The two terms “conversion” and “therapy” evoke movie scenes with electroshock or camps with freezing exercises in the mud. And that’s where the decipt lies. When Hollywood turns conversion therapy into show business, the truth doens’t matter. Because the truth is, these therapies rely on guilt, shame, and psychology.
Perhaps in the past conversion therapy included forms of physical abuse. Nowways, it’s mental and subtle. And often difficult to pinpoint. The scars aren’t on the body, but on the soul and psyche. That’s why the Order of Psychologists and the Italian Society of Psychology forbids it. On the other hand, the law doesn’t.
Indeed, conversion therapy is legal in Italy, as long as it’s quiet and elusive. If no one can see it, it doesn’t exist.
No scars, no proof
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has identified seven practices used in conversion therapy all over the world:
- Aversive treatment
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Forced confinement
- Corrective violence
- Exorcism and ritual cleansing
In Italy, one of these is especially common: psychotherapy. According to the IRCT, this tactic generates from the“belief that trauma is the underlying cause of a non-heterosexual orientation or identity.” Practitioners try to find the root case to eradicate it. This can be sexual abuse during childhood or any type of sin, even one committed in the past life.
Psychotherapy against homosexuality
Forms of psychotherapy include hypnotherapy and behavioural therapy. Practitioners look at the reactions towards their gender assigned at birth and some practices include masturbate to pictures of the opposite sex or heterosexual pornography. They need to address their negative feelings towards straight sex, because sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice.
This, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990. But in Italy, one institution has a lot of influence in the decision making. Indeed, it’s the Catholic church.
Pope Francis made a shocking statement, saying that homesxulas have the right to have a family. Since they are children of God. No one should be excluded or be upset because of this. So, he supported civil unions -and that’s as far as it went.
A small opening, but what about conversion therapy? While Italian Catholic psychologists have denounced it, priests haven’t. The association Courage is sponsored by the church and it practices conversion therapy. It offers three programs, one for individuals, one for the families, and the last one for members of the clergy.
The description of the latter states that “it’s a Catholic resource for anyone looking for the tools to accompany our brothers and sisters who experiment attraction for the same sex.” Through the course, the priests learn about sexuality, chastity, and health.
Furthermore, the mission of Courage has five pillars. Number three is “support a spirit of brotherhood, so we can share our thoughts and experiences. And make sure that no one confronts the problems of homosexuality alone.”
What are these problems? While the website does not explain them, the story of Alessandro might.
Conversion therapy: two different stories
Two characters, two sons, and two families. Plus a completely different approach to conversion therapy.
His parents divorced one he was young and the father built a new family, leaving Alessandro, his sister, and mother behind. At 17, he came out of the closet to his friends, who supported him. His mother, not so much. She believed her son was possessed by the devil. And she pushed him into conversion therapy because only prayers and God could save Alessandro from that “horrible disease.”
During the last day of his redemption path, Alessandro went viral with a video. In it, he said he was cured from homosexuality. And that he was crazy, “crazy for God.” He blamed his father for his homosexuality, claiming he was looking for men to fill a void. After conversion therapy, he claimed to be cured. He claimed he is now attracted to women, and soon, he will find a girlfriend.
While he didn’t go into details about his redemption path, shame and guilt played their part. The same shame that the mother of another homosexual young boy used to feel.
The story of Mara Grassi
Mara Grassi, a Catholic woman, couldn’t accept her gay son because she believed he wa committing a sin.
In her parish, other believers created their group, “we create an environment in which our children could answer their calling either in marriage or in priesthood. We wanted to be ‘saint families.’ My son, so brilliant, couldn’t be so wrong.”
Instead of sending him to conversion therapy, Mara opened her mind and soul. She did her research and she joined the group “Christian LGBT and their parents” in her region, Emilia Romagna. With the right support, she accepted her son.”God loved me by giving me my kids, exactly the way they are, and their ability to love.”
Indeed, the story of Alessandro and Mara are different. And they speak of a divided country.
A country whose politicians can’t even vote on abolishing conversion therapy. In fact, the law proposal has been stuck in Parliament since 2016. The proposal foressess sentences of up to two years in prison and fines, for any practitioner.
Not only because these therapies do more harm than good. But because homosexuality isn’t a disease to cure. It’s love. And, too often, living this love can lead to discrimination.