My interest in exposing the dangers of reparative therapy grows from my experience as a straight spouse.  If gay people were allowed to be open about their sexual orientation, and if society accepted them as they were born to be, they would not be forced into the closet.  There would be no mixed-orientation marriages.  Gay or straight, people could live their lives authentically. 

    My previous post on reparative therapy brought a slew of comments and emails, some from people who were subjected to this wrong-headed approach.  These are the real experts on its long-term damage.  One of these emails came from Dr. Jerry Bigner, a professional in the field of psychology who specializes in GLBT issues and has written widely on these subjects.  He also was a recipient of reparative therapy as an adolescent.  Here is his story, used here with his permission.

~ ~ ~

    Reparative therapy is evil in that it represents
another institutionalized form of heterosexism and homophobia that is used as a
tool to oppress GLBT people. The name itself shouts that we are desperately
flawed as humans, and that one facet of our personalities makes us in desperate
need of repair in order to be OK. Now, as we come to terms with the ill-gained
outcomes of this unethical therapeutic tool, we will hopefully see the end of
marriages that take place to facilitate the reparative message, the production
of children who are completely innocent victims of this process, and the deep
emotional wounds that are experienced by all who are affected when gay and
lesbian people attempt or are coerced to deny their basic nature.  

      I experienced a form of reparative therapy after
being forced to admit to my father that I was gay in 1959 when I was a young
adolescent. At the time, homosexuality was considered to be a medical mental
illness and held an official designation as such in the American Psychiatric
Association’s Diagnostic Manual. Because he was hesitant to share this
revelation with our minister, he turned to the local psychiatrist to help him
“straighten me out.” Unlike many other unfortunate people in a similar
position, I was never subjected to being shocked while viewing naked male
bodies, given shock treatments, or other incredibly harsh treatments. Instead,
the message was driven deeply into my psyche that I would never be OK as an
openly gay man, I would always be unloved, I could never hold a decent job, I
would die lonely and alone, I could never be happy and have a normal life like
everyone else, and so on. I knew at the time how I felt about being attracted
to males, I liked it, it felt good, and I deeply resented the efforts being
made to take these feelings away from me and to convince me that they were
wrong. When you put these two psychological events together, the result became
accepting my gay feelings while acknowledging the reality that to survive in
that family and in this society, I would need to learn to pass as heterosexual.
And so, I worked very hard to do just that.

      I learned how to date girls, how to swagger like the
other guys, but to honor my feelings secretly and on the sly. I don’t think
I’ll ever know how good I became as an actor but it was good enough to help me
become a member of a fraternity in college and to eventually hold several
important offices such as president. My father engineered my marriage to a
woman I came to love very much in my last years of college, and in this union
there were three beautiful children who were produced. However, I was never
completely happy and this became evident in a number of ways.

      My depression deepened as I considered the hole I
believed I had dug myself into and had been forced upon me. What sprung me from
this emotional black hole was the death of my father. Interestingly, his death
coincided with my mid-life transition experiences. These are the developmental
events that lead one to question the direction that life has been taking, the
veritable meaning of life itself, and what it will take to make one
happy—finally. Additionally, the AIDS epidemic was surfacing (the time now was
in the early 1980s), and I was frightened for myself as well as for my family
in being exposed to this fatal disease. However, it was obvious that I could
and should finally act to stop the charade and learn to be authentic. I would
soon find the price that this would exact on myself and others. 

      While I don’t have the time or space to go into sufficient
detail here, I came out to my wife and eventually to my children. We went
through all the emotional ups and downs that Carol describes in her text; we
went through a divorce that has taken years to reconcile; I was spurred into a
new area of research (I was a college professor in human development and family
studies); and all of us in my immediate family have had to build new identities
and new lives.  

      I don’t know if I will ever have the full insight
about what my life would have become or how it would have unfolded had I not
experienced that form of reparative therapy when I was young. I do know now
that I could become a parent if I wanted to and that I could be in a loving,
committed relationship with another man. I didn’t know that then, however; and
so there are no regrets except for the hurt that was caused to my ex-wife and
to my children. I have made my amends, but I don’t know if I will ever be able
to forgive my family of origin. I am one of the lucky ones who have had many
people who have loved me as I am; I have found a sense of family in many others
to whom I have no blood relationship for I have learned that we are seldom born
into our true families. I only hope that others in the future will not have to
experience what the closeted married gay men and women of today have had at the
hands of reparative therapy and a culture that endorses homophobic and
heterosexist attitudes about gay and lesbian people.

~ ~ ~

    Jerry's moving account demonstrates the anguish of both the gay and straight partners in mixed-orientation families.  Everyone connected to these families suffers when the truth comes out--parents, offspring, extended family and friends.  The repeated rejection of reparative therapy by the American Psychological Association is one more indication that society is finally realizing the folly of trying to change a person's inborn sexual orientation.


  1. As I was quickly scanning down this fairly long post and glanced at "Dr. Jerry Bigner," I did a double-take because I thought I saw "Dr. Jerry Springer." I hope you also find that to be just a bit of levity for a very serious topic.

  2. Carol Grever says:

    If you knew Dr. Jerry Bigner, you'd realize just how humorous your comment is. The ONLY thing he has in common with Jerry Springer is the first name! Dr. Bigner is a respected educator and recognized authority on LGBT issues.
    Carol Grever

  3. Two things in common actually: the first name and the second syllabel of the last name. From your post, I figured you were writing about a major authority, which is why I was so surprised during the nano-second when read a name that wasn't on your site.

  4. Special children also suffer from emotional damage when parents divorce. It is a very difficult position for anyone in general.

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