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How 3 Years Of Conversion Therapy Affected One Seattle Man

Courtesy of Danny Cords
Danny Cords

When Danny Cords’ parents learned he was gay, they took him to a conversion therapist.

“One of the first things he wanted to try to figure out was whether I was a top or a bottom, which, of course, are sexual positions,” Cords says. “And I was 14. I had no idea. I hadn’t had sex, so I didn’t know what to say and he wanted to figure it out. So it was incredibly uncomfortable.

Why did therapist ask such a strange question? Cords says it was to figure out just how gay he was.

“He had this theory — and he was very open about this — that if you’re a top, then you are obviously on this level of heterosexuality in some form. But if you’re a bottom, you’re completely submissive,” Cords says.

In other words, a bottom would require a more intense treatment plan for full conversion to heterosexuality.

A Rock In His Shoe And A Cross In His Pocket As Reminders Of God

The therapy, which Cords attended every week for three years, was fear-based and relied heavily on Bible verses.

“The motto of the therapy was: All things are possible through Christ,” Cords says.

Part of Cords’ therapy was a cross that he kept in his pocket for years.

“Whenever you had bad feelings or temptations, you were supposed to grab it in your pocket and recite the prayer,” he says. “I think I kept my hand, probably, in my pocket, on that cross for most of the day as a way for me to redirect focus to God, away from…whatever, musical theater.”

There was also the rock-in-your-shoe approach, which was similar to the pocket cross, but more direct. The rock would poke your foot, providing a constant discomfort and reminder to resist temptations.

“I thought, felt, did all these things that I wasn’t supposed to. Every moment was…me. The rock in my shoe was trying to change that,” Cords says.

Nowhere To Turn

The counselor himself wasn’t very convincing, says Cords. Still, the therapy started to chip away at his sense of self.

“I isolated. I got incredibly depressed,” he says. “When you go to a therapy that becomes your entire life, and when your parents don’t support what you want to do or be, or who you are, then there isn’t much point to living.”

School was no better for Cords. He didn’t explicitly come out in high school, but as he puts it, “People are smart and they figure things out,” and he got bullied.

“There’d be times when I’d be in the lunch room and somebody would spit on me. And the lunch room lady would see it and not do anything. Or you know, I’d be followed home. We’d walk through the horse trails and people would follow me, yell at me, whatever, or follow me in my car, tailgate me, flash their lights,” he says.

‘Inside, I was This Hollow Person’

Things eventually hit rock bottom at home. Cords’ deteriorating relationship with his parents prompted him to leave home at 17. But on his own, things got worse.

“I knew who I was and I started making friends, but I knew that inside, I was this hollow person,” he says. “So I one night just made a plan to end it and commit suicide.”

Everything had come to a head. And looking back on those years, it’s almost a wonder he didn’t try it sooner, says Cords.

“You have parents who don’t know what to do ... They put you in therapy, and they question who you are, what you are. And you start to question who you are, what you are, and no one has answers for you. And there’s no role model. And then you go to school, and people bully you. And you’re still receiving therapy, and your parents still don’t know what to say, almost at no fault of their own,” he says. “So it really muddies up where you find your value and where you find your self-worth.”

Cords says he still suffers from brain damage from his suicide attempt.

“I think that part of me died — that part of me that didn’t value myself, that part of me that questioned myself, that part of me that worried about what somebody or some kind of therapy or therapist thinks about me,” he says.

‘What They Did, They Did Out Of Ignorance, Fear’

Life has gotten better for Cords. These days, he is happily married to a man. He also sings in the Seattle Men’s Chorus, and even performed a solo in the group’s recent production of “Harvey Milk.”

Cords tears up when recounting his teenage years. Still, he’s firm to say his parents are “really good people” even though they sent him to conversion therapy.

“What they did, they did out of ignorance and they did out of fear,” he says.

He has this advice for parents of gay children: “Do your homework before you do anything.”

“It’s one of those hard things, because there’s so much emotion and passion built into this — and fear, but you have to look at this holistically,” he says. “Sit down and take a few deep breaths, and research and get out into the community. And whatever that (community) means — online, you know, we have the Internet. It’s wonderful.”

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran as part of our new show, “Sound Effect,” which airs on Saturdays at 10 a.m.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.