Six years are the ones that Iván León (Alcalá de Henares, 1996) was surrounded by the ultra-Catholic discourse that links homosexuality to sin, degeneration or vice. It didn't happen long ago or very far from here. It was in the bishopric of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), since 2014. Iván was one of the young people who underwent one of the homosexuality conversion therapies organized by the religious institution directed by José Antonio Reig Pla that made this newspaper public. Now he recounts his experience Oh, ¡Happy guilt!, a book recently published by the Egales publishing house.
The story, intimate and hard, covers Iván's passage through several of the sessions given by a supposed therapist who works in the bishopric to try to stop homosexual people from being homosexual. In the sessions, which were held in an office, she linked homosexuality to "small flaws", "affective wounds" and "masculinity wounds" that had to be "healed". Iván left him after five meetings, but continued for several more years in the diocese: "There are words that all this discourse has negatively charged, such as a boyfriend or gay, that it is very difficult for me to say," he says.
How did you get to therapy?
My sexual orientation was not something that caused me a problem because in fact it was something that did not bother me much at the time, but I spent a strange and complicated time in high school, so a person from the parish suggested I talk to this woman from the bishopric . I thought that she was going to be a psychological help to be able to better manage that situation. She did not call me homosexual nor had she told anyone, simply because in my group of friends it was not something that was talked about nor were we much of going out to flirt. She did not define me in any way because I did not need it, but there I went.
What did the sessions consist of?
These days someone from that environment has called me and told me 'well, it's just that you didn't do it all...'. It is true. I went to five sessions, I didn't do the whole itinerary, but I did spend six years after that participating in the diocese, where this speech was in the air. In the first meeting he began to ask me about my friends, if they went out with girls, if I played sports... And everything began to turn around. He told me that I was insecure because my masculinity was asleep and undeveloped and I had to do manly things. None of that held up, but at the time I didn't see it.
That's how it started, but he recounts in the book how shortly after he began to enter the subject of sexuality...
Yes. It was like that little by little until he began with more intensity to ask me about my physique, about masturbation, about porn... He kept asking me about the type of porn I watched. I lied and told her about men and women and she responded relieved because 'there are people who get turned on watching videos of men with men, men with animals and even with children', she literally told me. It was all about whether I met gay guys and trying to find out if I was getting into those circles, as she claimed. She told me that if I went in it was very easy for them to drag me to very shady places. That's how a gay image began to form in my mind as if it were little less than a beast and you start to be terrified.
Fear of what?
The homosexual was a person who, since he had allowed himself to be corrupted, was going to be a corrupter. I have been afraid of other gay men and afraid of what I could become myself. The discourse was based on the fact that once you enter this dynamic of what they called 'gay life', you start to get into a spiral of all kinds of depravities and they linked it quite regularly with pederasty.
I was afraid of becoming a pervert. You come to believe it. In the diocese and in the groups there were wonderful people, so you trust and begin to develop your life there... I did not have much contact with the world of the night or many references, so there is something of all that that remains with you inside. Then obviously I met gay guys and all that fell apart under its own weight.
Looking back, what consequences did all that have for you?
Systematic distrust towards any other homosexual man and towards myself. The underlying discourse, that they are depraved who only seek to swell their ranks to make themselves feel better, made it very difficult for me to relate to both myself and others. The values scheme that I had outlined was wrong, so at first the first sexual encounters, but also even having a coffee with another guy, made me feel terrible because I was getting closer to the dark side. It was what they had told me, that there could be no real emotions there, that another man was never going to be able to love me. And I believed it.
Do some of these effects last?
Yes, clearly. Starting with the terminology. There are words that all this speech has charged negatively, for example boyfriend or gay and that I find it very difficult to say them. I use more fagot, because they didn't use it. There are certain social situations that are difficult for me, such as coming out of the closet for fear of rejection or thinking about future plans. I would like to get married, take the sacrament, but I think, what am I going to do, appearing in front of so many people? They are my family and friends, they have known it for a long time, but there is a trace of shame that does not go away.
And has that negative image of homosexuality completely gone?
It is largely gone, but traces remain. There are things that I do not verbalize without going through the filter of telling myself that I lived through this experience and that I have to deal with it, but I can become quite critical of people who live their sexual orientation or gender expression as they see fit. Consciously it is clear that nothing negative arouses me, but sometimes it gives me that little click in the brain and you say 'this speech is over again', of internalized homophobia. When something happens to me and I'm on a losing streak for whatever it is, it comes up a little stronger, like it's waiting to pounce.
At what point and how do you get out of all that?
Work was very good for me. At that time he no longer went to the sessions, but throughout his studies he had been in the closet in the diocese. He was very careful not to notice anything, it was a difficult time. But I started working and had quite demanding hours. I had to go to Madrid, with colleagues from other circles, with whom we sometimes stayed to have beers when we went out... I began to meet people and, very little by little, to relativize. It was quite a liberating summer, although every time I came home I said to myself 'my goodness, what have I done?' He hadn't done anything, maybe go to a cool bar. In September I was awarded a scholarship to study outside of Spain and it was the final cut.
Has writing the book been liberating?
At the beginning it is something that I did not consider to be serious, even when the contract was already signed. It has helped me recompose the story and it is a strange feeling: on the one hand it is going through certain places that are unpleasant for me, but on the other hand, having left it captured, it separates me from that. Let all this go your way and I'll go mine.
The General Council of the Judiciary has applauded that the so-called Trans Law ban homosexuality conversion therapies, which in Madrid are already banned by the regional LGTBI Law. But they question that it is also done when there is consent from the attendee. How do you see it?
I have thought about this a lot. I think that to talk about consent, it should not be vitiated. When do we talk about free consent? Is it free consent to have an entire community around you that, although it does not openly tell you, is expressing that you are living in an inappropriate way?