First published on 18 Nov 2008. Updated on 19 Dec 2008.
Anthony Menchetti comes from the school of hard knocks. Raised under a strict Christian roof, "gay" was apparently not the answer to his questionable sexuality. "My parents thought the best thing I could do would be to convert to heterosexuality, so I was sent to a church that runs a program to turn gay people straight," says Menchetti.
"Looking back, it's Comedy Central. We attended regular meetings where we talked through our sexuality. Talked through, exorcised. It's such a blur." In his latest stand-up show, Gay Conversion School Drop-out, Menchetti reflects on his family, friends and religious experiences. Here, he tells Time Out how to kick the gay life in five simple steps.
1 Starve your urges: they'll eventually drop off
"There are numerous ways to combat your sexuality," Menchetti explains. "Namely, reading from the Bible until it passes completely. If you're feeling desire for another group member be open and honest with the circle - talk about it. Because a gathering of sexually frustrated and confused people are equipped to deal with those situations."
2 Stay smart: stay celibate
"You're taught you'll burn in hell if you have gay sex which, when you're young, has all these connotations. Gay conversion school is about suppressing things with discipline and regiment. Several years after attending classes I did bump into my team leader. He's now in the navy."
3 Patch up negative familial experiences
"If you weren't close with your dad growing up, the church suggests that father-son bonding will stave off homosexuality. Once a gay man forms positive hetero relationships he'll lead a life free of gay, or so the story goes." Menchetti recommends 'If You Don't Hug Your Son, Someone Else Will' as beginners' reading material. "What can I say? Don't be deterred by my outcome."
4 Accept the guilt
"It might cause depression and anxiety, but that doesn't mean you can't guilt yourself straight. Avoid underwear packets with pictures of men in their jocks. That's temptation. Any campaigns or movies with provocative imagery are a danger zone, too. Out of sight, out of mind."
5 Prayer and counselling
"Keep going to class until you feel cured. For some, this can take up to 14 years. Just as they'd say at Alcoholic Anonymous, 'My name's Anthony Menchetti. I'm gay but I'm trying to quit. I'm down to one fag a day in the morning with my coffee.'"
Jollity aside, gay conversion schools still exist in Australia and Menchetti agrees that "there's major potential for people to be damaged." But could unexpected romance flourish within their walls? "Well, I had an affair with my team leader. The church can't hold me down."
Gay Conversion School Drop-out runs at the Factory Theatre from Thu 13 Nov.