Daniel Franzese, the actor who shot to fame playing Damian in the box office hit Mean Girls, recently discussed his experience enrolling in so-called “conversion therapy” and its effect on his family relationships in an interview with Page Six News.
In the interview, Franzese recalls being “brainwashed” by his therapist to cut off his mother and other family members at 21.
The 44-year-old actor explained why he forced himself into the widely debunked practice, saying that he “didn’t want to be gay” and “didn’t know what to do,” so he voluntarily enrolled in the therapy in order to become “straight.”
Franzese explained that his Catholic and Pentecostal Christian family “lovingly tolerated” his sexuality, despite being religious. But it was “the world around” that made him “feel like being gay was not OK.”
For six months, Franzese met with a therapist specializing in conversion therapy that had been recommended to his grandmother by his pastor. That therapist made him cut off ties to his mother, saying her acceptance was the reason he was still gay.
“They told me to tell my mom that my mom was the reason that I was leaning toward bisexual thoughts or whatever because she was so open,” Franzese said. “They made me come out to my mom, who was literally like my best ally, and say, ‘It’s your fault.'”
Understandably, this caused friction between Franzese and his mother, leading them not to speak to one another for two months, and making him feel even more alone and lost. He said it was after this period that it “clicked” that therapy might not be the solution for him.
“I was, like, scared. And [my therapist] was like, ‘What are you afraid of?’ And I was like, ‘I’m afraid I’m gonna go to hell.’ And he was like, ‘You can be [s–king a d–k], and the second coming of Christ could happen, and you’re not gonna go to hell if you love God. That’s not what it is.'”
“It’s not?!” Franzese responded.
Franzese said the therapist — who he describes as “SO gay, like gay.com.org.edu” — explained to him that he too had once been gay, but had since married a woman, thanks to going through conversion therapy. Franzese, realizing that his “therapy” wouldn’t work, left after that session and never returned.
Recently, Democratic House members have floated a bill that, in part, would make conversion therapy illegal, citing evidence that it has more harmful impacts on those subjected to it. However, it is unlikely that the bill — which currently has no Republican co-sponsors — will pass both in the House and the Senate, at least during this Congress.
In the Page Six interview, Franzese also shared a letter he received from a fan that convinced him to come out publicly.
Paraphrasing, Franzese skimmed through the highlights. “I don’t know if you’re gay or not, and it doesn’t matter, but when I was in eighth grade, I was beat up for being chubby, and I was tortured every day for being a sissy,” he read. “And then your movie came out. And then on the first day of my freshman year in ninth grade, the popular senior girls walked up to me and said, ‘You’re like Damian! Come sit with us.’ You made me popular in high school. Thank you for giving me something in media that I can point to and say, ‘That’s me, and I’m proud.’”
Since conversion therapy, Franzese has grown much closer to his mom and the rest of his family, and has begun working on other projects, including a play Italian Mom Loves You, and a comedy podcast called Yass, Jesus!, which focuses on the non-exclusive relationship between being gay and being Christian.
“You don’t have to pick between gay and God,” Franzese explained. “I could be who I want to be and do what I want to do.”
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