65 minutes | Feb 22, 2021

Elena Joy Thurston: Mormon mom of four undergoes conversion therapy before coming out, whole

Trigger warning: This episode contains some mature content. View photos and read more info here.This week I launch my “Healing Herself” series with four women who have survived body issues, sexual assault, shame, and trauma. Elena Joy Thurston is an LGBTQ speaker, trainer, and founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation, dedicated to reducing the rate of suicide and homelessness in the LGBTQ community. A Mormon mom of four who lost her marriage, church, and community when she came out as a lesbian, Elena’s TEDx talk on surviving conversion therapy has been viewed 40,000+ times.“By the time I was 16 I was feeling the effects of a chaotic family life of parents who could not figure out how to get along and who could not figure out how to be stable adults.” When her friend introduced her to a church that promised stability, she jumped at the chance to learn how to have a functional family. She married at 20 and had four kids by age 33.When her youngest went off to kindergarten, she had six hours to think for herself every day. She realized how unhappy she was, but she was ashamed she wasn’t happy. She sought out hobbies, but even they didn’t fill up enough time…until she found fly fishing and a friendship that blossomed into love with another woman. For three weeks she went behind her husband’s back, falling in love while feeling like a total wreck. Because she is a bad liar, her husband figured it out. “It wasn't even an option for me to leave him. I had sinned....I needed to repent.”The next day she started the “repentance process.” Six weeks later, she couldn’t stop thinking about her new love. Enter conversion therapy. Elena’s therapist believed that if you are attracted to someone of the same sex, it was because something happened to you when you were a kid. For the first few months Elena got some benefit from the four-days-a-week sessions, healing from chaotic family memories. But it didn’t seem like she was “getting better.” At one point she considered suicide, like many others who have undergone conversion therapy.One day Elena shared with her therapist that she was gang raped at age 15. Her therapist was “overjoyed,” believing that was the key to her attraction to women. Then the Brett Kavanaugh hearings happened, which was a traumatic period for every survivor. “I'm getting chills just thinking about that week. To have to hear her own trauma be put on display in front of all of those men and then to be mocked and ridiculed was just horrific. I honestly feel like our entire generation of women is going to need to heal from that experience.” As she was reading news and hearing her own sons say words like “we can’t actually believe her,” she saw headlines saying that 3/4 of American women have been assaulted at some time in their life.  Elena had an epiphany. “I finally put the dots together. If 75% of American women have been assaulted, 75% of women are not gay. I had been deceived so badly.” Three years later, Elena is at a great place, founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation, which serves the LBGTQIA community. Three years after leaving her Mormon life, she is healing herself one day at a time. Next week’s “Healing Herself” guest is Madeleine Black, who survived a gang rape at the tender age of 13. She has a viral TED talk; her own podcast, Unbroken; and a book.
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