I first told someone I was gay when I was 17. I didn’t actually say “gay,” but muttered through ugly crying that I didn’t like girls. He was my bishop, and luckily intuitive enough to piece things together. Surprisingly, he wasn’t worried. He was very kind, and he arranged for me to meet with someone who could help eradicate those feelings. I started conversion therapy the following week.
My parents didn’t know a thing.
My therapist explained my gay thoughts: I didn’t have a close enough bond with my father and was consequently sexualizing boys. My first task was becoming closer with Dad. This wasn’t easy. I’m the youngest of five children and easily the quietest, most introverted and least relatable.
My dad hated gays more than anyone I knew, and his top lip would curl with rage and disgust when he’d speak about them. I never thought he was a bad person; I just accepted there was something about gays that merited his reaction.
Unbeknownst to my parents, I’d have weekly appointments to change my sexual orientation. I’d report to my therapist on my awkward attempts to bond with my father, and he’d in turn report back to my bishop.
After high school, I started at Brigham Young University and eventually went on an LDS mission. The biggest punch in the gut during my two years of serving in the Bible Belt was that my same-sex feelings didn’t go away as I was promised they would.
That was a painful two years.
After returning home honorably, I immediately resumed therapy and didn’t stop for the next seven years.
My conversion therapy ranged from talk therapy to uncomfortable nonsexual physicality with older men who represented a father figure. I was placed into addiction-recovery programs even though I didn’t have a pornography addiction, but because I was “addicted to men.”
I met men battling heartbreaking sexual compulsions and challenges with pedophilia — all while I tried to stop my attraction to men. It didn’t work, either.
So I traveled to Arizona and tried another program claiming to reduce homosexuality. There, people broke chairs to release the anger toward their “overbearing” mothers, who were also seen as the culprits of our gayness.
They had us re-enact the childhood scenes that had evidently caused our gayness. One assignment was to physically attack men who represented individuals from my past who contributed to my same-gender attractions. I failed multiple times for not being angry enough, and they told me because I didn’t have ample rage, I wasn’t defending my younger self who needed a protector.
I was failing at saving myself. Again.
But I kept trying.
Next, I met with a spiritualist who said I was gay because I had female entities attached to me. So I underwent a procedure to get them removed.
All these efforts succeeded in one way — alienating me from everyone, including me. Hating myself became as natural as breathing.
I was always led to believe I could change. So, what was so wrong with me that God couldn’t help me change? This thought intensified my determination to remain alone in my secret. If my parents found out, they’d also be told I could change, and the dread of exposing my constant failure was unbearable.
Life took an even darker turn when I no longer ideated over suicide. I knew dying wouldn’t fix anything — I prayed for my entire soul to stop existing.
On a particularly dark night when I was 28, I asked my mom if I could visit. Despite never talking to my parents about problems in my life, I sat in their room and broke down, shaking and sobbing, unable to speak.
They waited. Finally, I mustered the words, “I don’t like girls.” It was the most intense thing I had ever done.
I repeated my apology, saying I would take this to the grave so they wouldn’t have to live with the shame of my gay existence. And I told them that I didn’t want to live anymore.
And in that moment, my dad made his way to me. He sat on the ground and put his arms on my legs. That night I saw something I didn’t think would happen: I saw my dad’s heart break. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry as he said that if God sent me to hell, he’d tell him he had no interest in heaven and would rather be with his son.
The world shifted that night. Even through years of therapy, I never learned how to love myself, but now I can.
I’m one of the lucky ones, because far too many have reached points so low they saw no other option than to cut their lives short. So I’m using my story in the hopes that when the Utah Legislature considers a bill this session to ban conversion therapy for minors, it do so with the compassion that comes from understanding another’s experience. Well-intended or not, conversion therapy is a deeply flawed practice from which we have the responsibility to protect our young people.
Arturo Fuentes, Lehi, is a social impact consultant and entrepreneur.