For 5 years I endured LGBTQ+ conversion therapy. It was A Living Hell.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order end federal funding for LGBTQ+ conversion therapythe therapy I endured in my twenties that left me contemplating suicide.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was different, even before I heard the word “gay.” I wore a ballerina leotard and a red tutu when I was 5 years old, in the 1960s Selma, Indiana. I was practically an alien teleported to the cornfields from an exotic drag planet.

My well-meaning parents, homophobic before that word even hit Indiana, didn’t know what to do with me. I was a bright-eyed, precocious, singing and dancing dervish with no interest in sports, Hot Wheels or toy guns. They hoped I would pull through.

I learned etiquette for what I was when I snuck into my dad’s bathroom to read the 1969 bestseller “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex: But You Had afraid to ask”. I devoured all the grim details about these so-called “homosexuals” and the tragic, stealthy lives they were doomed to lead. It was cold comfort, but at least I finally knew there were other people like me, even though we could never be happy.

The childhood campaign to make me a real boy included forced labor as a dairy farm laborer when I was 6, military summer camp when I was 10, and sixth-grade years in exile in Nazareth Hall Catholic Military School. As my dad explained as a straight man, the discipline there would “cut the apron strings,” i.e., make me non-gay. What is that really made me angry, scared of straight people, and fiercely suspicious of authority figures and organized religion.

It was also a perfect introduction to the cruelty and bullying to come in school and in real life whenever our community came out to be demonized (for example, by Ron DeSantis and his “Don’t tell gay bill,” etc.) I renounced the patriarchy of straight white males before I even knew those words.

My adult conversion therapy was triggered when my sister Nikki died unexpectedly from an epileptic seizure. She was 24 and I was 21, I had just finished my freshman year of college. Our already dysfunctional family was both shattered and opened up by his death.

I was already out officially, I attended the very first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights at 19 years old ; one of the proudest and most transformative events of my life. I chose a national stage to get out of my closet, never to go back.

Most people hear “conversion therapy” and think of organizations like International exodus. Fake counselors and therapists in private practice can be just as dangerous. Enter Bea, the architect of my conversion therapy.

My parents met Ecuadorian expats Bea and her husband Carlos as they flirted with learning Spanish, hoping to become missionaries somewhere. I met Bea the summer before my senior year of college. Béa was a therapist, and even more than my parents, deeply religious. She was also one of the most fascinating, funny and entertaining people I have ever met, a bubbly confection of Charo and Dr Ruth.

She was so fun to be around. It totally escaped me that behind her funny stories, she was studying me like a lab rat.

She once invited me to meet a boy and girl my age under the guise of a casual social gathering. Years later, I found out that everyone was going through conversion therapy, and there I was like a freak in a side show, modeling the “before” they were each trying to leave behind while she helped realize their heteronormative “after”.

“The thing is, I really needed and wanted therapy. I just didn’t know how to separate the pieces I needed from the ones I didn’t need.

A few days before moving in with my first boyfriend, Ken, friends of my parents hosted a dinner party to celebrate our new life together, and Bea attended. I hadn’t realized that the real reason for the party was for Bea to find a way to invite Ken and me the next day to kick off my conversion therapy.

The next day we sat down at her table and she asked us a few questions. She asked us to each draw a character, give it an age and a name, and write down how the character felt. On that basis alone, she made her statement: I was not gay.

According to Bea, I chose to be gay when I was 14 and needed a strong male role model. If my life was balanced and I had the ability to choose again, I would choose to be straight. Finally, even if I has been gay, I couldn’t have chosen a worse partner for me than Ken.

Lying on the blue carpet in my parents’ living room, sobbing in grief and confusion, feeling the most betrayed and violated I had ever felt, I swore never to see her again. Ken and I left the next day to start our lives together, still stunned by what had happened.

My fall semester has flown away. Ken and I barely reached Christmas before we broke up, we were so haunted by Bea’s words. The only time I saw my parents, they came to see me in a production of “Sweeney Todd” and followed Bea, the last person in the world I wanted to see.

Bea apologized to me for her words the previous summer. She just wanted to be friends. She encouraged me to record my feelings and send them to her if I wanted her opinion on anything.

Back at school, I made a tape about my feelings during the winter term. I still didn’t know what to think of Bea or how to proceed to be with her. The thing was, I really needed and wanted therapy. I just didn’t know how to separate the parts I needed from the ones I didn’t. A childhood spent raising your alcoholic parents and being bullied usually doesn’t lead to strong boundary-setting skills.

During spring break, I saw Bea every day for eight hours. She argued against homosexuality – how it was unnatural and could not be found anywhere in nature. She exhausted me with Bible passages for each of my challenges. We did hypnosis and desensitization and aversion exercises.

I went back to college for my last term as a preemie-straight, hoping the right exercises and prayers would hold him together. I cut off all contact with my gay friends and classmates. I even slept with a close friend. I moved to New York, still pretending to be straight – but in truth, asexual, deeply hurt and totally confused.

I spent the next five years trying to pretend, ignoring my unhappiness and loneliness. Things finally broke down with Bea when I moved back to Indiana and continued therapy with her. I questioned her one day about the private information she was indiscreetly sharing with me about other clients I knew, wondering what she was telling them about me. She burst into tears and I left, totally panicked and not knowing what to do next.

It was the last time I saw her.

A few years later, I worked up the courage to call a national radio show to tell my story to psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Ruben. He took a deep breath, sighed, and I could hear the sadness in his voice as he offered a deeply compassionate apology for what had been done to me in the name of therapy.

He informed me that I had been the victim of severe psychological and sexual abuse, and he shared his hope that one day I would be able to trust another therapist enough to ask for help.

I hung up the phone and burst into tears, feeling heard and validated for the first time in 30 years, the first glimmer of hope that I might one day find my way back to my true self.

I finally saw a miraculous therapist (did I ever rake him through the embers during our first session). I came out Again. I became a certified therapist myself and returned to New York, ostensibly to perform, but really for the gay graduation school I sorely needed.

It took me 15 years before I could fully explore my authentic sexuality in my 40s.

I faced my sexual fears and extremely negative body image. I became a body worker, pleasure activist and sex educator — for 20 years, women (and a few men) paid me to teach them how to suck properly (and their friends thanked me!).

The author, left, and her husband, Ricardo.

Photo courtesy of Bill McKinley

I’m 61 now. Eleven years ago I moved to Madrid to marry my husband, a handsome, loving man who is also a living national cultural treasure of Spain as a flamenco dancer.

We live in the world’s largest gay district in a country that celebrates diversity and inclusivity. I launched my first music video as DaddyB, a singer/dancer/composer daddy bear. I have fully embraced the richness of my history and my place as a gay elder. I am both a warrior and a lover on behalf of my tribe.

I wish I could say that what I went through is a relic of the past, but it’s not. For every parent who celebrates their child’s diversity, there are hundreds who support proposed anti-gay laws in 20 states. Twenty-nine states do not fully protect gay Americans from discrimination. Texas Republicans have just endorsed a platform that calls homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice.” Gay marriage is still illegal on the books of Indiana and many other states.

Yet Biden’s executive order against conversion therapy is an extraordinary statement on behalf of LGBTQ+ people. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how this could have helped me. It also gives me great hope for young LGBTQ+ people now and in the future, that they can always be allowed to be authentic themselves.

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