I guess the fact that I use it indicates that I’ve at least tentatively answered that question in the negative.
When I self-labeled as “gay,” and knew people who self-labeled as “exgay”, I never found it offensive. Sure, I found certain things that individual exgays did offensive, but never the label itself. When I first heard the term, my reaction might have been one of complete confusion, but it certainly was not offendedness. They were just saying by that label that the whole gay thing was part of their past, and it wasn’t part of their present. Or at least, that was their intent. That was how they were seeking to live.
Similarly, I know people who call themselves “ex-Christian”, and again, I don’t find that offensive. They’re just communicating that Christianity was a significant part of their past, and it’s part of their past that they’re moving away from. I suppose I could be offended by that: “Oh, so Christianity wasn’t good enough for you, huh???” But I’m not. And I know people who label as “exexgay”, and that doesn’t bug me either. I don’t take it as an insult that they feel that the path I’m on now didn’t work for them, that they see themselves as “so over that.”
Maybe I’m just unusual in this regard. But I really can’t figure out what the big deal is. It’s a crazy complicated world we’re all trying to muck through as best we can. The fact that someone decided to flush my chosen path down the toilet of their personal history doesn’t really bug me.
I find the term “exgay” sometimes useful, insofar as (at least in a certain crowd) it gives a hint of where I’ve been and where I’m going. Perhaps once upon a time, “gay” made sense. But when I came to the point where I relinquished gay identity, it made much less sense. And now that I’m attracted to men, “gay” makes almost no sense at all. It’s been suggested that I could say “bisexual” instead, but while the “bisexual” label may do justice to my present state of attractions, it gives the person I’m speaking to no idea of what I went through before I got to this point. It gives the impression that either I always liked both guys and girls, or that I just woke up one morning in my happy gay life and said, “Hmmm, I think I’ll try men today.” It gives no sense of my history, of my past struggle.
I also find the label useful in this current atmosphere when there are a lot of anti-exgay things being said. For example, there are a lot of people saying that all exgays fail, and end up miserable and desperate, crawling back to their gay lives. I think that’s false, but I can’t talk about my experience as a counterexample if I don’t use the label myself. Regardless of how I feel about terminology, I simply disagree with those people who say that all exgays are unhappy, or exgays don’t exist, or whatever. It seems that in order to express my disagreement, I should use the same vocabulary that they’re using.
However, I realized the other day that I could be overestimating the usefulness of the term. After all, a lot of people (in particular those who aren’t gay, exgay, or following the culture war for other reasons) don’t really have a clue about what the word “exgay” means. For example, it turns out that my *husband* didn’t know what it meant. The other day I was going off on some exgay issues and current events and he said, “Um, what’s an exgay?” He knows about me, of course, he had simply never heard that term before.
To me, the real problem with the term “exgay” isn’t that it’s offensive, but rather that it’s so ambiguous. In different contexts, I’ve heard the word used to mean all of the following things:
- Someone on a path away from homosexual identity and behavior, and towards an openness to attraction change and possible heterosexual relationships. Not a state or an achievement, but rather a particular path or life direction.
- Someone who has given up gay identity, and perhaps has also experienced a significant decrease in homosexual attractions, or at least has gained victory over them to a large degree. (could include same-sex attracted celibates)
- Someone who has come to experience significant heterosexual attractions, making serious, mutually fulfilling heterosexual relationships a possibility or a reality.
- Someone who used to have only homosexual attractions, and now has only heterosexual attractions; someone who has been “completely healed.”
I think in talking among ourselves as exgays and perhaps within broader Christian circles as well, there’s relatively little confusion about which definition is meant—one can usually tell from the context. And there’s good reason for using the word in each way. I don’t know if I could pick one of the definitions as the “good” one, and throw out all the rest. (Aside from the fact that I don’t really like #4, which seems to be popular only among anti-exgays and those “complete healing” Pentecostal types.) But I think in talking to the outside world, the word “exgay” is just too messy right now. It doesn’t succeed in communicating much of anything, and confuses more than it informs.