Patrick McAlvey endured ex-gay therapy. Now, he wants to let other gay teens know they’re not broken
by Jessica Carreras
Originally printed 9/3/2009 (Issue 1736 – Between The Lines News)
Confused. Isolated. Depressed. Angry. Lansing resident Patrick McAlvey was all of these things both before and during his stint in ex-gay therapy. Now, through a new video produced and released by Truth Wins Out, he’s just determined to make sure that no one else goes through what he did.
The 24-year-old McAlvey’s video was released last month just as the American Psychological Association announced that “mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.”
It was too late for McAlvey, but he hopes that the APA findings – plus stories like his – will help other gay youth to love and accept themselves.
Like so many other gay youth, McAlvey was scared when he realized he was attracted to men in sixth grade. Raised in a conservative Christian home, “I didn’t think it was safe to tell anybody,” he said of his young adulthood.
But he did tell one person: Mike Jones, director of Lansing-based ex-gay organization Corduroy Stone.
“When I was 19, I was kicked out of a missionary training school and was forced to move back home with my family,” McAlvey recalled. “I was kicked out because of my attraction to men, so in that time I was sort of in a crisis mode and was very low, very depressed and just trying to make sense of my life and my attraction.”
He contacted Jones, whom he had spoken with before about his “problem,” and began several months of therapy with Jones that supposedly would cure him and make him straight.
Therapy consisted of embarrassing questions and uncomfortable situations. Jones would instruct McAlvey to lie in his arms for an hour at a time – known in the ex-gay circuit as holding therapy. He forced McAlvey to learn about tools and home repair, and to watch the play “Equus” with him, which features full male nudity. He would ask him to rate his attractiveness on a scale of one to 10.
Then there were the questions. “He asked how large my penis was. He asked if I shave my pubic hair. He asked what type of underwear that I wore,” McAlvey explained. “On one occasion, he asked me to take my shirt off and show him how many push-ups I could do, which I did not do.
“He wanted me to describe my sexual fantasies to him and the type of men I’m attracted to.”
But despite all his efforts, McAlvey never stopped being attracted to men. “I never felt like I was changing,” he said of the therapy.
Eventually, he told Jones he wasn’t going to come to therapy anymore. But the damage had been done.
“I just really came to hate myself; to loathe myself,” McAlvey said. “I didn’t trust anyone and I didn’t allow anyone to get close to me because I was terrified that they might find out my secret and that they would think less of me. I spent many years locked up in my room, crying by myself for no good reason.”
McAlvey hopes that telling his story will mean less LGBT teens face the same tough years he did. “I view it as a real assault on some of the more vulnerable members of the LGBT community,” he said. “I think it’s important to speak up to prevent other people from being harmed in the ways that I was.”
Now, less than five years out of his time in ex-gay therapy, he’s doing just that. And while McAlvey hopes that his video will help others, he also thinks it will help him to move on. “(It’s) a bit of a cathartic experience for me, saying publicly that this is not something anymore that I need to be embarrassed of or regret,” he explained. “Instead, I’m going to turn around and use it for good. … It’s turning a negative experience into something that can be used positively.”
The decision to take his story public took time, and a lot of personal healing for McAlvey. When he stopped seeing Jones, he was still grappling with his sexuality and acceptance of himself. Eventually, he was able to see that it’s OK to be gay. “I realized that I don’t think change is going to happen and I don’t think it needs to happen,” he said. “It was getting to the point where I really was comfortable with who I am, and that takes time, a lot of processing and figuring out how to undo some of the internalized homophobia that was the result of this therapy.”
The video, which has almost 6,000 views on YouTube, is the final step in that reparative process – and McAlvey wants to get his message out to LGBT youth. “I would communicate to them the freedom that I felt when I finally embraced my sexual orientation and accepted it as a beautiful and natural part of myself,” he said of speaking to another teen like himself. “I would certainly convey that it is my belief that their sexual orientation is a beautiful, natural part of them that they should feel no shame for and should not think needs to be changed.”