, Mathew took steps to avoid speaking with his mother and sisters. When John encouraged him to establish more friendships with the straight boys at his school, he threw parties for hundreds of teenagers at his family’s Long Island mansion. A year into his therapy, he lost his virginity to a girl. John approved. Soon he was sleeping with women “left and right.”

As Mathew put it recently, “The therapy was the best training ever in how to lead a double life.

Every day after school, Mathew and his best friend — I’ll call him Jacob — would drive around town in Mathew’s car. They’d play video games, swim in Mathew’s pool, take the train into the city or hang out at the mall. Mathew’s pictures from this time, which he still keeps on his computer, show them happy and affectionate, their arms around each other. Mathew had been infatuated with Jacob since meeting him at a Bar Mitzvah at the Waldorf Astoria when he was 13.

John didn’t discourage Mathew from spending time with his crush. In fact, he encouraged him to spend as much time as possible with Jacob. Like many conversion therapists, John believed then that boys who relate closely to their mothers and lack strong bonds with their fathers tend to see men as exotic and mysterious, which, in turn, produces feelings of sexual attraction as the boys reach puberty. In keeping with the central theory of conversion therapy, he believed that Mathew could erase those feelings by forming strong, nonsexual relationships with other men.

How silly. I find this incredibly funny because I am a gay man who, ever since I came out of the closet, has enjoyed many wonderful, close friendships with straight men — none of whom I was trying to have sex with, I might add. Indeed, the only thing that held me back from developing those friendships earlier, it seems, was being in the closet. Once that was out in the open, the artificial barriers were gone. And of course, it didn’t work for Mathew:

Around Mathew’s 18th birthday, he and Jacob had sex.

Read the whole piece. It’s fascinating. And you’ll be delighted to know that Mathew’s former therapist now considers reparative therapy to be “garbage.”

ADDENDUM: Just so you aren’t tempted to skim, please understand that Mathew also ended up at Journey Into Manhood, the “ex-gay” retreat straight journalist Ted Cox attended undercover, where he experienced cuddle therapy with men, and also, in his words, “felt a man’s erection for the first time.” (Against his will.) Mathew Shurka describes an element of Journey Into Manhood that made me laugh out loud, it’s so ridiculous:

As Mathew arrived at the site of the retreat, in the woods of Charlottesville, Va., hooded men carrying staffs led him and the other participants into a darkened room. Native American flute music played in the background. The room was hazy with incense. The group leaders reenacted the plot of Jack and the Beanstalk. In their reading, Jack’s quest to conquer the giant and marry the princess was a metaphor for the process of defeating one’s same-sex attractions.

Just a buncha dudes out in the woods playin’ Jack and the Beanstalk! YOU KNOW, STRAIGHT GUY STUFF.