Gay conversion, failed

Local author discusses state ban on gay-conversion therapy for children

Why did Brian Kraemer sleep with his therapist? He tells you in his book.

Why did Brian Kraemer sleep with his therapist? He tells you in his book.


A read most juicy:
Why I Slept with My Therapist is available at Lyon Books (121 West Fifth St., 891-3338). Go to to order online.

Though he spent 16 years trying to convince himself otherwise, Brian Kraemer has accepted he was born hardwired to find men sexually attractive. Until he came out for good in 2000, the Chico State graduate student, devout Christian and author of the autobiographical book, Why I Slept with My Therapist, went to extremes attempting to convert himself to heterosexuality and reconcile his sexual and spiritual identities

And as someone who repressed all sexual behavior for the better part of two decades (and is intimately familiar with the negative mental-health consequences associated with attempting to convert), he is particularly supportive of California Senate Bill 1172. SB 1172 bans gay-conversion therapy—in which a homosexual patient undergoes treatment in an effort to become heterosexual—for patients under 18 years old; it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu, passed the state Senate in May and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in late September. Brown denounced such “reparative therapy” attempts as “non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,” adding that “these practices have no basis in science or medicine.”

The techniques of conversion therapy—also known as “reparative therapy"—have reportedly run the gamut, from enforced heterosexual dating to the administration of electric shocks while viewing images of same-sex erotica.

Kraemer agrees that the science of gay-conversion therapy is questionable at best.

“Therapists today want to think of themselves as mental-health experts in the way that doctors want to think of themselves as physical-health experts,” he said during a recent interview. “If they want to think of themselves in that way, they need to be held to a high level of scientifically based medicine.

“If they’re claiming they can change an individual’s sexual orientation while research and people’s practical experience says, ‘No, you can’t,’ then they’re practicing bad medicine.”

Kraemer’s attempts to change his orientation are at the heart of Why I Slept With My Therapist, in which he details his struggle with two conflicting identities—the homosexual who desperately wanted to be intimate with other men and the good Christian who was equally passionate about upholding the principles of his religion. For many years leading up to coming out, Kraemer suffered from severe anxiety, depression, emotional instability and suicidal thoughts.

"[The symptoms were] specifically related to my efforts to stop being gay,” he said. “There were moments where I had hope—a heterosexual dream, a verse from the Bible, meeting a really nice woman—but these were always short-lived.”

The book focuses primarily on Kramer’s relationship with a therapist (given the pseudonym “Tim” in the book) who proposed an unorthodox approach to conversion based on Dr. Joseph Nicolosi’s 1991 book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality.

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Nicolosi maintains that homosexuality is typically the result of a “gender-identity injury” in early childhood often caused by ill-defined parental roles, such as having a domineering mother and a passive father. To remedy the patient’s homosexuality, Nicolosi suggests “re-parenting” therapy, in which the patient is “comforted and healed by intimate but non-sexual male relationships,” Kraemer writes.

But Tim takes the therapy a step further—he “adopts” Kraemer as his “spiritual son,” inviting him to family functions, letting him stay overnight and generally emphasizing a strong father-son bond and heterosexual physical intimacy. The therapy quickly gets weird, though, as manly embraces turn into caressing, and caressing turns into not-so-heterosexual showers together. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent Tim has a host of unaddressed sexual-identity issues of his own.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has taken a firm stance against gay-conversion therapy in a position statement: “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the APA] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to ‘first, do no harm.'”

The APA also emphasized it finds homosexuality to be “a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.”

For many parents—especially those who are religious—discovering their child is homosexual can be a shock. And Kraemer sympathizes with the families who have decried the gay-conversion therapy ban as a violation of their First Amendment right to exercise their religion.

“Some Christian parents believe that if their child is gay or lesbian and acts upon it, that he or she is in danger of being condemned by God to an eternal Hell,” Kraemer said. “For these parents, to be told that they can’t take their son or daughter to therapy to change this is terrifying.”

For these families, Kraemer suggests seeking spiritual guidance from non-credentialed religious counselors, so long as they don’t claim to be able to change their child’s sexual orientation.

"[Parents] need to be aware that the overwhelming consensus of the experts and the overwhelming research done on the issue says people can’t change their sexual orientation even if they are able to change their behavior,” he said.

Kraemer knows first-hand how misguided and damaging reparative therapy can be.

“I would never have realized how ineffective it was if I hadn’t given it my best shot,” he said. “What would have been better, however, is if I had been told from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be able to change.”

And it wasn’t until Kraemer came to terms with his sexuality that he was able to alleviate his mental distress. Shortly before coming out to his parents in 2000, as Kraemer writes, he realized that after years of therapy, praying and failed heterosexual relationships, he was “more homosexual than ever.” He ultimately discovered the best remedy was simply being himself, homosexuality and all.

“All the anxiety and fear and the depression and suicidal thoughts are gone,” said Kraemer. “To accept myself, not just as gay, but as human, has been so liberating. It’s like all the weight is off my shoulders.”