LITTLETON, Colo. — It’s pretty easy to find an opinion if you bring up the idea of conversion therapy, a process some people claim can change a person’s sexual orientation. For years, I’ve heard from people who are against the concept as well as people who support it.
One perspective I had yet to hear was from someone who actually went through a conversion therapy program.
That all changed a couple of months ago when I met Matt Hancock, an engineer. He now lives in Littleton, but grew up in Mobile, Ala. – a place where he said it was unacceptable to be attracted to the same sex at the time he was growing up.
While the now 30-year-old man leads a healthy and happy life, his past is streaked with some of the darkest moments I had ever heard.
For the first time, he’s making his personal story of pain and growth public in hopes of helping anyone uncomfortable in their own skin learn to love themselves.
After our interview, he wrote a letter. It is posted in full below.
FULL INTERVIEW | Watch the full interview here
For this interview I thought it would be important to paint a picture of my mental state and explain why conversion therapy seemed like such a good option at the time. Conversion therapy seems outlandish to most people I’ve discussed it with, and even more outlandish to them is the fact that I volunteered myself for it.
I talked for a good 90 minutes and went through the entire journey, or as much as I could remember, from childhood being effeminate and feeling inferior, to middle school internalizing shame at having homosexual feelings and believing the Holy Spirit couldn't enter my body because of my homosexual perversion, to high school discovering and diving into the conversion therapy world, to my freshman year of college when my world fell apart, and I fell apart.
But there are a few other things I wish I would have added to that and said on camera:
1. While much of the world in the last decade or so has made significant progress in opening its mind and embracing the LGBT+ population, not all of it has. Many of the people I met through conversion therapy still believe homosexuality is wrong and continue to fight against who they are. Many churches still preach that homosexuality is a sin and teach young impressionable minds that being gay will send them to hell where they will suffer forever, without God, without love. While visible progress has been made, the struggle isn't over. People are still drowning in these hateful messages. They need people to teach them to love who they are, they need people to show them that this natural aspect of their humanity doesn't automatically condemn them to an eternity of torment in the afterlife - nor does it have to condemn them to a miserable life on this earth.
They need our help. That's why this matters.
2. I think it's helpful for us to remember that many of us in the LGBT+ community have had to claw our way out of oppressive environments to get to where we are today. Yes, we‘re out now, we can get married, we've gained more rights and protections, and life isn’t so bad. While our quality of life has improved, I believe we still carry with us some tiredness and pain from the journey. We've been shaped by our painful origins, and pretending everything has always been fine doesn't make the wounds go away. It can be cathartic to acknowledge how hard things used to be, and by contrast it can help us appreciate how much better life is now. This can also help us recognize that we may still be carrying some damage and understand where it came from so that we can attempt to heal those wounds.
3. Things I would say to my younger self, which I would also say to anyone who’s going through this today:
To 10 year old me:
The world is much bigger than this bubble you're living in right now. People in the big world will embrace those wonderful qualities you have that make you feel like an outcast. Don't give up on yourself. Don't 'turn off' who you are. Love who you are and nurture him so he can grow strong and one day help other people grow strong.
To 13 year old me:
God doesn’t despise you. You aren't defective because you're sexually attracted to men. There is no need for shame. This is natural and normal and you aren't alone. You're unaware of it right now but there are people in your life who can handle the knowledge of your sexual orientation. They won't reject you. They'll go on this journey with you. Try to find them. If you can't find them, go online and start searching for and building a support system. There is so much love and acceptance waiting for you. You just have to go find it.
To 17 year old me:
Conversion therapy makes sense to you now, but it won't for very long. The world you know is going to turn inside out and you're going to want to give up on life Brace yourself and do not give up.
To 19 year old me:
You don't have to run away from yourself, who you are is good. You're going to be open, vulnerable, raw with people. You'll let them see the darkest parts of you, and they're not going to run away. Plug in with those good people you've met and absorb absorb absorb all the love you can get. You're going to realize in the next few years that you do have a future - and it's going to be such an adventure. You have such an exciting future and it's worth fighting for.
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