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Cure me, I'm Gay


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With the first gay marriages in England set to take place in less than two weeks’ time, this country has never been a friendlier place towards gays and lesbians. It’s an obvious moment for TV to consider alternative points of view – particularly those of people who still consider homosexuality to be a disorder, or at least a sin. Hence, Channel 4’s one-off documentary Undercover Doctor: Cure Me, I’m Gay.


The idea was to look at so-called “gay cures”, offered by some doctors and religious people who think they can turn gay people straight. The programme was, in essence, a stunt – Dr Christian Jessen, the gay doctor from Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, would see if his homosexuality could be “cured”. And he would take Cornell University’s sexual orientation test at the beginning and the end, to see if the “cures” made any difference.


This was an admirably clear proposition for the programme, yet it suffered a fatal flaw right from the get-go: Jessen clearly had no desire to be “cured”, nor the faintest intention of changing his sexuality. It reminded me of the old joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has got to really want to change.”


Jessen’s staunch and unflinching homosexuality made him, for these purposes, a bad journalist. (I should at this point loudly disclose my own homosexuality, which by the same token makes me a biased critic.) When presented with religious American extremists who believe that a person can be “cured” of their homosexuality (by therapy or even exorcism), TV can legitimately do one of two things. It can start from the express premise that these people are mad, and derisively try to goad them into showing their true insanity. Or it can try to be objective, and even-handedly explore whether there is any value (or at least efficacy) in what they do.


Jessen did neither. He had contempt for the “cures” and the “curers”, but tried to hide it. After trying a specially-staged version of aversion therapy (which used to be available on the NHS, and involved taking a drug that forced him to vomit repeatedly while he looked at gay erotica), he pretty much abandoned even the pretence of actually trying to change his sexuality. Almost all the “reparative therapists” he approached in the US refused to be interviewed, at least one of them on the (understandable) ground that Jessen was himself gay, and could not be objective.


In an American church car park, Jessen interviewed teenage parishioners who opined that homosexuality was caused by demons. In the East End of London, he found a pastor who would perform an actual exorcism. And he met an American quack, whose approach to curing homosexuality involved the patient colouring in a diagram of the human brain with coloured pencils. All of these encounters had the sneering scepticism of a Louis Theroux, rather than the open curiosity of a medical doctor.


What Jessen did not do was to find the most reputable American conversion therapist that he could, and then embark on a sober course of therapy, actively trying to change his sexuality. That would have been the only journalistically valid way to fulfil the programme’s title – but, of course, it wouldn’t have made for such sensational TV.


And Jessen’s pretence of objectivity had another, more sinister consequence. The practice of gay “cures” presupposes that the practitioners believe homosexuality to be a disease or a disorder. In pretending to approach those cures on their own terms, the programme never said, loud and clear, that that belief is false and harmful. Indeed, large chunks of the programme effectively went along with the idea that homosexuality might have a “cause”, particularly in childhood, that can be “cured”. And for all the scared, closeted gay and lesbian teenagers watching at home, that is a truly disgraceful message for Channel 4 to allow.


source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/10705094/Undercover-Doctor-Cure-Me-Im-Gay-Channel-4-review.html




Historically, therapies indenting to 'cure' people of homosexuality have included electric shock therapy

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