Experiencing reparation therapy
Published: Friday, February 3, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012 10:02
"I didn't really know that it was going to be so terrible. I didn't want to go, but I wasn't refusing to go because I thought it was going to be kind of like summer camp. I figured there would be therapy there. I didn't realize that it was going to be like boot camp," she said.
Raised in a conservative home, Beth's "lifestyle choices" were deemed immoral and wrong by her parents. Beth first discovered she was a lesbian in the sixth grade.
"I just kind of never liked boys. I liked girls," she said.
The only gay person in her family, Beth had apprehensions about telling them. She wanted to be able to control her sexuality.
"If I didn't want to become gay, I should be able to make myself not gay," she said.
In high school, Beth developed self-esteem issues due to being teased. The word "DYKE" was written on her car.
The only guidance Beth had was from her open-minded friends and her theatre troupe.
When her family found out about her sexual preference, they were shocked. They believed it was just a way for her to act out and get attention. To them, being gay was just a phase.
To get rid of the phase, Beth's father sent her to boot camp, thinking time in nature would be therapeutic for her. Beth traveled to a secluded area in Utah. In the airport, a man dressed in hiking attire held a sign bearing the camp's name. Driving out into the wilderness, Beth was supplied with clothes and boots to wear. Trekking into the woods, she wondered when she would be able to leave.
Eventually, she met a group of six girls and another counselor. The other girls were at the camp for different reasons: car-jacking, running away from home, drugs and promiscuity. Beth was to be handled on the same level as a criminal. Beth's father believed her sexuality was a behavioral problem.
"I felt like I was in jail. Worse than jail," Beth said.
Living arrangements were appalling. The campers slept on the ground.
"They gave us a tarp and a sleeping bag and a bag of food, and the tarp was our tent. If we couldn't find trees, we had to tie the tarps to bushes. It was very uncomfortable. They suggested for us to dig a hole in the ground to put your hip in while you were sleeping," said Beth.
After waking up 30 minutes after sunrise, the group members hiked all day in 100-degree weather. The campers also had to worry about scorpions in their sleeping bags. The group members were only given a bag of rice, a bag of granola, an apple, an orange and a jar of peanut butter for the whole week. In order to cook her food, each camper had to make her own fire using rocks and sticks. If she failed to do so, she had to eat her rice dry.
The campers could contact their family; however, the therapists gave them assignments to write.
"I had to write about whatever they told me. Like what I appreciated about my family and what they meant to me, and how I was going to change my behavior when I got home," she said.
Every week, Beth met with therapists who tried to figure out the "roots of her problem." The therapist asked her why she became gay. Beth's desperation to leave camp led her to answer the questions with what the therapist wanted to hear.
"I was trying to get out of there. You just stayed until they released you. There were girls that had been there for 12 weeks. I just went along with what they said. He asked leading questions, so I could guess what to say," she said.
However, Beth had a different philosophy on sexuality than her therapist.
"I don't think anything led to my homosexuality. I think that it is just a natural thing that you are born with. At first, I didn't feel natural. But I do now," she said.
The day after Beth's 18th birthday, her father came to pick her up. After 42 days, Beth was physically and mentally exhausted. The happiest moment of her camping experience was her exit. Camp helped her to appreciate the things she had in her life, like shelter and food, but, to this day, Beth is still a lesbian.
"I don't think you can stop being gay. I think you can stop your homosexual behavior. That's like being abstinent. You're always going to have the thoughts and feelings," she said.
Eventually, Beth's father began supporting her, but her sexual orientation is not a subject they talk about.
For people who have experienced reparation camp or therapy, there is a safe place to get support on campus. Harry Hawkins, a graduate student studying mental health counseling, is the president of Spectrum. Spectrum is a student organization on the Mississippi State University campus dedicated to promoting awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/question issues. Hawkins said he also believes people cannot change their sexuality.
"The whole idea that someone can change their sexual orientation by going through this non-empirical and unethical therapy is ridiculous. It is on the same lines of ignorant as sending someone to therapy to change their ethnicity," he said.
Telling someone they are diseased because of their homosexuality harbors bad thoughts which can lead to low self-esteem and making them feel worthless.
"Homosexuality has been removed as a disease from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual many years ago," Hawkins said.
He said the role of the counselor should always be to do no harm. The accreditation organization for MSU's counseling program has strict guidelines when it comes to being ethical. Therapists who practice reparation violate the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics., he said.