Sam brinton - conversion therapy
Interview conducted by Morgan Melamed and transcribed by Lexie Schmelzer
Sam Brinton walks, or more accurately- struts through the white house wearing stiletto pumps. This is not uncharacteristic, this is not unprofessional, and this is not unjustified. This is his place of work and he struts as a congressional and presidential advisor on nuclear issues, pink mohawk and all, and he does this as a conversion therapy survivor.
Sam Brinton grew up in Kansas, one of the least accepting states in the country - as we experienced first hand.
"My story begins on a mission trip, my parents and I were missionaries."
"My story begins on a mission trip, my parents and I were missionaries."
He begins telling us his story, sitting in the elaborate lobby area of his upscale central D.C. apartment. Simultaneously invalidating the belief that conversion therapy is capable of changing someone's sexuality, and proving that not only can one survive something so awful, but that one can defy all odds and live a happy, healthy life after the fact.
“The other boys had found a playboy magazine in the trash, I saw that all these boys were having very naughty feelings, and I felt so holy because these feelings didn't affect me, so I immediately told my family. I told them I wasn't having these feelings, but that I sometimes felt similar feelings about my friend Dale.”
After this confession that Sam as a child had perceived as a completely normal conversation with his parents, he was quite literally hit with the harsh reality that having these feelings for his friend Dale was not “normal” and most definitely not accepted by his family.
“I remember waking up in the Emergency room because my father had knocked me out cold. When the beatings did not effectively scare the gay out of me I was sent to conversion therapy.”
Conversion therapy is a form of pseudoscience in which one is spiritually or psychologically counselled in an attempt to change one's sexual identity (to straight.) Often times when counseling fails physical measures are practiced, using physical pain to create aversion to same-sex attractions. Examples of this pain being inducing nausea or paralysis. Think about the classic film, Clockwork Orange. A terrifying but enlightening way to think about the practice of conversion therapy. This controversial method is quietly still completely legal in 45 states. It is legal for a parent to send their unconsenting child to conversion therapy in desperate hopes to ‘erase’ their child's LGBTQ status.
"No parent hears their child screaming in the next room and doesn't want to rush into that room unless they are assured that this pain is for their child's own good."
“My parents did to me what they did because they loved me. No parent hears their child screaming in the next room [due to conversion therapy] and doesn't want to rush into that room unless they are assured that this pain is for their child's own good. My family was sold lies by therapists who swore they could change me, and when I failed, we as a family failed. My parents intent was good, their application was wrong - and I think that is how faith tends to be.”
"Conversion therapy started with me being told I was the only gay left on earth, that I was filled with AIDS, and that the AIDS was why the government had killed us all off as children."
“Conversion therapy started with me being told I was the only gay left on earth, that I was filled with AIDS, and that the AIDS was why the government had killed us all off as children. When the emotional torture wasn't working, we moved on to aversion therapy. Ice and heat and electricity were applied to my body as I was shown images of men touching other men in attempt to rewire my brain into associating this pain I was feeling with the images I was seeing. This worked really well, I couldn't even hug my father. After a few horrific suicide attempts I told my mother that I was straight and that the conversion therapy had worked - Just to make the pain stop."
Brinton attended college at the University of Kansas after his conversion therapy experience, living in the closet with the label of “ex-gay.” He soon started to realize that he was not straight, that he had been lying to himself and others, the “therapy” had not been successful.
"I can’t describe what it was like to think that your entire community has been murdered and then see them on the street the next day"
“I can’t describe what it was like to think that your entire community has been murdered and then see them on the street the next day. I truly thought I was alone forever. My story is a good one because I am alive right now, many survivors are not so lucky. It’s like the hospital giving you cancer - you're not going to want to go back to that hospital. The therapists gave me all of this depression and PTSD, and now I am supposed to walk back into a therapist's office to fix that? It makes no sense.”
Samuel dove wholeheartedly into LGBT activism, at Kansas State University. This in itself was a radical act. He started running for student body president, and to Kansas’ displeasure, won the primaries. How was a gay kid about to become student body president at a state school in Kansas? The Westboro Baptist Church started picketing everything his campaign was doing. They even had “God hates Sam” signs.
“I knew I was making it.”
Sam laughs, elegantly finding humor and pride in this, an immensely admirable trait.
Sam left Kansas and went on to greater things, studying mechanical and nuclear engineering at MIT.
“Big things happen in big cities. I think that this is a big part of the inclination for LGBT people to migrate to big cities. I started to figure out based on the current political issues of the time [marriage equality] that big cities would be better for people like me. That still hurts me alot that I live in a huge city [D.C.] where over 10% of the population is LGBT. That is massive but, it also means that I left Kansas. Thats hard because I left the work that needs to be done there. I try to remind people that you can come back stronger, some people need to leave in order to know why they need to come back. I want to go back to Kansas, I just dont know if i’m strong enough yet. That is why a lot of LGBT people leave their small towns, we want to go somewhere our souls can be fulfilled and our minds can be pushed and we can not be fighting every single day walking down the street. That can be such a relief and such a way for us to grow up. We have stunted growth - we may hit physical puberty early but our emotional puberty is delayed because our culture doesn't celebrate who we are. It's always the same ‘boy meets girl’ story. We can never relate to that, so we are stunted - maybe the city is our chance to ‘un-stunt.’
The conversion therapy that Sam and many others like him are fighting so hard to end is a practice deeply rooted in religious beliefs. The #Bornperfect campaign is the National Campaign to end conversion Therapy, and it is no secret that most institutions practicing this have intentions deeply intertwined with ideals of faith. The thousands of innocent children being tortured by these ‘doctors’ are being abused by faith, when it comes down to it. Sam was brutally abused by faith, and when asked about his current relationship with religion he laughs;
“That is a great question and you will be surprised by my answer.”
Brinton identifies as A Queer Person of Faith (QPOF), as a baptist. He rejected religion for years of his life due to the years of torture he endured, but reclaimed it by upon realizing that faith is his to control.
"My religious identity is something I see as my rejection of your application of faith."
“My religious identity is something I see as my rejection of your [conversion therapy] application of faith. My statement that I deserve to love as I want, and that love can be for and from a higher power. The rejection of my identity due to words on a page in the bible are incorrect. I see the bible as filled with stories of love and stories of compassion and stories of ways that I can help others see a different perspective. That is how I see faith and that is how I started to reclaim something that was so painful in the past.