Gay conversion therapy nearly destroyed me
I KNEW that I was gay from a very young age, but growing up in the Church, this was by no means an easy realisation.
I was 10 when I first began understanding the beliefs and feeling that my faith community had about LGBT+ people.
Although often subtle, comments from the pulpit or conversations I overheard between adults built the picture for me that gay and lesbian people were not 'normal'. Spiritually, they were 'broken' and needed our prayers for 'healing'.
Of course, as I grew older and realised that I was one of these people ('abomination' was also a word I learned at a young age), I struggled to reconcile my growing understanding of my sexuality with the messaging and ideology that I had been taught.
I came out to my pastor at 16, having finally gotten up the courage to ask for help.
I started Christian counselling immediately, aimed at steering me towards heterosexuality. This involved a lot of pseudo-psychology, which attempted to draw a link between a number of childhood experiences, the relationships I had with my parents, and my sexuality.
When I was 19, I moved from Sydney to Canberra to attend a ministry called Living Waters.
It had been suggested that by moving to another city I could start afresh without my old friends (meaning the 'gay' ones) influencing me.
The course involved weekly meetings where we would have a time of worship together and then listen to a speaker discuss whichever chapter from our conversion training manual that we had been reading and working through that week. Occasionally, it would involve a testimony from someone who had 'found healing'.
In one of the more bizarre sessions, the speaker claimed that not being breastfed could cause some kind of spiritual or emotional blockage that may damage us during sexual development.
He led us in a prayer of forgiveness to our mothers for 'denying us their breast'.
After the sermon we would split into single-sex small groups of roughly five or six people with a leader or two in each. We would go around the circle confessing to any sin or temptation that we had come across during the week. We would then be prayed over and anointed with oil.
It was a strange thing to listen to people's private confessions.
I remember watching a man tremble while admitting to an act (which, in hindsight, was actually quite benign) of which he was ashamed. He only calmed once he had received words of acceptance and forgiveness from the rest of the group.
It was a confusing thing for me to be a part of, particularly since I never had anything to confess to. For the last few years I had been so strict with myself that I didn't even so much as entertain thoughts of men, let alone kiss, hold a hand or, god-forbid, do anything more.
I left Living Waters utterly disappointed - I was as gay as I ever had been, maybe even gayer. So I threw everything I had in me towards becoming straight.
I went into full-time ministry and spent the next several years involved in all sorts of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) ranging from prayer ministry and exorcisms to more counselling.
I read books on the subject and attended support nights. I even got in touch with some well-known 'ex-gays' for help.
At this point in my story, I am often asked by Christians: "Okay, so what's so bad about that? It wouldn't have been nice for you to be involved in all that, but was it actually harmful?"
The short answer? Yes, it was. Extremely.
My whole life at that point revolved around the need to be healed. I saw my sexuality as a form of brokenness that was stopping me from living the life God had planned.
My real life could not begin until I had sorted out this 'problem'.
Because of the ideology that I had been immersed in as a child and that was then set in concrete through counselling, Living Waters and other efforts to change, I believed with my whole heart that I was sick and in need of healing.
I would have done anything to be healed.
Eventually, I found my way through this. I began the long journey of accepting who I am and creating a new relationship with God, but I am not done yet. Unlearning takes time.
I tried to starve the homosexuality out by removing every form of possible temptation - I stopped speaking to attractive men and sabotaged my friendships with people, I couldn't watch TV or movies in case I would see a shirtless man in them.
I became extremely distressed with every day physical touch and my own natural body functions. The level of psychological damage is further demonstrated by my desperation as I even began investigating if castration was possible.
I wasn't electrocuted, held against my will, beaten or verbally abused. I wasn't forced to be involved in any SOCE and the people in charge of the various ministries that I went to for help genuinely cared for me, albeit in the wrong way.
The harm that occurred was not physical - the ideology of the LGBT+ conversion movement is the harmful part.
And in many ways, the harm began well before I attended Living Waters.
Being told that LGBT+ is a form of 'brokenness' that can or should be 'fixed', that it is a form of 'sickness' that can be 'healed' - that it is a 'spiritual problem'.
This ideology underpins the pseudo-therapies of conversion therapy and it is what needs to be challenged. It is what is harming, and killing LGBT+ people of faith.
Chris Csabs is an Australian Christian and LGBT+ rights activist and features in SBS's documentary Christians Like Us.