I tried to tell people what happened, but the organization said it wasn’t true and refused to fire the life coach. But I have spoken to other men whom underwent the same experience. And I can only imagine how many other young men who this has happened to who have not yet come forward. One of the most frustrating aspects was that because this coach is not licensed by any professional board, he is unaccountable to any licensing committee. Since I was over eighteen and agreed to this kind of therapy, I am told that I have no legal recourse. But I do have my voice! Yet, even after coming forward with what happened, nothing has changed. I often hear that this therapy has helped people, that it is wonderful, but I wonder, how helpful can an organization be when it causes great suffering and pain to many who come to them for hope.
The recent Torah Declaration, signed by so many rabbis, only serves to perpetuate the notion that all homosexuals in the Orthodox community must change in reparative therapy. Unlike the helpful recent RCA statement on welcoming homosexuals or the “Statement of Principles” written and signed by over 200 responsible rabbis, the Torah Declaration does not demand that therapists must be board licensed. Unlike these other statements, it does not allow those for whom this kind of therapy is harmful or not working to seek other options. It kills me that this Torah Declaration will be used by parents to force their children into therapies that may be harmful to them. It frightens me that this Torah Declaration says that “change is mandated by the Torah,” when I know personally that change therapy has not worked and was so harmful for me. It hurts me to know that I am now being blamed by these rabbis and therapists for this failed therapy.
It confuses me that this Torah Declaration contains flawed arguments that would pass muster in the beis medrash. Saying that Hashem would never make a gay person unable to change is simplistic, inconsistent and flat-out wrong. If someone gets into an accident we would never say that we know he can be “cured” simply because his affliction is not genetic and he wasn’t born this way. We would never tell a deaf person (born deaf or not) that his nisayon is to find a way to hear again, so that he can be mekayem the mitzvah of shofar? Yet the Torah Declaration uses all of these arguments to make gay people feel that their nisayon in life is to change their sexuality, simply because it may not be genetic and Hashem would never make it unchangeable. This is the worst kind of rationalized homophobia.
I know first hand how this kind of societal bullying can lead to self-harm and suicide. I know of too many young men who have been pressured to stay in these kinds of therapies only to be tormented to point of taking their own lives. No one can bring these boys back. However, there are many Orthodox rabbis, frum therapists and organizations that remind us we are loved and that we belong. In the darkness of my days, a grass roots support community organization called JQY saved my life. JQY (www.JQYouth.org) is a group of over five hundred young Jews who grew up in the frum community. Their goal is to combat shame, bullying and ostracizing, while making families, yeshivas and communities safe and welcoming to their gay members. They do not advocate for any change in halacha, but rather assert that one can believe that certain behaviors are halachically prohibited and still be a happy, healthy and fulfilled person.
In JQY the right path for an individual is unique for each person. There are some members of JQY who are trying to change their orientation and many like me, who have tried for years and have discovered that it is not possible for them. We are all just trying to be the best that we can be. We learn from each other and are there for each other because we know how hard it is to be gay in a frum family. JQY is my logical family. We have support meetings, crisis resources, Yom Tov get-togethers and Shabbos meals where we know it is safe to be ourselves.
I now have a sense of pride about who I am. However, I understand the concept of “pride” as combating the years of self-shame and instead promoting a sense of personal self worth. Pride is not a celebration of any personal behavior or desire. Nowhere in my story do I ever mention prohibited behaviors. I know that “being gay” does not express anything about personal intimate behavior; it merely expresses an orientation. I do not support or encourage any sexual or intimate behavior. I adhere to the concept of tzniut (modesty), which demands that intimate behavior stays private and discrete, and has no place in the public forum. In fact I do not know any gay person from a frum background who doesn’t believe the same way.