The Testimony Of John Burd
A brave Catholic named John Burd writes about Amazon’s decision to ban sale on its site of the works of the late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the founder of “reintegrative therapy” — which is NOT the same thing as “conversion therapy,” and has nothing at all to do with the abusive tortures that the gay activist Sam Brinton claims (with great implausibility) he was subjected to in his youth.
Anyway, the letter:
I’m a current patient at the clinic founded by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, and I wanted to share a couple of thoughts. I’m 37, Catholic, and gay (or same-sex attracted, if you want to use the unwieldy but more orthodox terminology), and I started seeing a therapist at the clinic earlier this year.
I want to start by correcting something in your post, in which you wrote that Joseph Nicolosi “believed, rightly or wrongly, that homosexuality could be cured.” I’m not a psychological professional myself, and I obviously do not speak for the clinic. But I have read Nicolosi’s books, and it would be more accurate to say that he believed homosexuality could be treated, not cured. His conception of homosexuality is more akin to alcoholism than it is to a curable illness– it can be treated, and different people will experience different levels of healing. Some people may be freed of homosexuality completely. Some will not. But even those of us who will never be freed can find help to diminish our attractions and manage the impact they have on our lives.
Again, I emphasize I speak only for my own understanding here– I don’t bring any authority to this beyond my own experience. But I do want to share my experience. When I read Dr. Nicolosi’s books, it was like reading an intimate biography of myself. My relationships with other men, the failures I saw in myself compared to them, what I feared about them, the affirmation I wanted from them– they were all there on the page. In Dr. Nicolosi’s theory of homosexuality, they were cause, much more than effect.
My reaction to this was deep humiliation– humiliation to see so much of my own brokenness laid bare on the page in stark clinical language. But in that humiliation was hope. Maybe this man who saw me so clearly, without even knowing I existed, maybe he was right about what homosexuality is– at core, a misdirected drive to connect with men and masculinity, arising from a failure to do so in healthy ways.
I should clarify here, I was never “in the lifestyle.” But I spent a long time wrestling with the nature of homosexuality as it relates to Christian anthropology. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the “Side B Christians,” who argue that homosexual activity is wrong, but that homosexuality itself is a gift, but I can tell you that I wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe God made me this way, that it was my identity, that it was good and natural, and not something wrong with me. But ultimately I could not reconcile those beliefs with what I have come to believe about the man God made me, and how my homosexual desires developed.
I think what is especially painful for those of us who struggle with this issue is that human sexuality really does run to the core of who we are as human beings. It is unavoidably a part of our identity. And so to recognize that, in the language of the Catholic catechism, our desires are “objectively disordered” is to feel on a fundamental level that something is wrong with us. My journey with homosexuality has been a painful process of letting go of the things that I wanted so much to believe, and accepting truths I wanted so much to reject. It has been essential in this process to understand that my identity is not in being gay. It is in being a man made in the image and likeness of God.
So these are the issues I’m working through at the late Dr. Nicolosi’s clinic with an endlessly patient and compassionate therapist. There is no aversion therapy, no shaming, no shocking of the testicles– though if I’m being honest, I sometimes think I’d prefer those to the work we actually do, recalling and resolving deeply painful emotional traumas related to my failures to connect with other men and my own masculine nature, overcoming long-held shame, and learning to connect in healthy ways.
I so often see and hear small-o orthodox Christians talk about this issue almost apologetically, like the Church’s teaching is vaguely embarrassing and mean-spirited. Or they embrace the Father James Martins, who tell us that God loves us, which is the easy half of the truth. I want them to know that those of us who struggle with these issues deserve the truth, and we need the full truth– to share the truth is to share Christ, who is the Truth (John 14:6). I suggest looking to the pro-life movement as a model. They start with the truth– the right to life, and the love of a mother for her child. And they walk with women in crisis. Many of us who struggle with these issues are lonely and ashamed. Please, walk with us. Accompany us. We need you to. But do it in truth.
Rod, please feel free to share this letter on your blog. I was going to ask you to leave my name off of it, but I have changed my mind. I’m tired of Christians running scared from dissension from the LGBTQ ranks. They do not speak for me on this issue. I speak for me.
That’s a courageous man, for sure.
Here is a link to the Reintegrative Therapy Association. Here is a short documentary about it the therapy: