Image Source: Getty / Emma McIntyre
Trigger warning: The following story contains mentions of conversion therapy, religious shame, and suicidal ideation.
Pride Month is a celebration, but it's also a reminder that there's still substantial work to be done before all members of the LGBTQ+ community feel fully safe and accepted. In an interview published on June 30, Alyson Stoner detailed her experience undergoing gay "conversion therapy," or "reparative therapy," the practice of targeting LGBTQ+ youth with the goal of changing their sexual or gender identities. The painful experience came at a time when Alyson was struggling deeply with her sexuality and had fallen in love with a woman for the first time, a pivotal moment that clashed dangerously with her religious upbringing.
"I see the body as something that is shameful, that is not to be trusted. It actually ends up messing with my ability to foster genuine relationships with others and myself."
"I felt stuck. I felt wretched. I felt like everything was wrong with me, even though I, in my heart of hearts, only desired to be a devoted follower of God," the Mind Body Pride author told Insider of her experience with conversion therapy, a practice that is currently banned in 20 US states. "So to hear from people you trust, from people you respect, from people you might even aspire to become, that you at your core are 'rotten,' 'abominable' . . . it just sends you into a spiral - at least for me, because I just wanted to do the right thing."
Pressured by her family's religious ideology, Alyson admitted herself to an "outpatient variation" of conversion therapy, a memory that is still too devastating to fully recall. "My mind doesn't want to even go there," she said. "My legs started shaking at the thought of reliving some of it. I know firsthand how dangerous it is for me as someone who had access to therapy and other forms of support. And I still was considering whether my life was worth living, or, if everything was wrong with me, then what good was it for me to be around, starting to see myself as someone who only brought harm to other people, to society."
Alyson added that there are mental and emotional scars that do not fade away from the experience, making it difficult for her to recount specific details from the heartbreaking chapter in her life. "It severs the mind-body connection because I see the body as something that is shameful, that is not to be trusted," she said. "It actually ends up messing with my ability to foster genuine relationships with others and myself, because now I'm suppressing a voice. I'm trying to change something that is, what I now understand, very natural."
In a personal essay for Teen Vogue in 2018, Alyson, who is pansexual, reflected on the detrimental effects of her religious upbringing on her mental health and her journey to accepting herself, adding that, after much reflection, she is finally able to live her truth openly. "I, Alyson, am attracted to men, women and people who identify in other ways," she wrote. "I can love people of every gender identity and expression. It is the soul that captivates me. It is the love we can build and the goodness we can contribute to the world by supporting each other's best journeys."