The author as a child. “I was practically an alien, beamed to the cornfields from an exotic trailing planet,” he writes. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Bill McKinley)
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was different, even before I heard the word “gay.” I was wearing a leotard and a red tutu when i was 5, in the 1960s Selma, Indiana† I was practically an alien, beamed to the cornfields of an exotic sleep planet.
My well-meaning parents, homophobic before that word hit Indiana, didn’t know what to do with me. I was a clairvoyant, precocious, singing, dancing dervish with no interest in sports, Hot Wheels, or toy guns. They hoped I would grow out of it.
I learned the label for what I was when I snuck into my dad’s bathroom to read the 1969 bestselling “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But We Were Afraid to Ask.” I devoured every gruesome detail about these so-called “homosexuals” and the tragic, secret lives they were doomed to lead. It was cold comfort, but at least I finally knew there were others like me, even though we could never be happy.
The children’s campaign to Make Me a Real Boy included forced labor as a dairy farmer when I was 6, a 10 a.m. military summer camp, and spending 6th grade in exile to Nazareth Hall Catholic Military School† As my father pronounced it straight, the discipline there would “cut the strings of the apron”, that is, would not make me gay. what it For real which left me furious, afraid of straight people and fiercely suspicious of authority figures and organized religion.
It was also a perfect introduction to the cruelty and bullying that occurs in school and in real life every time our community is cast out to be demonized (for example, by Ron DeSantis and his “Don’t Say Gay account,” etc.). I renounced the straight white male patriarchy even before I knew those words.
My adult conversion therapy was started when my sister Nikki died unexpectedly after a seizure. She was 24 and I was 21, having just finished my freshman year of college. Our already dysfunctional family was both broken and torn open by her death.
I had already officially come out, I was present at the very first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights at 19; one of the proudest, most transformative events of my life. I chose a national podium to come out of my closet, never to get in again.
Or so I thought.
Most people hear “conversion therapy” and think of organizations like Exodus International† Private practice sham counselors and therapists can be just as dangerous. Enter Bea, the architect of my conversion therapy.
My parents met Ecuadorian expats Bea and her husband Carlos while flirting with learning Spanish, hoping to become a missionary somewhere. I met Bea the summer before my senior year in college. Bea was a therapist, and even more than my parents, deeply religious. She was also one of the most fascinating, funny and entertaining people I’d ever met, a sparkling treat from Charo and Dr. Ruth.
She was so nice to be around. It totally escaped me that behind her funny stories she was studying me like a lab rat.
Once she invited me to meet a boy and a girl my age under the guise of an informal social gathering. Years later I found that they were all undergoing conversion therapy, and I was there like a freak on a sideshow, modeling the “before” they were trying to leave behind while helping them achieve their heteronormative “after.”
The point was that I really needed and wanted therapy. I just didn’t know how to separate the parts I needed from the parts I didn’t need.
Days before I moved in with my first boyfriend, Ken, my parents’ friends were throwing dinner to celebrate our new life together, and Bea was there. I didn’t realize the real reason for the party was that Bea found a way to invite Ken and me to start my conversion therapy the next day.
The next day we sat at her table and she asked us some questions. She had us each draw a figure, give it an age and name, and write down what the figure felt. Based on that alone, she made her statement: I was not homo.
According to Bea, I chose to be gay when I was 14 and needed a strong male role model. If my life was in balance and I had the chance to choose again, I would choose to be straight. Finally, even if I used to be Gay, I couldn’t have picked a worse partner for myself than Ken.
Lying on the blue carpet in my parents’ living room, sobbing with grief and confusion, feeling the most betrayed and raped I’d ever felt, I vowed never to see her again. Ken and I left the next day to begin our lives together, still stunned by what had happened.
My autumn quarter flew by. Ken and I barely made it to 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 they went with Bea, the last person in the world I wanted to see.
Bea apologized to me for her words last summer. She just wanted to be friends. She encouraged me to record my feelings and send them to her if I wanted her advice on anything.
Back at school, I made a cassette tape about my feelings during winter quarters. I still didn’t know what to think of Bea or how to proceed to be near her. The point was that I really needed and wanted therapy. I just didn’t know how to separate the parts I needed from the parts I didn’t need. A childhood spent raising your alcoholic parents and being bullied usually doesn’t lead to strong groundbreaking skills.
During spring break, I saw Bea every day for eight hours. She made her case against homosexuality – how it was not natural and could not be found anywhere in nature. She dragged me down with biblical passages for all my challenges. We did hypnosis and desensitization and aversion exercises.
I returned to college for my final quarter as a preemie heterosexual, hoping the right exercises and prayers would hold. I cut off all contact with my gay friends and classmates. I even had sex with a good friend. I moved to NYC and still pretended to be straight – but in reality, asexual, deeply wounded and totally confused.
I spent the next five years trying to maintain appearances, ignoring my unhappiness and loneliness. Eventually something broke up with Bea when I went back to Indiana and continued therapy with her. I challenged her one day about the private information she indiscreetly shared with me about other clients of hers I knew, wondering what she’d told them about me. She burst into tears and I left, totally panicked and unsure of what to do next.
That was the last time I saw her.
A few years later, I mustered up the courage to call a national radio program to tell my story to psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Reuben. He took a deep breath, sighed, and I could hear the sadness in his voice as he apologized deeply compassionately for what had been done to me in the name of therapy.
He told 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 seek help.
I hung up the phone and burst into tears, feeling heard and affirmed for the first time in my 30 years, the first glimmer of hope that I would ever find a way back to my true self.
I finally saw a wonderful therapist (have I ever raked? it over the coals during our first session). I came out again† I became a certified therapist myself and moved back to NYC, ostensibly to perform, but really for the gay high school I desperately needed.
It took me 15 years before I was able to fully explore my authentic sexuality, in my 40s.
I confronted my fears about sex and my extremely negative body image. I became a body worker, pleasure activist and sex educator– for 20 years women (and a few men) have paid me to teach them how to give great head (and their boyfriends thanked me!).
The author, left, and his husband, Ricardo. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Bill McKinley)
I am now 61. Eleven years ago I moved to Madrid to marry my husband, a loving, beautiful man who is also a national living cultural treasure of Spain as a flamenco dancer.
We live in the world’s largest gay neighborhood in a country that celebrates diversity and inclusivity. I launched my first music video as DaddyB, a papa bear singer/dancer/songwriter. 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’ve been through is a relic of the past, but it isn’t. For every parent celebrating their child’s diversity, there are hundreds who support the anti-gay laws being proposed in 20 states. Twenty-nine states do not fully protect queer Americans from discrimination. Texas Republicans just approved a platform that labels homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Same-sex marriage is still illegal in Indiana and many other states.
Still, Biden’s injunction against conversion therapy is an extraordinary statement on behalf of LGBTQ+ people. Tears come to my eyes when I think about how it could have helped me. It also gives me great hope for the LGBTQ+ youth now and in the future, that they can always be their authentic selves.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.