Christian Jessen Examines “Gay Cure” Treatments

Somewhat belatedly, I’ve got around to watching Cure Me, I’m Gay, Dr Christian Jessen‘s Channel 4 documentary about so-called “gay cure” treatments. The programme toured several approaches in less than an hour, starting with aversion therapy (no longer used, but previously available in the UK on the NHS), and including interviews with psychotherapists who practice “reparative therapy”, an exorcist, and a man who diagnoses sexuality and trauma by asking patients to colour in a drawing of the human brain.  The hook was that Jessen, who is himself gay, would undertake the various treatments and then see if his sexuality had been changed. This, however, wasn’t followed through in any meaningful way: Jessen engaged with the treatment programmes only very superficially, and in some cases merely interviewed practitioners.

Much of the programme was filmed in the USA, particularly in Dallas and Paris, Texas. Jessen’s first call is with John Smid, who previously worked for Love In Action (now known as Restoration Path), described as offering “gay rehabilitation”. Smid has since repudiated his work and is now openly gay, but he explains how the rehab programme would work by separating the “addict” from sources that might “stimulate sensuality” – this included certain clothing and non-Christian music. Rifling through Jessen’s travel bag, Smid finds an Adele CD and observes that the singer is “very popular among the gay community”; the comment was subsequently misreported in the media as “‘Adele songs make you gay,’ says Texan doctor“, much to Smid’s annoyance.

After being turned down for interviews with various practitioners of “reparative therapy” – which links homosexuality to childhood trauma – Jessen eventually meets with David H. Pickup to discuss the approach; Jessen is unimpressed, not having experienced any kind of childhood trauma himself, and he meets a man named Todd, who went through such a programme of therapy without positive results (there’s a reference here to James E. Phelan’s book Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction). Back in the UK, Jessen also talks about reparative therapy with Mike Davidson of the Core Issues Trust – Davidson’s group has received media attention for wanting to run bus adverts in London with the slogan “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” Davidson suggests that reparative therapy works for “some people”, and when Jessen says researchers believe this not to be the case, Davidson asks whether the researchers are themselves gay.

It may perhaps have been more to the point to have had an entire programme on the debate over reparative therapy; however, much of the documentary instead heads off into more intellectually marginal territory. In particular, Jessen goes undercover for a session with Jerry Mungadze, who offers a risible “Right Brain Therapy“. This involves using crayons to colour in a drawing of a cross-section of the human brain; Mungadze then examines the colours chosen (with a bit of help – he’s colour-blind) to make inferences about personality and past trauma (“phrenology by colours”, in Jessen’s words). As a bonus, Mungadze points to the parts of the brain that contain the adrenal gland and the thyroid.

Mungadze is self-evidently an uninformed quack pushing a crackpot theory, but the programme shows footage of him expounding on Joni Lamb’s Joni Table Talk, a religious chat show that regularly features leading neo-Pentecostal evangelists. Mungadze’s appearance on the show was also noted at the time by Right Wing Watch; he’s also been promoted by Benny Hinn. As a result of his encounter with Jessen, Mungadze is apparently now threatening to sue Channel 4.

Jessen also visits a megachurch in Texas to ask teenagers about their views on homosexuality; he becomes upset when told that it’s the work of demons, and in London he attends Vincent ten Bouwhuis‘ Amazing Grace church to see an exorcism. Bouwhuis’s (small) church is affiliated with Bob Larson’s  Spiritual Freedom church grouping, and last September he featured on BBC Three’s Teen Exorcists documentary about Larson’s daughters (discussed here).

The documentary also features Jessen travelling from Texas to Washington DC to attend an Ex-Gay Rights protest outside the Supreme Court; on the way, he listens to a subliminal recording tape by a certain Barrie Konicov (one of the Atlantic‘s top “Ten Tax Scofflaws“, apparently), called Gay and Unhappy (“you enjoy ejaculating in a woman’s vagina”, Konicov intones soporifically). The protest was covered by Right Wing Watch last July (Jessen can be seen in one of RWW‘s photos of the event), and there were very few attendees. The programme doesn’t give any information about who these people are; RWW notes

Ex-Gay Pride Month organizer Christopher Doyle… Greg Quinlan of Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays (PFOX), Richard Cohen of the International Healing Foundation and Douglas McIntyre of Homosexuals Anonymous…

Jessen invited the protestors to take part in a test devised by Ritch Savin-Williams of Cornell University that purports to reveal sexual preference through stimulation; several agreed to do so, but all but one afterwards backed out, claiming the scope of the test was too narrow; and the one potential subject who was still willing to go through with it was deemed to be too old (69) to give meaningful results.

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