Purdue University Graduate School
A. Ens Dissertation 2024 - FINAL.pdf (1.69 MB)

Pain, Pleasure, Punishment: The Affective Experience of Conversion Therapy in Twentieth-Century North America

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posted on 2024-04-11, 12:33 authored by Andrea Jaclyn EnsAndrea Jaclyn Ens

This dissertation argues that shifting secular conversion therapy practices and theories in North America between 1910 and 1980 consistently relied on both queer affective experience and anti-queer and anti-trans animus to justify often brutalizing medical interventions. Canadian and American conversion therapists’ pathologizing views of queer sexual behavior and gender identity were shaped by complex interplays between cultural, legal, social, and medical perspectives, but predominately worked to uphold heteronormative social structures leading to discrimination, hate, and harm towards queer people in both countries. Focusing on affect thereby encourages scholars to recognize how conversion therapies in all their variable historical permutations are both medical and cultural practices that have attempted to use queer patients’ affective needs for acceptance, love, safety, and validation in ways advancing anti-gay and anti-trans social narratives in purportedly therapeutic settings since the early twentieth century.

This research uses a transnational approach that is at once sensitive to national differences between the American and Canadian queer experience while looking to draw connections between conversion therapy’s development and individual experiences of this practice in two national contexts over time. It additionally pays careful attention to the ways social power hierarchies based on race and class informed individuals’ affective experiences of conversion therapy between 1910 and 1980.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • History

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Wendy Kline

Additional Committee Member 2

Yvonne Pitts

Additional Committee Member 3

Christopher Ewing

Additional Committee Member 4

Michelle LaBonte