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The Rubber Band Experiment

Conversion ‘therapy’ often advise ‘patients’ to use an elastic band around their wrist. Every time they have a “homosexual inclination,” they should snaps it. A straight New Yorker guy decided to try it for a day and see how it feels

EliReiter“And Thou Shalt Love” disturbed me. It’s about Ohad (Uri Lachmi), an Israeli Yeshiva student who struggles with his homosexuality.

Released in 2008, the film uses few words and many strong images. A young man immerses himself in the mikveh, the ritual bath; He says psalms, hoping for a cure, while hiding it from his fellow students. He calls, on a pay phone, a counselor from a gay conversion clinic for support to withstand his temptations.

The film has many evocative images but one image resonated deeply with me. It is an image the camera often returns to: an elastic band around the young man’s bloodied wrist. Every time he has a “homosexual inclination,” he snaps it. It’s apparently a common practice as a part of conversion therapy. I first learned of the practice from another movie, “Trembling Before G-d,” a 2001 documentary that tells the story of gay Orthodox Jews and how they deal with the conflict between their beliefs and their sexuality. But before watching “And Thou Shalt Love,” I had never had such feelings of empathy and sadness.

I am a straight man and I was watching with a straight audience — part of a fellowship for college students run by the progressive Orthodox seminary, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. But the repeated image of Ohad pulling the band around his wrist caused me great discomfort. He pulled the band constantly, in the study hall, in the courtyard, in his dorm room. His pain, his disquiet, made an impression. I wondered what that might be like. The next day I noticed a thick rubber band on my kitchen table. I put it around my wrist while I sipped my hot coffee.

Maybe it was because I have friends who have struggled with it. I met someone two years ago who went to JONAH and said it had helped him, even if he is he still gay. But most former patients tell horror stories, like the ones told by in court by victims. But the fictional film hit home for some reason, and it centered on this solitary act with the rubber band. So, while I know deep down that I will “never know what it is like,” this is my feeble attempt at trying.

After slipping it on, I pulled the band and released it so it hit me. I did it probably every 10 minutes. There was no system. But I wanted to keep doing it as a regular pace. At first, the rubber band didn’t hurt too much. Thin bands are more painful and I had a relatively thick one. But soon my wrist skin became sensitive and every snap increased the subsequent pain.

Soon, I left my house and rode the subway… Continue reading in Forward