Byline: Ivan Massow
I'D BE fibbing if I said it hadn't crossed my mind. I doubt there's a gay person alive who hasn't wondered what it would be like to wake up straight. Would I suddenly stride out the house in mismatched colours? Would I start jeering at football and leering at nannies on the school run? Is "gay conversion" even possible? Christian fundamentalists think so. They recently tried running a poster campaign on London buses suggesting homosexuality could be cured through therapy. When Boris Johnson pulled it, the Christian groups bleated on for days about the curtailment of free speech. It was one of these rants, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that got me thinking. Could I, an openly gay man of 44, be "cured" by a course of intensive therapy? There was only one way to find out.
The biggest course of all is the Exodus International Freedom Conference in America. Founded in 1976, Exodus is a global organisation with a mission "to mobilise the Body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality".
Its annual residential conference in Minnesota attracts up to 1,200 delegates. Speakers include stars of the Christian fundamentalist circuit who provide "powerful days of practical teaching, inspiring testimonies, dynamic worship and tender times of fellowship and ministry". At the cost of nearly $1,000 per head.
Reading the literature, it all sounds a bit like Superman's phone box. Could I really go in gay and come out straight? I'd better pack a cape just in case.
MONDAY As I prepare to leave, I get a welcome email from Exodus directing me to further online reading. One article asks the question: "Why Would Anyone Want to Change?" The writer describes how he "struggled very much as the world kept telling me that I was gay when all along I didn't believe I was". Until he saw the light.
He cites various examples of famous people who "found out freedom was possible" and promptly switched sides. Actress Anne Heche...film director Stephen Daldry...comedienne Jackie Clune.
Jackie Clune? Hang on, I know her. We nearly had a baby together in our twenties, though she went on to settle down with a straight man and have four children with him.
I know Stephen Daldry too, though I didn't nearly have a baby with him. But I've heard the account of him settling down to heterosexual married life.
I call Jackie with the news. Maybe she's a conference speaker? "I'm appalled to have been hijacked by the Christian Right as some kind of gay slayer," she says. "Is there a special training camp to turn boring straights gay?" I guess that's a No then.
TUESDAY I fly into Minneapolis airport a day early and find a hotel in St Paul, on the other side of the Mississippi river.
Minnesota is one of the more religious US states, so it's no surprise that there's only one gay bar in St Paul. Still, it seems like a fitting place to spend my last night of homosexuality.
As I arrive, someone's singing Over the Rainbow from a stage in a corner of the bar. The crowd are mainly heavy cropped lesbians and ruddy camp old queens. It could have been anywhere.
An older African-American guy called Vince joins me at the bar. We start chatting and he tells me about his former life. He was raised in a religious home and when he'd tried to come out to his mother, she told him to pray and "God would sort it out".
He was pushed towards the Church where he was assured he could overcome his urges through the power of prayer. He met his future wife at a church singles' evening and they had five children together.
"I knew I was gay throughout," Vince tells me. "I found men attractive constantly but I would just pray and hope it would go away."
It wouldn't. Eventually he confessed all to his w i f e a n d t h e y divorced. But he sighs and wishes he could have done it differently. "Without lying and ruining a woman's life. …