No one ever said growing up on screen was easy. But for actor Matthew Scott Montgomery, going through conversion therapy while starring on popular Disney Channel shows only made the experience that much more traumatizing.
Montgomery—who was a regular on sketch series So Random!, and also appeared on Shake It Up, Austin & Ally, and Jessie in the early 2010s—recently guested on former Disney star Christy Carlson Romano’s podcast, Vulnerable, where he opened up about his struggles with his sexuality and the intensive therapies he went through to “treat” it.
Now 34, the actor first reflects on his “very, very conservative” upbringing in North Carolina, a time he says instilled in him these ideas of super rigid heteronormative standards for young men—and that “gay people are the most evil thing that could possibly exist.”
“How I grew up is: you find what sport you’re good at, you get a scholarship for that,” he tells Romano on the podcast. “If that doesn’t work, you get a scholarship for grades, go to college, find a woman to get married [to] and then get a house. That was the only option that I was told or saw. Which sounds like my first nightmare. No offense to anybody.”
But Montgomery did discover one other option: Move out to Los Angeles to follow his Hollywood dreams—and he did just that, while still a teenager. He says his role in a play, in which he starred as a physically abused gay teen, is what finally inspired him to come out to his parents, though neither of them took it well.
In his early 20s, around when Montgomery began regularly working on Disney Channel shows, he enrolled himself in conversion therapy in an attempt to convince himself he could be straight. He stresses that the network had nothing to do with the therapy—the decision was of his “own free will”
“You have to understand that in the environment that I grew up in, you’re taught that you deserve to be punished all the time,” he shares on the podcast. “At the time, the career stuff was going so well that I was still in this broken prison brain of thinking, ‘I’m on red carpets. I’m on TV every week. This is too good, I should be punished on my days off.'”
As the actor details, his initial visits to the therapy center were just three hours each week, and involved “activities” like filling out worksheets and apologizing to his father for being “a sensitive, artistic little boy.”
But Montgomery’s treatments gradually become more and more intense, including hypnosis and electroshock techniques—which involved holding onto little metal rods that would administer buzzes that got progressively more painful as he thought or talked about straight men.
“They knocked me to the floor. They began hitting me, screaming for the devil to be removed from me and I was terrified.”
“They would kind of do a hypnosis kind of thing where you would imagine scenarios,” Montgomery remembers. “You imagine the world is post-apocalypse and it’s like a decimated Earth and the only person left on Earth is a straight man… you go and you walk up and hug a straight man. And when you hugged the straight man in my mind, they would zap my hands.”
Though he admits he still deals with “side effects” of conversion therapy, Montgomery did, eventually, get himself out. “One day I just woke up,” he says of his decision to leave, realizing that “there’s nothing wrong with me.”
He’s also gotten through it thanks to his close friendships with other queer, ex-Disney stars, like Demi Lovato and Haley Kiyoko, who have offered their support. “She and I became friends, and we bonded,” he says of the latter. “Family knows family, when you find another queer person you just feel it, you latch onto that person.”
Montgomery and Lovato have remained especially close, and he even appeared on their paranormal investigation series, Unidentified With Demi Lovato.
“Demi’s family, that’s my family,” he shares with Romano. “That’s my soulmate, that’s like the person who loves me the deepest and at that point, I was able to begin to carefully curate a life that was filled with love and art and expression that was satisfying me making me so happy in a way that I’d never been before.”
Let’s unpack the amazing Demi Lovato’s rise to fame and what’s next for the talented singer, songwriter, and actor.
Though he’s previously addressed his experiences with conversation therapy, the podcast is the first time Montgomery’s publicly gone into detail about what he went through. But he shares it now to “increase empathy” and to help other have gone through—or are going through—similar situations.
“Nothing needs to be fixed, nothing needs to be changed. God loves you. God made you exactly how you are on purpose. And you know what? I love you too,” Montomery says.
You can watch Montgomery and Romano’s full conversation here: