Anyone still clinging to the idea that “ex-gay” ministries are anything but cruel absurdities would do very well to read this letter sent to me last week.
I have been carrying around my story for a long time. It broke my spirit and certainly altered my life, but seemed of little significance to anyone else. But now I think it might be a useful testimony in the big debate happening around us. I would like to add it to the tales on your site.
I was a keen early 20-something in a happening fundamentalist church: lots of love, fellowship, good people and good vibes. I met, had great chemistry with, and fell deeply in love with an up-and-coming member of that church. We talked, shared, connected. He told me what any girl is waiting to hear: “I’ve never felt this way about any other girl … never had this connection … never felt so understood …”.
My nice young man also had a secret that he shared with me. He “had been” attracted to men, and had experienced physical contact with them. He had also been to every possible kind of Christian ministry to rid himself of this “problem.” He would n.e.v.e.r. at that time refer to himself as gay or homosexual. He viewed himself as person with a sexual inclination that needed to be cured/retrained.
The drive to “cure” him came from himself and the pulpit, not his parents. He was taught by the church to find causes, and to lay blame.
I accompanied him to some of his “You Can Overcome Your Gayness” meetings and counseling sessions. At that time I accepted some of the theories such ministries pedal that I have since come to reject, such as:
• His mother had been too protective. Big big yawn: she was a lovely lady who loved each of her children just right.
• His father too distant. Not! The man was always there, physically and emotionally.
• His parents’ marriage was not a good example. Give me a break. They are one of those inseparable and affectionate couples, even after decades. But those so-called counselors found stones to throw at them anyway.
• His parents rejected him. They most certainly did not. Not over this, and not over anything else. They accepted him before he accepted himself.
• Girls at school had been mean to him and turned him off women. Well what comes first: the boy living a lie, or the girls who can see that?
• He had been introduced/seduced into ‘the lifestyle.’ Or he had known what he wanted since he was six years old, and he was ready when the opportunity came along.
So despite that he had excellent, loving parents, had always felt toward guys the way he did, and that no one had ever “turned him,” he still believed that his sexual inclination was “learned,” and that the right system for “unlearning” them was out there somewhere. I believed in miracles too, so I was also confident that such a system or influence would come along.
Meanwhile, the spark he felt for me never quite grew into a flame. But it was more than he had ever felt for any other female, so he believed that I was part of his answer. He pulled me close emotionally, and then shut me out—and then pulled me back again. What I didn’t know the whole time was that he was also falling off the wagon on a regular basis: gay porn, physical encounters, and even long-term relationships with men.
Throughout it all he continued seeking help from ex-gay ministries, and from the leadership of our own church. He told them everything—and told me nothing. Everyone but I knew what was happening with him. But they wanted him to “succeed,” and they viewed me as one of the routes to that success. So they joined with him in deceiving me. So what if my physical health was at risk from a partner having a string of affairs? So what if they were telling me to stay in a situation that they knew was not what I thought it was? I did not matter to them: they had an ex-gay to save; and I was “just a girl.”
Was I willfully blind with what was happening to him, plain stupid, or a victim of circumstance? I had a good degree from a top university, but it didn’t include courses on detecting a man’s double life. Belonging to a hellfire and brimstone church with organized activities on every holiday limited my opportunities to grow in worldly knowledge at all, much less develop any sort of effective gaydar. And being in a church that was really strict on chastity kept one litmus test out of our lives.
Am I or was I angry with him? Not so much with him. I see us both as victims. But that does bring me to the people with whom I am angry. Every authority figure told me to stay in the relationship. All the books and tracts I was reading (many since discredited) told me to put up with it and stay. I loved him. He told me to go; then he asked me to stay. My conscious mind and emotions were on board; I signed up for staying. My subconscious was stressed but had a hard time getting itself heard.
Eventually he cracked, and told me all that was really happening with him. As I sadly pulled myself out of our relationship, I found no one within my own church who was at all interested in being there for me. There was a general stampede of support for him, while I was clearly considered some sort of failure.
I tried another church for a while, but I was very wounded. This was not the only issue in my life, but eventually I lost my faith and drifted away.
Over time I maintained contact and friendship with my gay ex-boyfriend. For years he was stuck in the pattern of denying his sexuality to himself and others, while indulging it in secret physical binges. Dropped from the ministry, eventually cast out of at least one more church, he persisted in believing about himself that most poisonous of mantras: “Hate the sin but love the sinner.”
• Hate your blue eyes, but love you.
• Hate your love of classical music, but love you.
• Hate the way you eat, but love you.
• Hate your short legs, but love you.
• Hate your skin tone, but love you.
•Hate your laugh, but love you.
It took him longer than me to figure out that he was born that way and that there was no changing it. His tragedy was indeed greater than mine. Emotionally, he was stuck in late adolescence/early twenties—the time at which his friends had either accepted themselves and come out, or discovered girls and gotten involved. He could do neither, so he was stuck, stuck, stuck, with both paths into emotional maturity closed to him.
Over the years I revisited and saw in a different light the scriptures that I had been told were so absolute. I added new ones to my understanding. I get it when President Obama says his views evolved; it took a good twenty years for mine to do so. Part of it was questioning which verses mattered in which contexts, and part of it was just observing over time those people that I had met in the ex-gay meetings with my ex-boyfriend. Not one of them was able to keep living the lie for twenty-five years. They wanted to—they really wanted to. But they just could not. Anyone can deny, control and contain their sexuality for a few days, weeks or a couple of months. Some people can keep a lid on it for many months or a few years. But no one can deny the truth about themselves for decades. No one.
Over the years I also watched the man with whom I’d initially been involved. It took him a long time, but as we entered our forties he finally allowed himself to accept the welcome and teachings of a church that accepted him as he is. I was delighted when he finally allowed love into his life—when he declared himself to be in a true partnership, when he came out to everyone. His coming out was hardly news to any of us, of course. We’d all known and accepted him long before he accepted himself.
Ex-girlfriends, boyfriends, and spouses are collateral damage of the “ex-gay” self-appointed counselors and ministries. But that group occupies a poor third place on that podium of misery. At least we “partners” get to pick ourselves up, limp away and put our lives back together.
Second place goes to all the regular fathers and normal mothers who get blamed for their children’s sexual orientation. A double twist of that knife is that many of them are taught to reject their own children. Parents whose children are alienated from them through these bag-of-accusatory-lies ministries do not get to start over with another child.
And the gold medal of pain, of course, goes to the “ex-gays” themselves.
The question I would like to ask pastors and counselors who work in ex-gay ministries is: How would you feel if your own heterosexual child was about to marry someone deemed “ex-gay”?
Would you really believe in that marriage? Would you really be confident that your child was heading into a partnership of honesty, truth, passion and happiness? Would you really feel good about that marriage?
Speaking of ex-gay ministries: As Exodus’s Alan “Pray Away the Gay” Chambers ties his tongue in a knot …