Surviving conversion practices and leaving faith

A University of Melbourne Student

In 21st-century Australia, my sex education was writing a letter proclaiming my virginity 'to my future husband' and wrapping it up in a gift box to take home from my Christian high school. I was often rewarded in Christian communities for my 'purity' as a teenager. After I left school, suddenly my lack of romantic interest towards men began to be questioned. I thought something must be wrong with me. I paid to see a qualified Christian counsellor who explained to me that nothing was wrong with me, that I was ‘fine’ – and heterosexual. This counselling approach was based on the idea that homosexuality was an expression of some psychological trauma or spiritual brokenness.

Other Christians told me that they knew a man who had been attracted to men, until they prayed for him to be healed - now he was only attracted to women. I had a Christian mentor tell me she had been attracted to women in the past but had dealt with it so she was not bisexual. These whispered anecdotes supported my vague idea that homosexuality must be a deficiency that could be overcome. 'Being LGBTQIA+ is not an illness' – that really is a public health message. It's society that needs to heal.

Many LGBTQIA+ people find faith or continue to practice their faith. This was not the case for me, I left the church I was born into, and later I left my faith. Leaving the church was initially a very scary process for me and it took years to build up a new social network. I’ve worked through lots of internalised homophobia to be able to have a healthy relationship with someone I love. Decades of mentally associating homosexuality with disaster, tragedy and judgement meant that I had to pass through waves of catastrophic thinking at every new stage in my relationship.

Meeting other people that had left a similar church environment helped me feel less strange and less alone. These days, my spiritual practices are spending time in nature and caring for other living beings. I’m so grateful to be where I am today, and to discover that it is possible to be happy without faith.