I catch up with Dr Christian about his new documentary for Channel 4 Undercover Doctor: Cure Me I’m Gay where he tries a number of historical and still practiced cures for homosexuality both here in the UK and the US to see why they still exist and of course try to answer the big question… Do they work?
Am I now talking with a straight Dr Christian?
Yes exactly, the “cured” Dr Christian. I don’t think anyone for a moment believed I’d be cured.
Was there any worry from the boyfriend that you might have been converted and suddenly no longer love him?
This is a funny question. I keep getting asked this. I’ll be completely honest with you, between the two of us we never once for a moment thought there’d be any remote possibility that I’d come home and tell him I had a girlfriend and he’d have to leave.
What made you want to investigate these gay- cures in the first place?
It was genuinely because I had a young gay patient come to see me and ask for help to make himself straight. I pride myself on being able to deal with most things and not look terribly shocked but this really rattled me personally. I didn’t show him, but inside I was slightly offended because someone saying they dislike being gay is almost an indirect attack on your own sexuality. I thought this doesn’t go on in this day and age when actually of course it does. This is what really sparked off the documentary of looking into these gay cures and there are lots of them going on, lots of open practitioners taking people on to try to cure them of their homosexuality. I thought is there any medical basis for this? There were two main questions. One, do they exist are they still going on and two, do they work?
Did you at any point throughout the making of the programme feel ashamed to be gay?
Honestly not once. I think the person who affirmed it for me, in the most beautiful way, was my father. I came back from America having heard all horrible things and I face my father who said, ‘we’re absolutely fine you’re gay, It’s not a problem.’ It’s a wonderful affirming moment in the documentary and for me, if there were any doubts from America they were completely blown away by the simplicity of my father’s comments. I think it’s important for people to see that and he wasn’t briefed or scripted or paid!
One of the cures looks at what you wear. Is there any scientific proof that wearing hideous clothes makes you straight?
Ha ha, you know what was funny? Of all the things that we filmed that was the worst bit for me. I literally had these little strops with my director saying ‘I’m not wearing this. I’m not going out in this. I won’t do it’. It really is stripping you of who you are and forcing you to be someone else. It’s kind of what all the therapies do, sort of putting you in the costume of a straight man which was just so trite but also so unpleasant so dehumanising.
Are these therapies in some way actually ‘Heterophobic’ as they suggest straight men and women only listen to certain music or wear certain clothes?
Totally. They’re both homophobic and heterophobic and pander to these ridiculous stereotypes. I go to see a chap called John Smid who used to run a famous camp called Love In Action, [American camp set up to cure homosexuality] He has since turned his back on this and is now happily gay, living with a man. I turn up at his house and he goes through my bag and removes all my ‘gay’ clothes. Of course, It’s entirely dependant on culture. In America anything European is gay, so my Abercrombie tops, which in the UK we’d all consider pretty gay, were absolutely fine but my Italian brogues, of course, those effeminate Italians, not. It was just utter nonsense but what was so sad is they built a whole camp and therapeutic system around this process in which young people, teenage boys would be sent by their parents to go through this and were literally stripped of their dignity, of who they were. Although there are lighter sides when you think actually about the sinister intentions behind it, it becomes a lot more chilling.
Apart from same-sex attraction, is the gay brain any different to a heterosexual brain?
I think it’s very interesting. There will be subtle differences that may not be anatomically measurable, but certainly we function and behave differently. Sexual orientation is a spectrum and all of us fit somewhere along that spectrum. I go to investigate at the Cornell University with the test of sexual orientation to see where I lie. Having your sexuality, something that you’ve always known, proven by a machine is incredibly satisfying, that you got it right, that you’ve been sleeping with the right people all this time.
Do you believe there is a main factor that pushes homosexuals into these therapies?
Yes. One main factor is the rampant homophobia that still exists all around the world and I think one of the driving forces behind that is religion. I go to the bible belt of America to see the worst of it. Outside one church there are these 14-15-year-olds saying, ‘oh yeah homosexuality is caused by demons, they need to be expunged. All gay people need treatment’. It’s quite easy to see why if you’re living in a community like that you might feel dirty and in need of treatment. You go to Uganda, go to Iran where your two choices are death or an enforced sex change and you think: hmmm I can see why people might seek out these therapies.
You were clearly quite upset from hearing the views of the young religious kids, do you feel they are being brainwashed into these opinions or were they born homophobic?
Of course, they haven’t come up with that idea themselves. They’ve been indoctrinated. Kids don’t come up with the idea that sexuality is caused by demons themselves, kids aren’t that ridiculous. I think in the UK our younger generations are growing up far more comfortable that people come in all different shapes and sizes, colours and sexual orientations. You talk to young people and they don’t bat an eyelid if someone’s gay or not, but in America, the same young people in that area were coming out with really quite vile statements but saying it perfectly pleasantly with big smiles on their faces.
Was it hard to control yourself at times because you only swore twice during the whole programme?
I can tell you now there were a lot more tears and a lot more swearing that didn’t make the final cut. I mean how could you not, but I don’t think people want to see their doctor swearing and crying for an hour on the telly.
What do you think motivates these so called ‘doctors’ or pastors to hold these therapy sessions in the first place?
I think they genuinely believe, either nicely or nastily, that if you are homosexual you cannot lead a life that is acceptable to God. Some of them clearly were very well meaning people who were very concerned for some of their flock who were gay. One scene that doesn’t make it, because we ran out of time, is where I go to a church with a gay young man who is undergoing therapies. He introduces me to his pastor who I have a bit of a fight with over the theological terms but he wasn’t a nasty man at all he just believed this rhetoric. I think others are just rampantly homophobic. It’s a fear of what you don’t know exaggerated by these ideas that homosexuality is equivalent to paedophilia, it’s catching, we pray on you, we recruit you, all these other nonsenses that we’ve all heard and we know are absolute rubbish.
Do you believe you’ll ever win a scientific and medical argument against a religious one?
I do. I win several. If it comes down to ‘this is just what I believe’, you can’t win that and of course there’s that great PC thing that we’re not allowed to criticise people’s beliefs. Well, I think that’s absolute nonsense. If those beliefs encroach on me or my life and make my lifeless easy, more unpleasant, then, of course, you can criticise a belief. A great example was chatting to someone who really wants to introduce therapies back here in the UK. He says in the bible it says ‘homosexuality is wrong’ and this is a scientist. So I say to him ‘right so you’re going by the bible as evidence that it’s wrong, so tell me as a scientist… Creationism or evolution which do you subscribe to?’ and he refuses to answer the question. He squirms and hums and gets cross but he can’t answer the question so for me that does kind of win the argument. He cherry picks what he chooses to believe and what he chooses to ignore.
What would you like to see being done in the future regarding these so called cures?
What is nice to see, is more and more professional bodies are saying we do not condone these therapies, they should not be done and the therapists who are controlled by us the professional body should not be offering these therapies to their patients.
From all of the tests you took which did you find the most difficult?
I think it would have to be the inversion therapy which was particularly unpleasant, the one where I’m vomiting because it was so shameful and I’m so upset. I was recreating it I admit that, but one of the reasons I was so upset was because I was thinking of the people who had volunteered to put themselves through this and not just for a few hours but for days and days of this sort of reinforced shaming. This is with a background where homosexuality in England was still illegal and someone like me, a doctor, would prescribe this to people and that was horrific. The chap who ran the test with me, used to actually perform these tests and he agreed to come forward and do it with us that day, which I think was brilliant of him because he’s completely remorseful about what he used to do, but he was a junior nurse, following the orders his senior doctors told him. He says when I interview him he never ever saw a single example of it working.
One therapist could tell why your homosexual by a piece of paper you’d colour in. Will you be taking up the practice of having your patients colour in the human body on a sheet of paper so you can diagnose what’s wrong with them?
Ha ha. Well if it makes $250 a pop it’s worth thinking about it. It’s people like that, that give the medical profession a really bad name and I’m very pleased that we have exposed that kind of nonsense and if it makes even one gay man go well, I’m certainly not going there having seen that nonsense, then I’ll be pleased.