By John Celock
Growing up in a conservative family and church in Lansing, Mich., Patrick McAlvey believed that the feelings he had towards other men was not right and having heard from a gay conversion therapist during his church youth group he sought out help.
The 11-year-old McAlvey, now a 29-year-old living in New York City, would begin a nine-year period of seeking assistance from the therapist, believing it was the best thing for him.
“He armed me with the information that my attractions were unnatural and sinful and that they could be changed,” McAlvey told The Celock Report. That information set the focus of the next 9 years of my life. I thought once I changed it I could be my full self. That led to so much loneliness. It put me in a state of unhappiness.”
McAlvey said that he would become uncomfortable with the therapist, who he did not name, who would ask him for details on his anatomy and then asked that McAlvey lay in his arms in his late teens. He would stop the therapy and eventually come out, while realizing that he should not have gone through the process of gay conversion therapy. Now he is working to prevent another Michigan teen to go through the same experience.
McAlvey is working with state Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) to pass legislation to ban the practice in the state. Zemke, who has pushed LGBT equality in the state, introduced the bill Wednesday. If passed, Michigan would be the third state in the country to ban the practice, following California and New Jersey. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the California law.
Zemke touts the ban in New Jersey, which was signed last year by Gov. Chris Christie (R) after passage by a Democratic-controlled state Legislature. The California law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) after being passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
“I am pleased to see that this issue is being championed on a bipartisan basis in state Legislatures across our country and by Republican Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey,” Zemke said in a statement. “I hope that we see the same bipartisan support in our own Legislature.”
When Christie signed the bill, he said that while he had concerns about government interfering with parental rights to seek treatment for a child, he found that the practice of gay conversion therapy can have harmful psychological effects on children.
Zemke told The Celock Report that he believes the bill can be successful in Michigan, noting that Republicans who have supported other equality measures have indicated support for the ban.
McAlvey said that while there are studies showing that gay conversion therapy does not work and that the practice can have harmful effects, he said he still hears stories of the practice occurring in Michigan. He said that his own therapy had “damaging” effects on him and led him to keep people distant, until he thought he could address his own issues.
“It is largely emotional and mental in self-esteem and confidence,” he said of the impact. “It got into relationship dynamics of getting close to people. I felt once I could overcome this I could get comfortable with my life.”
McAlvey said at the age of 11, he was “terrified” by the prospect of being gay, citing the community he grew up in and that the therapist’s presentation to his youth group made therapy seem like his only way to embrace it. He noted that while he now knows he had many options at the age of 11, a “primal fear” led him to seek out the therapy, which started as primarily letters and phone calls before moving to in person sessions.
He said that moving on from the therapy and coming to terms with his own sexual orientation helped him move on with his life. At the same time, it came with a cost, losing him friends within him conservative community who did not accept his sexual orientation. At the same time he knows it was the right thing for him to move on from trying to change who he was.
“It would be hard to describe how amazing the release was when I finally liked who I was. I was waiting for my life to start once these attractions ended. I feel like a whole person. I am able to engage with people in an authentic and sincere way,” he said. “I feel that could have been happier earlier if I had accepted myself. Of course there is nothing wrong with me. These attractions are what make me unique and special. I live a much more happy and full life right now.”
In addition to pushing for Zemke’s bill, McAlvey said he has a message for other Michigan teens who might be in the same position he was once in.
“I wish I could be in front of those kids and say that who you are is great and that it is good and natural that they celebrate and accept who you are,” McAlvey told The Celock Report. “That they grow up to have happy lives and that if everyone in their lives doesn’t accept them, they can seek out those who will. At that age I could not imagine being happy, whole and living a good life as a gay man.”