Some Notes on My Residential Program Experience

I didn't want to get into it in the midst of My Attraction Change History (and make that even longer than it already is), but I should probably clarify some things about my residential program experience. Especially given the recent notoriety of Love in Action / Refuge, I want to be sure to point out some of the important ways in which my program experience differed from that.

1. It was entirely voluntary.

They made it very easy for people to leave the program, and were very quick to ask people to leave if they didn't act like they wanted to be there.

2. It was entirely free.

Those in the program were responsible for paying for their own toiletries. Also, you had to bring enough money for a bus ticket to take you back to wherever you came from, in case you or the program suddenly decided that you ought to leave. If you were too poor to afford these things, they would connect you with someone who could help you out. Other than that, it was completely free of charge. Of course, we "paid" in labor to keep the program running–growing food to feed the people in the program, preparing food, taking care of the facilities and the grounds. But nobody got rich off us–nobody took advantage of us.

3. It was entirely my own decision.

My family and most of my non-Christian friends and even some of my Christian friends vehemently objected to my going there, afraid I was going to be brainwashed or something. Instead of anyone pressuring me into it, there were tons of people trying to pressure me out of it. I embraced full responsibility for my decision.

4. It was a drastic measure that I recognized as such.

I didn't make the decision to enter the program (or the daily decision to stay) lightly or in ignorance of what I was doing. They were quite upfront about how they operate when I went in for my initial interview, and the application packet had all the relevant information and rules contained within. I understood their fundamental beliefs and values, and felt them to be in agreement with my own. So I knew what I was getting into.

I saw it as pretty much a last resort, a last ditch attempt to try to find a way to make my life work. I had tried every less drastic, less radical, less aggressive, less invasive thing I could think of. I had tried doing the normal exgay thing, but that clearly wasn't working at all. I had repeatedly tried reconciling my faith and my sexuality with gay Christian theology, but I couldn't make that work for me either. I had even briefly tried "quitting" my faith and walking away from God, but for better or worse, during my evangelical days I have never known the luxury of doubt. I don't know why–maybe we only get so much doubt in a lifetime, and I used all of mine up before I became a Christian? All I know is that since I have become a Christian I have never been able to seriously doubt God's existence, His love for me, the veracity and trustworthiness of His Word as contained in Holy Scripture, or His will for my life regarding homosexuality. And it is very hard to turn away from God without doubt, as I discovered. Too hard for me at least.

5. They only required that I grow my hair out to a length of two inches.

I realize this part was unclear/misleading in my original post, so I've edited that. They didn't make me have girly long hair. They did feel that two inches was a reasonable lower limit for a woman. It was my decision to just keep growing my hair out all the way once I passed the two-inch mark. As far as I was concerned, if I couldn't have my gloriously bad-ass 3/16" buzzcut, why bother? I'm not really the compromising sort about these kinds of things.

6. The physical-touch restrictions were designed neither to punish me nor to cure me, but were there for pragmatic reasons, for the community's sake.

As I indicated in my attraction change history post, the program apparently had a great deal of trouble in the past with admitting same-sex attracted people into the program. The same-sex attracted people would almost invariably end up seducing other people in the program. The two sexes were kept quite separate from each other for the most part, and no dating was permitted, so the potential for "situational homosexuality" was very high. Quarters were very close, and affectionate friendships among those of one's own sex were encouraged. This was a recipe for problems. So even after my application to join the program was accepted, there was considerable debate over whether or not I should be allowed to come, and when I was allowed to come, the special rules and restrictions were put on me in an attempt to avert what seemed to some staff to be another inevitable impending disaster.

Thankfully, I vindicated myself by apparently becoming the first same-sex-attracted woman (at least in the memory of the staff I spoke with) to finish the program without creating a lesbian scandal. Which is perhaps slightly embarrassing, from a worldly perspective, now that I think about it. :)

7. The program did not consider itself therapy.

They openly rejected the designation "therapeutic", saying that it referred to another approach that they did not practice. Psychology/psychotherapy was held in rather low esteem. They preferred what they called a "discipleship" model instead. What did this mean, practically speaking?

It meant that my weekly meetings with my mentor were nothing like any session with a mental health professional for therapy that I've ever had. They were not a venue for me to work out my thoughts and feelings about my past, present, and future. Instead, they were a space to discuss my present spiritual growth and whatever Bible texts I had been assigned, and for my mentor to confront me with whatever she heard from other staff that I needed to be confronted about. We kept journals, but our journals were not really a place to dwell on our problems. So, for example, for a while I was assigned to spend my daily journalling/reflecting time going through the accounts of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection in each of the gospels, answering the question "So what?" for each verse. We met in a group session briefly once a week, but this was only to confront and confess issues that came up in our interactions in daily community life, not a place to discuss our problems. Our lives were mostly filled with work, Bible classes, singing, and prayer. It was a "God-centered" approach rather than a "man-centered" one. While therapy primarily looks inward, we were encouraged primarily to look to God, to allow our lives to be solely guided by the question "In this moment, how can I please God?" I didn't work through what I had thought were my issues so much as I learned to view them as though they ultimately didn't matter. I didn't solve my problems, I dissolved them.

I mention this just to clarify the nature of the program. There was virtually no therapy of any sort present, in either a group or an individual setting, if "therapy" is being understood in the ordinary sense. As I said in my original post, my sexuality was virtually never discussed once the rules were in place. We were required to do a write-up on our family history upon entering the program, so that they had all the facts, but this was rarely discussed either. So there was no attempt to uncover the "roots" of my same-sex attraction. It bore no resemblance to reparative therapy. It was more a sort of intensive spiritual training. Which was fine by me.

I need to write about how enormously blessed I was by this program, but I will save that for its own post.

5 Responses to Some Notes on My Residential Program Experience

  1. Bruce says:

    You should see what they are saying about gay christians here:
    http://seedforthekinggdomofgod.blogspot.com/

  2. John says:

    That sounds to me just the same as going on a retreat – in fact there were fewer rules than on many retreats, where you are often supposed to keep silence most of the time. Was that actually what it was? You might try doing the Ignatian exercises if you can find a good place to do them, if you got so much out of this.

  3. Hi John,

    Um, no, this wasn’t actually a retreat, at least not officially.

    But I do think that’s probably a better model for understanding how it worked. (I don’t have much experience of real retreats, so it’s hard to say.)

    I’m looking into Ignatius’s Exercises right now. :)

  4. Kathy says:

    Great Blog, you have been added to the list

  5. Kathy, thanks for the encouragement. Thank you also for your work in putting together that list of exgay bloggers. I’ve discovered many interesting people I probably wouldn’t have known about any other way!

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