When reading the Finnish versions of tabloids I am often outraged or in disbelief, sometimes over the actual story, sometimes over what manages to constitute “news” in my small country.
One day, on my casual stroll through less than brilliant journalism, I saw a tabloid mention an article that came out in a Finnish women’s magazine. The young man in the story claimed he had been “cured” from being gay. This isn’t a story you often see in Finnish newspapers or magazines, or anywhere else in the Western world. The connotations of reparation therapy are overall negative. Most people seem to recognize that there is something wrong with trying to zap someone out of a sexual orientation that they were born into.
The young man was in his twenties. He described himself as having been a typical gay man. He had been into partying, drinking, one-night stands, sexual encounters with multiple men at a time. Living from one hangover to the next, one day after a rough night he had called a friend who had recently become religious and met with him. Through this friend he had discovered religion, and through religion had felt transformed. This church had not forced him to become straight; they hadn’t tried to fix him. He said he just suddenly was no longer attracted to men. He is now married to a woman and they have a five-month year old son together.
Part of what made this story so interesting was the fact that he hadn’t been to any clinic or therapist who would have tried to change him. The church that had become part of his life did not consider homosexuality in itself a sin, only sexual acts between members of the same sex. And whether the religious institutions in reality affected his self-proclaimed reparation or not, it did make it hard for me to decide what I thought about the article. I don’t deny this man’s experience of identifying as straight. If that’s who he is now, I have no problem accepting that and I am glad he has found peace and a loving relationship. The fact that it is heterosexual makes no difference to me.
It would have been no different to a story of someone who discovered they were gay in their mid-twenties had it not been for the message of the article; that he had been “cured” of homosexuality and that this story was to be an inspiration to others. I find that very hard to reconcile with. I think people can be mistaken in thinking they are straight or gay and feel a different way later in life. I think they can in some cases be misguided by the prejudices of other. Or sometimes they just discover something they had not earlier considered. I think people can change, and that ultimately with most people sexuality is fluid if the right conditions arise.
The fact that the young man seemed to have discovered something about himself, and made a change from a life that he thought was leading him in a destructive direction, was good. Yet the tone of the article was dangerous, framing the problems this man had with alcohol and unhealthy relationships as somehow typical to a gay lifestyle. Not only is this an awful stereotype, but it may lead people to believe that if you have problems as a gay person, these problems are somehow caused by your sexuality.
You can be gay and live a great life, free of alcoholism and in a loving, healthy relationship, yet this article made it sound like as long as you were gay you could never shake these other problems. In one of his blog posts, the man in the article says the one thing he is going to miss about being gay, is being close to another man. His story seemed to be about gaining self worth, about taking charge of your life and making a change for the better. Yet I remained confused as to why this had meant his sexuality had to change, and that the intimacy he had felt with men had to disappear as if it had been one of his problems.
Maybe for him it was easier to blame all his problems on his sexuality, and that somehow letting go of that was easier than learning to live a healthy “gay” life. However for me, coming out was the best thing that could have happened. He said he felt a weight being lifted off him when he let go of being gay. I felt the exactly the same when I realized I was gay and truly found myself for the first time.