I’ve known since I was 13 that I was attracted to men, but I buried these feelings after becoming a born-again Christian at 19. For the many years that followed, I lived a faithful straight life – getting married to a wonderful woman, having two beautiful children, and immersing myself in my church.
But, I was fighting a slow, losing battle with my sexual orientation. I was always faithful in my marriage, but I was not able to validate myself for who I really was. In mid-life, as my depression deepened, I turned to a dangerous form of “therapy” that offered to make me straight, but only made me sink deeper into depression and shame. At my lowest point, I considered taking my own life, blaming myself when this “therapy” did not work.
My story is far from unique, and in sharing it I hope to spare others – especially younger people – from the harm caused by so-called “reparative therapy” or "conversion therapy,” which is based on the false belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender can be "cured" or “controlled.” Part of this idea is that you can “pray your way” out of being gay.
Calif. Senator Ted Lieu recently introduced a bill – which passed the full Senate on May 30 and will soon move before the full Assembly – that would prohibit mental health practitioners from subjecting young people to any practices to try to change their sexual orientation. I testified in support of the bill, in hopes that my story would show legislators the terrible harm these practices can cause.
In many church communities in large cities and small towns, teenage youth are still being coerced into these harmful practices by well-meaning parents who love their children, but wrongly believe that being LGBT means their child cannot have a happy, productive life. These “reparative therapists” falsely claim they can “reprogram” a young person away from growing up to be LGBT. These are ill-advised, ineffective, and dangerous practices. It is wrong to put this pressure on a young person, who is being “counseled” that such a core aspect of his or her identity is unacceptable and can be changed.
That’s why I have to speak out. These practices amount to medical abuse, attempting to fix a God-given part of who some of us are. What goes on in this so-called therapy? When I was 46, my depression began to overwhelm me and I turned to a therapist who told me he could help me continue to live a straight life. Every week between 2001 and 2004, I experienced the complete frustration of attending sessions, but making no change in my sexual orientation. He continued to urge me to be more “like a man” by praying harder, getting involved in sports, and “lusting” after women.
Most dangerously, he attempted to “father” me, providing a supposed transference to the “dad I never had.” Each week, my depression and shame worsened as there was no change in my core orientation, and my therapist offered no other way out, leaving me feeling like a failure.
Completely discouraged, and contemplating taking my own life, I moved on to another therapist for help. Slowly, my new therapist helped me accept myself as a gay man, and helped me free myself to live an emotionally, spiritually, and physically integrated life. With support from my wife, my faithful straight marriage ended amicably. Now, I have complete support from my family, my friends, and everyone I know except the most conservative members of my previous faith community.
Recently a more progressive pastor said to me, “Peter, I am glad you are ready to be the man God made you to be.” These are the words I needed to hear long ago when I entered therapy. We must all be celebrated for who we were created to be, and I pray that our youth will not be exposed to the disheartening, potentially devastating idea that their sexual orientation can be changed.
Peter Drake now lives in San Francisco with his partner Philippe Berthoud. Peter and Philippe met through a support group called Husbands Out to their Wives (HOW). Together, they have started the Coming Out Into Light Foundation (COIL) to work on issues of spiritual and social justice for all LGBT people.