Did you know that the lovely Dr Christian Jessen, the TV doctor who presents Embarrassing Bodies is gay? I didn’t. Does it matter to you that he is or could you not care less? Whatever your opinion, the UK doc is about to embark on a series of therapies, all designed to cure him of his homosexuality.
The last time I saw anything like this was on the programme Masters of Sex, when one of the central characters, who was gay but had been married for decades, tried to cure himself of his sexual preferences in order to win back his wife, who had found out about his deception. It was heartbreaking to watch actually, but with society’s views on homosexuality so much more repressed in the 60’s, you could almost understand why he did it. So why, when we have supposedly moved on and accepted homosexuality as normal, does Dr Jessen feel the need to try and cure himself?
The programme is called Cure Me, I’m Gay, and in it, Dr Jessen will undergo several therapies all designed to convert him into a heterosexual. His sexual responses will be monitored during the therapies to see whether any of the treatments reduce his homosexual tendencies. Historical treatments have included taking a chemical to make someone sick when they watch homoerotic material, electric shock therapy, sex with women, prayer, exorcism and hypnosis. In the documentary Dr Jessen will also talk to people who want to be cured and those that say they have been. For the majority of people who believe that you are born with your sexual preferences already in place, these types of treatments seem barbaric at worst and futile at best.
Dr Jessen spoke to Ditch the Label, the anti-bullying site for teens, about how being gay has affected his medical career: “There is a massive prejudice around being a gay doctor. It was different for me as I have never been “obviously” gay and so people are often surprised when they find out. I have been exposed to off-the-cuff homophobic comments from other doctors, especially when being trained in sexual health. Prejudice towards patients and sexual health do exist. I never hid my sexuality but never wove a flag either; I don’t see it as being relevant. I am a doctor and not a “gay doctor”.”
It is hoped that the programme will highlight that it is not homosexuality that needs addressing, but homophobia, as men’s rights campaigner Peter Lloyd says: “The fact this series has been commissioned is great – but not for the reasons people may think. If done correctly, it will prove that trying to change a person’s sexuality is futile. Medicine cannot – and should not – alter a person’s orientation. It’s homophobia that needs eliminating – not homosexuality. Besides, medicine has much bigger fish to fry.”
Despite this, Dr Jessen revealed that he has experienced homophobia from the general public: “Alan Carr recently interviewed me on Channel 4 and spoke about my sexuality; within minutes I had lost 500 followers on Twitter, which was really sad. It’s sad to discover that some people still see it as being an issue. Twitter can be really grounding for that reason! The media also like to bring up my sexuality a lot, probably because they see it as being a revelation as it isn’t something that everybody knows about me.”
Cure Me, I’m Gay will be screened on Channel 4 later this year. Let’s hope it changes some attitudes.