The most valuable thing that The Sunday Sessions has going for it is its documenting of an era. Even though this is one individual’s personal journey it represents an era when religious groups and individuals believed gay people could be turned straight. The ‘change is possible’ belief and practice has not entirely disappeared but the closure of Exodus in 2013 was the major blow.
The two main characters are Nathan and his ‘therapist’ Christopher Doyle. Nathan is a deeply troubled and tormented young man. Doyle is a relatively new kid on the block, but hardliner, in the ‘ex-gay’ world.
Like many of us had been, Nathan is desperate to be ‘normal’, have a wife and children. He’s Catholic, which makes for an interesting twist. Generally speaking, it is gay and lesbian people from Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal backgrounds who’ve been involved in reparative/conversion therapy.
I’ve worked with hundreds of ex-gay survivors, and I sometimes wondered if Nathan’s self-loathing was religiously based. It’s certainly influenced by it by it. I did wonder if there is something else under the surface which Doyle, coming from a Christian belief system and agenda, would not be capable of recognising.
The documentary is disturbing and I’d say, not for the faint hearted. It would be especially challenging for people who’d experienced ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy themselves or those who had deep faith/sexuality conflict. They’d be more triggers for them in the documentary than a Winchester rifle factory.
It can also be disturbing seeing some of Doyle’s ‘therapeutic techniques’. I think the average person would pick up the inappropriateness of some of his approaches (e.g. shaming). The trained professional would scream out in horror seeing them. But this is the environment of the desperate. Nathan desperate to be straight and Doyle desperate to prove he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Strange things happen.
The footage director and producer Richard Yeagley has obtained is pretty amazing considering the access to Nathan’s regular sessions with Doyle over two years, weekend camps and personal moments with his family.
One of the advantages of Sunday Sessions is that there are people who have no comprehension of what many of us have been through. After seeing the documentary they will much more informed not only of the practices but also the dynamics and motivations.
Of course another plus is that Yeagley has captured something that has rarely been documented. That is, an intimate and revealing, behind the scenes expose of the flawed and discredited practice of what has become known as conversion therapy.
Author of A Life of Unlearning
Founder of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International