If the name Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr. sounds familiar to you, perhaps it’s because he’s the son of Joseph Nicolosi Sr., the now-deceased man widely hailed as founder of the so-called ex-gay movement, a homophobic form of counseling denounced as psychological torture by pretty much every professional mental health association in America.
Joseph Nicolosi Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps by continuing to offer conversion therapy to people who feel uncomfortable about their same-sex attraction. He recently did an interview with the anti-LGBTQ site Christian Militant to promote his practice and denounce recent legislation banning “reparative therapy” in several U.S. states. (Washington recently became the 10th state to do so.)
We collected five of the most egregious statements from his interview (and refute them) below.
Before we begin, however, you should know that Joseph Nicolosi Sr.’s work was founded on the work of George “Rentboy” Rekers, an ex-gay therapist who was a founding board member of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council, a group that seeks to criminalize gay sex.
Along with Nicolosi Sr., Rekers also founded ex-gay group the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which believes homosexuality is a mental illness and regularly publishes anti-gay junk science used by anti-gay hate groups.
Rekers resigned from NARTH in 2010 after he was discovered traveling with Jo-Vanni Roman, a 20-year-old male sex worker he’d hired through Rentboy.com, a website for hiring male escorts. Though Rekers claimed he hired Roman to help “lift his luggage” following surgery, a photo of Rekers taken during the trip shows him handling his own luggage. Roman said Rekers requested nude massages daily that involved genital-touching. Rekers continues to claim he isn’t gay.
Regardless, one of Rekers’ former patients, entrusted to his care at age 8 for being a “sissy boy,” came out as gay decades later and, unable to sustain an intimate relationship, committed suicide at 38.
A gay cure, indeed. This is the foundation upon which Nicolosi Jr. built his practice.
Here are 5 false, misleading statements supporting the ex-gay movement by Joseph Nicolosi Jr.:
1. Nicolosi says homosexuality is merely a “practice” similar to sexual harassment.
“It’s amazing, especially in the age of Harvey Weinstein, that there are still some people who don’t get it: Everyone has the right to walk away from sexual practices that don’t work for them,” he says. “Though most people would agree with that statement, we’ve discovered a double-standard that somehow if those feelings are homosexual in nature, then it’s not OK to walk away. That it’s somehow “anti-gay” to want to walk away from homosexuality and to have help to do so. Everyone has the right to walk away from any kind of sexual practices that don’t work for them for any reason.”
Here Nicolosi Jr. compares homosexuals to an infamous Hollywood sexual harasser (because gays are sexual predators) and homosexuality to sexual harassment (because to him, homosexuality is a predatory action used to trick the innocent). While he’s right that people should feel free to leave sexual practices that don’t work for them, he neglects two things:
First, homosexuality isn’t a “practice,” it’s an orientation. One can choose not to “act out” on their heterosexual attractions, for instance, but their orientation will more or less remain the same because it’s determined largely by genetics, not by actions.
Secondly, the main reason people feel homosexuality doesn’t “work for them” is because we live in a homophobic society that treats gay and bisexual men as mentally ill perverts and predators who need to be cured or otherwise stopped. Nicolosi Jr.’s rhetoric contributes to that, gaining him more clients even as he actively harms them.
2. Nicolosi says homosexuality is the result of a dysfunctional self-image.
“We receive so many calls, emails and letters from our clients who have found help through our therapy,” Nicolosi says. “I hear from the wives, the women that my clients went on to marry. They married men who refused to accept at face value what our pop culture told them about their sexuality. Instead, they explored the roots of their attractions, resolving any sexual abuse they suffered, the sexual addictions they’ve had, the feelings of inferiority in their gender and the difficulty maintaining non-sexual intimacy with men.”
Nicolosi Jr., like so many other anti-gay pseudoscientists, believes homosexuality can only arise from past sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction, feelings of emasculation or sexual compulsion. The truth is lots of men experience these things without ever feeling like they’re gay, and lots of men are gay without ever experiencing these things — the two aren’t related.
Yes, experiencing these hardships may complicate your relationship to your own sexuality, raising questions about your orientation or making it hard to accept, but these aren’t the “roots” of same-sex attraction. In fact, they’re based on long-debunked theories tying homosexuality to masculinity.
Also, do you notice how Nicolosi Jr. doesn’t mention what the wives of his ex-gay clients have to say? We imagine their romantic lives aren’t all that great.
3. Nicolosi says banning ex-gay therapy is a form of abuse.
“Sexual abuse can have an impact on an individual’s sexual development, and the American Psychological Association acknowledges this,” he says. “That’s why legislation that attempts to ban our work is so destructive and cruel to sex-abuse victims. So many men come to us saying, ‘I was sexually abused by an older man when I was just a boy. Now, because of that life-changing event, I struggle to resolve these unwanted, confusing attractions.’ What’s true compassion: to help them resolve those unwanted attractions or tell them to live those attractions out?”
Yet again, Nicolosi claims sex abuse causes homosexuality, feeding an anti-gay narrative of gay men as child molesters seeking to “recruit” kids into homosexuality. Rhetoric like this increases violence against gay people and suicide rates in order to “protect children.” It’s dangerous and gross.
Second, no one is saying sex abuse survivors can’t seek therapy. Bans on the ex-gay movement don’t prevent them from seeking therapy. They can even visit therapists if they’re uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction.
What bans on the ex-gay movement forbid is any state-licensed therapist claiming he can help change or redirect a person’s sexual orientation. That, according to every major mental health organization including the World Health Organization, is impossible and harmful to people’s mental health.
Furthermore, ex-gay clinics have used a variety of harmful methods — including rape, beatings, forced medications, electroshock therapy, solitary confinement and other forms of torture — none of which are examples of “true compassion” as Nicolosi Jr. likes to say.
4. Nicolosi says trans children are just confused and shouldn’t be allowed to transition.
“It’s dangerous to put an identity label on a young, gender-confused child,” he says. “There are pediatricians who give adolescent children puberty-blockers and hormone replacement drugs in a misguided attempt to make them into the opposite sex. We have no idea what these drugs do to the brain in the long term. Adults have the right to make their own choices regarding gender-reassignment surgery, but it’s highly problematic when children are encouraged this way, even being told it’s the only way they can be who they really are.”
In his must-read longform piece about anti-trans junk science, longtime LGBTQ journalist Zack Ford states modern psychology doesn’t just allow any kid with gender dysphoria to start transitioning. Since 2013, diagnostic criteria used by psychological professionals require a child’s transgender identity be “insistent, persistent and consistent” — that is, repeatedly emphatic, lasting years and expressing itself in a variety of scenarios.
Kids with gender dysphoria typically consult with doctors and mental health professionals for years, and they aren’t given gender-reassignment surgery. Typically they’re encouraged to present themselves in their self-identified gender and then start hormone blockers around puberty. If, after a prolonged time, they choose to continue their transition, they can choose surgery. If a child ever wants to stop the transition, the mental health professional will ensure they can.
Denying these services to young trans children increases their anxiety and poor mental health outcomes, sometimes even making them suicidal.
5. Nicolosi says LGBTQ activists are trying to take away a patient’s right to choose their own treatment goals.
“If radical LGBT activists were so concerned about unethical practices in therapy, they would seek to ban therapeutic methods, like any method that uses shame, pain or coercion to try to change someone’s sexuality,” Nicolosi says. “We could agree that would be reasonable. But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re actually outlawing treatment goals, the goal to decrease one’s unwanted same-sex attractions in the privacy of one’s own therapy. That’s problematic because it eliminates my client’s fundamental right to pick their own destination in their own therapy.”
Yet again, none of the major psychological associations believe changing one’s sexual orientation is a healthy or achievable “destination.” In fact, all of them say that it’s impossible and mentally hazardous to do so.
Nicolosi Jr. shrugs off reports of ex-gay therapists using physical abuse and sexual molestation and claims that his therapy uses “evidence-based trauma and sexual addiction treatment … found in other clinics throughout the world.” But these treatments are aimed at changing a person’s self-image and sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. To claim that they do is misleading and disingenuous.
Patients can choose all sorts of unhealthy “destinations in their own therapy,” like wanting to live in a dream world where they’re royalty or their dead relatives are still alive. That doesn’t mean that we should let them, especially when it denies who they are and what’s happening around them. And any quack like Nicolosi Jr. who wants to profit off of such unhealthy desires should be stopped before he hurts one other person made to feel badly for their same-sex desire.
What do you think of Joseph Nicolosi Jr.’s thoughts on the ex-gay movement? Sound off in the comments.
Featured image via The Breakthrough Clinic