John Pendal, comedian

I GREW up in the 1970s and looking back, I quite clearly needed an autism diagnosis. I had no friends and I didn't know why. Other children didn't know how to relate to me and thought I was weird. Then, at 15, I met this group of young Christians. It was a very evangelical church and they were commanded by God to be my friend regardless of how many social skills I lacked. It was intoxicating because I had never had friends before.

I was very black and white, looking for a world of rules, and this church was happy to give me rules to live by. I absorbed it like a sponge, every bonkers thing they told me. I underwent gay conversion therapy between 15 and 22. They made me go for weekly counselling and there was a lot of indoctrination. I had to "pray the gay away" for half an hour every day for seven years. I realise now it was toxic, but I was desperate to fit in and appease them.

They told me in counselling that I could be gay if I wanted but I would have to be celibate. The picture they painted of a gay person was such a terrible thing. At that same time, the British government was putting gravestone adverts on TV saying: "Don't die of ignorance, AIDS will kill you". I knew I didn't want to be gay.

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I was 22 when I met a gay, Christian guy. He looked normal. He didn't look possessed or evil. We went to a pub and I sat on my hands. He bought me a drink and said: "Has nobody ever told you that it's OK to be gay?". Nobody ever had. I went to bed that night and couldn't stop smiling. I was like the Cheshire Cat for nine hours.

When I told the church I was gay, they kicked me out. I lost every friend overnight. I suddenly had to start my life all over again. I'm now married to a gorgeous guy and very happy. We regularly see a therapist for couples' counselling. That is fantastic because what she does is lift a lid on my head and then my husband can see why I think the way I do. He is grateful for the insight.

In a session, she asked: "Why do you think you are a bad person?" I mentioned gay conversion therapy which I hadn't done in 25 years. You know the moment in a movie where somebody is standing in the middle of a road and they get hit by a truck? That is how it felt.

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My show is called Monster and about the things that keep me awake at 3am thinking I am a bad person. One of those is not having an autism diagnosis and another is having gone through gay conversion therapy. It is a comedy, though, so there jokes too.

John Pendal: Monster is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, 7.45pm, from Wednesday (July 31) to August 26 (not 16 or 23). Visit