Is sexual orientation caviar, so you could turn from red to black?

India-Conversion-TherapyIt was 10 years ago, in winter, when Vardan (his name is changed by request) took money from home and fled to Moscow. He had neither acquaintances nor relatives there, but saw the survival far from Armenia, though he spent several nights sleeping outside, in Moscow’s frosty below -20 degree weather.

“I knew that my father would find me wherever I go in Armenia, I knew, that nobody would help me.”

It was about 4 a.m., Vardan’s father beat him in the streets of Yerevan, covering his whole face in blood and ripped off his clothes.

Vardan was going home late; he was spending nights at cybercafés, which is why his father supposed that the son is either gambler or drug addict.

“If it had been one of them, he would have no problems.”

After being whipped and beaten he comes home and decides to confess: “I thought ‘they are my parents, I’ll tell them the truth and come what may,’ ” and Vardan says – “I’m gay.”

“I had many friend and colleagues like that” – Vardan’s father replies, – “but my son can’t be gay. It’s like caviar – you eat so much of red one, and once you want to try black”.

So that the son doesn’t disgrace the father, the same day he takes Vardan to “treatment,” for making him heterosexual and they go to the main psychotherapist of the Armenian Ministry of Health, the head of The Neurosis Clinic, Tsolak Hakobyan.

Hakobyan doesn’t think it’s right to use the term “cure” in the context of homosexuality, “to provide help” he says. “A man comes and says that ‘I like other men and have difficulties in my life, I want to be like others, I want to have family and kids.’ And we teach him how to love women, like he used to do before.

He wouldn’t say how they teach it, claiming that “it’s a professional secret.” However, he mentioned that it passes in phases; the first phase is about raising self-esteem.

“And the pictures of women are also shown?”

“There are many other things” – he answered. He said that they use therapeutic methods only, no prescription drugs, the process lasts 2-3 months, sometimes 4-6 (he thinks that the duration depends on the stage of homosexuality). He also noted that the treatment is stationary.

After waiting several hours in the queue, the father and the son enter Hakobyan’s office.  

“He is an educated boy” – says the father about his 22 year old son, who at that moment was doing his PhD, and as Vardan says Hakobyan answered to that – “Who needs his studies if he can’t give you a child,” and he sent him to a female psychotherapist, where Vardan discusses his childhood so that the therapist introduced the picture (overall image) to Tsolak. “They said so” – remembers Vardan.

They went out from the woman’s room and came back to stand in line.

“We are standing and the doctor says to all the nurses ‘ah, you can’t imagine what a difficult case we have’ and indicates on me, all are staring at me to see what a difficult case I am”. – remembers Vardan. – “We are entering and some other nurse is sitting and writing down something, he (Hakobyan) doesn’t even ask her to go out and the woman therapist tells Hakobyan everything I told her”.

“Then a journalist calls Hakobyan and asking whether he cures gays. He tells the journalist that they have many cases, and yes, they cure gay people.”

Hakobyan says that there were 20 people who applied to him, 4 of which (2 gays and 2 lesbians) during the process rejected to continue, and other 16 gay people had 100% success. But he noted that having success doesn’t mean making them heterosexual.

“They just abandoned positions of homosexuality. There were a variety of methods developed in different countries and we used the adapted type, during which a man starts loving a woman and getting interested in a woman’s body” – he explains.

Hakobyan told Vardan that he can’t make him heterosexual, but he can do something to make him have sex with women, have family and kids.

“I had girlfriends, I had sex, that was not a problem for me, I was satisfied sexually, but it wasn’t mine, they thought I wasn’t able to have sex and they could in some way fix it” – Vardan says.

Vardan remembers that if he agreed to be “cured,” he had to stay several months in the hospital.

“I have to consent to stay in the hospital, but after I can’t go out on my own until the doctor says ‘it’s done, he is cured.’”

Vardan doesn’t agree to be “cured.” “At that time I read a lot and knew, that it’s not possible.” Hakobyan exists the office so that the father and the son have opportunity to speak privately and seeing that Vardan has been whipped, asks the father ‘not to beat him hard.’

“My father again starts beating me and says that he will leave me if I don’t want to, he doesn’t need a son like me.”

Hakobyan comes back and while hearing that Vardan keeps rejecting, gives him 24 hours for thinking: “if you decide that you want to change, come, if no – God bless you” – says Hakobyan.

On the way to home the father keeps beating the son in the car: “we were at a velocity of 150 km per hour, I opened the door and said ‘if you don’t want, I am jumping’ ”.

But he didn’t jump. At home he waits for the moment when father goes out, and he leaves the country. Since that day until now Vardan neither saw his father nor communicated with him.

Since 2000s Hakobyan doesn’t provide “help” like this. “They don’t come” – says Hakobyan, explaining with the fact that now people are ok with their sexual orientation.

26 years old Arman was not feeling good about his sexual orientation. He was 18 when suffering from his identity; he went to a psychologist to change his sexual orientation.

The psychologist told him in advance “I don’t give any guarantees, it’s my first case like this. ”

Izabella Ghazaryan, the psychologist who has 6 years of experience in working with homosexuals, noted that it’s not possible to change a person’s sexual orientation; “Conversion therapy (also called reparative therapy, which aims to change person’s sexual orientation) has been criticized a lot by some specialists along with religious groups all over the world.”

Instead of changing sexual orientation or encouraging to have attraction toward the opposite sex,

Ghazaryan suggests first of all to create a safe environment for the client. “The role of the psychotherapist is to be acceptant, supportive and warm. The warmth is very important, because those people first lose their emotional support and isolate themselves or feel themselves isolated, so it’s important to create that safe environment so that the client orientates and understands.”

Arman’s visits to psychologist last for months. The psychologist examines Arman’s childhood, the relationship within family, relationships with mother and father and the social status. After 8 months they get to the results.

“The psychologist calmed me more; I mean I started accepting myself. Those courses gave me self-confidence, and self-confidence helped me to go to the army. I served for 2 years without any problems”.

Arman and Vardan revealed the same-sex attraction in their childhood.

Vardan remembers that in kindergarten he liked a boy. “There was a picture in kindergarten, when kids were standing in pairs and always a boy with a girl, I made a big fight, because I wanted to stand with that boy. I think I was 12 or 13 when I clearly knew about my sexual orientation and understood why I wanted to stand near that boy in kindergarten.”

Arman says that as long as he can remember he has always liked boys. “When I was 14 I was suffering from a strong desire, such desire happens only at that age, it doesn’t happen later, it’s a sexual desire I’m talking about, the desire to communicate with someone exactly like you, it’s about giving and taking, I mean giving and taking warmth.”

Both Arman and Vardan deny the possibility of changing their sexual orientation. Arman, the mathematician says: “If there is a problem, that problem must have a solution, and the person must search for that solution, but it’s not that case, when you write down on a paper that the problem is this, we have to solve it this way, and the result must be this, no, this wasn’t the case. I should have passed through this to understand.”

Vardan underwent hard the case of his neighbor, whose sexual orientation was tried to be changed. “He was a handsome, lively boy, full of life. Then it turned out that he was gay and he was taken to treatment. When he came back it was the impression that the life was removed from him, he looked about 10 years older, he was at church all the time and didn’t talk to anybody.”

Vardan, now 32 years old is living and working in Germany. He is married to a German man for more than 3 years.

Hovhannes Ishkhanyan

Translated by Piruza Manukyan