Ex-Gay? Is That Even a Thing? An Interview with Steve Gershom (part one)

On June 19, the ex-gay ministry Exodus International issued an apology for the harm it has done to LGBT people. The organization is now shutting down.Many secular organizations who embrace homosexuality as healthy are overjoyed to see Exodus go; but many Christian organizations — even those who see homosexual attraction as disordered — are also glad. Aaron Taylor of First Things, for instance, says that Exodus’ views and methods show that their idea of heterosexuality is just as disordered as homosexuality.

Steve Gershom is a Catholic blogger who has same-sex attraction and who lives a chaste, celibate life. In a Catholic Exchange article called The Truth About Same Sex Attraction, he recommended Growth Into Manhood by Alan Medinger, the CEO of Exodus International.

I called Gershom (a pen name) to ask about his experience with the ex-gay movement, and to ask whether it’s possible, or even desirable, for someone with same-sex attraction to become heterosexual.

Here is the first half of our interview. I’ll post the second half tomorrow. Gershom has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his blog.

——-

In the past, you recommend Medinger’s book, a retreat sponsored by Exodus, and other resources which imply that you think that it’s at least possible for someone to change their sexual orientation. Do you still believe that? Or are there some problems with trying to do that?

Gay man, especially a gay Christian man, can focus really strongly on the question of orientation change, especially since the culture is really focused on getting married. And if you don’t achieve that, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve failed. Some people spend decades and thousand of dollars doing everything they can for reorientation therapy, and the kind of progress they make is slow and maybe ambiguous, maybe frustrating.

So many think they’ve succeeded, or even trick themselves into thinking they have — and then you hear about them later, and they’re with some guy. I do know several gay guys who are married to women and are making it work, but I don’t think they would claim they’re 100% straight. I’ve never heard any convincing anecdote about someone who’s completely changed.

But you think that some degree of change at least might be possible, or worthwhile?

I do think some degree of change is possible. I think that partly because of anecdotes. You can find anecdotes to support both directions.

But my own experience is that some degree of change is possible, by which I mean I’m less attracted to men then I used to be. The nature of the attraction is much less compulsive and much less urgent, much less troublesome then it has ever been. So that in itself may or may not be evidence of what someone might call “change,” regardless of whether you think of homosexuality as a pathology. Pathologies do exist in gay men. And in me.

What kind of pathologies?

Things like tendency toward codependency in relationships, and an intense experience of not belonging to the normal group of men. I think whatever your theories of the genesis of homosexuality, the point is that these kind of insecurities and mental anguishes among a lot of gay men fuels a lot of sexual promiscuity.

So, when you talk about reparative therapy, you can call it orientation change, or just call it developing a more integrated sexuality. You know? I don’t feel like I need to find a truck stop in the middle of the night! There’s all the difference in the world between a gay guy who’s cruising, and a gay guy who actually is just looking to find a nice guy. The second one has a more integrated sexuality, not a life-shattering sexuality.

So, are you saying there’s such a thing as a totally integrated homosexual sexuality?

No. There is no such thing as an integrated homosexual sexuality. I know a lot of Catholics and Christians would disagree with me. I understand that you don’t want to say that someone is to blame for feeling one way or another. And many people are coming out of a place of self-hatred, out of feeling contempt from the world. It’s really hard. But there are two propositions that you can’t hold at the same time: that homosexual acts are disordered, and that the desire for homosexual acts is not disordered.

But you say you are less attracted to men than you used to be.

Yes, and I am somewhat attracted to women, which I would not have said 2, 5, 10 years ago. That’s all something I don’t even know what to make of. I don’t talk about it a lot because I’m open to the charge of self-deception.

Does that mean you’re less gay now? What would that mean?

One thing we should talk about is the word “queer,” that many people use. Being queer is less about who you want to sleep with, and more about what is considered normal behavior for someone of your gender: attitudes, traits, characteristics. And so a lot of people who might say there is such thing as an integrated Christian homosexuality would say it has to do with being “queer,” which is to say you have a need for more emotional connection in the world of men, or more introspection or sensitivity. Those things that gay guys are famous for, right? There are men for whom those things are more natural; they have gifts and talents. But I would also say those things don’t have anything intrinsically to do with wanting to sleep with other men.

I read this book Images of Hope, by William Lynch (who wrote Christ and Apollo). It’s not specifically about homosexuality. He talks about the mentally ill. He talks about the tendency to treat mentally ill people as if they’re something outside of the human . . . because then we don’t have to sympathize with them, or admit that it’s possible that what’s happening to them could happen to us. I think homosexuality is perfect example of that. Lynch says as much. The experience gay men and women have is on the continuum of most people’s experience. I only learned this talking to straight guys about homosexuality.

It sounds like a really liberal thing to say, that homo- and heterosexuality are part of the same spectrum. But people are just trying to sort out what other people are to them, and who they are to themselves.

Yup, that sounds familiar!

Yeah. This is a phrase I keep coming back to, because it’s so expressive: Melinda Selmys’ phase “sexual authenticity.” She’s a lesbian Catholic married woman who still considers herself lesbian or queer or something. She said part of being gay is not just who you’re attracted to; it has to do with involuntary strands of homoeroticism through out your whole personality.

So there’s two reasons you could have hostility toward the “ex-gay” movement: one is believing you just have to fix this one bit, and everything will be okay. The second is actually believing you do have to fix the whole thing, and that your personality has to be completely redone.

It’s like, the fact that I’d be interested at all in having sex with a man is not some strange, isolated quirk. You can’t have someone who’s just like a straight guy in every other way except that he wants to be having sex with a man. Everyone who knows anything about people knows that doesn’t make sense! Anyone who thinks that really is damaging people.

Who you’re sexually attracted to affects how you relate to both genders on an everyday basis. Or the other way around: how you relate to people affects who you’re attracted to.

——-

[This ends the first half of my interview with Steve Gershom. I will post the second half tomorrow. Steve has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his own blog, SteveGershom.com.)

  • Matt Bifulco

    You’re a mensch in my book, “Steve.” Keep on chooglin.

  • Meg Kilgannon

    There is an ad for the Miami Love Fest at the top of my page that looks like a Patheos ad. Really would prefer not to see two women gazing lustfully into each other’s eyes. And don’t want it on my kids computer now either. Can anything be done about that?

    • simchafisher

      Sorry, I don’t think so. I got the same ad. It’s just keyed to what some algorithm thinks is relevant. You could try a different browser, maybe?

    • Dale

      Meg, if you use Firefox, Chrome, Android or Opera as your browser, I highly recommend installing the Adblock Plus add-on. It is safe, is widely used, and it works. I have never seen an ad here at Patheos.

      You can find it, and other add-ons, at the support page for those browsers. If you use Internet Explorer or Safari, I am not sure what your options are.

  • rcdcr

    I couldn’t read any further past this statement:

    “So many think they’ve succeeded, or even trick themselves into thinking they have — and then you hear about them later, and they’re with some guy.”

    And here’s why.

    Steve Gershom made the statement above. Steve’s a gay man.

    He makes the ‘some guy’ statement as if that’s all a same-gender couple can be. ‘Some guy.’ Casting aside that fact that my ‘some guy’ and I have been married for 13 years. But to Steve, he’s just ‘some guy.’

    Yet, if that ‘some guy’ had a vagina between his legs, Steve Gershom wouldn’t have referred to my spouse as ‘some woman.’ He’d have given us the respect we deserve.

    Steve’s blatant disrespect and flippant, passive-agressive judgment alerts me (thankfully) early on in this piece that this article is just a huge waste of my time.

    Way to go, Gershom. You’ve outed yourself as a typical ‘ex-gay’ a-hole and saved me 15 minutes.

    Now learn some respect for your fellow human beings.

    Were you raised in a barn?

    Or, perhaps, a church.

    • simchafisher

      Hmm. So if he had said, “And they’re with a man” then you wouldn’t have been offended, and would have kept reading? I think that if you give it another try, along with tomorrow’s installment, you might find it an interesting read, and maybe not what you’re expecting. He actually is a very respectful, interesting, and insightful guy. (See, “guy” isn’t always a nasty word!) He may not say what you WANT him to say, but that doesn’t mean he says what you THINK he’s going to say — especially if you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing! My stars.

    • Billiamo

      You’ve outed yourself as a typical ‘ex-gay’ a-hole and saved me 15 minutes.

      And you have outed yourself — as an exemplar of hit-and-run combox culture.

  • Bike Guy

    I am a man happily married to the same man for 32 years, raising two children in a warm, loving family. I look around at our friends and family – 98% of whom are straight – and I know for a fact that we are at least as well adjusted as the vast majority (our friends and family would agree).

    I read the words of a poor, unfulfilled soul like Mr. Gershom and I am grateful every day and in every way that the my mother left the Catholic Church, met my atheist dad, and had the wisdom to raise us Unitarian.

    Thanks Mom.

    • simchafisher

      Well, it does sound like a happy life. But how would you know whether Steve Gershom is “unfulfilled?” What do you mean by fulfilled? Does it mean getting what you want, or is there more to it than that?

    • Barbara Fryman

      I’m glad your parents got together too, or there would be no you!
      But Steve is a good advocate for an under represented population, that is, gay people who hold celibacy as a good and fulfilling lifestyle. I’m sorry you are not openings end enough to think this is a valid life choice, but Steve seems to think its the best choice for him. Why does that bother you?

      • Kubricks_Rube

        Personally, I have no problem with Steve’s choice. If this is working for him then great. I mean that. What does make me sad is when Steve talks about LGBT people experiencing “depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, a sense (however false) of being utterly different,” as if these feelings must be intrinsic to homosexuality rather than products of a culture telling them they are disordered, dysfunctional and (as Steve writes about elsewhere) much, much worse. It will be interesting to see if these associations- depression, loneliness, etc- weaken over the coming decades as social acceptance of LGBT people as such continues to advance, especially among young people; I suspect they will.

        • Rivka

          I think you’re jumping to conclusions in thinking that Steve thinks that every LGBT person must necessarily experience depression and stuff and in thinking that he ignores the effects of culture and up-bringing in bringing such feelings about. He has spoken about his own healing from such emotional pain, while affirming that his sexual orientation was still the same. His most recent post says

          “for parents of
          gay kids: For your son to go through life thinking of himself as Different andDamaged would be much, much worse than for him to go through life just thinking
          dudes are hot. So, you know. Keep that in mind..while you figure out what to say”
          (retrieved from http://www.stevegershom.com/)

    • Quid

      I know Steve personally, and he is one of the most “fulfilled” souls I have ever met, by any definition of the word. I can’t speak for your life choices, but as a straight man, I know I’ll be blessed to ever be as fulfilled as Steve.

  • Daniel Lee Fee

    Thanks for bringing SGs angle on human nature over from his own blog or whatever. Where I fall off SGs boat is precisely the doctrinal boundaries he assumes categorically: ie. that one cannot believe same sex pairbonding/sexual vulnerability is intrinsically disordered AND then believe one can integrate an intrinsically disordered into one’s wholesome personhood.

    Let’s get technical enough to remind ourselves for a moment that this is all about the essentialized doctrinal stance that is currently an eternal, take it or leave it, point of revelation. And that the intrinsic disorder of same sex sex is basically that human sperm can never meet egg. Now let’s do the thought experiment of parsing the assumptive field of given revelation categories by using the Occam’s Razor of the technical criterion that marks the distinction. It begins to seem as if a whole lot that might go on in innumerable realms of personhood, aside from, around, beneath, through, and before to after … the forbidden point could clarify a number of implications, not to mention open many of the lines of feeling/integration/wholeness that SG later seems to hint at, despite his earlier categorical belief statement.

    That is to say, it becomes a bit absurd … (frankly, so far, in my personal discernment, frankly absurd – which may be to say, both outlandish opening up a horizon of felt unbelievability for a few moments at least, and self-contradicting) … to keep claiming/asserting as an article of illuminated faith that any gay or lesbian or bisexual person intrinsically desires (deeply or superficially, consciously or unconsciously) to deliberately seek out sexual intimacy, particularly because it will exclude human sperm meeting human egg. Any more than we would attribute to straight folks a peculiar interest that valorizes the egg or sperm of the man or woman to whom somebody is drawn, above and categorically teased out from that man or woman as a whole human.

    As SG seems to hint, a whole lot more is going on inside human nature than that peculiarly devilish attribution that the objective distinction of same sex genitality makes it heinous, followed by us having to backtrack per what reads like a prepositional Syllogism, to heinous things going on inside gay and lesbian people at complicated yet downside levels. I can get a whole lot from SG, once I set aside subscribing to his categorical starting point of doctrine.
    I guess what I keep bumping into – and this will hardly surprise since I am obviously still interrogating the allegedly revealed distinction as an outsider to the faith community that pledges the point – is that we will get a lot farther in understanding human nature if we can follow up on SGs hint: “There’s all the difference in the world between a gay guy who’s cruising, and a gay guy who actually is just looking to find a nice guy. The second one has a more integrated sexuality, not a life-shattering sexuality.”

    And finally for now, let me second the comment poster who called attention to how the doctrinal distinction that is supposed to bear the whole weight of the intrinsically disordered Summa almost maddeningly omits any attention to the historical-cultural context in which men are drawn to women, women are drawn to men, men are drawn to men, and women are drawn to women …. all in that ‘special’ range of ways so many of us know from common sense human experience. How could we possibly describe the human depths of those gay men cruising truck stops, if we carefully leave out all the ways particular men are falling for one or many of the utterly familiar negatives about everything not straight? How quickly then we sidestep how particular men experience and construe their deep-complex embodiment accordingly as the hapless ‘demonized’ ‘gay’ guy lots of us are busy, telling them they essentially are because they do not know themselves as heterosexual. This sub rosa history/cultural tradition is one of the Great Pressure Cookers that heats up for many boys who will later admit how deeply their persons are drawn to other men. This historical-cultural-traditional negative Force which is more aptly, a set of Forces, may be at least as important or perhaps from some angles, much more important, to how innumerable strands and streams of man to man, woman to woman stuff fits into the moral, natural schemes of things evolvin-adapting.

    So not only is any real, historical, cultural, human context missing from our pledge to believe how heinous both acts and persons are defined to be, but we also seem to studiously neglect one of the ‘great scientific models’ that frame empirical knowledge of human mammals, ie, evolution-adaption. I can follow SG then qujite a bit when he is speaking so beautifully from his inner experiences of what it has meant and might mean to be so deeply oriented towards other men; just not whole hog on his starting doctrinal presupposition. Really am looking forward to part two of this interview. drdanfee

    • Dan F.

      tl;dr – next time try it as a paragraph with about 9/10th less words and more clarity (and less neologisms); there might have been a good point in here but I would have failed this without reading it through if one of my philosophy students had handed it in like this.

      • drdanfee

        It’s okay that you flunk me prof.

        Thanks for the touch of generosity which allows …”there might have been a [...] point in here ….”

        On that I probably incline towards agreeing w you insofar as I still have a hunch I was fussing towards a point, maybe even a ‘good’ one.

        If I ever end up enrolling in a class of yours, you can feel free to remind me then of my poor posting performance on this blog thread, and go on to caution me again if you like before I hand in homework …. best, daniel

        • Rivka

          I enjoy the way you took his comment in good spirit.

  • 1rosemarie2

    This is strange .. there is no sense of spiritual victory in this article. It is as if the possibility was non-existing.

    But Christ won the victory over all what is `sick` in our minds, human spirit and souls on the cross. In Christ, there lays the victory, and for this reason, there exist so many good testimonies of deliverance from truly ex-gays and lesbians who are happy to-day with their hetero-sexual relationship and their children !
    I have no power over the sin within me -it is very strong indeed !- but Jesus-Christ has. Blessed be His Holy Name.

  • Jess Cathofeminism

    I should have guessed the combox poison would be here, but I am excited to read the second installation. I love reading what both of you have to say!

  • abra

    I think Steve Gershom makes a really good point about understanding sexuality as a more or less innate spectrum in the human person and integrating that into our Christian lives. If one takes homosexual attraction as a genetically intrinsic aspect of one’s person, then of course it can be taken in the same category of disordered attractions, diseases, and addictions which have a biological (often genetic) route, are clearly immoral to act upon/follow, and are fundamentally incurable. In one sense, homosexual attraction is like the addiction some people have to various foods. When they come across the foods, they feel a strong attraction, but, with their best health in mind, force themselves to ignore the temptation; other people give in and become clinically obese. It’s the devil whispering in their ear, and even though they may never overcome their overzealous urge to eat, they can certainly learn to live with it by adapting their lifestyle and putting themselves purposefully away from compromising positions. This, however, does not mean that they have to starve themselves or never enjoy a generous meal. People somewhere in the broad spectrum of homosexual attraction are the same way. They feel drawn towards other men or women and have the choice to either give in to the queer culture or turn away from temptation by building a healthy lifestyle that encourages a certain mode of behavior and thought. It doesn’t mean that they have to spurn the company of the same sex at all, rather that their struggle must always be to suppress the urge to go beyond friendship. Notable is that the lifestyle of a chase man with same-sex attraction does not seek to ignore the ever present temptation of sexual sin but rather to embrace the reality of that temptation and employ a complete moral and theological understanding of it to live fully in the light of Christ. To see Steve Gershom in pursuit of this life is truly inspiring.


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