“Curing” the gay

September 21, 2012 in General

Justice can take a while.  It’s easy enough to do something wrong, but the process of righting that wrong can drag on for some time.  In my case it took five years.

When I came out as gay to the Exclusive Brethren priests in August 2007, they didn’t know what to do.  They prayed over me, they told me to reject “those feelings”, and I was told I had demons.  I struggled with their advice for months, but it seemed there was nothing I could do to change how I felt.  You can’t just pray away the gay.

In December 2007 I was sent for an interview with Bruce Hales, the world leader of the church.  He grilled me closely as to my “other way of thinking”.  How long had I felt that way for?  Had I acted on my feelings physically?  I was forced to answer in front of my father and uncle, and felt humiliated.  “There’s medication you can go on for these things,” said Hales.

The next day I met with church doctor number one – Roger Kirkpatrick.  Kirkpatrick is in his early seventies, is a close relative of Hales, and is widely known for his liberal use of anti-depressants to quell dissenting members of the church.  He reportedly once said that “half the Brethren are on anti-depressants, and the other half should be.”  (When I left the church, my father, mother and teenage brother were all being medicated.)

Kirkpatrick was vile.  I’d been quizzed before, but not like that.  What had I done sexually?  Who had I done it with?  Where did we do it?  How many times?  Was I penetrating or receiving?  Was I more attracted to a hard penis, or a soft penis?  Was I sexually attracted to anyone in the church?  Was I sexually attracted to the priests?  The questions quickly moved from pseudo-medicine to voyeurism.  He had been drinking, his face was flushed a faint shade of pink, and a white shirt stretched over an enormous stomach.

I felt violated and sick.  I didn’t feel angry with Kirkpatrick at the time though, as he was a revered and respected church leader and I believed he was doing his best to help me.  Instead I felt hatred for myself.  How could I be such a bad person and do such terrible things?  I felt I deserved to have the full wrath of the church meted out to me.  All he had done was expose the evil I had been hiding in my thoughts and feelings.

“Homosexuality is institutional,” he said.  “But maybe God will help you change.”  He was registered in Australia, so told me he couldn’t prescribe any medication for me in New Zealand.  However he didn’t think that was a problem, as the only medication he could think of to prescribe was anti-depressants, and I didn’t seem like a “depressed homosexual” to him.  I had a strong mind, and I could beat it by myself.  I just needed to pray harder.

The following week I cracked and ran away.  How was it possibly fair to expect me to endure that kind of mental torment?  I had expected them to wave their hands and produce some magical cure, and to have that hope taken away was more than I could bear.

The Exclusive Brethren put out an all-points bulletin when I went missing and it wasn’t long before they tracked me down in Christchurch.  My cousins in Canterbury were sent to talk to me, and they cried as they begged me to just stay with them for a few days to give me time to think about things.  There was no church pressure, they said, and they just wanted to make sure I was in a safe space.

From there the grip increased like a stranglehold.  The first thing to go was the cheap cellphone I had bought – my only link to people outside the church.  I wouldn’t need that now, they said.  Then the pressure was applied to begin going to church again.  Didn’t I miss the brethren?  From there I was sent to live in Palmerston North with my uncle and aunt, and then on from there to Sydney – the home of Bruce Hales.

Bruce Hales had clear ideas about what was to be achieved during my time in Sydney.  The priests in New Zealand had sent him a portfolio with all the information they had on me, so he was brought up to speed with what had been going on.  He told my Sydney host that I wouldn’t be sent back to New Zealand until the problem was “sorted out”.  He instructed that I was to see another doctor with a view to receiving treatment for my sexuality.

Church doctor number two – Mark Craddock.  Craddock was in his early seventies, and a much nicer person than Kirkpatrick.  I was taken to visit him at his home, where we spoke for a brief ten minutes.  Homosexuality was a desolate lifestyle, he said.  What percentage homosexual was I? 100%, I replied.  Don’t be ridiculous, that’s impossible, I was told.  He didn’t have any drugs to hand to “cure” homosexuality, although he told me he was experimenting with some on another young gay person in Sydney.  In the meantime, he recommended that I take suppressants to quell any sexual urges I may have.

And that was that.  He wrote out a prescription for some medicine, gave it five repeats, and handed it over.  There was no discussion of my past medical history, no discussion of potential side-effects, no description of the drug, and no arrangement for further consultation.  I left his living room with a piece of paper which entitled me to take the drug for up to a year without seeing another medical professional.

It was an awful drug.  I took two pills every morning, two every evening, and the effects were immediately noticeable.  I was dazed and upset, and hit by occasional bouts of nausea.  That was quite aside from the near impotence it produced.  I couldn’t bear it, and after several weeks I stopped taking it.  I wrote to Bruce Hales and told him I had had a moral breakthrough and could now control my feelings without medical intervention.

It wasn’t until I left the Exclusive Brethren for good in 2009 that I began questioning what I had been through with church doctors.  Even then it was more at the urging of others than because I felt I had been ill-treated in any way.  All my life I had been trained to respect and obey church leaders, so it was quite some time before I began to question whether what they had done was right.  I then spoke out about my experiences with the 60 Minutes programme in New Zealand, and with the Today Tonight programme in Australia.

At the beginning of 2010 I submitted a formal complaint over my mistreatment at the hands of Craddock to the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission.  They launched an investigation into his practices, which proceeded so slowly I often forgot it was happening.  Every few months an email from the commission asking for information would remind me, and I would wonder how long I would have to wait for an outcome.

That outcome was realised two weeks ago.  The process finally came to a conclusion, and the commission handed down its ruling.  Mark James Christopher Craddock of Sydney was found guilty on a lengthy list of charges, including unsatisfactory professional conduct.  The commission subsequently ruled that he could no longer practice as a GP.

I welcomed the ruling with relief.  I finally felt a sense of closure, and knew that I could lay my experiences with Craddock to rest.  I felt a sense of relief for others, also, knowing that his treatment of me could not be repeated with anyone else.   And as odd as it may seem, relief for Craddock himself.  There is no doubt in my mind that he treated me under duress from the church, so in a way his being banned finally sets him free from their expectations.

Was I happy with the outcome?  Yes.  Am I angry about what happened?  Sometimes.  Healing takes time, and I know it will be a few years yet before I can say I have fully moved on.  I would still like to see Kirkpatrick called to account for his mistreatment, but am happy to see closure achieved for what I went through with Craddock.

Maybe now I can throw away the small pill bottle I’ve kept as a reminder of what I went through.