Trying to Write About Exgays vs. Exexgays

(I’m going to use the word “exexgays” instead of “exgay survivors” in this post and the ones that will hopefully follow it.  “Survivors” is just too weird for me.  I mean, if they’re the survivors, what does that make me?  A mortally wounded victim, with only a few gasps of life left in her?  A corpse?  A zombie?  Or am I a survivor too?  I honestly don’t mean this snarkily–it’s genuinely perplexing to me.  I’m not criticizing them for their terminology.  I understand why they use it given their perspective.  I’m just trying to explain why I don’t feel comfortable using it myself, given my perspective.)

So, watching the fur fly in the Drama of the Dueling Conferences has left me with this burning desire, which I am kind of preemptively regretting, to do some posts on exgays and exexgays and how we (often don’t) get along. 

It’s kind of a scary topic for a bunch of reasons: 

1. For many of us exgays and exexgays, the choice between exgay or exexgay has been one of the most difficult and pivotal decisions of our lives.  We all know this ain’t trivial stuff.  So this question of exgay vs. exexgay is one which we can be very sensitive about, especially around those who chose diffierently than we did.  None of us really like to have that agonizing choice we made questioned again, even if we’re happy now and don’t really think of ourselves as folks who care what other people think. 

The easiest way to piss off an exgay is pretty much identical to the easiest way to piss off an exexgay–start criticizing and questioning and challenging their decision to take the road that they did.  (I say this as someone with life experience pissing both kinds of people off.)  One of the few times in my adult life that I have ever completely lost my temper and said terrible things to someone was in an extremely heated argument with an exexgay whom I considered a friend, and he lost his temper even worse and said worse things to me.  We set each other off with low-blow insults regarding how we came to our current beliefs and life choices. 

2.  I have watched so many people I care about deeply go exexgay in my nine years as an exgay, and it hurts.  A quick count-off of the ones I can remember off of the top of my head uses up all my fingers and gets a good part of the way through my toes.  And those are only the ones I have watched turn exexgay–it doesn’t count any of the many people I have met as exexgays.  I’m going to go into more detail in a later post, but here I will just say that watching people you love and/or look up to turn exexgay can be really hard and painful for the exgays “left behind.”  I’m not sure I would have used the tone Alan Chambers did in his post, or said quite the same things that he did, but…his hurt is not alien to me.  Which makes it kind of hard to write about this stuff.

In fact, a few minutes ago I just got reminded of how powerfully emotional it can be.   Running down my list of exexgays, I wondered about one of them from way back in my past, who I hadn’t really been in touch with since he told me over coffee seven or eight years ago he was done with the exgay thing and had gotten himself a boyfriend.  A bit of google sleuthing dug him and his blog up, and he’s apparently back on the straight and narrow, and a husband and a father to boot!  Now, of course I’m not stupid enough to think that means that it’s all necessarily sunshine and roses, but I’d be lying if I told you that a wave of relief and delight didn’t wash over me at the thought of a prodigal son returning home. 

3.  We are soooooo frighteningly similar.   It’s been pointed out that vocal exexgay critics of the exgay movement are difficult for exgays to handle because they know what we’re all about.  (As opposed to ignorant straights or gays who have never done the ex-thing.)  I’d agree with that, but I would point out that that’s a two way street–exexgays have an unusual amount of insight into exgay life and experience; and exgays also have an unusual amount of insight into at least some aspects of exexgay life and experience.

We have both “been there” in a lot of respects.  All exexgays by definition were once exgays, but many exgays have also tried the exexgay path as well, at least dabbling in it. (Many exgays are really exexexgays, or exexexexexgays, etc.)   Most if not all of the exgays I have known questioned the exgay path and explored their alternatives at some point in their lives.  It’s not like it has never occurred to us that we could be doing something different with our lives!  :)  We probably don’t know everything about what it’s like to be exexgay, but we know quite a bit. 

I’d suggest that our relationship is sometimes uncomfortable and antagonistic precisely because we understand each other so well, we have so much in common, so much shared experience, and yet in spite of that an enormous chasm of disagreement still divides us.  And we wrestle with that, as we encounter our doppelgängers on the other side.  How can you be so like me and yet so unlike me, so close and yet so far? 

In the same year, for example, the notorious Christine Bakke and I connected with the same two exgay ministry leaders, who inspired/led us (completely independently of each other) to take up exgay journeys.  Today, here I am, and there she is.  What happened? 

There are some neatly packaged easy answers, of course.  You could say that our paths diverged because I loved God and she didn’t.  Or you could say that our paths diverged because she had integrity and courage and I am simply a weak-willed, cowardly, self-loathing, self-deceiving little weasel of a dyke.  No doubt there’s much to be said in favor of that second hypothesis, but ultimately I think they’re both cop-outs.  As exgays and exexgays, we often have a hard time grappling with the reality of each other’s lives.  We want to tidy up each other’s stories so they fit more neatly with our own. 

And sometimes we feel like we know each other so well that we imagine we know everything about each other.  I’ve heard exexgays speak very presumptuously about what this or that famous exgay is really feeling or really thinking, as if they could read their minds.  It’s a little arrogant, but it’s perfectly understandable–they sense so much commonality between their own experience and the exgay experience that it’s hard for them to keep from going all the way and assuming that they know us better than we know ourselves.  And I will personally confess that I often go through the same exact struggle with exexgays.  I feel so much empathy, so much fellow-feeling, so much commonality with them, sometimes it is a real temptation to edit what they say about themselves and their experiences, using my own interpretation instead, because I think I know better.  “Hmmm…I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that movie,” I think to myself.  “He just didn’t get that part, or he just isn’t remembering it correctly.” 
**********************************************

So, all those difficulties duly noted, here’s the plan for future posts on this whole exexgay question:

I’ll start out by giving some background which should help explain why I feel so much empathy with exexgays.  People often get the wrong idea when they see me happily married now.  They think I was just some bisexual girl who casually and conveniently switched to men once she got religion.  But as regular readers (and old friends) will know, that’s not how it went down at all.  To say that the first three years of my exgay journey did not look very promising would be a colossal understatement. 

I then hope to share my view of the exgay path and exgay ministry and the potential harms and suffering involved, speaking primarily from my own experience.  (I do not feel it is my place to tell someone else what did or did not happen to them or hurt them.)  I know I’ve touched on this here and there, but given that so much of this conflict is about people getting hurt, I want to take the time to just look specifically at that question and explain my view.

After that, I want to do a pair of posts on “Their Pain” and “Our Pain”.  You’ll understand better what I’m getting at when you see them, I think.  I have struggled as an exgay with how to respond to the pain that exexgays report (i.e., “Their Pain”), as well as with the pain that their choices can create for us (i.e., “Our Pain”).  In both posts, I want to focus on my responsibility as an exgay woman to treat exexgays well and respond to them in a way that respects them and glorifies God.

And finally, I want to talk about where we can go from here.  That’ll be hardest because I’m not sure what to say yet.  Maybe it will come to me as I work through the others.  Those who know me know that I am dedicated to dialogue and promoting peace in the culture war.  But exactly what that should like between exgays and exexgays, people with a lot of baggage and a lot of common history and a lot of intense disagreements, is a really tricky question to answer.  With any luck I’ll have something to say about dialogue and working together, what sorts of unity and relationship I think are posssible and what sorts I think just aren’t. 

Okay, so that all sounds rather ambitious given that I’ve been averaging a post or two a month and haven’t finished replying to everything that needs replies in my inbox yet, and I’m going to be working even harder in my “real life” in the coming days/weeks than I have been.  But hey, I can dream.  And they’re all at least two-thirds written except the last one.

For those who think exexgays are boring, garden-variety apostates, um, there will probably be other posts interspersed on change and identity and stuff.  And to some degree you’ll just have to put up with me and my personal obsession with mutual understanding and respect and being willing to hear and learn from each other. 

20 Responses to Trying to Write About Exgays vs. Exexgays

  1. Anonymous says:

    I really like this. A lot.

    Were I from another planet looking in (which some might say anyway ;-) )

    My first question(s) would be:

    What *exactly* is an ex-gay or an ex-ex-gay?

    Because without some agreed upon or at least reasonable or tangible definition, I see the conversation about to get very vague, very quickly.

    Immediately, what comes to my (oversimplistic but not totally invalid) mind is:

    Are the individuals (as they define themselves notwithstanding) having gay sex?

    I suspect I come up with that with the old adage: “Actions speak louder than words” playing in the background.

    Is that entirely unreasonable? I realize it does not cover the whole gamut of definition, and yet I wonder if it is far more valid as a litmus test than maybe meets the eye as a superficial defintion.

    At any rate, GREAT topic!

  2. Pomo says:

    Yes! Preach it sister! You’ve captured some of my heart with this post. I too, desire to reconcile people on both sides because I see both sides and love people on both sides. You’re just better at articulating it. And perhaps though I have the seminary degree and can argue theology, you have a depth of wisdom from God that comes from obedience I am unable to attain at this point in my life.

    I spent the week in Irvine with exgay friends and exexgay friends. The exexgayfriends are my dearest friends in the world. You’re right that it is painful in many ways.

    Grace to you DM!

  3. mary says:

    rock on!

  4. Jay says:

    DM, you never cease to amaze me! I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this series. It’s really weird because, being Side B, I find myself halfway between both ex-gay and ex-ex-gay, and all the drama that happens between the two sides really just leaves me confused and wondering where Christ can be found in all of it. I’m still gonna be busy with camp for the rest of the summer, but I’ll catch posts when I can.

    P.S. Where in the world did you learn to write so well? I’m good with stories but I would give anything to have your essay-writing ability.

  5. Ooh! I cannot wait for more. i’m sitting with Christine in a backyard in Denver discussing your post. Having both known you (in our various non-biblical yet spiritual ways), sounds like to us that you will have lots of useful inisghts to add.

  6. Camassia says:

    You’re right that terminology is a problem. “Ex-gay survivor” is obviously loaded, and “exexgay” sounds goofy to me (so help me, I used to be a copyeditor!). How about “reverted gay”? (Or does that sound too much like “perverted”?)

  7. Anonymous:

    I’m glad you like the topic. I’m giving some thought to definitiions, but I will probably stick close to self-identification because the definitions get very complicated very fast.

    I don’t think “are they having gay sex?” is a great test, partly because some exexgays aren’t having gay sex. Some take time out for themselves to work out the emotional baggage of transition and find more stability and clarity. Some believe in sex only in a covenanted partnership, and they don’t have one of those yet. And some simply haven’t found somebody they want to have sex with yet.

    And I personally would take honest and sincere effort into account when looking at the lives of professed exgays. I think someone can make mistakes but still count as genuinely being on an exgay path. Of course–at some point there’s a line that needs to be drawn. If you’re having sex with enough men often enough, I’m going to have a hard time taking your claim to be exgay very seriously. But I don’t know how to draw that line specifically.

    I guess what I have in mind by exgay here, very roughly, would be all those of us who have sought or are seeking to abstain from homosexual sex because we believe it is sinful. I know many such people don’t consider themselves exgay, and I know a few exgays are not religiously motivated. Exexgays would be those who had such a view but don’t have it anymore–who “embrace” their sexual attractions and seek out homosexual sex and/or relationships. But that’s the general idea of the distinction I am going for–those who see their same-sex desires as something to be resisted, and those who used to feel that way but who have come to see them as something to be fulfilled.

    Pomo:

    It’s so great to hear from someone who loves exexgays as much as I do. :)
    The world would love to have us at each other’s throats, but I hope to resist with every fiber of my being. Bless you, brother!

    Mary:

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Jay:

    You are like the best cheerleader ever. :) I know what you mean about the drama and feeling caught in between. That’s how I feel, honestly, despite all the hott heterosex, just because I’m not really on board with anybody’s agendas. I think Einstein said once that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so. I feel like both sides keep trying to make things more simple than is possible. :) Anyhow, enjoy the rest of your summer at camp!

    Peterson:

    Thanks. I don’t know how useful my insights will be, but at least I want to try to offer a civil, thoughtful reflection on all this. I am sort of distressed by the responses I have seen so far.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My understanding from being a member of GCN (gay Christian.net) is that the Side B gay Christians *do* in fact embrace their gayness, they just choose celibacy for the same reasons that many ex-gays say they do — namely one that it is sinful behavior.

    However, from having been on board GCN for some time, where they — Side B Christians — do part company with ex-gays — and make a real distinction is that they (Side B’ers) do not see themselves as intrinsically broken. Big difference, actually.

    My personal experience in talking with ex-gays is that they, by and large, have a very high uncomfortability level with the belief that homosexuality *in and of itself* does not need to be “healed” — whether one is able to have a straight relationship or not.

    And perhaps, this is where many ex-ex-gays see themselves, too as distinct from ex-gays to a large degree: watching the presentations of Christine and Peterson, I very much pick up on this — there is a “brokenness”, “sickness” element that ex-gays seem to be not able to let go of. Even if they do have gay sex occasionally. ;-)

  9. Karen Keen says:

    DM–I never cease to be amazed at your ability to see into the fine details of things and arrive at balanced and thoughtful assessments. I always look forward to your posts and will come back to see the on-going discussion on this issue.

  10. Kurmudge says:

    DM, have you expounded on the idea expressed (perhaps it was Freudian, not intended, but the worda are there) that ex-gayness is “one of the most difficult and pivotal decisions…”

    I’m following the debate out of evangelical curiosity (pardon my uncomprehending straight perspective; I do believe that the evangelical church has messed this issue up even without Fred Phelps) from about two generations ago, first in the 1970’s when every politically-correct commentator had to use the term “sexual preference” connoting a conscious choice, followed by the next decade birthing the beginnings of the “I can’t help myself, it’s all biology” stage.

    Is it a “decision” or not? Or is the decision electing to forego the practice of a gay lifestyle as with, say, Eve Tushnet?

  11. Camassia:

    You’re right that “exexgays” looks and sounds a little silly, especially since I’m too lazy for hyphens. Unfortunately, I learned to call them that over eight years ago, so I think I’ll have a hard time switching. :) Maybe “former exgays” would be best? I kind of like your “reverted gays” suggestion, but I do think it makes the process of leaving an exgay path sound a little deterministic and beyond the will, as if the gayness after years of “suppression” somehow just took over and had its way with the person.

    Anonymous:

    Actually, now that you bring it up, one of my biggest disagreements with GCN is its tendency to draw such a sharp line between “sideB” Christians and exgays. In my experience, there is a wide spectrum of attitudes and opinions within both groups.

    My own personal belief is that there is a brokenness and fallenness common to us all in virtue of our being sinners. I do not believe that there is a special kind of homosexual brokenness, that people who experience SSA are extra-specially screwed up or anything like that. I do not treat homosexual temptation as being any better than my temptations to pride, greed, selfishness, and the like, but I also do not treat it as being any worse. I think some “sideB” Christians do the former, and I think some exgays do the latter, and I try to avoid both errors.

    I think you are right that there is a tendency among many exgays to buy into the “healing” model, but I don’t think that it’s a necessary condition.

    Karen:

    Thanks. :)

    Kurmudge:

    I tend to understand being exgay as being on a path, rather than having achieved a certain state, “the journey not the destination.” So yes, more something along the lines of a decision to abstain from gay sex and relationships, etc.

    I think we decide (sometimes daily) whether or not to walk that path or to do something else instead.

    I don’t think we can choose (at least not immediately) what sort of sexual attractions we have. I say “not immediately,” because I think it might be possible that the choices I made over the first six years of my exgay life *possibly* paved the way for my eventual falling in love with and sexually desiring/enjoying my husband. But I don’t think we know enough about fluidity and the processes involved to say much about this.

    Does that clarify?

  12. ck says:

    Looking forward to this. But don’t forget about that some exexgays, like me, really are boring, garden-variety apostates :)

    Oh, okay, I’ll do more than just throw out a flippant one-liner. The people I’ve known (lesbians, since I don’t know many men who were “strugglers”, one term that I tried on for a while) have pretty much diverged fifty-fifty. One woman met someone in her exgay group and left the church and her husband. Don’t know where she is now. Another woman is now happily (as far as I can tell) married and has children. A third, from college, went back and forth for a while and is now gay and Christian. I’m the only one who has jettisoned my religious upbringing, probably because that was at least 50% or more of my “struggle”, anyway.

    But what is interesting to me is that my reaction to their choices has changed based on (I think) how secure I am in my own life. For example, hearing about the woman leaving her husband struck the fear of god in me while I was trying to “go straight.” I was a jerk to my college friend during seminary because I was dating a guy and aware that I was fooling myself (meanwhile she was happily gay and Christian). Now, in relating to the “exgay” (though she would probably not use that label), I find myself unthreatened by her choices, happy that she’s content, and probably most saddened by her theological views, though I understand that Reformed people don’t have too much of a choice about it ;)

    Course, there are lots of complex factors in my relationships with those women (lesbians having complex relationships? no…) which means these anecdotes really can’t be generalized. And none of them are actively crusading against my political freedoms, or sending me mail from Exodus–so I suppose that might change my reactions.

    But I think, even though I am decidedly not postmodern, that there is a lot of fluidity in how humans understand themselves, how they’re capable of changing that understanding and behavior, etc. For me, the key problem hasn’t been so much “Does that person’s change threaten me?” but “Is there any moral reason that I should try to change?” I think that is where the public discussion should be centered, rather than “can people change”.

  13. mary says:

    CK,

    Following the decades long discussion of change – first it was about morality. Then it was that change was impossible and hence a new morality about change came forth. I think many proponents of the change idea make it a moral issue anyhow. And many gays say change is impossible and try to take morality out of the equation. My perspective, both are valid. But I doubt if we keep trying to force our morality or change is impossible ideas onto eachother that we will get very far. The discussion, from this chair says let’s look at how we can work together on a mutual peace.

  14. ck says:

    Mary, I guess when I say “public” I mean in terms of policy. In that regard, I’d say that the state has little to no place in saying people should change their sexuality. But yes, for the gay-exgay-exexgay debate, morality won’t get you very far, either.

  15. Barry says:

    If anyone went through and ex-gay program, and is gay now, was s(he) ever “ex” at all? In my case I went through an ex-gay program, was gay when I started, was gay during, and gay after I was done and since, so I never became “ex”. Therefore, since I was never “ex”, I cannot be “ex” “ex”. However, I am a survivor of the damage that was done to me. For those still in the recovery process, I understand that the term “survivor” does not yet apply. Maybe a better term for you would be “recovering “, if in fact you are.

  16. mary says:

    CK,
    I agree – the state ought not mandate between two grown adults. Geez, look at all the stuff that goes on out there.

  17. Loyolalaw98 says:

    The permutations of these terms – exgay and exexgay is mind numbing. It is perhaps what the medieval scholastics meant by reduction ad absurdum.

    One thought – I pity any group that takes the moniker “survivor.” Our modern culture rewards groups which embrace “victimhood.” I have yet to see any such group really effect positive change for its members. In fact, given enough time, the leaders of such groups have a tangible incentive to keep their members as victims.

    For the modern left, which eschews traditional concepts of morality and forgiveness, the “sin” of politically or culturally making someone a victim is the highest crime. Those that perpetrate such crimes, usually white Christian heterosexual males, should in their minds face a withering opprobrium.

    In the words of a deceased great uncle of mine, an immigrant from the old country – “get off the cross, we need the wood for something else.”

  18. DM, Okay, You inspired me with this whole multiple part series thing. Part two of my three part series is now up, so tag you are it.

  19. Loyolalaw, I’d generally agree with you about folks who have a victim mentality. Although often I find it’s been overlooked that many have a victim mentality because they were indeed victims. And instead of just decrying the “victim mentality” we also need to look at whether someone has legitimately been victimized and how we can help to bring them healing and move them on out of that place (I’m talking about all kinds of victims here). Obviously a lot of people take this overboard…but I’m not talking about them.

    The term survivor is different from victim and was chosen purposefully. Many people have felt they are victims of the ex-gay movement, and that they have been victimized by it and the words and actions of many of the leaders. We are trying to emphasize that we have survived, and now we are working out how to thrive and move beyond being stuck in that place.

    Like DM says, it is awkward though, especially when you are part of a group that others feel they have survived. I don’t expect her to call us ex-gay survivors, and I do get how weird that would feel…that’s fine.

    At bXg, we have found many, many people who have been stuck in a bad place after leaving their ex-gay lives. So very many have needed to have validation and a place to be listened and heard, not unlike others who have been hurt, wounded or traumatized.

    Our hope is that they will be able to process their experiences with honesty and integrity, examine the good and the bad, and take personal responsibility for their own actions. And then move on with a healthy life. Surviving. Thriving. Making a positive influence on others.

    Unfortunately, just like the term “ex-gay” is a catch-all that describes so many things, “ex-gay survivor” is as well. The paragraph above is just not very catchy nor succinct.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to advertise our site or push an agenda here, and I do acknowledge that there are folks who are happy as ex-gays, and other people (ex-gay and ex-ex-gay) who feel they’ve not been impacted negatively by their ex-gay time. Their stories are just as valid as all the others.

  20. Romasanta says:

    Amazing post, keep it up….

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