If you think that conversion therapy, intended to force gay people to wash away their sexual orientation, cannot exist in 2021, then you’ve got it wrong! Homotherapies, Conversion Forcée, a startling documentary, digs deeper into the suffering of the long-tormented victims of such therapies across different countries.
For a year and a half, JeanLoup Adénor and Timothée de Rauglaudre investigated and infiltrated dangerous, life-destroying Catholic religious groups which were known for their conversion therapy practises. Their investigation laid bare the connections between globalized American organizations like Living Waters, Courage or Exodus and their French branches such as Torrents de vie, as well as the connections of some of them with the Manif pour tous. JeanLoup and Timothée wrote a book-inquiry, Dieu est amour and participated in the writing of the documentary directed by Bernard Nicolas: Homothérapies: Conversion Force, broadcast on Arte on May 18, 2021.
Filled with heart wrenching testimonies of victims, Bernard Nicolas’ documentary immerses us into a delirious world where religious people call the shots on how gay people should deal with their sexual orientation. Across different countries (USA, Germany, France..), the film reveals two sides of the story: the victims of conversion therapy and their tormentors. Anti-gay movements and catholic institutions became wildly active in pushing gay people to change their sexual orientation. In the film, we see some of the movements’ leaders ‘ex-gays”, relating how they strongly believed they could “straighten up” gay people but years later they realized that it cannot work, which they regret now.
On the other hand, we have gay people opening up about their horrendous experience with such anti-gay institutions and how unbearable their surrounding was. From demonizing homosexuality to calling it a post-traumatic problem, gay people had to deal with exorcisms, electric shock therapy, lobotomy, and medical procedures. Today, the most used form of conversion therapy is intensive religious counselling.
The documentary’s brilliant undercover work reveals the shocking behind the scenes of religious institutions and their brutal homotherapy practices. Thanks to the infiltration work of two journalists, Jean-Loup Adénor and Timothée de Rauglaudre and their hidden camera, the footage captures how, behind a seemingly compassionate speech, hides the hypocrisy and the hatred towards people whose sexual orientation is anything but hetero. The moment they reveal themselves, they are labeled shameful and disgraceful to what the executioners of these therapies call the straight path, aka the heterocentric perspective. The testimonies and the hidden raw footage, together disclose a real concerning issue: “rectifying the body of homosexual people”. During these therapies, you can easily observe a sense of heteronormative and cisgender order controlling and manipulating the bodies of gay people as if they were not theirs, nor even human bodies. They are objectified, ready to be seized and transformed into something docile. The documentary effectively reveals how there is always a deep-rooted desire to overpower and subdue gay people in the name of virtue, religion and purity.
I couldn’t understand why I’m gay and why God didn’t want it and why he didn’t change it, when I prayed for it,Says Bastian Melcher, a victim of conversion therapy who is now working with a member of the Bundestag to pass a law banning these therapies.
Another issue that Bernard Nicolas questions is the family standing point. Through the testimonies, we can clearly see a form of psychological pressure inflicted by the victims’ families. Being an adolescent and gay in a such environment is being in a constant state of fear. Fear of being judged, beaten up and even disowned. This pressure also comes from education, culture and guilt-inducing discourse. The documentary manages to showcase a generalized homophobia, often normalized in a household, that is the reason behind the existence of conversion therapy, a rabbit hole that gays and lesbians cannot escape from.
Conversion Forcée can easily be compared to Pray Away, a documentary about the survivors of the « ex-gay » movement such as Exodus expressing their regret of being a part of such movement that shattered a lot of LGBTQ people’s lives. In that, both films try to deliver a sense of easy forgiveness which does not correlate well with the intention behind such film.
What captures the singularity of Conversion Forcée is that Bernard Nicolas mixes a sort of comic strips with the horrific testimonies about the outrageous “cure” methods that the victims went through. When Jean-Michel, one of the victims, talks about the exorcism that was inflicted on him, the film places a comic strip demonstrating Jean-Michel’s story. This addition of comics renders the appalling imagined scene of the torture less shocking to the viewers as a coping mechanism, allowing the viewers to digest the grim details. But also, both Conversion Forcée and Pray Away are edifying and show the great vicious power of religious belief and its ability to wreck people’s lives.
As France moves closer to banning conversion therapy, the French documentary Homotherapies, Conversion Forcée comes just in the nick of time as a perfect reminder of the atrocious outcome of conversion therapy on gay people and why that must end.