Self-taught celebrity makeup artist Jonathan Fernandez currently stars on "Love & Hip-Hop New York" and is gearing up to launch his own makeup line, but the 33-year-old reality star had to overcome some serious childhood trauma to get where he is today.
At the age of 10, Fernandez was subjected to gay conversion therapy -- which he first revealed on a Jan. 22 episode of the VH1 series -- and now he's sharing more of his story with TooFab in hopes of preventing other parents from making the same decision.
Born in New York City to a very Catholic Dominican family, Fernandez said his mother one day saw a commercial for a "doctor" in the Dominican Republic who claimed he was able to "change the lives of kids experiencing gender role crises." She thought it would change Fernandez's life. It did, but not for the better.
In 1995, she sent him to the DR to live with his paternal grandmother, who Fernandez said was invested in his conversion therapy because her own son -- Fernandez's father -- came out as gay in his adult life. He died when Fernandez was only 8 years old, which Fernandez said impacted his grandmother heavily. "We couldn't fix him, but maybe we could fix you," he recalled her saying.
For eight months, Fernandez was subjected to both psychotherapy and hormone therapy daily.
"Part of the treatment consisted of electronic stimulation that was hooked up to my body through pads with wires connected to a machine," he told TooFab. "The doctor would shock me if I answered questions incorrectly or in a way that he disapproved of."
Fernandez said his doctor would lock him in a room and pester him with questions, an experience he likened to the method an investigator might use to crack a criminal.
"Why do you prefer to stay at home and cook with your grandmother instead of going out and playing baseball?" he recalled his doctor asking. "What does it make you feel? Why do you like to sit with your legs going in this direction? What is making you want to sit like that? Do you like to feel like a woman? Do you want to be your mother? Are you jealous of your sister? Why are you so obsessed with your sister?"
"I wasn't obsessed with my sister," Fernandez explained. "I was infatuated with her because she's my sister. She's my life. No other peer of mine understood me, but my sister did. My sister was the only other child in my life who was not judging me. She was the only person who showed me love and affection. She's my sister. What's wrong with having my sister as my best friend?"
Fernandez said his doctor would repeatedly ask him why he only wanted to play with his sister, to which he would reply, "She's the only person who will play with me."
But Fernandez did not experience the horrors of conversion therapy alone. He was among other young boys who were also going through "gender role crises," and even though he would cry and ask his grandmother to make it stop, she insisted it was for his own good.
"From my mother's perspective, it wasn't so much about homosexuality because I was 10 years old. I wasn't sexual," Jonathan explained. "All she knew was that I didn't fit the stereotypical male gender role. I was bullied every single day. Kids would beat me up. I would come home bruised. I would come home with tears in my eyes. I would come home barefoot with soaking wet socks because I would have to walk through the snow after the kids would take my shoes off and throw them in the garbage cans."
"I could see the pain in my mother's eyes," he said. "She was just at her wit's end thinking, these kids are either going to kill my son or my son is going to harm himself because this is going to become too much for him to deal with. My mother didn't know what else to do."
Despite his traumatic past, Fernandez is determined to shed light on the reality of gay conversion therapy and the risks it imposes on its participants -- most of whom are young and involuntary -- as well as their families.
"To any parent who has a child who's being bullied: Never go the route of trying to change your child to make other children more comfortable," he said. "Make your child feel comfortable with themselves."