On Alan Chambers, Ex-ex-gays, and the Golden Rule

From the Salon article on CPAC:

A 1:30 p.m. session on “Marriage in the States,” which was supposed to include Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, featured instead a self-described former homosexual named Alan Chambers. He said sodomy was like fast food: “It will kill you.” He was an expert because he had lived through the torment of gay lust, enduring “a never ending cycle of cravings and nourishment … an endless treadmill of faceless encounters, broken hearts and unmet dreams.” His research on the gay lifestyle had also taught him that gay people do not really want gay marriage (it was the liberal media) and that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible.” Then he declared, in the struggling voice of a recovering alcoholic, “Today I stand before you as a heterosexual man … who now lives an unparalleled life of happiness and satisfaction.” He said there were hundreds of thousands like him.

(More extensive quotes can be found here at CNSnews.)

I don’t doubt that Chambers’ personal experience with homosexuality was as desperate a thing as he describes. I don’t doubt that he never knew a lifelong homosexual relationship. But I’m not sure what his justification is for claiming that the same is true for all gay people.

Chambers later sent a clarification to XGW. Apparently he didn’t say that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible;” rather, he said that “lifelong, loving, committed homosexual relationships are not possible.” This suggests that Chambers accepts the existence of lifelong gay relationships, but denies that they are loving or committed. (This raises the question of exactly what is keeping those loveless uncommitted gay couples together anyway, but I’ll set that aside for now.)

Here’s the ironic bit, and the heart of what I want to get to in this post:

I am sure as an ex-gay person that Chambers is very familiar with the experience of others refusing to accept his testimony about his own life. I’ve experienced it myself, and I find it rather frustrating. It irritates me when exexgays assume I’m lying or I’ve been brainwashed, just because my experience is different from theirs. (Not all exexgays do this–some are accepting, and some are warily skeptical but respectful. God bless ‘em.) But where does someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t lived my life, get off telling me that my life is a lie, without any evidence to back that claim up? I’ve never met an exex who actually has evidence that change never happens, although I’ve found often them very quick to insist that that’s the case.

But then why is Chambers doing the same thing?

Plenty of gay people profess to enjoy lifelong, loving, committed relationships with same-sex partners. Do we have evidence that they’re lying? I don’t mean statistics which might show something about what the majority of gay men do. Chambers didn’t make a claim about “many” or “most” gay men. He didn’t say that lifelong gay relationships were infrequent or extremely rare. He said they were impossible, that there are now, have ever been, and forever will be, zero of them in existence. He is calling every single gay man without exception who claims a lifelong, loving, committed relationship a liar. Do we have evidence to back this up? I’m not aware of it. Well, if we don’t, then where do we get off, insisting that they are lying about their own lives?

I was struck by these words from Mike Ensley’s blog:

I struggle with how to respond to the ever-increasing claims of gays about their “loving, monogamous” relationships. You can’t call someone a liar unless you know they’re lying, and that’s just that. They’ve even successfully exhorted me to question my own experience in these matters. Which is a good thing for me to do….

…I did not engage exclusively with the internet-prowling closet-cases, but I was good friends with a lot of “married” men who were involved in the community. They proclaimed their “loving, monogamous” partnerships loudly at parades, city hall meetings, protests and in the media. They were conservative-looking, respected and affluent. And they lied through their teeth.

So many of these same couples took me home with them for sex. There were couples I didn’t sleep with, but I knew they weren’t monogamous. They took other young men home from the parties, clubs and chat rooms. I don’t say this to be judgmental. I have no grounds on which to judge these men because I willingly participated in what they did. I say this because it is my experience. The point of it is not that in five years of living homosexually I never had a monogamous, long-term relationship, but that in 5 years I never met a single person who did.

I believe Mike when he tells his story, when he shares his experience. But I also know exexgays who say that they never met anyone in their sojourn through ex-gay ministries who had actually changed. Some professed to have changed, they say, but they were lying through their teeth. (Some exexgays say they once falsely claimed to have changed themselves.)

When I get into discussions with gay and exexgay people, a good number claim to be in lifelong, loving, committed, monogamous relationships. Maybe they are lying, just like the guys who took Mike home.

But probably some of those gay/exexgay people are asking themselves the same question about me. Sure, I claim to have changed. But maybe I’m lying, perhaps just like they did when they were in ex-gay groups, or perhaps just like they saw others doing.

I’d like for them to believe me. I’d like for them to believe me even though they’ll never know for sure, even though they’ll never be in my bedroom with me and my husband to see what really goes on. Just like I’ll never be in theirs to see what really goes on.

So I just don’t understand how some ex-gays can claim that all gays are lying, but get very indignant when some gays and exexgays accuse all of us of lying. (This goes both ways–it also seems to me that exexgays who discount every exgay testimony as fraudulent have no grounds for thinking that exgays should believe and respect their personal testimony about their gay lives and relationships.)

Golden Rule, anyone?

5 Responses to On Alan Chambers, Ex-ex-gays, and the Golden Rule

  1. ck says:

    Yep. (I’d give an amen, but I don’t do those anymore!) I personally know women who are with men and used to view themselves as lesbians. (The one that I know well did admit to having some attraction to men at that point, but that’s not the point…)

    So, I don’t doubt your personal story (why should I?). I doubt the frequency of that kind of change in most populations, as well as whether we understand it like the ex-gay psych people believe.

    Oh, but I am really starting to wonder about space-time worms. It seems to also imply the real existence of possible worlds, and that’s way too sci-fi for me…

  2. Yeah, I don’t know about frequency. All I know is anecdotal–lots of testimonials from both satisfied and dissatisfied “customers”. And some informal off-the-record ballpark-figure “success rates” from various ministry leaders.

    I’m also doubtful about the standard ex-gay psych explanations of such changes. I don’t think that any of us–in either camp–really understand sexualilty all that well yet. Female sexuality especially.

    The scifi-ness of real possible worlds doesn’t bother me. The moral implications might be kind of weird though, as Heller has suggested. But my basic issue with temporal parts is that they’re counter-intuitive, and I don’t like giving up intuitions unless I have to, and I think the problems of persistence and identity over time can be solved by far less drastic means.

  3. Chambers told me Salon misquoted him. I then asked Chambers for a media source or audio or other 3rd party transcript to back up his claim. Chambers never replied. I also repeatedly emailed CPAC notifying them there was a dispute over statements made at their event asking for a transcript/audio and never received a reply.

  4. Actually, Daniel, I did initially email you back regarding all of this. And, I just looked at our email exchange and found that you didn’t ask me for a media source or transcripts. However, I am pretty sure you can ask for transcripts from CSPAN as they covered the event.

  5. Mark Poole says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head there when you highlight the error of assuming that just because life is a certain way for you (or me), that your (or my) experience (or interpretation of that experience) is normative.

    Some gay people are depressed and lead lonely lives with unfulfilling relationships, and attribute their loneliness, depression or whatever to their ‘homosexual’ lifestyle. I believe that making such an attribution (as is often done by exgays and their supporters, not just by Chambers) involves a fundamental category error.

    My mother has led a miserable life, was abused by both her two husbands, never found happines, was driven to alcohol and drugs, looks for fulfilment in brief encounters with younger men, abused her children, was completely cynical about the prospect of finding true happiness in heterosexual marriage, etc. This is all true for her as far as I can tell. But it doesn’t mean that heterosexuality or a ‘heterosexual’ lifestyle is the cause of her misery, or that heterosexuality is pathological. It simply means that her life sucks and she never figured out what to do about it.

    “I am miserable” and “I am homosexual” are both relatively empirical observations one can make about oneself, even though both have a subjective element to them. But the convergence of the two, even when observed across a signficant population of self-identified “miserable homosexuals”, does not demonstrate causality. Misery is not an attribute of same-sex attraction any more the ‘whiteness’ is a fundamental attribute of swans. Insisting that your own experience is absolutely normative and that anyone who suggests otherwise is lying or self-deceptive is essentially narcissism. The problem I guess is that accusations of this sort fly on both sides of the argument.

    Yes, gay folk often lack sympathy for the exgay position. I believe that this is in part due to a genuine fear that such people are trying to take something away from us, particular when some prominent exgay leaders actively oppose gay civil rights or participate in the dissemination of false stereotypes about gay people that can have very real and negative consequences.

    But the key difference for me is that regardless of what i think about the exgay position, I and my friends in working to achieve equal rights are not doing anything that would take away fundamental freedoms from exgays. Nothing in the gay civil rights ‘agenda’ attempts to take away rights or freedoms from others, even though PFOX and other groups cry loudly about “exgay discrimination” as if simply opposing or even mocking their viewpoint in the public square is a real form of discrimination. On the other hand, some exgay groups in partnership with sponsoring organizations such as FOTF are devoting considerable effort to opposing equal rights for non-exgay homosexuals on the grounds that “homosexuality is a changeable condition”.

    I would never deny the exgay the freedom to love or marry or live with the partner of their choice. Nor would I deny the exgay any of the civil rights that go with marriage, not the protection of antidiscrimation education and laws. Many exgays would deny those same rights to me though.

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