Richard Yeagley’s documentary “The Sunday Sessions” makes for very tough and uncomfortable viewing. It’s not just the subject matter of gay-conversion therapy that is so abhorrent and extremely harmful, but the fact the film follows 20-something-year-old vulnerable Nathan Gniewek for a year as he tries to de-gay himself.
Gniewek is a very likeable and intelligent young man who puts great store in his faith (he and his family are devout Catholics) and has entered his monthly therapy sessions voluntary as he questions whether he can be happy remaining gay. Of course to dehumanise the whole process no-one uses terms like that but rather the innocuous S.S.A. ( for Same Sex Attraction).
His therapist is Christopher Doyle an ex-gay man (!) who has been married for 9 years and has fathered 5 children. In his defense he makes a point to often remind his patients/clients that his marriage isnt easy, and it is clear from both his tone and manner it doesn’t seem to bring him much joy
If Cniewek has any faults is that he tends to both overthink and over verbalise which seems to serve to exacerbate himself even more. But full credit to him for allowing the cameras in to all his sessions including the many times he is obviously very distraught and quite depressed. The only time the camera is switched off is at the request of Doyle.
Cniewek’s relationship with his family is close but quite strained, and it often feels that this effort to de-gay himself is much more for their benefit than for his. Some of Doyle’s more questionable opinions (or hogwash) is the fact that he believes that if they had been better parents and set good male roles for him when he was growing up, then he wouldn’t be gay. Cniewek’s only close friend is Cameron an out and well -adjusted gay man and despite the fact that he is his best and closest confidante, Cniewek doesn’t value that enough and starts to impose limits on their friendship.
There is a tough point of no return in the film when Cniewek breaks down questioning whether he could be happy at all with either a man or woman, and to his credit Doyle doesn’t disagree. He does however push the very vulnerable Cniewek to seek answers about his sexuality from his religious faith which is a very questionable tactic to be taken by any so-called therapist/medical practitioner.
Kudos to filmmaker Yeager for just allowing the story to unfold without comment : he simply doesn’t need to take sides as we do that very quickly ourselves. It is however a tale of no hope as one year later Cniewek is stuck exactly where he started, minus his best friend, but with no real answers.
There is something immoral that this whole field of conversion therapy that every major medical body is vehemently opposed too, is still legal in so many US States. In fact Doyle (with the backing of anti-gay religious group Liberty Counsel) has filed suit against the state of Maryland in an attempt to invalidate their state law banning “conversion therapy” on minors.