A growing number of conversion therapy survivors are sharing their trauma on TikTok amid growing efforts to outlaw the discredited practice.
Nearly 700,000 Americans have undergone conversion therapy, half when under 18, according to the UCLA’s Williams Institute. The so-called therapycan range from counselling or “praying away the gay” to torturous electric shocks, but all forms have been rejected by every mainstream health organisation for decades.
Now survivors are shedding light on the secretive practice, sharing support and advice for others who may be forced to undergo what they did.
30-year-old Mike Dorn began talking about his experience when the US went into lockdown. “I was going through a pretty dark time being at home all the time and I knew that I needed to talk about it,” they told Reuters.
They were forced to endure conversion therapy at age 15 when their conservative Christian parents shipped them off to a “disciplinary camp” in California.
In a series of six videos they recounted how they were isolated, broken down, told they would go to hell, forced to dig holes and shoved if they disobeyed orders.
“I was physically abused if I said anything or did anything they didn’t approve of,” they said. “I was verbally abused almost every second of every day, because if they weren’t going to put the fear of God into you, you weren’t going to change.”
Mike’s videos have been viewed 1 million times and they’ve been overwhelmed with thousands of messages of support. Roughly half were from countries including Britain, Mexico and Indonesia, most of whom went through conversion therapy as teens.
“A lot of people were messaging me, and it was this form of love and support and family that I’ve never experienced before,” they said.
Another conversion therapy victim, 20-year-old Merry, shared her story in hopes she could help others. One of her videos, “How to survive conversion therapy”, has been watched more than 500,000 times since December.
“Don’t tell them anything about your past,” she warns in the video. “Anything traumatic in your life, you do not get to tell them about… They are going to get inside your head and convince you that that is why you are gay.”
Her videos instantly resonated with viewers and after she posted the first one she began receiving five or six messages a day. She now estimates she’s been contacted by about 50 at-risk people and 20 survivors from their teens to late 40s.