So-Called "Reparative Therapy"
Excerpts from the Documentary by Sean Weakland
Rocky (Connell O'Donovan): I was born
into the Mormon church. I "came out" to my seminary teacher. I thought
that he would be really fair and that he was a friend. I felt like he
was a friend that I could go to with a problem and he would somehow
help me. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have done that.
I mean he tried really hard, but basically all he did was turn me over
to the wolves. He contacted my bishop, my bishop contacted my stake
president and that is how it all started...my journey into the belly
of the beast--ten years of negotiating my way through the Mormon church's
torturous program for reorienting or curing homosexuals--trying to turn
us into heterosexuals.
I think at about the time that I came out to my seminary teacher
I had just read Spencer W. Kimball's book, The Miracle of Forgiveness.
It had a chapter in it called I think, "Crime Against Nature",
and it described in very certain terms the evilness and sinfulness
of my condition. He used awful words to describe me and my feelings.
He stated that my desires were pugnant, evil, disgusting, vial, malicious,
and pernicious. Well, I started doing counseling with my bishop and
stake president. It was summer and school was out so they told me
that I needed to go down to BYU for this program that would help me
to become heterosexual. Of course, I jumped at the chance. They told
me and had taught me that heterosexual was the only way to be--I wasn't,
so I wanted to become such. I'm like 15 years old, and I didn't want
my parents to know so they arranged it to look like I was going down
for some genealogy research camp. I stayed at the dorms on campus
and was supposed to go immediately in and meet with the receptionist,
fill out the papers, release forms, etc. I sat down and they kind
of explained to me what was going to go on, and I was horrified by
the whole prospect of what I found out was going to be vomiting-aversion
They explained to me that they would place a heparin lock in my
wrist and hook an I.V. up to that, and I would be put in a room alone
with a phlethesmograph on my penis that would measure my physical
arousal so that when I got an erection they would know. Then they
started showing me gay pornography. I don't remember if there were
films or not, but I do remember stills. I was supposed to go through
a stack of photos of nude men and come up with men that I thought
Interviewer: Had you seen gay pornography before that?
Rocky: No, I was 15! I was only 15 years old. I mean
I'd seen like a Playboy before, but I'd never seen sex before at all.
They were going to show me this gay pornography and using the I.V.
they would inject a drug into me during the gay pornography to make
me start vomiting. Then they would switch the pornography over to
heterosexual sex and inject a euphoric drug into me to get me to associate
euphoria with heterosexuality. I look back on that and think that
I would have taken the electric-shock therapy had I known about it
since I'm extremely phobic around vomiting.
I was supposed to come back the next day for treatment, but I just
didn't show up. I called in sick and put them off. They finally said
that I had to come down and tell them what was going on. I told them
I couldn't do it, and they gave me a "shame" letter which I had to
hand carry back and give to my stake president telling him that I
had refused to go through with the Lord's program for my cure.
That was the same year that Boyd K. Packer gave his talk during
priesthood meeting at General Conference. His talk called, "To
Young Men Only" which I don't remember hearing, but it was made
into a pamphlet that I was given to read. The talk goes in to the
evils of masturbation and it goes into--well, he never calls it homosexuality,
but he calls it "physical mischief" between men.
The bishop found out that I returned home from BYU unsuccessfully
or whatever, but he kept me in weekly counseling sessions where I
would have to meet with him on a weekly basis and report what I was
doing and how I was feeling sexually, what my fantasies were about,
what I was daydreaming about, etc. I hadn't had any sexual experiences,
but at that point I was masturbating to homosexual fantasies. In Spencer
W. Kimball's book he states that masturbating leads to homosexuality
and so the bishop going on that information told me that I had to
The way that we figured out for me to do that was for me to create
a chart on a piece of paper with all the days of the month on it.
If I was successful in not masturbating I would put a little smiley
face or a gold star on that day or something, but if I wasn't successful
I had to color the day in red symbolizing the red flames of hell burning
me. I was supposed to get as many days in a row of smiley faces as
I possibly could. My record was 17 days in a row of not masturbating
which wasn't very good.
[skipping ahead to Rocky's mission]
The mission rules are all about not touching, going out, socializing,
hugging the opposite sex, etc. so anyone with any homosexual tendencies
at all in that type of a situation who has to be with a member of
the same sex for 24 hours a day, who is the same age, you both come
from the same kind of background, same heritage, culture, etc. is
bound to produce a sort of sexual tension. It has got to go somewhere.
[Rocky's thoughts on the church now]
The Mormon church is a patriarchy. Patriarchy subsists on homosociality.
It is a very closely nit group of men who spend much time together.
They hug each other. They are very emotional. They are homospiritual.
Where does that end and it become homoerotic? I think that they are
terrified of that line and they try to draw that line very firmly.
I think for Mormonism this will be the most difficult issue they
ever face. They have painted themselves into a theological corner.
Either Mormon theology is right, and I am just a deviant heterosexual
or a lapsed heterosexual. If I am intrinsically queer then Mormon
theology is wrong.
Val: Probably around age 12 or 13, I was aware that
I was gay or homosexual since I had read the definition. I heard that
there were some treatments--allegedly psychologists or psychiatrists
could treat it. The things I had heard about indicated that the success
was better with younger people. I was wondering if I should tell my
parents, but it was totally a secret.
I didn't do anything [sexual] on my mission, but I did have a very
strong attraction to two of my companions. I later found out that
one was gay and another one was gay. There was alot of guilt, and
I was very paranoid that someone might suspect.
[skipping ahead to a time after Val's mission]
I first went through about a year and a half of seeing a counselor.
This wasn't aversion therapy. It seemed pointless to me because we
just sat there and talked and there was nothing happening. I said
that I heard that there were other kinds of therapy like shock or
aversion therapy. He referred me to another doctor who was also LDS
that was doing something on the order of what they were doing at BYU
although what they were doing at BYU seemed alot scarier. This Dr.
Card was calling it bio-feedback which involved shocking, but the
patient held the button themselves so they shocked themselves. The
electricity had a level on it so you could set it yourself. He didn't
really interfere with the level so I always kept the level pretty
low or moderately low. He indicated that if you really wanted
to change, you'd set the level higher.
Scientifically, I think it is a bogus procedure. Basically, it is
the same effect as a cold shower. It was just a stimulus that made
you think about something else for a while until the arousal went
Drew: I think at the age of 16 I looked in the mirror
and said, "you're gay and it's not some adolescent thing that you
can change". I didn't think my feelings could change, but I was hoping
I could keep it in check. I looked at my sexuality as something like
a handicap that you work with and still do the "right" thing. I was
a really devout Mormon. Even as a younger child--my family was very
devout. We gathered in a family prayer circle every morning at 6am,
had family home evening every week--it was required. Some people might
consider that fanatic, but we were just Mormons.
I didn't have any gay experiences on my mission. Something like
masturbation wasn't something that only gay missionaries had to go
confess or whatever. It was an easy time for me to not deal with it
and not worry about it.
[skipping ahead to Drew's "treatments"]
I only saw Dr. Card for about 3 or 4 months. He told me that he was
going to hypnotize me each time. He thought that he could slice apart
my personality, find the part that was homosexual, and get rid of
it somehow. I didn't believe that I would be able to be hypnotized
but I went right under.
The first time he spoke to me he was very provocative and caustic.
I don't know if it was really part of my personality or if I was just
trying to subconsciously entertain him. This kind of low, dark, deep
voice was responding. My brain was in the back of my head watching
it all. It was this confrontational experience like, "are you the
part of Drew's personality that is homosexual?". It became a big fight,
and I was screaming or screeching for some reason so he raised his
hand to the square and commanded the devils to depart my soul. Of
course nothing happened so he came over and shook me. I came to and
I was covered in sweat and I had tears running down my face. I was
freaked out about this whole experience and what had just happened
to me. He told me that at a younger age when I was nervous about going
out and growing up and being timid about life that I had invited Satan
into my life, and that is why I am gay and that those spirits are
still with me and that is who he had spoken to in this session.
I walked out of the room and saw all the people in the waiting room
who had just heard me screaming in the other room just prior to that.
I went to my car and bawled for a couple of hours. I went home and
thought about it, prayed about it, and then the next week when I went
back to see him I told him I thought that he was full of shit.
After that, in subsequent sessions he tried to make friends with
my "homosexual side" rather than to try and provoke it. He showed
me various heterosexual sex films. Then he would talk to me about
the woman's physique while under hypnosis. I was trying to change
so I went along with it. As far as putting a damper on my homosexual
self though--there was no effect.
I finally moved away from Salt Lake City in order to have an excuse
to get away from him. Before I left, he tried to get me to associate
the male physique with bad smells.
He was the one that told me about the shock-treatment therapy and
how he and BYU were exposed by some Australian documentary. He told
me he wasn't doing it anymore. I asked him if it was a successful
treatment, and he said that he thought that it worked in some cases.
I don't know of anyone that has ever said that they have turned around
after being shocked.
Ray: It was in my junior year at BYU. It [the class]
was sort of like being an apprentice or learning how to treat patients.
One of the things that we could do was to do the electro-shock therapy
for those who wanted to change their sexuality. At the time of course,
I knew that I was gay. I had experiences and everything. I had no
desire myself to change my orientation but I thought it was interesting
at the time that there were people that did. I was very closeted at
the time even though I had a lover. We did the "therapy" as we called
it in the basement of the Smith Family Living Center on the BYU campus.
Alot of times BYU security would catch people in compromising positions
on campus. Those people would have the choice to either be kicked
out of school and have their families notified about what they had
done or they could go through this therapy. We had quite a few people
who were going through it. There were others in the therapy who felt
so much guilt for being the way they were or they had been promised
that if they underwent the therapy they would be able to marry and
have children and they would be turned. Of course they had to have
the desire to change, and if the therapy failed which it always did,
it was their fault for the failure since they didn't have enough desire.
Anyway, they would come in usually three times a week. I would be
behind a glass one-way mirror, and they would be on the other side
of it. They had their choice to look at pornographic magazines or
watch porno videos. We would tape electrodes to their groin, thigh,
chest and armpits. We had another machine that would monitor their
breathing and heart rate. If there was a difference in their heart
rate when looking at homosexual pornography, we would turn a dial
which would send a current to shock them. If they were a new patient,
we would use a very low current. From the reaction that I saw there
were muscle spasms which looked very painful.
After that was over, we would switch the pornography over so that
it was a man and a woman having sex, and we would play very soothing
music in the background to try and get the mind to relate to that.
For the people that had been doing the therapy longer we turned the
voltage way up so that you could see burn marks on the skin and quite
often they would also throw up during the therapy. This is speculation,
but most of the students at BYU probably hadn't even seen pornography
before [this experience].
After undergoing that kind of pain over a number of months, everyone
said that they had completely changed. They kept records for as long
as the people were at BYU. After they had graduated, there was no
records kept to see what kind of success rate they had. The BYU statistics
were wrong because the people were lying. They were desperate to get
their degree and get out of the situation. They had been blackmailed
into the situation in the first place.
We did have some people who became completely asexual after undergoing
the therapy. But no, we never changed anyone from gay to straight.
I had experiences with Robert Card when he was the overseer at BYU.
He was not my professor but he would come down to Provo, and I met
him several times when he would oversee the results. I met him again
in 1983 when he was doing electro-shock therapy on a lover of mine.
At that time, I confronted him with what I knew and how it had not
worked in the past. He had nothing to say. He simply denied the results
and refused to show me any of his proof.
We had several people who committed suicide during the therapy.
We had three different people who hung themselves in the Harris Fine
Arts Center on BYU campus. In Mormon theology, you will be eternally
punished for committing suicide. If you die as a homosexual, you will
be punished all the worse. God will get you good if you don't follow
Dr. Robert Card declined comment for this project.
No women who endured aversive therapies responded for interview.