(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.