(Andrew Ciscel / Flickr)

(Andrew Ciscel / Flickr)

In China, “ex-gay” therapy, including primitive forms no longer commonly practiced in the United States like shock therapy, is still very prevalent, but people and organizations in that country are fighting back:

A wire connected to his genitals, a Chinese man says doctors administered repeated electric shocks as he watched a pornographic film — part of treatment he hoped would eliminate his sexual attraction to men.

“I thought I’d try and see if there was a chance I could become a normal person,” said the 25-year-old, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang.

“I didn’t want to cause my family trouble, or disappoint them.”

Zhang’s treatment shows the extreme end of a lucrative industry in China claiming to “correct” the sexualities of gay men and lesbians, who often face tremendous social pressures to live as heterosexuals.


Zhang was treated three years ago, but five clinics contacted by AFP in the last month claimed to offer “sexuality adjustment” through various means, some of them including hypnosis, drugs and electric shock therapy.

The Haiming Psychological Consulting Centre in Beijing touts the use of electricity on its website, saying: “After each shock, the person will quickly interrupt their thought, and separate from their fantasies.”

A member of staff at the hospital told AFP that the shock treatment — in 30-minute sessions every few days — was used only “in extreme circumstances”.

Because of the fact that “ex-gay” therapy is having the same results in China as it has anywhere else — broken families, increased rates of depression, suicide attempts, all without any change in one’s sexuality — activists and organizations are driving momentum for a ban:

Beijing’s LGBT Center said in a statement last month that such methods “deeply damage homosexuals’ physical and mental health, and worse infringe on their self-respect”.

Two activists connected with the Center, which is partly funded by the US and British embassies, posed with a sign reading “Homosexuality is not an illness” outside a clinic they said offered conversion therapy, and hope to persuade health authorities to revoke such facilities’ licences.

Some clinics are moving towards counselling and prescribing anti-depressant drugs, said Wei Xiaogang, founder of the Beijing-based “Queer Comrades” group.

“Now it’s more like therapy, like talking, because people want to make money, it’s all about business,” he said.

Even doctors mentioned in the article admit that their treatment methods aren’t effective. Family pressures take the place of fundamentalist religion in China, likely partially as a result of the one-child policy, which is now being loosened considerably. However, family pressures are no match for the destruction wreaked by “reparative” therapy methods. One of the interviewees describes the results of his treatment:

For Zhang, the treatment first killed his sex drive but went on to exact a greater toll — he became depressed, resigned from his job, went into debt to pay his medical fees, and eventually considered suicide, he said.

“I was suffering from headaches, I couldn’t stand it, I wanted to die, I wanted to stop.”

But ultimately he accepted that his sexuality could not be changed, and came out to his father.

Different country, same story. And yet there are those, in China, the United States and all points between, who see this evidence and determine that their ideology is still more important than people’s lives.

That’s why the fight isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.