October 15, 2009

I am officially no longer ex-gay identified.

Now, before anyone starts either panicking or dancing in the streets, let me say that nothing has really changed. My lifestyle, my loves, my convictions, my feelings, my views, are all pretty much where they were when I left off. I just finally realized that I haven’t been much of an ex-gay for a while now. (Which, yes, some of you have been trying to tell me for years.)

For those who are wondering why I ever snuggled up to the word in the first place, well, it did some things I needed it to do back in the day. After my religious conversion, I felt exiled from gaydom, very dyke-without-a-country, afflicted with a ridiculous traitor-guilt complex. (What a crippling loss for the gays! How will they ever get by?) I craved a new tribe to latch onto, and the ex-gays were there for me! Also, they were the folks who had been primarily responsible for bringing me to Jesus, and the folks I imprinted on as a young believer trying to figure out what it meant to walk with God, so it made sense that I would see myself as becoming one of them. And “ex-gay” allowed me to get a little emotional distance from “gay” without having to be normal. (Celibacy I could accept. Assimilation never!)

When I was going through some really difficult seasons of struggle, which was most of the time during the early years, the hardness and combativeness of “ex-gay” both reflected and reaffirmed my resolve to stay faithful to my convictions and the path that I believed most honored God, and my efforts to intentionally reject and disown “gay identity.” (No, I haven’t forgotten the series. Yep, I know I need to finish it.) Using the label “ex-gay” was my way of trying to be tough about what I was leaving behind: “Screw you, gayness! I never really liked you anyway!” And what to do about girls and my feelings for girls was, for better or worse, an issue which dominated my thought and life for years. It was my battle. “Ex-gay,” I think, did a good job of describing that. Whether or not the issue should have dominated my life so is a trickier question to answer.

I never ever thought the word meant “straight.” When a friend asked me shortly after my religious conversion what an “ex-gay” was, I replied, “Oh, that’s what evangelicals call their gay people.” It never occurred to me to consider it misleading. The self-identified ex-gays I knew were all over the map on how much attraction change they claimed to have experienced, and for the most part they all seemed honest (and obvious!) about where they were at, at least in private conversation.

I’m still unconvinced that the word is inherently deceptive. From what I’ve seen, when someone hears it for the first time, they don’t assume it means “purely heterosexual;” rather, they look puzzled and ask you what it means. In all my time blogging as an alleged so-called “ex-gay,” I’ve only had one woman mistake me for a “heterosexual,” and I wrote to her right away to clear things up, because we can’t have people thinking that!   In general, I believe that presenting ourselves and our lives with honesty and integrity and faithfulness is what matters, and I feel I’ve more or less successfully managed to do that on this blog, even though it has been infected with the dreaded “ex-gay” label for quite some time.

(There’s an interesting parallel here with evangelical hang-ups over ssa conservative Christians who have renounced homosexual sex and relationships who nevertheless call themselves “gay.” As I’ve said before, there may be issues with at least some forms of gay identity for the repentant believer. But throwing hissy fits because someone has dared to describe themselves as “gay” is missing the point completely. You have to ask what the person means; you have to discern what is going in their minds, hearts, and lives.)

Why did I stick with “ex-gay” for so many years, even as I became keenly aware of its limitations?

For a while I did it precisely because I was frustrated with and embarrassed by a lot of the stuff going on in the ex-gay movement. It seemed like a useful exercise in humility, a way of clobbering my ever-burgeoning intellectual arrogance, to force myself to identify with folks who were driving me nuts with the sorts of things they were saying and doing. Along similar lines, I kept calling myself ex-gay (at least in the blogosphere) because I didn’t want to be a coward who ran from the movement as it became increasingly scorned, pitied, and reviled. It is better for my soul for me to be counted with the unpopular, with the losers, with the fools. (Side note:  I highly recommend this Catholic prayer!) And I kept it up in part because of my dislike of the trend where more and more ex-gays insist on abandoning not only the “ex-gay” label but apparently all descriptive words for talking about our sexuality. “I’m not ex-gay, I’m not gay, I’m not straight, I’m not bisexual. I’m just me!” Or “…I’m just a child of God!” Look, I appreciate that we’re all infinitely complex and unique little snowflakes who can’t be reduced to any one label, and I appreciate that for the believer our identity in Christ is the most important thing, but I’m not cool with forsaking the use of adjectives to describe ourselves and the facts of our lives. I don’t think that’s a viable way forward.  Being a faithful Christian cannot mean that we must refuse to discuss or name any other aspect of our lives.  And honestly, I feel that this is what the anti-labelling movement among ex-gays often amounts to.  It means making coy allusions to the “possibility of being tempted again someday” and to the fact that we will “never be as though we never were.”  (And yeah I know some people argue that our same-sex attractions are irrelevant and that talking about them and answering questions about them is making too much of a concession to the world’s and the gay activists’ priorities.  But isn’t keeping silent about our same-sex attractions sometimes making too much of a concession to straight ‘phobes in the church, who want us at least to give them the freedom (by our silence) to imagine us as fully heterosexual, even if we can’t manage to actually be fully heterosexual for them?)

And I guess I also stuck with “ex-gay” because I didn’t have an alternative I preferred.

Peter Ould has been trying to introduce his concept of “post-gay” as a replacement for “ex-gay,” the fundamental idea (I think) being that we should not think of ourselves in terms of gay or straight, that we should not let ourselves or our lives or our walks with God be defined by those “un-Biblical” categories. Also, he sees “post-gay” as putting more emphasis on direction rather than position: what matters isn’t one’s precise location on the Kinsey scale, but which way one’s journey is headed. As he puts it, “I’m post-gay because I chose to leave “gay” behind. I chose to no longer accept “gay” as an explanation of who I was and instead to begin a journey away from it.” (I believe commenter “Eddy” on Warren Throckmorton’s blog has on several occasions defended a similarly directional understanding of “ex-gay,” but I don’t have a link at the moment.)  There’s some helpful stuff there, but I’m not completely sold–another post for another day. In any case, my big problem with “post-gay” is that I learned an older definition first, many years ago as a young dyke. So when I hear “post-gay,” I instinctively think of someone who doesn’t want to be burdened with gay sensibility and culture, but plans to keep on having homosexual sex. Which, if you think about it, is pretty much the opposite of an ex-gay: Camp is all we’ve got left!

As I’ve said before, “bisexual” is fine in many contexts, and I use it in those contexts, but I often found myself wanting a word that hinted at more of my story. The thing is, either I didn’t become bisexually-attracted until around my 26th birthday, or I was so stupid that I didn’t realize I was bisexually-attracted until around my 26th birthday. I had tried to find some feelings for the other half of the species on several occasions before: first as a teenager, in order to try to appease my mom and get my peers to leave me alone a little (after years of getting kicked around for being such a queer), and later as a young twenty-something evangelical convert, in order to see if I had any chance of escaping the doom of celibacy. All efforts failed dismally. So my early ex-gay years were as frustrating and scary as anybody’s, and have shaped my life, my perspectives, and my attitudes in ways which are relevant to my writing here. For example, if I had been more bisexual at the time of my conversion, and thus had an easier transition and a more hopeful attitude about the whole business, I think I would be much more pro-ex-gay than I am today, and have much less empathy with the celibate queer crowd and the former ex-gay crowd.

Some folks like “people with unwanted homosexual attractions” or some variation on that. But the thing is, I’m not sure that I “unwant” my homosexual attractions. At least, I doubt that’s a helpful way to think about it. We normally call things “unwanted” that we can at least in principle do something about. Things we can intentionally get rid of, or at least reduce significantly. Unwanted gifts, unwanted pets, unwanted pregnancies, etc. I guess I don’t think that homosexual attractions really belong with these. It’s not that we have to want them or ought to want them, it’s just that it’s not terribly helpful to dwell on whether we want them or not.

So yeah, no great ideas for a replacement.  (I have a soft spot in my heart for “failed homosexual,” but don’t really see it catching on.)  But I need to ditch “ex-gay” anyway. It just feels wrong.

Partly it’s because of an inevitable lifestyle shift and a resulting shift in spiritual focus. Gay/ex-gay stuff just isn’t my battle any more. Yes, I’m “still” attracted to women, though to be honest, what with chasing a 17 month old around all day and the nausea and exhaustion which come along with another on the way (19 weeks), I have lots of days when I feel pretty much post-sexual. But even when things are more libidinally lively, ssa just isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it’s not a deal at all. I have the utmost respect those folks who talk frankly about lifelong struggle and a need for daily prayer about this stuff, but that’s just not where I’m at. I like some girls, I like some guys, and I’m in love with my man. So the warrior-toughness of “ex-gay,” which was a big part of my motive for adopting the label in the first place, seems irrelevant now.

I’ve had people chide me for this, perhaps rightly so, but I don’t really have much interest in eradicating or diminishing my homosexual attractions. Maybe if I were radiantly holy, and the only thing that was even slightly questionable about my soul was my lingering love for the ladies. But you know, I’m not really all that sanctified. I have huge spiritual struggles with pride, greed, unrighteous anger, sloth, “fear of man,” selfishness, etc. And all of those, unlike my ssa, are a daily threat to my walking in faithfulness and obedience to God, to my enjoying close fellowship with Him, to my growing in faith. So honestly, I can’t really be bothered with growing into full heterosexual maturity and wholeness or whatever given that I’ve got all those to deal with.

But the biggest reason for ditching “ex-gay” is that my blogging journey has led me to a place of deepening alienation and confusion with respect to the broader ex-gay movement, what I have sometimes called the ex-gay mainstream, including but certainly not limited to Exodus and its referral ministries.  (I’m not suggesting that they all march in lockstep, I know there’s diversity there.  The general feel of the “movement” is what I’m talking about.)

There are two aspects to this alienation.  The first is that my dissenting views have become more fleshed out and solid.  So, for example, I think I’ve always been uncomfortable about the developmental theories and how they are used/administered in ex-gay ministry.  I’ve always thought that ex-gay involvement in the culture war and in efforts to oppose gay-rights measures was a bad idea.  And I’ve long been troubled by a tension I sense between the pursuit of healing for ssa on the one hand and the pursuit of discipleship and Christian maturity on the other.  (Of course true healing of one’s real wounds is not incompatible with discipleship and Christian growth!  But I worry that the efforts and approaches that ex-gay ministries advocate in the “healing” area may hinder and sabotage their efforts in the “discipleship” area.  My own journey had me leaving ex-gay ministry to put myself in a non-ex-gay Christian residential program in order to find meaningful growth as a believer.)  But before my blogging, my stances on these matters were relatively fuzzy, because I hadn’t taken the time to think about them.  Over these years of trying to work out my views and share them with others, these vague discomforts and worries have crystallized into strong convictions.  And this has made my sense that I don’t fit in with other ex-gays much more acute.  Whereas before my joining an ex-gay group or attending an ex-gay conference would have been fundamentally a happy and comfortable event tainted by a little awkwardness and conflict, now it would be mostly uncomfortable and perhaps even painful for me, mitigated by some sense of commonality of experience and faith.  It would not be fellowship; it would be dialogue.

The second and more serious aspect of my alienation from the ex-gay world…sigh.

I’ve written and rewritten this section of the post many times, trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts that is both charitable and gracious and gentle and yet honest about what I’m seeing and feeling.  I haven’t figured it out yet.

But maybe I can say this:  There’s a sense in which the sorts of disagreements I mention above were/are a relatively small problem.   I could understand where the ex-gays stood on those matters, and why. I could see how given their experiences and perspectives and personalities, they could arrive at the positions they did while still being fundamentally decent people and sincere lovers of Jesus.  Sure, I noticed that there were often errors in their beliefs and reasoning, and that they often put their trust in sources that didn’t deserve it, and that they were sometimes too hesitant to question things that obviously should be questioned, and that their brains would sometimes short out if someone got too close to threatening one of their sacred cows.    But these are simply intellectual foibles which afflict all of us.  I’m sure others can spot plenty of places where I am guilty of them.  Our differences didn’t used to strike me as a difference of heart.

So maybe the safest way to phrase my concern here is that I just don’t feel I understand the heart or values of Exodus any more.  I once believed that we shared the same heart, that we cared about the same things, that we cherished and pursued the same virtues, in spite of all our disagreements.  I felt that our fundamental goals were the same, even if we had some different ideas about the best ways to reach them.  That’s why I could say in my old and horrifically-out-of-date “About Me” page that I saw myself as “pro-ex-gay in the deepest, truest, and purest sense.”  Now…I just have no idea.  Sometimes I find the things they say and do so baffling that I can’t come up with a charitable interpretation.  The fault may well lie in my own lack of comprehension rather than in Exodus, but the end result is still the same:  alienation.  The confusion lamented in this post has only grown more intense.

Which brings me to the last reason for my decision to move past “ex-gay”:  I’ve found new community for thinking about these issues through this and other blogs. Yay!  I’ve encountered all these awesome gay/ssa folk who more or less share my religious convictions about homosexuality but mostly situate themselves outside of the ex-gay movement. And these are the people that especially interest me–that’s where the cool stuff is happening! These are the folks I want to think through and talk through and wrestle through these issues with.   I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with them all on everything, but I feel like we see the same problems and are asking the same sorts of questions.  And this is a very exciting and happy thing for me, which is why I am ending my list of reasons with it.  For so many years I felt like a minority of one, maybe sometimes part of a minority of two or three.  But mostly folks just looked at me kinda crazy when I tried to articulate my views and concerns, or worse, patronizingly assured me that I would understand someday when I had progressed further in my healing.  Now I know that while I may be wrong, I’m not crazy.  And if I’m not healed, well, I like the company I’m in!

(Gay-affirming friends and readers, please do not feel neglected by the above paragraph.  You know I love you and delight in your presence, real and/or virtual.  It’s just that I always knew that you were out there.  It was an enormous and wonderful surprise to discover that so many other people like me with my convictions exist.)


So where does all this leave me? Well, I don’t think I’ll be able to completely abstain from using the word “ex-gay”. It still is the most widely known expression for referring to people like me or to the issues I talk about here, and it’s certainly the easiest shorthand.  And it brings home the Google bacon, or at least it used to back when I updated this blog monthly instead of yearly. But consider this the beginning of a deliberate move away from it when possible.

This also means that I have to redo the About Me page, which is now a complete wince-fest for me anyway , given all the different ways in which my perspective has evolved.

And now I will get to work on another post.


Love Won Out Indianapolis: General Impressions

December 3, 2007

Love Won Out came to Indianapolis, which is within borderline daytrip driving distance from me, and I’d never seen it before, so I decided to go. 

I expected that it would make me really angry.  While I had never been to a major conference before, I had occasionally gone to hear those sorts of speakers when they came to churches, Christian music festivals, etc., and nearly every time I burned with anger inside.  (John Paulk made me the maddest–FYI, if you ever want to get me to see red, just talk about antigay bullying dismissively. I think the psych term here is “trigger.” )    Well, this conference was not just going to be one talk and one speaker, but a whole Family Values Extravaganza! 

So I decided I had to sucker Mr. DM into coming with me.  He’s a calm and gentle person, “very Zen” as my mom puts it, maybe not unflappable but very difficult to flap.  And it’s contagious–he tends to have a calming and comforting effect on me as well when we’re together.  With him by my side, no matter how bad it got, I would have a refuge, a little isle of sanity in the midst of it all.  Without him, I suspected I would do something before the day was half over that would get me kicked out.

He complained when I first suggested it. “You can’t stand Focus on the Family!  This is just going to make you ornery all weekend, and if the Patriots lose on Sunday on top of this, you’re going to be impossible to live with!”  But I sweet-talked my little lips off, assuring him I would make it worth his while, and eventually he agreed to accompany me.  (It’s not true, by the way, that I can’t stand Focus on the Family.  I have come to acknowledge that they have done some pastorally valuable things for heterosexual couples and families.  I just don’t appreciate what they’ve done in the culture war, and particularly what they’ve done on the subject of homosexuality.) 

As it turns out, I didn’t get angry, for the most part.  But we’ll talk about that later on.

There’s not much I can say about LWO that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere, so I’m just going to use these posts for my own scattered personal observations and reflections.  If you want a basic introduction to LWO, you can look at their website.  For excellent reviews which I am probably 90+% in agreement with, check out Eve Tushnet here (scroll down to June 15, there’s a whole passel of posts) for a chaste queer perspective or Jim Burroway here for a not-so-chaste queer perspective.  Jim also has podcasts and YouTube video presenting his take on the conference–I recommend the podcasts but in my humble opinion the videos are too short and soundbitey to be informative.  So I’m going to assume that you know what the game is and who the players are.  The truth is I don’t feel like explaining LWO, especially since it would be like reinventing the wheel, and crappily at that.  But for whoever wants my random thoughts and personal impressions, here they are.  This post will be general stuff…then I’ll do specific posts for specific speakers/talks.

One caveat:  As I think everyone knows, I did not go into this conference with a clean slate.  I tried to see and hear accurately, and tried to avoid imposing my preconceptions on what people said.  But I’m not sure I succeeded, simply because of the sheer amount of baggage involved for me.  I invite correction on any points where people think I got LWO wrong.  I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand the exgay mainstream or the family values conservative crowd very well.   

The Event

Driving in, we saw a small cluster of protesters in the dark (Indianapolis at 7:45 am on the day before the end of Daylight Savings is pitch black!), no more than 15 I’d say.  The only sign I could make out then was “PFLAG.”  There were no protesters when we went out for lunch.  We counted 12 on our drive out at the end of the day–I tried to make eye contact and smile and give a friendly nod to each as we drove slowly by, but mostly got blank stares from dour faces.  One guy finally did grin back at us and wave; we waved back of course.  I was shocked at how somber they all seemed–they wore the same vaguely constipated looks of solemn judgment that the quiet brand of antigay protesters wear.  I understand they must have been saddened by the goings-on inside the church, but to me it seems like a poor way to change hearts and minds.  It wasn’t very seductive. 

As far as audience make-up goes…parents (with and without teenaged offspring in tow) were definitely a majority of attendees, but maybe not much more than that, by my very rough guesstimates.  There was a HUGE “concerned citizen” contingent.   (Seemed like 30+% to me by the show of hands.) I was pleasantly surprised by the number of homo-attracted people I saw, assuming my gaydar is still worth anything.  Although they were by far the smallest group, the numbers weren’t negligible at all.  A lot of people crammed into the room for the one talk which was ostensibly devoted to strugglers’ issues. 

I think (though I am not sure) that this conference didn’t beat up parents as much as earlier ones had.  (Not having Nicolosi around probably helped out with that!)  I didn’t have the chance to pursue deep conversations with those around me, but eavesdropping and observing suggested that while they were concerned, they weren’t as devastated as I’ve heard parents can be.  But I could have just attended the wrong breakout sessions. 

The speaker lineup included Joe Dallas, Mike Haley, Melissa Fryrear, Dick Carpenter, Nancy Heche, Jeff Johnston, Bill Maier, and Scott Davis.  Alan Chambers was supposed to speak but was unable to be there at the last minute, due to what Mike Haley described as “a family crisis.”  I managed to hear a little something from everyone except Maier and Davis–Davis only spoke to youth, and somehow I just didn’t manage to squeeze Maier in.   (Mr. DM and I both lived in the Boston area in the wake of Goodridge, so we have heard more than a lifetime’s worth of rhetoric on the apocalyptic consequences of gay marriage, which is what Maier’s talk was about.  When I invited him to make suggestions for which breakout sessions we should attend, he said “Well definitely NOT that one!”)


The Conference Packet contained a statement on “Heterosexuality and Homosexuality,” which was intended to sum up FOTF’s view of the subject.  In some parts they wanted to have their cake and eat it too, I thought.  They proclaimed that Focus “stands against” any efforts to deny gay people rights or “deprive them of employment or housing or harass them in any way.”  At the same time, they “take strong exception to the activist movement that seeks to gain special privileges and protected minority status for the homosexual community.”  In other words, they don’t think gay people should be discriminated against in employment or housing, but they don’t think they should be protected against such discrimination either.  Which…I dunno.  I’m not clever enough to wrap my mind around the sophistication of that view. 

I was surprised by the sobriety of the closing sentences of the statement: 

Focus on the Family has seen that by God’s grace and through compassionate counseling and support, it is sometimes possible–although difficult–for a person to move from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation.

Having waited a long time for that “sometimes” to fall from exgay lips, I was stunned and pleased to see it here.  Unfortunately, I would not see it echoed much throughout the conference.  The phrase “from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation” strikes me as a bad idea, since it seems to me that most of us who experience attraction change attain a bisexually-attracted state rather than a heterosexual one.  Still, I was impressed to see them openly acknowledging the possibility that often attraction change does not occur.

The follow-up thought to that was slightly less satisfying:

“When the change appears impossible in an individual case, such a person is in the same position as the heterosexual single who has no prospects of marriage.”

Well, yes and no.    It is helpful to remember that you aren’t the only person in the world who wants to be in love and get laid, that it isn’t some grand cosmic injustice that God has not provided a legitimate means for you to get off.  (I’m poking fun at my own old attitudes here.)  But I wouldn’t say the situations are the same.  For one thing, few heterosexuals feel they have no prospects of marriage until they’re well into their thirties (if they’re female) and can probably even keep hoping into their late forties or early fifties if they’re male.  But for homo-attracted folk who believe that God doesn’t want them pursuing homosexual relationships, they can often see the handwriting on the wall in their early 20’s, or even in their teens.  To face the likelihood of lifelong abstinence and singleness in the flush of youth is a very different thing–perhaps easier in some ways, but surely harder in others. 

“They are both called by Scripture to a life of sexual abstinence.  These are difficult words, yet no one has the authority to change the biblical proscription on sexuality outside of marriage.”

Difficult words?  No, that’s the funny thing.  The words themselves are quite easy.  It’s the living of the thing that is hard for many, and unfortunately I don’t see how it would be made easier for anyone by what Focus had to teach and offer that day.  That was the biggest gaping hole in the conference, I thought, at least in what I saw.  There was virtually no practical content on how to live in a godly way with homosexual desire, and there was no counsel on how to support someone else (like your child! hello parents!) in doing so.  Everything was directed towards “healing,” towards attraction change, towards making it all go away.  

Developmental theories about the origin of homosexuality were the star of the show, the focal point of the conference by far, treated as a foundation for all that came after.

I found this baffling.  Setting aside whether or not the developmental theories are generally true, and whether if true they are useful to strugglers (I am skeptical on both counts), I still don’t understand why family and friends “reaching out” to gay people need so desperately to be informed of these theories.  If you’re a parent, and your child is old enough to have come out already, it’s not like you can turn back the clock and fix it all.  And if you’re just a friend, or trying to be a friend, why should you even care what causes homosexuality?  Is this really the most important information that straight laymen need to have about gay people?  I can see how it might be relevant to strugglers seeking change who think this stuff works, or to counselors or others seeking to help them.  I cannot fathom how it is deserving of so much attention from family members or friends.  The last thing a gay or exgay person needs is to have everybody in his/her life playing the shrink! 

It was astonishing.  So much time–virtually the whole morning, in fact–and attention were devoted to how Mommy’s and Daddy’s mistakes (real or perceived)  made little Johnny and Susie into homosexuals.   The practical stuff of how to love and help and support your kids got one breakout session, I think, and the practical nitty-gritty of how to live a faithful, chaste life got almost no attention at all.  Even the exgays’ testimonies dwelt at length on the horrors of childhood and the dysfunctions of their old lives, while saying remarkably little about the details of the struggle and the day-to-day reality of their current lives.  Was this really the best use of the limited time they/we had that day?  Did this information really meet the needs of the audience?  I am skeptical.

There was an atmosphere of love at the conference, but it seemed to me to be a carefully controlled and channelled love, and to some extent a misguided love, on which more below.  In many of the talks it seemed to me to be directed into a sort of patronizing pity.  Gay people were to be loved in some sense, but in no circumstances were they to be listened to or respected.  (Otherwise, what’s the need for LWO?  Why would you need straight and exgay “experts” to tell you what it’s like to be gay if you could just ask real live gay people?)  At least that’s the impression I got.   I also got the feeling that LWO was trying to manage parents’ love for their children (and also to a lesser degree the love that other straight folks present had for the gay people in their lives, if any).  Most parents, fundamentally, want their children to be happy, and I got the sense that LWO was on a mission to convince them that their children could never be truly happy being gay but could be truly happy as gloriously transformed, healed, and married heterosexuals with children.  It seemed to me that LWO was carefully designed to keep the love that decent straight folk can’t help feeling for the gay people in their lives from turning into support for gay rights or a moral/theological perspective more permissive of homosexual relationships. 

To some extent, of course, I am sympathetic to this.  I do believe that homosexual sex and homosexual relationships are sinful, and I don’t think that Christians ought to allow their emotions and fears to cloud their thinking on this subject.  So I consider it a completely valid aim to try to show people that they can love and respect their loved ones without throwing out their convictions.  I consider it legitimate to reason with people, but I do not consider it legitimate to mislead them, to misrepresent the facts of gay and exgay life in order to prevent them from adopting views I don’t want them to.   I have said before that my exgay journey wasn’t about life enhancement for me.  I would say more generally that I don’t think it’s an effective path to life enhancement for most people.  This is not to say that every person who opts for a gay-affirming path has a ball, or that every person who opts for an exgay/celibate path has a really rough time of it.  But on average, from a thisworldly perspective, I’d say the exgay has the tougher row to hoe.  That conclusion is no doubt inconvenient for FotF’s purposes, but to me it seems inescapable.  Like Jay, I believe there is only one reason to do this

I felt that the conference speakers sent out a lot of mixed messages, in a way that was very whiplashy and confusing.  So, for example, we started out with Joe Dallas saying that whether homosexuality is developmental or genetic or whatever shouldn’t really matter much to us as Christians, yet in his first talk and throughout the day the developmental ideology was relentlessly hammered into conferencegoers’ heads.  Example #2:  Melissa Fryrear couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether pantyhose and makeup really mattered or not–at one point she explicitly said that they didn’t, yet she emphasized them so much and pointed to them so often as signs of her own healing, it was hard to take her disclaimer seriously.  Another example:  The constant message of the talks overall and the testimonies in particular was that gay people can become straight with Jesus’s help and a little patience–which sharply contrasted with the somewhat more honest admissions in the statement in the conference packet and in the one breakout session specifically for SSA folk.  And yet one more example:  The speakers assured parents that they were not to blame, but I don’t see how you can understand the developmental theories to be saying anything other than “Things you did, whether correctly perceived or misinterpreted by your child, probably sent your child down this path.”  All this was frustrating for me, because I felt like a lot of good things were being said, and I wanted to give LWO credit for saying them, but they often seemed to be explicitly contradicted and taken back by other things that were said throughout the day. 

The weirdest mixed message was this:  The statements which got the most applause, amens, and other positive support were those which emphasized that homosexuality is just one sin among many, no worse than others, that the church should be coming down harder on the gossips, liars, greedy, etc.  It surprised me how enthusiastic the response was here, in part because I didn’t know that this was still news to anyone, but also in part because the existence of the conference itself seemed to contradict that view.  Everything about LWO seemed to me to say that Homosexuality Is Special.  Were these parents going to conferences on other sins that their other children were committing, wringing their hands over them?  Were these “concerned citizens” as eager to stand up against every other sort of sin and injustice?  Were the strugglers as concerned about the other temptations they face, seeking guidance and therapy and healing for their pride or greed or whatever?

Overall reaction:

I don’t know whether it was Mr. DM’s presence or the New Me or the mere fact of having woken up at 4:45 on a Saturday morning, but for the most part I didn’t get angry.  I mostly just felt tired and vaguely sad and frustrated.

“Wait!  How can you be sad and frustrated?  Aren’t you one of Them?”  Well, yeah, I guess.  At least I’m their woefully misbegotten offspring in some sense.  We agree about some big stuff.  We agree about the sinfulness of homosexual sex.  We agree about the possibility for some of some sort of attraction change.  We agree that a particular sort of gay identity can be problematic in some people’s spiritual lives, although they would of course go much further than that.   But…it’s just not my scene.  At all.  I’m not comfortable with the constant advocacy of unproven developmental theories.  (If you feel they worked for you, I’m genuinely happy. But it doesn’t really prove much.)  I’m not comfortable with the condescending discussion of gay people as being broken and hurting, poor little dears.  I’m not comfortable with the culture war, with getting people all worked up about what The Gays are going to do next, in a way that makes them completely unable to see the reality of gay people’s lives.  If you boil it down that’s probably what was at the heart of my frustration with LWO:  the ways in which I felt it obscured reality as it “educated”, the ways in which it blinded its audience, the ways in which I felt it made it harder rather than easier for the audience to love, serve, and respect their gay loved ones and neighbors. 

Real compassion, real suffering-with, requires an awareness of the reality of another person’s heart and life.  You cannot have that with a exgay person if you do not have a realistic view of the prospects of change and if you do not appreciate that exgay (celibate SSA, whatever) people can live happy, healthy lives of rich spiritual growth which are pleasing to God even without attraction change.  And you cannot have that with a gay person if you insist on cramming them into your little dogmatic box of what sorts of childhood experiences they must have had and what their state of emotional/mental health is like and what their lives are like.  Love Won Out, as far as I could see, got straight people all mushy and sobby about illusory problems that many gay/exgay people don’t actually face, while hardening their hearts and closing their eyes to the real difficulties that have confronted and in many cases still confront gay/exgay people.  That’s what bothered me most, I think. 

I wasn’t horrified by what I saw.  My expectations when I went in were quite low, and the conference was actually better in most respects than I had thought it would be.  I genuinely liked and was impressed by Joe Dallas (though I did not agree with everything he had to say), and even with the speakers I didn’t click with, I found things to appreciate and nod along with.  As I go into my responses to particular talks, I suspect some readers will feel I’m nitpicking, especially once I get into specific points of disagreement which may seem small in the whole realm of things.  I suspect some will feel I should just keep my mouth shut and be glad to have the LWO team standing up for the Biblical truth about homosexuality.  But you have to understand that I feel very passionately about these points, these little nits, because in many cases they caused me a lot of pain and trouble personally.

That’s something that set in after we drove home and I went on with my week.  I found myself haunted in the days following the conference by stirred-up memories of the years when I was deeply involved in exgay stuff.  See, in the past several years, I haven’t really done any of that.  I hadn’t really heard any of those messages of brokenness and childhood roots and healing and change for a very long time–sure I occasionally read a smidgen of something online, but that’s way different from being bombarded with a day’s worth of lectures.  After the conference it all came painfully flooding back…how I agonized about this stuff, how I blamed myself and everyone in my family, how pathetic and small and less-than I felt relative to “healthy heterosexuals,” how tired and hopeless I felt after pursuing change (albeit somewhat half-assedly at times) didn’t really get me anywhere, how I obsessed about my “healing” and ignored discipleship and Christian growth, how stupid and voiceless I felt relative to the “successful” “healed” exgay superstars whose testimonies always seemed to get held up as What Is Supposed to Happen–if I disagreed with them, it was only my “brokenness” talking, and I would come to know better someday if I opened my heart to Jesus and let Him really transform me.  That old mindset came drifting back into my head and it made me even more nauseous than has been usual for me as of late.

In order to be fair but honest I must say this:  While I am immeasurably grateful for the concern various exgays showed me, for the friendship and fellowship they offered me, I believe that many of the exgay teachings did not do me or my walk with God any favors.  I am extremely glad to have put all that behind me.   And no, I don’t really give those teachings much credit for my love for Mr. DM.  That happened around two years after I decided I’d had enough of those theories and finally once-and-for-all washed my hands of them.  Maybe it’s just a delayed reaction to the healing power of the Moberly/Nicolosi insights, but for a variety of reasons (which we can get into if you like)  I consider it likely that whatever attraction change I have experienced is mostly unrelated to my earlier devotion to exgay ideas and practices.

Jones and Yarhouse Study Results: 38% “Success”

September 13, 2007

 The “big news:” 

Exodus can describe 38 percent of its programs’ participants as successes, changing to either a “meaningful but complicated” heterosexuality (15 percent) or a stable chastity (23 percent).

Two articles from Christianity Today:

The Best Research Yet

An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement

( Yikes!  I’m becoming one of those “link-y” people. )

Yes, criticism and concerns will follow.  But not right now.  All I will say now is that “meaningful but complicated heterosexuality” made me laugh out loud.  🙂

Trying to Write About Exgays vs. Exexgays

July 7, 2007

(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. 

Peterson Toscano’s “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”–Some Random Rambly Thoughts

April 17, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I saw exexgay Peterson Toscano’s one-man show, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House.  Some people are curious as to what I thought of it, as an exgay and as an alumna (veteran?) of a residential treatment program for reasons related to my sexuality struggles myself, so I’m going to post some extremely scattered thoughts here.  Sorry it’s not a real (i.e., quasi-edited and semi-organized) post–maybe I’ll turn it into one eventually, but right now I have a ton of work to do in my real life (as opposed to my blog life), and I’d like to keep the identity series moving as well.

I was nervous about seeing the show, something I didn’t realize until I pulled into the parking lot and found myself a little shivery.  I’m still not quite sure why.  I’m not easily offended, and I normally don’t mind being made fun of.  But I do have some sensitivities about this stuff.  I have occasionally felt hurt by some things exexgays and other critics of the exgay movement do and say.  I have some exgay shame issues, which I hinted at in this post, and hope to dig into in a post after this identity thing is over.  My gayness or ssa-ness or whatever doesn’t faze me at all, but the fact that I am kinda sorta one of those nefarious “ex-gays” is enough to make me blush and stammer in polite company.  And I wasn’t sure what difficult memories of my own residential experience the show would dig up.  Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before, I think my program experience was a good thing.  But a residential program is the sort of thing that even when it’s good, it’s awful.  At times it almost felt to me like a kind of electroconvulsive therapy or chemo for the soul, coming within a hair’s breadth of the absurdity of burning the village in order to save it.

I guess I should do a nutshell description for those who haven’t seen it yet.  Peterson has a little promo video on the show site that explains it–although I think the performance that I saw was light-years better than these clips.  The bulk of the show is a “tour” of an exgay residential program (the Homo No Mo Halfway House), which is not so loosely based on the Love in Action program Peterson attended.  (If you’re one of those rare birds who reads me but not him, he often talks about his experiences on his blog.)  The audience is “led” through the facility by their trusty tour guide Chad, who introduces them to various other characters.  Aside from that, there’s also an interlude which is sort of like a sermon (actually, it is a sermon), and at the end, Peterson enters the show as himself, and shares his story more directly.  Peterson plays everybody, and there’s no change of costume or anything, but the different characters are readily distinguished by their very heavily accented voices. 

I was sooooo not the target audience for this show–not that I expected to be.  The target audience, as far as I could tell, was enlightened well-adjusted queer people. (Okay, just a faint hint of a snark there.)  It seemed that the point of the show was to educate them about the exgay experience, and to encourage them to be compassionate and come alongside their brothers and sisters who are coming out of an exgay or conservative Christian journey.    As a result, while fiercely critical and condemnatory of the whole exgay thing, the show’s portrayals of exgays were sympathetic and humanizing, as opposed to the “Jennifer Jason Leigh, these people are FREAKS!” style. 

I really liked the characters.  The character of Peterson’s (everstraight) dad, Pete, won my heart instantly.  And the exgays seemed very true to life, to me…little bits and pieces of the exgays I’ve known.  One thing I appreciated is that he didn’t make all of them stereotypical flamingly gay caricatures.  Chad was, of course, over-the-top, and that’s fine because some exgays certainly are!  I’m not interested in whitewashed portrayals of exgays pretending that all the girls are dainty and all the boys are butch.  But I’ve been made uncomfortable in the past by attacks on exgays which largely focus on how very gay they look and act.  It always strikes me as bizarre and maybe even hypocritical–gay people picking on exgays for the same things that straight people have historically made fun of gays for, sort of like a food chain of mockery. 

I think Marvin was my favorite exgay character.  Perhaps that’s in part because I’ve gotten to know him a little through his podcasts on Peterson’s blog.  But it’s also because he seems so much more fully himself than the other three exgay characters.  He’s got more backbone, more nerve, more sass–his tail ain’t quite as between his legs as with the other guys.  He gets accused of being “active-aggressive,” and you can’t really imagine any of the others being accused of that.  He’s gonna organize the Bibles according to year and accuracy of translation, and he don’t give a rat’s behind how anal-retentive you think he is for it.  Vlad, Chad, and Tex, while definitely characters you feel for, seem much more whipped.  Which again, is fine and fair…some exgays are thoroughly whipped, so submissive to what’s being pushed on them that they let other people basically erase and rewrite their souls for them.  (Digression:  Am I the only one who thinks that too many exgay testimonies and confessions and self-descriptions sound like they were flat-out plagiarized from the standard exgay texts?  Look, even if your story fits their models, couldn’t you at least tell it “in your own words,” you know, like they made you do in grade school?  I’m just sayin’!)

Okay, where was I?  Oh yeah…Chad and Tex seem like gutted, hollowed-out human beings, and you kinda get the feeling that the only reason Vlad ain’t there yet is that he hasn’t been in the program a month yet.  I mean, yes they have their own traits and personalities, but they all seemed devoid of a core sense of themselves, of who they are and what they stand for.  They haven’t merely submitted their outward behavior to the program, acting in conformity with its rules, but they’ve submitted their minds and hearts to it as well, letting it dictate to them who they are.  There’s no resistance, no questioning, no pushback.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find that sort of total intellectual submission horrifying.  (I’m all for being teachable, learning from those who may have more knowledge and wisdom than you.  But that means critically thinking about what they tell you, evaluating it, questioning it.  If something they’re saying doesn’t sound quite right, make them persuade you, make them convince you, press them for arguments and evidence.)  So I much prefer Marvin’s feistiness.  He might rely too much on his pastor, but he’ll also call his pastor up and say “Hey, you’re wrong.  This doesn’t work at all.”  He’s crazy and ridiculous and passionate and confused about a lot of things, but he tries to be his own man and think for himself.  Maybe I’m just projecting, but that’s the way his character feels to me.

I appreciated the attention that was paid to depicting the very religious nature of the exgay experience.  That’s one thing I found really lacking in But I’m a Cheerleader:  parts of it were hysterically funny in their accuracy, but overall they didn’t seem to know what to do with the spiritual dimension of exgay life, so they just left it out altogether.  I know Peterson is very concerned about the non-spiritual motives behind many people’s exgay journeys (fear, prejudice, self-loathing, ill-informed beliefs about gay life, desire to please others, desire to fit in, etc.), and that he feels very strongly that for most people (all people?) taking up an exgay path isn’t simply about pleasing God the best way they can figure how.  He and I could probably quibble about that all day long–unsurprisingly, I like to think that my motives are pristine.  Yet nonetheless he knows that you can’t really make any sense of exgays whatsoever without the faith / pleasing God aspect, so the strong and sincere Christian faith of at least some of the characters is believably portrayed.  It helps, of course, that he knows whereof he speaks.

The show was really, really funny.  Especially funny for me I think, because of my familiarity with the experience, on which more below, but it seemed pretty funny to the rest of the audience as well.  Every now and then the stream of humor was punctuated by a terrible or sad statement, delivered matter-of-factly, which caught you like a knife in the ribs–casual mention of attempted suicide, or an indirect remark upon a son’s deep sorrow.  I really loved that interplay of funny and sad…in that respect, it seemed to mirror program life itself.  There was a lot of laughing in my program…you need it to survive, and besides, the whole situation is so ridiculous that it lends itself to humor easily. At the same time, underneath that layer of humor that sort of lubricates the daily grind of program life, there’s the terrible fact of your past, the pain you’re trying to escape from and deal with, and the profoundly humbling experience of the program in itself.  You try to keep those things at bay with a heavy dose of silliness, but every now and then they break through.  So, from my perspective, Doin’ Time didn’t only portray some of the details of program life, it also managed to duplicate the very feel of program life.  Which impressed me a lot.

Now, all programs are different, and I think mine was better than the Homo No Mo Halfway House in countless ways.  While it seems that mine was much stricter, more intense, and offered us far less freedom–there was no “halfway house” about it!–it also seems that mine was much sounder emotionally and spiritually.  There was none of this shaming business, this public disclosure of one’s darkest moments, that seems to be a regular part of life at HNMHH / LIA. They didn’t mess around with blaming people’s parents for stuff–the focus was on your responsibility.  (I think focus on parental blame, especially for people who are grown adults, is somewhat silly.)  Instead of banning classical music and allowing only CCM, like LIA did, my program allowed classical and banned most CCM.  And I’d take our regimen of manual labor over their 12-stepping any day! 

Also, the show reminded me how much I appreciate that my program was free of charge.  I understand the rationale for making people pay, that you want to have them take ownership of their lives, that you want them to “invest” in their healing.  But for myself I am glad that there was never any doubt in my mind about the motives of the staff–there was a level of trust that I simply couldn’t have had if they had been making money off of me, if having me in the program had been useful to them.  I don’t mean to begrudge those people who want to help others a living, but at the same time, for me, trying to deal with my sexuality issues was a very complicated, conflicted matter.  So I am really glad that there weren’t financial complications and/or feelings of exploitation mixed in with those. 

But despite all these differences in the programs, there’s still that fundamental sameness of humiliating experience, and it’s so hard to find because so few people have been through programs.  You go through this surreal crazy adventure, and when it’s over the only people who really understand it are others who have gone through it.  Everyone else just looks at you like “You did WHAT?  You let them do WHAT to you?”  So it was a huge blessing for me to just be able to laugh about the residential program stuff–it spoke to a part of me that doesn’t get spoken to a lot.  

To be sure, the show had its preachy parts, and I was definitely not the choir.  As I mentioned above, there is a full-blown sermon with a preacher character, and the text is John 11–the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It’s treated allegorically here:  being exgay is equated with being dead, stinking up the tomb, and coming out as gay and gay-affirming is equated with being raised from the dead.  Just as Lazarus needed others to unwrap his grave clothes, bound as he was in them, so do former exgays (or gays from conservative backgrounds) need others to help free them from the bondages of their pasts.   I wasn’t offended or anything, but I just couldn’t really relate all that well.  As I’ve talked about before, over the years I’ve come to pick out some of my old exgay beliefs as unhelpful and/or stupid, but from my perspective it was just ordinary mistake-prone learn-as-you-go life, not a kind of living death.  Knowing a little of Peterson’s story, of the pain and frustration he felt, of the lengths he went to and the sums he paid to try to change, and what he believes now, I can understand how things would feel to him. 

But to understand, of course, is not to share the feeling.  Maybe an imperfect but decent analogy would be that of an older gay guy, who sowed his fair share of wild oats back in the day, listening to an exgay guy testifying about the horrors of his past “deathstyle” of debauchery and boundless misery.  There might be a powerful similarity of experience between the two, on one level, but their interpretations of that experience and the conclusions they draw from it diverge wildly.  Both Peterson and I see most current expressions of the exgay and gays-should-be-celibate viewpoints as troubled and flawed, but in the final analysis I see them as redeemable–as founded on authentic, Spirit-led, Christian conviction, but thwarted by ignorance, arrogance, and sundry Freudian bad ideas, all of which can be corrected and repented of.  Peterson, I suspect, would instead see those troubles and flaws as the bad fruit of a perspective/ideology that is rotten to the core (despite being believed and advocated by some very nice and sincere people), a destructive, abusive, oppressive force in the lives of those of most if not all of the same-sex attracted people who fall into its grip.

Haggard, Take Two: How Many Legs Does A Dog Have, If You Call The Tail A Leg?

February 15, 2007

 (Uh, if you aren’t familiar with Abe Lincoln’s riddle, the answer is: Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.)

Jay says, in response to my Haggard post:

After talking to several ex-gays with opinions differing from my own, I’ve come to realize that their definitions of homosexual and heterosexual don’t seem to line up with Merriam-Webster’s, if you know what I mean. Mike Ensley and I once discussed the hullabaloo surrounding the “gay-identity” issue within ex-gay ministries, and he said something that I found somewhat interesting:

“I’ve developed a deep (and very freeing) conviction that homosexuality is just an experience some people have–it’s not a thing a person can be. Even people who identify as gay aren’t homosexuals.”

[Jay links to his conversation with Ensley here…]

I could be wrong, but I’ve gotten a sense that many within ex-gay ministries hold a belief that, because all humans were meant to be perfectly heterosexual, then that is the way one should define oneself, no matter what one’s actual feelings are. It seems to me reminiscent of “Name It and Claim It” ideology. I personally don’t hold too much ill-will towards such a view, but I do think it is impractical and misleading.

This post is all about emphatically agreeing with Jay.  The idiosyncrasies of exgay language, in my humble opinion, have gotten completely out of control. 

I know that I personally feel that I have no grip on what people are talking about anymore when they claim to be “heterosexual”.  I know enough to not naively draw the wrong conclusions, but not enough to know what the heck is going on.  And I am someone who, while not a mainstream exgay herself, has read most of the classic exgay texts, has spent years in exgay groups, etc.   And it’s not just me being dense–I know others who feel the same way.

To give you an idea of what I’m concerned with, let me share a few examples of Fun With The Word ‘Heterosexual’.  The first two are specific instances with links, the latter two are more general observations:

  •  –John Smid supposedly said to John Paulk, while trying to encourage him in the midst of his struggles, “The label of ex-gay is still connected with your past. … So from now on … you’re not an ex-gay; you’re a man. And not just a man, but a heterosexual. That’s how everyone sees you.” Now, in fairness I must state that I am borrowing this quote from Ralph Blair’s review of Paulk’s book, and he is hardly an unbiased reviewer.  I myself have not read the book, I do not have access to it, and I do not plan to buy it.  If this quote, fraught with ellipses as it is, distorts what Paulk wrote, please let me know either via the comments or email.  But to me it seems representative of other things I’ve heard and read in exgay circles.
  • –This next one is discussed well by Box Turtle Bulletin. Alan Chambers states in God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door that he is “completely heterosexual.”  But then in his CNN appearance  discussing Haggard, he’s much more conservative and nuanced in his claims, about how he “will never be as though [he] never was,” that he’s still human and could be homosexually tempted again, that his feelings are “diminished” and “different”, that he chooses to “live beyond [his] feelings.”  All of that is fine, but it’s certainly not what first comes to mind when someone tells me that he’s “completely heterosexual.”  (On a side note, this talk about “living beyond your feelings” sounds creepily detached and denial-ish to me.  I don’t live beyond my feelings.  I just don’t do everything my feelings tell me to.  The difference seems significant to me.)
  • –I’ve heard exgays come up with definitions of heterosexuality that have nothing to do with being interested in the opposite sex.  So, for example, I’ve heard that heterosexuality is about being secure in one’s identity in God.  Or, alternatively, that heterosexuality is about being mature and comfortable with oneself as a man or woman.  Or, heterosexuality is about having healed your childhood root issues–once those are dealt with, you’re healed, you’re heterosexual, even though you may not feel anything for the opposite sex.  Or, heterosexuality is about not being tangled up in a gay identity or “the gay lifestyle,” regardless of who you’re hot for, or how many guys you inexplicably find yourself in random sexual encounters with.
  • –And then there’s that infamous old saw, “There are no homosexuals, only heterosexuals with homosexual problems.”

Of course, accompanying all these bizarre uses of the word “heterosexual,” there are also parallel uses of words like “homosexual” and “gay.”  People profess to not be gay and not be homosexual, or they say that they are no longer gay, or no longer homosexual, but you can’t draw any conclusions from that about their sexual attractions.  (At least, if you’re smart, you won’t draw any conclusions.)

So, basically, I have a big problem with all of this. 

We have an important responsiblity to communicate clearly, honestly, and accurately.  We might find it unfortunate that the world should use and understand words in a certain way.  But we have a responsibility to be aware of how our words will be understood, and to take care that people will not get the wrong idea.  Civilization as we know it depends on words not being able to mean whatever we want them to mean.  If I am “completely heterosexual,” all is permitted.

I understand that people have their reasons for using words the way they do.

For example, I know some people use words a little differently because they think our society places too much importance on sexual attractions, and it surely does.  If we want to be coy about where out sexual attractions are at, or if we don’t think it’s anyone’s business, that’s fine.  It probably isn’t anyone’s business, unless we choose to make it theirs by using our professed orientation change as grounds for some political argument.  But let’s not cloak that coyness or reticence in words that will mislead.

I know we were all created to be heterosexual, in attraction and activity.  I don’t mean to deny that.  But the fact is, this little thing called The Fall happened, and it screwed that all up.  And we need to be honest with ourselves and with others about how it has affected us.  I don’t think there’s any virtue in being in denial with ourselves or misleading others about the impact of the Fall on our lives. 

Some people may feel it’s helpful for the purposes of encouraging “self-talk” in identity matters to call themselves straight or hetero.  Perhaps kind of like how I have occasionally in the past called myself a “rockstar” or a “champ” while psyching myself up to do something I was really anxious about, like taking an exam or giving a talk.  I’m kind of uneasy with people doing that in the realm of sexuality, but I suppose it’s okay.  Still, I don’t bring my bathroom mirror pep-talk routine into my communications with others, and I don’t take it very seriously in any case.  I don’t let other people (or myself) actually believe that I’m a famous musician or a middleweight titleholder! 

Somewhat relatedly, I know some people are into the whole name-it-and-claim-it theology.  I’ll be blunt with you, I absolutely abhor that stuff.   But even I did accept it, I would not extend my “naming and claiming” to situations where it would actively misinform other people.  Maybe (although I seriously doubt it) it would be fine in your private devotional life, or in a small group of believers who know you well and understand what you are doing.  But if someone is asking you whether you are heterosexual, because they are curious about what sorts of change have occurred in your life, it is not the time or the place to start claiming in faith all sorts of changes that have not yet happened for you. 

And finally, I know that some people use words in the way they do as an expression of rebellion against our society’s way of thinking and talking about sexuality, a rebellion to which I am deeply sympathetic.  I find the concept of sexual orientation that is in common currency today really unhelpful, and I hope to explore this further in a series of posts on the subject of gay identity that’s on the way.  The world asks, “Are you gay or straight?” and if the answer is “gay”, then it says that “being true to yourself” and your life fulfillment hinges on embracing your attractions and pursuing sex or relationships with others like you.  Homosexual attractions are taken to be indicative of some deep fact about one’s nature and identity which must be obeyed, rather than being just another temptation or sin struggle.  I understand why people want to rebel against this, why using their language feels like playing along with something we don’t want to play along with.

But the way I see it, none of these reasons can be an excuse for speaking deceptively.  And the fact is, unless we explain things very clearly, if we claim to be heterosexual, people will understand that to primarily mean that we are attracted solely to the opposite sex.  Again, unless we explain things very clearly, if we deny being gay or homosexual, people will understand us to primarily be saying that we are not attracted to the same sex (unless we say that we are bisexual).  This may be frustrating and lamentable, but it is the way it is.  We can do what we can to try to change the discourse, but in the meantime I feel that honesty demands that we not cause others to have false beliefs about our sexualities and attractions, that we be responsible stewards of our words.  And toward that end, I would make three suggestions.

1.  We ought not to be absolutely allergic to speaking in terms that people will understand.

 Even though we may dislike certain words with their common meanings, sometimes they are the best way to convey the truth.  Sometimes, if someone asks you if you are gay or homosexual, the best answer is “Yes, but…” or “Well, sort of, but…”  We have to recognize that in most cases people who ask us these sorts of questions, though their conceptual foundations may be messed up, are primarily interested in our sexual attractions, or sometimes our behavior.  They are generally not primarily interested in our sense of identity, especially if they already know what our beliefs are.  So we need to acknowledge this in the answers we give to them, and answer in a way that communicates the truth.  If our attractions are predominantly homosexual, and we are responding to the questions of someone who may not be able to understand a complex explanation of our views, sometimes the most accurate, honest, and even most God-honoring answer to the question “Are you gay?” or “Are you homosexual?” is “Yes.”

2.  We can turn our conversations toward a vocabulary we find more suitable. 

We’ve done this pretty well with “same-sex attracted,” I think.  (I personally prefer “homosexually-attracted” or “homo-attracted”, partly because they’re easier to understand, and partly because I think a lot of people just need to get a grip when it comes to applying any “homo-” word to themselves, but whatever.)  Some of us don’t feel that words like “gay” or “homosexual” accurately convey what we’re talking about, so we use different terminology.

I think it’s fine to tell our conversational partners that we can’t express our views fully in their preferred vocabulary, and to share our own with them.  And with minimal creativity and effort, we can explain our sexuality and our convictions without using any orientationist buzzwords at all.  We can say things like, “Well, I’m attracted to men, but because of my religious beliefs that sex belongs in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, I’m not looking for a sexual relationship.”

I honestly think this is the best way to handle both how we present ourselves to others and how we think of ourselves.  If you’re really worried about gay identity, then stop thinking and speaking of yourself in gay-related terms altogether!  Saying “I’m not gay!” buys into a gay identity worldview just as much as saying “I’m gay!” does.   You cannot “move beyond” the latter without moving beyond the former as well.  The same goes for “heterosexual” and “homosexual.”

If we don’t like the orientationist vocabulary of “gay,” “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” “sexual orientation,” and the like, we can simply decline to use it, for the most part.  We do not have to abuse it by employing it in a way that misleads others. 
3.  If we’re going to use the world’s words differently from how others are using them, we ought to make that clear.

So, my personal feeling is that we ought not apply the adjective “heterosexual” to ourselves unless we are overwhelmingly predominantly attracted to the opposite sex.  And, we ought not to describe ourselves to outsiders as “not gay” or “not homosexual” if our attractions are predominantly directed towards people of the same sex.  (Within exgay circles and with those Christians who understand what their words mean, I suppose people can use whatever lingo or dialect they want.  I’m mostly concerned with how we present ourselves to those who won’t understand our linguistic eccentricities.)

But, if some of us feel that we absolutely must say, “I’m not homosexual,” then we ought to explain why: “…because I believe that nobody is really homosexual,” or whatever the reason is.   If we are predominantly same-sex attracted and we say, “I’m not gay…”  we had better add “but you see, I think that gayness is a matter of identity rather than attraction.”  Specifically, if we are going to talk in non-standard terms, we ought to be explicitly crystal clear about our attractions.  “I consider myself heterosexual…but when I’m real stressed and tired and lonely, I sometimes still get turned on by a good-looking guy.”  Yes, we might sound like idiots, but better to sound like an idiot than to deceive others.  And that fact that saying those things sounds idiotic may indicate something about whether we should be saying them at all!  (See my two preceding suggestions.) 

I know that some people don’t want to be explicit about their attractions, because they’re ashamed of them.  I don’t think they should be ashamed–I think such shame generally stems from an unhealthy embrace of the pathologizing Freudian stuff, which we all know I hate.  Or, it stems from the false belief that this sin, this temptation, is worse than others, that the fact that you experience is says something exceptionally bad about you as a person or a Christian, which we all know I’m not a big fan of either.  But I don’t want to beat up on the ashamed people for being ashamed–I know they’ve got enough problems without me ragging on them.  So all I will say is that if you are too ashamed of your attractions to tell the truth about them, then don’t talk about them at all.  If someone asks you, tell them it’s none of their business.  Just don’t mislead others.  That, in my opinion, is something that is much more appropriate to be ashamed of.

Why I Would Recommend Exgay Ministries

August 3, 2006

I’ve voiced some concerns and criticisms about certain aspects of exgay ministry here recently.  I’ve agreed about a lot of things with someone who has said she would never recommend exgay ministries.  And I’ve expressed my lack of love for the Freud-inspired psych/healing approach which is central to how exgay groups address homosexuality.  But in spite of all that, I am pro- exgay ministries.  I would recommend them, generally, to those who are Christian and having a hard time dealing with their homosexual attractions.

(By the way, I should note that I’m using “exgay ministries” here to refer to Christian exgay support groups. I don’t have any experience of seeing a reparative or other exgay therapist, so I can’t comment on that. And I’m not talking about secular support groups or exgay residential programs for a similar reason.)

My recommendation would come with the disclaimer that exgay teachings are not a revealed religion. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being a “cafeteria ex-gay”, ordering a la carte instead of getting the meal deal, taking what works and what makes sense and leaving what doesn’t. So be an intelligent consumer. Critically evaluate what you hear. Acquaint yourself with alternative perspectives and sources of information. Beware of anyone who tells you not to.  I think ex-gay ministries are a little bit like a college education in this sense–they can be a valuable experience, but you shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you’re told!

Here are some of the things that really “work” in ex-gay ministries, the reasons for which I recommend them:

Worship: Gathering together in worship with people desperately feeling their need for Jesus and His mercy and His touch, just pouring their hearts out in His presence, is an amazing thing. I’m inclined to think sometimes that you might not really know what worship can be like if you haven’t done it in a room of fiercely struggling homo-attracted folks.

Camaraderie and Understanding: Everybody knows how you feel today. Nobody pities you or is weirded out by you. They just feel for you. I’ve been open about sharing my struggles with hetero Christians since the beginning of my journey, and while I’ve had some great experiences with that, I have occasionally found that they respond either by awkwardly not knowing what to say, or by giving me a you-poor-thing look like I’m some kind of one-legged puppy.  In an exgay group, you will not be able to b.s. anyone with your own self-pity. You will be able to laugh through the hard times together with people who understand. You will be able to share your prayer requests without varnishing them, and you know that the others there will know exactly how to pray for you.

Gospel: Jesus will be placed in front of you week after week. You will be reminded of the gospel and especially of grace. Easy to take for granted, but I have found it a real blessing. I have found exgay groups a more consistent reminder of the gospel than any other kind of Christian gathering, except of course for church services. My Bible study small group might delve into deep insights about the book of Ecclesiastes, but I can count on an exgay group to bring me back to the basics of Jesus, gospel, and grace every time. If you are struggling hard, this may well be a great blessing to you too.

Consistency of Encouragement: You will hear the same encouragement to press on from your brothers and sisters week in and week out. In contrast, your non-Christian friends will probably think you have lost your mind with this whole exgay business, and may even be trying to stop you or sabotage your efforts and break you down. Even your Christian friends may feel very confused about the issue, and thus somewhat ambivalent in their support of you. If they do not struggle with same-sex attraction themselves, and you are having a really hard time, they may find themselves questioning their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality, out of their care and affection for you, their not wanting to see you suffer or struggle. Or some Christians might fall toward the other extreme, and be too harsh, judgmental, and discouraging. You want people who will love you unwaveringly, who will call sin by its name, and who will support you in doing battle against it. You want people who will tie you to the mast when you begin to hear those Sirens singing. I have found exgay ministries to be a wonderful place to find people who will do that.

Safety: I didn’t appreciate this as much as some others, because I didn’t really feel ashamed of my attractions or try to hide them during my exgay journey. But many folks really enjoy the safe space provided by an exgay group.  In some cases, those in the group are the only people they feel they can tell.  A safe space is a good thing.

Abandonment of gay identity: Okay, This is far more controversial than the others, I’m sure. But I found for myself that moving past gay identity was essential for living stably and contentedly according to my beliefs as a same-sex attracted Christian woman. So this part of the exgay teaching I found extremely helpful. I really need to say more about it, but I don’t think this post is quite the place to do it. So let me just say this: Abandoning gay identity doesn’t mean being in denial. It doesn’t mean “naming it and claiming it”, proclaiming that you’re “healed”, that you’re totally straight and happily heterosexual, while you’re still homosexually attracted. What it means is radically altering the role that the fact of your homosexual attractions plays in your thinking about your self and your life. I used to feel that my homosexual attractions were at the very core of my being, a very fundamental part of who I was, so much so that I couldn’t imagine who I would be without them, I couldn’t separate them from who I was meant to be, from my normative conception of my life. And I used to very strongly socially identify as gay, so that I saw gay people as my people, my tribe. As a result of these things, after my conversion and conviction that homosex was sin, I felt like a walking contradiction and a traitor to boot. Different people report different experiences, but I personally found it impossible to maintain a stable, contented, faithful walk with God in accordance with my beliefs without letting those identifications go to some degree. Exgay ministries helped me to begin doing that.

Transitional value: Exgay groups make for wonderful transitional community for those moving from gay to straight worlds. “Normal”, straight, conservative evangelicals weirded me out completely for years. (I’ll be honest—a lot of them still do.) So when I was in college, I would literally run from church at the end of the service to get back to company which was far more comfortable for me and far less edifying. But with an exgay group, you can have the best of both worlds—lovers of God and of holiness that you can relax with and be yourself with. At some point, of course, exgays need to move on from that and merge into deeper fellowship with the larger church body. But as a transitional place, I think exgay groups are a great thing.

Encouragement to face and work through issues: Now, granted, I think sometimes the ideology of reparative therapy can push people to imagine into existence issues that were never there in the first place. But in general, I think their idea that we need to take responsibility for our baggage and issues and deal with them appropriately is a good one. Regardless of whether or not it eventually diminishes one’s homosexual attractions. There is a related depth of honest humility in exgay groups, a willingness to admit our weakness and brokenness and woundedness and fallenness, and I am convinced that wherever that willingness is, great blessing is just around the corner. In other segments of the church and the world, I have found a tendency to pretend to others and oneself that everything is hunky-dory, that one has it all under control. I see some people living very limited spiritual lives in part because they are unwilling to know themselves, to see themselves as they are (insofar as that’s possible.)  As Calvin and others have insisted, self-knowledge and God-knowledge are so intricately intertwined that you can’t have one without the other. In an exgay group, ideally, you come to see yourself as you are, and are encouraged to deal with yourself accordingly.

So, for all these reasons, I would recommend ex-gay ministries to people, despite whatever imperfections they may have.