Best known as the reassuring face of Embarrassing Bodies, Dr Christian Jessen turns reluctant patient tonight and investigates possible "cures" for his homosexuality. RadioTimes.com put in a call to find out more…
Why did you want to make a documentary about “cures” for homosexuality?
A young male patient came to see me seeking help to change his sexuality: he was gay and he didn’t want to be gay. My knee-jerk reaction was astonishment that someone would want this. In this day and age, surely you should be loud and proud? But it also raised a question that I was troubled by: actually, why shouldn’t people seek out these therapies? Who are we to say they shouldn’t be allowed if there’s any basis to them?
And? Are you cured?
I’m not! I never really thought I would be, to be honest.
What disturbed you most?
Blind belief even in the face of evidence to the contrary. For example, there’s a pastor who conducts “exorcisms” and I say to him: “If sexual orientation is caused by trauma, how can that be a sin?” And you can see him just go: “Oh s**t, that’s a good point”. But he still blindly carries on doing what he’s doing.
What about the fact that these so-called cures are peddled here in Britain.
Yes, that too of course. People know this sort of thing happens in America but it is going on in Britain as well – and I felt it was important that we showed that.
You claim these cures are increasingly common on both sides of the Atlantic. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a reflection of what’s happening elsewhere in the world: more and more people are being persecuted for who they are, and so you’re going to get people who prey on their desperation. In Russia, for example, where you have gangs sweeping the streets, you’re going to have vulnerable people who are looking for a way out. Instead of moving forward, we seem to be moving backwards.
Do you think it's harder to come out today than when you were young?
I think so – and to me that’s really disturbing. Yes, in this country gay marriage is about to happen yet in others things are going so rapidly in the opposite direction and they’re bringing in laws outlawing homosexuality.
In the documentary, your father admits he was disappointed when he first discovered your sexuality – why include that?
Yes, he very honestly says: “You’re an only child so it meant no grandchildren.” That’s absolutely fine to acknowledge that, and that will be a lot of parents’ initial reactions. But what you can also see is that he’s happy and comfortable with me. I hope some other parents will watch that and go: "If he can be comfortable with it, so can we".
Which profession is more macho: TV or medicine?
Medicine was very homophobic when I was training, and that was a worry to me. It wasn’t very nice. I didn’t come out when I was training; I had to suppress that part of me.
Do you think young men struggle with coming out because there aren’t enough role models on TV?
I think that plays a big part. I also think there is a lot of internal homophobia within the gay community. If you don’t fit into one of the niche little boxes that we have created for ourselves, you can have a sense of: “Well, where do I fit in? I’m gay but I’m not one of the many stereotypes that we pigeonhole ourselves in.” Certainly a lot of people are surprised to find out that I’m gay. When I ask why, they say: “Because you don’t fit the stereotypes.”
It may come as a surprise to your many female fans – has that crossed your mind?
I don’t make telly to be popular; I make it because telly is a fantastic medium for getting across health messages – and this is a very, very important message to me that needs getting across. If people who didn’t know I was gay suddenly have a problem with the fact that I’m saying I’m gay – that’s very sad but that’s also a reality of life and it will be interesting to see that reaction as well. I’m sure it will happen.
Is this a new direction for you?
I hope so. There’s a lot of scope to do more documentaries along this theme: looking at things that we are treating that perhaps we shouldn’t be treating – and there are a lot of other things that I can think of.
Undercover Doctor: Cure Me, I’m Gay is on Tuesday 18 March on Channel 4 at 10.00pm