David Matheson, one of the most notorious “gay conversion therapists” in the United States, has publicly announced a transition into the next chapter of his life as he comes to term with his own sexuality. Last year, Matheson unexpectedly divorced his wife and earlier this month he revealed to the world that he is attracted to men.
Matheson made a lengthy post on his Facebook page, where he announced this new chapter in his life:
“A year ago I realized I had to make substantial changes in my life. I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage any longer. And I realized that it was time for me to affirm myself as gay. I enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage with my wife for many years. Overall, it was a beautiful relationship and being “straight” became a core part of my identity. But I also experienced attractions to men. Much of the time these were in the background. But sometimes they were very intense and led to pain and struggle in my marriage… Toward the end of this decline, I also realized that being in an intimate relationship with a man was no longer something I wanted to avoid. It had become a non-negotiable need.”
However, many were disappointed by what seemed like a half-hearted apology for his involvement in conversion therapy included in the same Facebook post.
Matheson, a Mormon, said:
“I used to be caught in an ideological prison of my own. I know my work helped many, many people because they’ve told me so. But I’m sure I’ve hurt some people too. Not that I would excuse myself, but any shortcomings I had as a therapist came from too narrow a view of what “emotionally healthy” can look like. They came from my own homophobia and narrow mindedness. I am truly sorry for those flaws and the harm they have surely caused some people. And I’m sorry for the confusion and pain my choice may be causing others.”
Matheson’s reluctance to renounce his previous work has been a disappointment to many in the LGBTQ community who were looking for more of an apology. Multiple major medical bodies, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association (APA), have denounced his therapies and many of those personally affected by Matheson’s work have spoken out about the damage it inflicted.
Matheson’s statement continued:
“Even today, as a newly-out gay man, I still find too much homophobia in myself. But I’m a much more accepting person now than I was 6 years ago before I started dialoging in a mixed-ideology group that included several gay-affirming therapists. We spent literally hundreds of hours learning about each other and solving problems together. I love them, and their gracious acceptance of me—arrogant as I was—more than I can describe.
So, what can you take from my course change? Not that I was faking it all those years or that the choice I’m making now was inevitable. Not that I’m renouncing my faith or my past work—even if I wish I could go back and change some things. Not that I condemn marriages between same-sex attracted and a straight person. And not that I’m giving up or jumping ship.
What you can take from this is that my time in a straight marriage and in the “ex-gay” world was genuine and sincere and a rich blessing to me. I remember most of it with fondness and gratitude for the joy and growth it caused in me and many others. But I had stopped growing and I had to change. So I’ve embarked on a new life-giving path that has already started a whole new growth process.”
Conversion therapy has been one of the most controversial psychological regimes in the US for years, and was discredited by the APA in 2000. The APA said in a statement:
“The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality … is a mental disorder or … that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”
The APA expanded on that position with a statement in 2013:
“The American Psychiatric Association does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change. No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
Despite the controversy, it has been estimated that 700,000 people in the US have been subjected to conversion therapy.
When Matheson began studying therapy, same-sex attraction was considered a sin by the Mormon church. The church has since clarified that it does not consider being gay a sin though it prohibits those who participate in homosexual behavior to participate in the Mormon church.