A commenter on XGW said exgays don't exist, (06/01/06 8:55 pm–I refer to different comments on that thread in this post. As I can't figure out how to hyperlink specific comments on that blog, I'm referencing them by their time and date.) For some reason I felt compelled to speak up. (06/02/06 2:22 pm)
The details of my attraction change soon entered into the conversation. So I said (06/02/06 7:24 pm):
For what it worth, as best as I can estimate, I went from over 99+% same-sex attracted to currently 25% same-sex attracted. It varies (I'm working on a blogpost about that), but that's on average. That would be a Kinsey 5.9+ to a Kinsey 1.5.
(I had said as much already here on my blog.)
Timothy Kincaid, a writer for XGW, raised the question of exactly what the nature of this change was. (06/02/06 8:32 pm) If it was simply a reduction in same-sex attraction, isn't it likely that what really changed was a matter of focus and attention, rather than a real change in my attractions? (Actually he said a great deal more than that; I hope he'll consider this a fair super-condensation of his remarks. If not I'll be happy to edit accordingly.)
The funny thing is that his comments connected well with a comment I had made a couple of days earlier on the blog of another XGW commenter, Arbitrary Marks. In a continuation of our annoyingly technical philosophical discussion of supervenience and sexuality started on XGW, I said:
I’m not sure I’d consider my increasingly selective [same-sex attraction] to be indicative of significant change. Personally I find my increased attraction to the opposite sex more interesting as a change than any lessening in my attraction to the same sex. The latter, after all, could simply be a matter of skillful subconscious suppression. There’s some evidence for that, in that my same-sex attraction will sometimes spike under conditions of extreme stress.
After these conversations it occurs to me that I should take a little time to describe my experience of change in detail, so I'll have a handy link to give to people who want to know more. So, without further ado, here is a history of the four phases my attractions have gone through on my exgay journey. I must warn readers that I got bored and frustrated writing this, so I assume that they will get bored and frustrated reading it. It seems that laborious analysis and self-indulgent introspection can take the excitement out of any subject, even one as steamy as sexual desire or as hotly controversial as fluid sexual desire. I'll try to edit it at some point to make it less annoying to read, but if I don't post it now "as is", I will never get around to it.
- White Knuckles and Gritted Teeth. (1998-2002)
- Peace and Self-control (2002-2004)
- Hello! Who Is HE? (2004-2005)
- I Like Guys (2005- present)
1. White Knuckles and Gritted Teeth (1998-2002)
- Same-sex attraction: Very High (even higher than before going exgay, if possible)
- Opposite-sex attraction: Negligible
In the summer of 1998 I converted to evangelical Christianity. That's a story in itself, I don't really want to get into it here. Suffice it to say that it was unexpected and I had extremely mixed feelings about the whole thing. I felt persuaded in my heart that this Jesus Christ character was real and that He loved me, but I was distraught because it seemed that He wanted me to give up a part of myself, a part of my life, that I liked very much, that felt close to the heart of who I was.
Although I was loath to let go of anything gay, and found the exgay approach rather off-putting, I quickly felt unequal to the task of trying to live a life in accordance with my new beliefs. So I looked for help in exgay materials. There was no exgay ministry nearby at first, but I got some books (Dallas' Desires in Conflict, Comiskey's Pursuing Sexual Wholeness), made some online contacts with exgay ministry leaders, and met some exgays and exgay allies near me.
I explored this exgay stuff, even tried informal exgay counseling. I wasn't terribly interested in developing opposite-sex attraction, but I was interested in curbing my same-sex attraction, so I could live in some sort of celibate contentment. I would have liked some opposite-sex attraction, but didn't think it was possible. I tried guys but it just did not work. There was nothing there. I tried an affectionate-but-chaste relationship with another same-sex attracted women, and that did not work either. There was too much there. I could talk the talk of "I'm just looking for spiritual and emotional connection with another woman; it's about souls and companionship, not about sex," but when it came to walking the walk, I simply couldn't do it. I have nothing but profound respect for anyone who can.
Eventually I ended up moving to where there was an exgay ministry and faithfully attended meetings. Nothing seemed to help. My attractions did not waver in the slightest–they were completely and intensely same-sex directed. If anything they increased, probably due to my obsessing about them in trying to lessen them. The only change that I experienced is that I mostly stopped having explicitly same-sex erotic dreams after my conversion. Before I had had a *lot* of those. During this phase I only had one, and Jesus actually showed up in the middle of the dream to "break it up". (Which is something I wept profusely over upon waking–being denied women in real life, was I going to have them torn away from me in my dreams as well???)
2. Peace and Self-control (2002-2004)
- Same-sex attractions: Significantly diminished
- Opposite-sex attractions: Negligible
Because I was having such a terrible time in Phase #1, I took the drastic step of entering a year-long Christian residential program, which appears to have been even stricter and more intense than LIA. (I think LIA clients get to leave the campus during the day, for example.) The program was not ex-gay specific, but was for all sorts of spiritual/behavioral issues. Whatever kind of problem you can imagine, someone there probably had it.
Apparently they had a lot of problems in the past with admitting people into the program with a homosexual struggle. So I had a lot of special boundaries, rules, and restrictions. I was expressly forbidden to tell anyone about my sexuality except a designated mentor, so that no one would know my weakness. I was expressly forbidden to have any physical contact with anyone whatsoever–if someone fell down I was not permitted to extend a hand to help them up. (Of course, these two special rules clashed–I stood out because the other girls were allowed to hug and pat each other on the back and touch in other innocuous ways, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to guess why I wasn't allowed to.)
The plus side of the program was that because it was not exgay-specific, once all the special rules were in place, my sexuality was not brought up again as an issue for almost the entire time I was there. This was a wonderful change from the exgay ministry experience of constantly reading about, thinking about, obsessing about one's sexuality. Instead, in the program, my attention was directed towards my Christian walk in general (obedience/submission, Biblically guided thinking, trusting in God, loving and serving others) and my other sins (pride, greed, gluttony, laziness, selfishness, unrighteous anger).
I formed close friendships with the other women in the program. But these friendships were different from others I had had because I was forbidden to talk to them about my sexuality. I was used to casually introducing myself to people as gay–I had always thought it a very basic, important fact about myself. I didn't pretend to be straight in the program–I didn't feign an interest in any of the guys. But I shared myself and connected with these women entirely without reference to my sexuality. At first I wondered: can they really know me if they don't know that part of me? But with time I came to feel that they could know me, that they did know me. I started seeing my same-sex attraction as just another temptation rather than as a constitutive part of who I am.
I think these factors were key in the change in my experience of same-sex attraction during this time. Being completely cut off from former and potential future loves and the gay community as a whole made my attractions pretty much pointless. Focusing on my other sins, my walk with God, and the daily routine of manual labor (on the farm, in the kitchen, or cleaning the facilities) distracted me from my sexuality. And having to present myself to others without reference to my gayness helped me to start thinking about myself and seeing myself without reference to my gayness.
Also, I was significantly isolated from sexual temptation there–the dress code was very modest and designed to minimize temptation for everyone, and we were completely isolated from sexualized media–no TV, no movies rated above a G, no secular music, no magazines except for World magazine and US News and World Report, and any possibly titillating advertising images were cut out of the local newspaper before we got to read it. I remember on my first "visit" off the premises, two months after my admittance, being stunned at how sexually charged everything was in the outside world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in this environment, my same-sex attractions felt much diminished. I think this ties into what Timothy Kincaid was talking about in terms of focus and attention, and like him I don't really consider it orientation change per se. I suspect some exgays would suggest that the healing effect of these nonsexual female friendships helped me to stop sexualizing women. Maybe that's a part of it, I don't know. But it seems plausible to me that a big reason for the diminishment was that I stopped thinking about sex so much and stopped thinking of myself as gay so much.
I should specify that the diminishment was more of a "selectivity" thing than a "lessened intensity" thing. What I mean is that it was more a matter of reduction in the number of women who turned me on rather than a reduction in how much I was turned on by them. So before, almost any reasonably decent-looking woman could get me going. My attractions became much, much more picky, so that a girl would have to be something REALLY special in order to get my attention.
I didn't really think of it as orientation change. I didn't run around saying how "healed" I was. Some people around me felt they saw a huge change in me, but that was more in my "hardness" than in my attractions. (I feel silly talking about this because it sounds so trite–every exgay woman has some story to tell about how the love of Jesus softened her heart and made her less butch. I apologize for being a cliche.)
Anyway, after I got out of the program and went back to the real world and my life, the diminished state of attraction mostly stuck with me. Which I was quite happy about. I got some Christian friends and got a more active social life to make the celibacy thing easier. I occasionally lost my "focus", but overall it was an enormous improvement in terms of my quality of life. I largely stopped thinking of myself as gay, whereas in the past, if you had asked me to describe myself in three words, "dyke"undoubtedly would have been one of them. My self-control over my actions and thought life continued to strengthen, so that my struggle became much easier.
To me this was real freedom as I understand it. I can't underscore this enough–although my sexuality would evolve to include attractions toward one man in particular, and then men more generally, in terms of my personal life those were just icing on the cake. My love for my husband is a wonderful blessing, but it is not my freedom, as I understand it. My freedom is the power I have in Christ Jesus to live happily and contentedly while following Him according to my beliefs.
3. Hello! Who is HE? (2004-2005)
- Same-sex attraction: Nearly absent
- Opposite-sex attraction: Strong, but only towards one guy
In the spring of 2004 I suddenly "noticed" the man who would eventually become my husband, and found myself with a mysterious desire to get to know him better. I had known him for a while as an acquaintance, had seen him around a lot, but had never really spoken to him and didn't know much about him. At first I wasn't sure what it was all about. I found myself intrigued by him, but not in an overtly sexual way. Everything he said seemed interesting and significant. I found myself hoping to sit near him in church, at lunch, anywhere we did group activities together. I got a funny feeling in my stomach and my pulse sped up when we talked, but I didn't really think much of it. I was pretty much resigned to my exclusive same-sex attractedness by this point.
Then one night, as I was settling in bed and drifting off to sleep, I found myself thinking of him in THAT way.
I was absolutely shocked. At first I thought it was a fluke (remembering my "10 minutes of heterosexuality" in 1996), so I waited for the feelings to pass. But when I continually found myself lying awake at night thinking about him, when I found myself fighting to fend off impure thoughts about him, even in church (!), I didn’t know what to think. When hanging out together platonically, if we touched even in the most casual and insignificant of ways—the backs of our hands accidentally brushing together as we walked side by side, or his plucking a windblown leaf from my hair—it felt as though a cascade of sparks poured from the point of contact. I felt magnetically pulled toward him, as though the Genesis story were my story, as though I had been made out of a rib taken from his side, a rib yearning to return to its home.
I decided at that point that maybe a cautious dating relationship wouldn’t be such a bad idea, and so we began one.
Even then I was wary. The fact that our feelings for each other strengthened and deepened during our relationship was encouraging. The fact that we both had a hard time staying within the bounds of Christian appropriateness when it came to our physical relationship, while perhaps not a ringing endorsement of our spiritual maturity (I’m not proud of it), was encouraging insofar as it suggested there was fire in my feelings toward him. Still, as astonished and delighted as I was, I was reluctant to hope for much. When he brought up engagement six months into the relationship, I brushed him off and told him he was crazy. I was like “Honey, I was pretty much gay for fifteen years! I have been in love with you for mere months. We need to be careful about this!” I had heard enough marriage horror stories from exexgays to scare me!
But one night I realized that I simply couldn’t imagine the rest of my life without him. And although it was good to be cautious for a while, I also realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life worrying about the lack of guarantees on my future sexual attractions. So we got engaged, then married, and we began enjoying married life together. For me it was mind-bogglingly wonderful. I had believed that some people changed attractions, but I thought it was quite rare, and I never thought that I could be one of them. I thought that my romantic/sexual loving would always run contrary to God’s will for my life as I understood it—that I would never be able to have a fulfilling relationship and peace with God simultaneously.
My husband is not exactly an uber-masculine guy. He is everstraight, not exgay, but he is very in touch with his "feminine side". Much more than I am in many ways. He's a romantic, I'm not. He likes romantic comedies and movies based on Jane Austen novels, and I would rather have my teeth pulled than have to sit through such things. He cared more about our wedding colors than I did. He likes to talk about his feelings, whereas I really don't. He's gentle and sensitive, while I am loud and aggressive. His mother used to scold him for "being such a girl", while until I grew my hair out (which I began doing in the residential program when they insisted that I give up my buzzcut), I was frequently mistaken for a boy throughout most of my life. So we probably make a funny couple in some people's eyes. This doesn't bother me at all. He's a man, I'm a woman, and we "click" together. Who cares whether or not we fit some cultural stereotype of what a "real" man or a woman should be like? So we'll never be an Exodus poster couple. So what?
Throughout this phase, my husband was the only man I was sexually attracted to. This didn't bother me in the slightest. My same-sex attractions were insignficant as well. I guess it would have been nice if I stayed in this phase. There's something sweet and fairy-tale-like, perhaps even Edenic, about experiencing attraction only to one person, only to the love of your life. But realisitically speaking, I had never been that way before, so I suppose I shouldn't have expected it to stick around forever.
4. I Like Guys (2005-present)
- Same-sex attraction: diminished but present
- Opposite-sex attraction: increased and more general, my primary sexual attractions
Within a few months after getting married, I started experiencing sexual attractions to guys more generally. I mean, I'm quite happy with my husband so it's not like I'm looking for something else, but I can see that other guys are hot, and react to that in a way that I didn't before.
Presented with a guy and a girl of roughly equivalent "objective" attractiveness, I now notice the guy much more than the girl. I realized this in a restaurant several months ago, when our table was near that of a very attractive hetero couple, and I could compare and analyze my response to each of them.
My opposite-sex attractions are not as "selective" as my same-sex attractions are currently. As I said above, in my diminshed same-sex attraction state, it takes an extraordinarily beautiful woman to spark my attractions. My opposite-sex attraction standards are a bit more normal. I mean, I'm obviously not attracted to every guy totally regardless of his looks, but he doesn't need to be Brad Pitt to catch my eye (to use Timothy Kincaid's example.) As a result, most of my experiences of sexual attraction are toward the opposite sex. I estimate a ratio of about 3:1 or 75%.
Although I'm hesitant to admit this because it sounds so trite, I feel like I have been experiencing something like the "second puberty" that some of the public exgays talk about–experiencing an sudden surge in attractions toward a sex that you had never really noticed before. I had always wondered if they were imagining it or making it up, but I'm feeling it now.
I'm not sure why this is. I wonder if in part it is because my sexual experiences with my husband have given me a greatly increased appreciation for the male anatomy, something I wasn't terribly fond of before (I didn't hate it, it just didn't do anything for me), thereby heightening the appeal of the other half of the species in general? That's just wild speculation; I really don't know.
My same-sex attraction is still diminished, but maybe not as much as before. Perhaps this is because I'm not subconsciously trying so hard to keep it under control. I mean, when you're trying to live a completely celibate/chaste life, when you can't be with anyone and you can't masturbate either…ugh…any time you get turned on it's an absolute nightmare to live with, so you try pretty darn hard to make sure you don't ever get turned on at all. (I was often told that it's possible to "sublimate" sexual desire and sexual tension into creative energy or something like that, but I never figured out how to do that.) But now that I have a wonderful readily available source of sexual release (and so much more!), it's really not a problem. So I don't worry about focus so much.
Interestingly, I recently discovered that in a situation of extreme stress (the sudden illness and then death of someone close to me combined with other life stresses) that my same-sex attractions can increase suddenly. This happened about a month and a half ago and lasted for about a week or so. I experienced an enormous sudden onslaught of same-sex attraction, and I found myself thinking about women, remembering women from the past, and even had a same-sex erotic dream.
I was distressed by this, because I felt guilty about it. It didn't affect my attraction to guys in general or to my husband in particular, and our marital sex was wonderful, maybe even exceptionally so, during this time, but I still felt guilty about having any thoughts/dreams about other people in our first year of marriage. Also, the attractions were so abundant…in some ways I felt like I was back in Phase #1. I was like, "I can't go through that AGAIN!" I was nervous that my same-sex attractions were coming back full strength to stay, and I wasn't thrilled about the idea of them as a permanent fixture in my life.
Thankfully, the same-sex attractions went back to their diminished, near-dormant state within a few days. But that experience reinforced my general impression that the striking "orientation change" in my life has been in my discovery of opposite-sex attractions, not so much in the reduction of my same-sex attractions.
But I would emphasize that what counts as significant change depends on what one is interested in. In terms of my interest in living a faithful, holy, Christian life according to my beliefs, my reduced experience of same-sex attraction in Phase #2 was enormously significant to me, even if it was only a matter of subconscious suppression, simply because it made a happy Christian life possible for me. Gays may be dismissive of certain exgays' reports of lessened same-sex desire because it's possibly only a matter of self-control, self-discipline, and suppression, but they should realize that this experience of lessened same-sex attraction, whatever its cause, is incredibly important and meaningful to the exgay seeking to live in accordance with his or her values and moral beliefs.
My continued diminished experience of same-sex attraction doesn't bother me. Unlike some exgays, I don't believe it is a sign of mental illness or spiritual immaturity–I do not believe any of the reparative theories or anything like them in general. So I don't think it indicates that I'm especially sick or broken in any way, beyond the sinful nature I share with all humanity of course.
I believe that my continued experience of same-sex attraction invalidates neither my love and desire for my husband nor our marriage. Most married folk are capable of experiencing sexual attraction towards people in addition to their spouses–so I don't think it's such a big deal if I'm capable of being attracted to some such people of both sexes? If a hetero woman's ability to find another man attractive doesn't make her marriage a sham, I don't see why my ability to find other men and women attractive should make my marriage a sham. I've heard some gay people say or imply that if exgays continue to experience any same-sex attraction whatsoever, their marriages are a lie and a joke. But I don't see why this should be the case.
So, there's the story. All of this is of course subject to revision, especially the last part which deals with feelings and experiences that I'm still very much processing. But as best as I can understand it today, this is how my experience of my attractions has evolved. I don't profess to know what caused my attractions to be the way they were in the first place, and I don't profess to know what caused me to experience a change, or what exactly it was a change in. All I know is something unexpected happened to me, and I'm glad it did.