While the turn of the century has brought improvements in both the fields of psychiatric treatment and LGBT rights, it’s been a long road to get them to where they are today, particularly when those two fields intersect.
Many misguided forms of treatment, commonly known as “conversion therapy,” have attempted to “cure” a patient’s homosexuality throughout the years.
And while those forms of treatment are widely derided by psychiatric professionals in the present day, they were much more common not long ago.
Local writer Peter Gajdics’ book The Inheritance of Shame details his time spent as the subject of conversion therapy back in 1989.
Gajdics joined Simi Sara in studio to talk about how the experience changed his life and informed how he wrote his book.
Gajdics says to explain his time in therapy, he first has to explain his childhood.
He grew up the son of two Central European immigrants, both of whom harbored trauma from their time in the Second World War, but stayed silent about exactly how it affected them.
He says that silence continued into other traumatic incidents in his life, including violence in his family, his sister running away and childhood sexual abuse.
However, Gajdics says when he came out as gay at 23-years-old he wasn’t greeted with silence, but disapproval.
“It was a sin, not to be discussed. There were a lot of arguments and fights, and I fled Vancouver because it was just so painful for me.”
The fallout from that disapproval led Gajdics to flee to Victoria, where a feeling of isolation gave way to depression.
He spoke to his doctor, who recommended a local psychiatrist, who came to some suspect conclusions.
“I was very confused about my parents’ reaction, I was still struggling with the sexual abuse as a child, and I started treatment with this psychiatrist who very quickly had it in his mind that the remedy to my pain would be to cure my homosexuality.”
That psychiatrist proceeded to room Gajdics in a “therapy house” with other conversion patients, which he used to create a false sense of family.
The psychiatrist then proceeded to prescribe Gajdics with high doses of multiple medications.
By the end of his time in the house, Gajdics says he was on sedatives and four separate anti-depressants.
“The whole theory behind the medication,” Gajdics says, “was that he was trying to ‘silence my homosexual urges’ because then I could re-activate my dormant heterosexuality.”
And while it seems ridiculous looking back on it, Gajdics says his desire to belong to a family again made him believe.
The medication was all part of a form of psychotherapy called “primal therapy,” which asserts that a patient must re-live their trauma in order to heal it.
“My trauma, according to the doctor, was that sexual abuse had made me gay,” Gajdics says. “It sounds horrendous, and it was, and it went on for years.”
Six years, to be exact – the abusive treatment continued until Gajdics left the house in 1995.
When it comes to why he stayed so long, Gajdics says the twisted family dynamic played on his need to belong somewhere.
“Sometimes you don’t have enough ego strength when you’re young to say ‘I can’t change this, so this is who I am.’ Rather, they say ‘maybe I can change myself so they’ll accept me.’”
Gajdics sued the psychiatrist for medical malpractice, a suit that wrapped up in 2003.
Since then, he’s taken the time to reflect on the experience.
“Through a lot of hard work I was able to heal and forgive,” Gajdics says.