Ever wondered what the term "ex-gay" means? It's popular terminology in the world of gay-to-straight conversion therapy, and something a select group of legitimate mental health professionals believe to be possible.
Covered in the recent VICE documentary series Gay Conversion Therapy, we are given an insight into what goes on behind the doors of weekend retreats that aim to convert a willing, self-loathing homosexual into a happy heterosexual. In going through the process, he or she becomes an "ex-gay". Or so those mental health professionals will tell you.
This course of therapy is plentiful with critics. Samantha Ames, of the US's National Centre for Lesbian Rights, calls conversion therapy, "a set of dangerous and totally discredited practices that attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person". It is performed, she says, by licensed professionals, unlicensed counsellors, church leaders, and sometimes just religious fanatics "in a church basement".
Professionals who have left ex-gay movements, including the former president of the world's largest, but now defunct - Exodus International (which once held conferences in New Zealand), say after leaving that 99 per cent of hopeful converts never change their internal feelings of same-sex attraction. Alan Chambers, Exodus' president for the final 10 years of the organisation's 37-year history, apologised in 2012 when it closed with little success.
Three years later, Chambers now believes homosexuality cannot be "cured". But that's not stopping dozens, if not hundreds, of other organisations worldwide from trying.
Who are these volunteers, trying to "pray the gay away"? Most have religious backgrounds, and many are young - often under 18. They are "volunteers" only because they're not being actively forced to attend gay conversion therapy by counsellors themselves. Many are given no choice by their parents or are given ultimatums by their churches: "go and become ex-gay, or be shunned from God forever". It is these people - those with an intense fear of the world, and themselves - who are preyed on and given what is claimed to be a "solution" to their "sickness".
One of the licenced medical health professionals currently performing conversation therapy for gay people is Dr Joseph Nicolosi, a California-based clinical psychologist. Nicolosi says humans are all born heterosexual, and it is only through our environmental opportunities and encouragement that we "become gay" through coercion. Gay is a "social construct", he says, and his therapy puts people "back to the path towards natural heterosexuality".
How does gay conversion therapy work, exactly? If you look at the VICE footage (as signed-off by the conversion therapy organisers, presumably), it involves summer-camp style group therapy in an idyllic woodlands location, complete with round-table discussions where people are allowed to speak loudly about their anger, and, later, pantomime theatre to brighten the mood.
The reality? According Sam Brinton, a conversion therapy survivor, it is tortious physical and mental abuse; aversion therapy using erotic images of men alongside hot coils, cold ice, needles, and electric shocks. Brinton - now an advocate against ex-gay movements - says: "Through all of this, I remained gay, but became suicidal".
The "volunteers" who chose this path are, ex-gay counsellors say, not people who are happy being gay. They are those deeply uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction, and want to stop at nothing to end it.
Arguably, this feeling is really the "social construct" we all need to be afraid of. But a section of society is telling these people that being gay is a disgusting sin. Usually, most would write this social construct off as the product of religious extremity; a fundamentalist ideal fuelled by hatred and intolerance. However, in comments sections in recent columns about anti-LGBT vandalism and the importance of Gay Pride, I've discovered that this construct isn't just coming from Christian extremists. It's still coming from average Joes hiding behind keyboards. Their common argument? "Stop shoving gayness down our throats."
So here's a counter to this flawed, ignorant mentality. There's no gay agenda being shoved down society's throats. Two men or women holding hands in public is not a gay agenda. If anything is being shoved down anyone's throat, it is heterosexual culture. It's on TV, on billboards, on the street every minute of every day. Straight culture is all-pervasive. It is everywhere.
Nobody in the gay community expects, or even hopes, for this to stop. Heteronormativity will always be prevalent, and we're just trying to ensure we remain proud of being LGBT and don't get lost in normalisation.
But what can - and must - stop, is the social construct that being gay isn't okay. It's the social construct that feeds conversion therapy, and it's a social construct happening across the world, and indeed in New Zealand, mostly via the internet.
We might never change the extremists; it's up to them to change themselves, like the ex-president of Exodus International. But if we stop putting up with bigoted online animosity, we take a big step towards killing a social construct that has no place in 2015.
Watch the first part of the VICE documentary:
* Warning: Contains explicit language