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.


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.

Exodus Takes on the Celibate Menace

October 5, 2006

So I’ve just read God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door, by Exodus President Alan Chambers and other Exodus leaders. Some good, some bad, and overall a profoundly alienating experience. Maybe a review later, but I’m not really the reviewing sort, so probably not.
I’ve been listening/reading to Exodus stuff for quite some time, so there weren’t a ton of surprises in here. But one thing that shocked me was their hostility toward the celibate gay route. I had always thought they had a live-and-let-live attitude and were cool with the celibate gay Christians doing their own thing. It turns out I was just projecting.

Here are three quotes, with horrified commentary from me.

1. While listing various faulty Christian attitudes toward homosexuality, Mike Goeke refers to the “website” of a mystery denomination (he gives no further information, but he is quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) which advocates chastity as the proper course of action for the same-sex-attracted believer.

The website states that “homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” However, there is a clear implication that true change is not possible. (64)

(emphasis mine)

When I first read this, I didn’t know whether to faint, puke, or rend my garments.

I mean, what have we become if we are portraying the gradual and resolute approach of Christian perfection as somehow not being “true change?” If sanctification isn’t true change for a Christian, then what is? I feel like I’m always trying to tell people that contrary to our awful reputation, we exgays really do see holiness and obedience and faith as the highest and most important things, and all the other kinds of change as secondary at best. Am I wrong about that?

2. Another bit from Goeke, as he again denigrates celibacy in comparison with the True Christian option. Let’s do this one as a quiz, okay? Fill in the blank in the following passage:

Many who leave homosexuality behind are unwilling to accept that their only option is to live a life of celibacy, simply managing unwanted attractions. What they really want is _________.

If, like me, you would put “to get laid” or anything having to do with sex or relationship or marriage, you’d be wrong. The actual quote:

Many who leave homosexuality behind are unwilling to accept that their only option is to live a life of celibacy, simply managing unwanted attractions. What they really want is a change in identity. They no longer want the gay label attached to them. (69-70)

This just doesn’t make sense. How does changing your identity and label free you from celibacy and the onerous responsibility of managing your unwanted attractions? Is “change in identity” supposed to be some sort of code for “heterosexual attractions and relationships?” I’m totally perplexed.

Look, I’m in favor of people taking their gay identity and nailing it to the cross. Really I am. But I think doing it primarily in order to improve your sex/love life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And that’s what this passage seems to be implying. Tired of this long dry season you’ve been having? Switch labels!

Maybe I just don’t understand. In fact, I’m quite sure I don’t understand. But you know, I’ve been trying to sympathetically understand Exodus-speak for several years now, and I think I’m about ready to give up.

3. Alan Chambers this time:

This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is. (218)

(emphasis mine)

If I understand that correctly, he’s saying there’s no sin in the gay sex at all. Right? If celibacy is just as sinful as promiscuity, then the sex makes no moral difference.

Whatever I believe about gay identity, it isn’t that.

I honestly don’t think we have grounds for declaring gay identity flat-out sinful. I do worry about it from a prudential/practical perspective–I simply haven’t seen it “work” in the lives of the many seeking-to-be-faithful-and-obedient homo-atrracted folk I’ve known, with the exception of this one guy (who has himself expressed doubts to me about the wisdom of identifying as gay.) It also appears to work okay for this chick, but seeing as how I don’t know her from a hole in the wall, I can’t really say.

My basic problem with Chambers’s statement, aside from its absurdity in declaring celibacy and promiscuity to be morally equivalent, is that there’s no acknowledgment of the complexity of the issue. There’s no sense that “identifying with” something can take a variety of forms, or that “gay identity” might mean different things to different people. And what does “contrary to Christ” mean? In what way is gay identity like or different from other kinds of identity in this respect? If he just means that our allegiance to Christ ought to trump and transcend all our earthly identities, well yeah! But if he means something more than that, and presumably he does, I think a bit more needs to be said by way of explanation.

My Misadventures With “Healing” Approaches to Homosexuality

August 3, 2006

So, discussing things in my comment thread with And Also With You, I mentioned my not-exactly-warm-and-fuzzy feelings about “healing” approaches to dealing homosexual attraction, the sort-of-Freudian theories about how homosexual attractions come into existence, and how they can be gotten rid of. Given that this is probably my biggest point of departure from the exgay mainstream, (it might actually be enough to disqualify me from being exgay, I’m never quite sure) I’m going to try to explain why I’ve come to feel they way I do.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s common in exgay circles to view homosexual attractions as being caused by a lack of necessary emotional bonding with the same-sex (especially with one’s same-sex parent) in childhood. According to the story, the child ends up with a same-sex love deficit, and also a lack of security within their own gender, having not been properly affirmed by others of their gender, especially the same-sex parent. Also, lack of affirmation in one’s gender by the opposite-sex parent can be a problem too. Once adolescence rolls along, this deficit and insecurity and confusion can become sexualized, possibly leading to homosexual attractions. The solution, therefore, is to remedy the same-sex emotional deficit with healthy, non-sexual same-sex friendships and to heal the wounds of the past, spiritually and/or with therapy. Once those are taken care of, the story goes, the homosexual attractions should diminish or disappear, and the way should be open for heterosexual attractions to develop.

I don’t know to what extent these theories are accurate. I’m not trying to claim here that they are always false and/or never work for anybody. On the contrary, many people I respect deeply have told me that these theories worked well for them and were a real blessing to them, helping them change their lives. So I think in some cases they may be a valuable tool, and I believe that tool should be available to all who find it useful. But my own experience of trying to work with these theories raised a lot of concerns for me, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

1. The theories became self-fulfilling prophecies for me.

My first concern with these theories is that they tended to function in my own life as a self-fulfilling prophecy, in at least two ways.

The first way is this: part of the theory is usually that homosexual attraction is tied to being emotionally and sexually immature, a child trapped in a grown-up’s body, or being emotionally broken and incapable of healthy adult relationships. Now, far be it from me to deny that some people (both gay and straight, I think) are immature, childish in certain respects, and emotionally broken. But what I’ve experienced in my own life (and seen in others as well) is that when we believe we are immature, needy, emotionally broken beings desperately in need of same-sex affirmation and healing, it affects how we act. In a way that’s sometimes not for the best, I think. When we believe we are love-starved little children on the inside, we start to feel and act like love-starved little children. And it’s not pretty.

Thus, when I was into these sorts of theories, I was very self-obsessed, very focused on my needs, in part because the exgay theology I accepted was very focused on my needs. I was told by exgay literature that my mission was to make sure I got my needs met and my relational deficits filled. So I became the taker (and not a giver) in my relationships with others, in large part because I believed I desperately needed to take, and I believed I had little to give. According to the exgay theories, I needed emotional sustenance from “normal”, “healthy”, “whole” women. What could an “abnormal”, “sick”, “broken” wretch like myself possibly have to offer them? I expected very little of myself in the way of holiness, because I believed I would be incapable of attempting a holy, mature Christian life until I got my “legitimate unfulfilled emotional needs” met.

For me it was a hugely startling realization to make (and it was a long time in the making) that I could choose to live (relatively) maturely and participate in responsible, healthy, equal relationships with other Christians. Right now. Regardless of my homosexual attractions. I largely have the residential program to thank for that, and that is because they did not care one bit for these theories. In their mind I was simply a Christian who struggles with sin, like any other, and as such I was called to the same standard of life and love as every other Christian. (I should note that other Christians spoke that truth to me–but it took the program to really drive it home.)

The other way these theories worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life is in my relationship with my parents. Anyone who has followed my story at all will note that my relationship with my parents was sub-optimal. There is no use denying that. But I will say that spending years trying to diagnose what they did and how it might have caused my homosexual issues made our relationship worse rather than better. It increased the distance between me and my mom rather than diminishing it. It led me to turn my frustration with my same-sex attracted predicament (and it certainly felt like a predicament at times!) toward them. Every time I saw a fault in my mother or father, I would make a mental note of it, and remember how they did something vaguely similar when I was little, and how that probably contributed to my struggle in some way. Often I felt rather bitter about it, especially when I was having a tough time of things. And that drove a wedge into our already flawed relationship.

Please don’t get me wrong–the exgay movement does not endorse either of these things. They do not approve of behaving selfishly and immaturely, or of feeling bitter toward one’s parents. But in spite of their explicit stance, I found both of those problems to be very real side effects of these theories, potential pitfalls that I stumbled into. I accept responsibility for that, but the role these theories played in my choices is not negligible.

2. The pressure to fit the mold of these theories led me toward dishonesty about my past.

I once had a series of conversations with an exgay where the pressure to come up with a sexual abuse history was pretty overwhelming. I had no recollection of sexual abuse, but she kept bringing up the possibility. Weren’t there, after all, periods of time in my childhood that I couldn’t remember? (Well yeah, but does any adult completely remember their entire childhood? Isn’t it all bits and pieces for most of us?) Wasn’t it possible that I was abused during those times, and simply blocked out the trauma? With gentle coaching of this other exgay, I made the leap from “possible” to “probable” to “almost certain” in about ten seconds flat.

Later, I was informed by an exgay leader that 100% of people with a set of issues like mine were victims of sexual abuse. 100%. Unequivocally, totally confident, without a doubt. I walked away from that conversation rather dazed. I had no knowledge of ever having been sexually abused, but now it seemed like it had to be so.

Now, no one told me flat-out to my face: You must believe you were a victim of sexual abuse. But the pressure to believe it was extremely high, and as a result of that pressure I began to secretly blame someone in my life for the mysterious abuse that it seemed I must have experienced. Someone who I now believe is obviously, totally, completely innocent of that. To be honest I’m pretty horrified at myself. I have to admit that I really wanted to fit the ex-gay theory model. They insisted that they knew how to fix a particular kind of person with a particular kind of history, so I wanted to be that person with that history.

Again, don’t get me wrong, exgay groups in my experience do not endorse dishonesty. But for me the temptation to dishonesty went hand-in-hand with the theories that were presented to me, the theories I was encouraged to find myself in so that I could be healed.

3. I found an alternative that worked better for me.

By far the biggest reason why I’m not such a big fan of the healing approach, at least for myself, is that I found the alternative so much more livable and liberating. For years I thought about this struggle very much in these healing terms, as is standard in exgay circles and in some Catholic circles as well, it seems. I won’t say it was all a bad thing. It certainly got me to pay more attention to my emotional health and my relationships than I might have otherwise. It got me to be more reflective about certain things, and I’m a big fan of reflectiveness.

But I found it a somewhat stagnant, frustrating approach to take with regard to my homosexual attraction. After a certain point, I had pursued psychological healing and emotional healing and spiritual healing and healthy relationships with my parents and others for years. I just wasn’t sure what else could be done in any of those areas. (This was after I finished the residential program.) Yet my homosexual attractions were quite present, and I had no heterosexual attractions to show for all my efforts. Given all the obvious progress I had made, shouldn’t I have shifted straightward a tiny bit? If the theories were correct, then given the continued existence of my same-sex attractions, I was still obviously, severely, sexually and emotionally immature. But what else was to be done?

One day, a thought occurred to me. What if I thought about my homosexual temptations in the same way I thought about my temptations to every other sin? Like pride, greed, or unrighteous anger?

Did I worry about psychological or emotional healing for the temptations to any of these other sins? Did I try to diagnose and dig up their “roots” and make the temptations go away? Not really, it seemed to me. I just accepted them as sins that I struggle with, that I would probably always struggle with to some degree. Heck, my pride goes ten thousand times deeper than my homosexual struggle does! But I didn’t psychoanalyze each prideful thought or tie it to some emotional wound that I’ve suffered. Instead, I sought repentance. I sought grace. I sought strengthening from God to live faithfully, to make holy choices. I sought self-discipline and maturity to live more obediently, in thought and in deed. And I didn’t think that the mere presence of any of these temptations meant that I was psychologically or emotionally stunted relative to “normal” people. On the contrary, everyone experiences temptation. Paul experienced temptation. Even Jesus experienced temptation. So if my experience of temptation in general didn’t mean that I had specific psychological or emotional problems, then why was I viewing my struggle against homosexual temptation so differently?

Thus I decided to try treating my homosexual struggle in just the same way as I treated my struggles against those other kinds of temptation. And I found that an immensely freeing switch to make. Rather than focusing on trying to make the temptation go away, I focused on living with the temptation, doing battle with it, gaining mastery over it. I no longer worried about how it got there. Just as I didn’t worry all that much about why I struggled with pride or greed–I just knew that I did, as part of my fallen nature. I stopped treating it as a sickness that needed curing, and started treating it as a something that needed to be lived with in a faithful and holy way. Perhaps the temptation would eventually disappear. Perhaps not. It didn’t really matter.

This worked amazingly well for me. It got me to lighten up about my homosexual attractions. It helped me enjoy far greater peace and contentment than I knew before. It gave me a set of goals and a purpose that seemed more solidly Biblical to me than those recommended by these theories about what makes people homo-attracted. And, rather ironically, I got far better “change” results with this approach than I did with deliberately trying to get healing for my attractions according to those theories.

Reflections on Some Exodus Ads

May 29, 2006

“Question Homosexuality” was the theme of an Exodus ad campaign which started a couple of years ago. (ad 1 , ad 2 ) At first I found that exhortation (and similar statements like “I questioned homosexuality”) somewhat baffling. It didn’t seem to me that homosexuality is the sort of thing one questions. One might question homosexual people, or particular theories and views about homosexual attractions. But “question homosexuality?” That looks like a category mistake to me.

It seems that the heart of the message is supposed to resemble that famous bumpersticker slogan “Question Authority.” Homosexuality is the new Authority, the stodgy creature of political correctness, and young, vibrant, thoughtful exgays and their allies are challenging that authority and subversively questioning it. Independent free-thinking nonconformists like Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas could not be cowed by homosexual activist dogma, and through their intrepid questioning uncovered the truth: Change Is Possible.

Well, bully for them I suppose, but I know that I did not take up an exgay path because I was cool enough to rebel against and question the liberal mainstream and its presumptions. Rather, I took up an exgay path because I encountered Jesus Christ, submitted my life to His Lordship, and followed what I believe He was calling me to. Judging by their testimonies on the Exodus website, it seems that it was the same for Thomas and Chambers. But that's not the impression one gets from their stories as presented in their “I Questioned Homosexuality” ads, linked to at the beginning of this post. Not a single mention of God or Christ or faith graces the ad versions of their stories. It’s all self-motivated and self-empowered. They simply found homosexuality unsatisfying and abandoned it to pursue a more satisfying hetero life, which they achieved with hard work, perseverance, and a little help from Exodus. Just another variation on the American Dream.

They imply that it is the same for the tens of thousands of exgays “just like” them. Well, they had better not be counting me!

I am not exgay because homosexuality is so terribly bad, because I “questioned” it and found it wanting. No, I am exgay because Jesus Christ is so unbelievably, amazingly good! The pivotal choice which set me on an exgay path had nothing to do with the relative merits of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality; rather, it was “Will I follow Christ (as best as I can understand how) or not?”

The more recent “Unhappy? Gay?” billboard campaign was even more distressing to me. It suggests that the exgay life is a joyously gratifying experience of self-satisfaction: Being exgay will make you happy. Come on, don’t you want to be happy?!?

Whenever I hear that sort of rhetoric, my jaw just drops. I did not become exgay because I was unhappy or disillusioned with being gay. My decision to pursue an exgay path had nothing to do with self-fulfillment, and everything to do with self-denial. It was the scariest and most painful decision of my life at the time. It had nothing to do with looking for a better life for myself, and everything to do with dying to myself and all that I knew, that Christ might live in me. It was about walking by faith, and not by sight.

It’s a good thing, too, because if I had pursued an exgay path out of a search for worldly happiness and an easier life, I’m absolutely certain I would have given up at some point during the four years of incredibly difficult struggle (and the subsequent two years of somewhat reduced difficulty) that I went through before experiencing the slightest hint of attraction change. Here’s a little of what I experienced during those years:

  • Clinical depression (I had struggled with this earlier when I was gay-affirming, but it came back with a vengeance when I took up an exgay journey)
  • Self-injury
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • A dead-end relationship that I couldn’t resist despite my beliefs, that caused much pain for all parties involved
  • Sexual struggles of mindboggling intensity, leading to pornography problems and a masturbation addiction that I had never had before going exgay.
  • Enormous amounts of emotional turmoil inflicted by myself and others trying to dig up the “roots” of my homosexual attractions–dredging up painful memories, wallowing in them, and exaggerating them to make them even worse, also putting stress on my relationship with my parents
  • Profound soul-weariness, wondering each day how I was going to make it through another day.
  • Fear of a long life of singleness, of growing old alone.
  • Grieving the absence of romance and loving relationships in my life, as well as the loss of gay friendships
  • Desperate and constant arguing, begging, and pleading with God for release

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that for me, embarking on an exgay journey was not about lifestyle enhancement. Yes, God has blessed me richly with a fulfilling marriage to a wonderful man, and with great happiness, but these were not the goals for which I took up this path. If they had been the goals, I would have given up a long time ago.

So frankly I find it somewhat insulting when others present the exgay journey as a path to worldly personal fulfillment. For me it was a difficult, painful journey that I undertook out of a love for God and a desire to please and glorify Him.

It might be wonderfully convenient (for those who want to use exgays’ lives as a political argument) if the exgay path had nothing to do with God and faith and dying to self, if it were simply about opening one’s eyes to some universal unhappiness of gay life and making the switch to a more enjoyable straight life instead. But that wasn't the reality of my journey, and I don't think it was the reality of the journeys of most of the tens of thousands to whom Exodus refers in their ads.

Six Complaints about NGLTF’s anti-exgay report “Youth in the Cross-hairs: The Third Wave of Ex-gay Activism”

March 16, 2006

Link to the report.

1. So little of the report has to do with youth. I count 11 out of 77 pages (the whole of the text after the “Executive summary”) which have anything to do with youth. In those pages we have short descriptions, none particularly insightful, of a couple of stories about LIA / Refuge, Exodus Youth, Dobson and Nicolosi on “prehomosexuality”, PFOX legal action for a more “exgay friendly” sex ed curriculum, and the ADF’s “Day of Truth”.

Other than that, it’s just the same old recycled anti-exgay spiel, with an occasional “Oh no! They’re after the CHILDREN!” interjected. There’s no real analysis or examination of why these things are happening.

Some of the stories they present tell us virtually nothing. We know practically nothing about Zach’s and DJ’s LIA experiences, and what little we have heard about DJ seems questionable, given Queer Action Coalition’s decision to “back away from a public representation of this story.” I guess we learn from their stories that some parents force their kids to seek help for their same-sex attractions. But that’s not news, and it’s certainly no “third wave”.

I personally found all the “predatory” rhetoric about “targeting youth” and “recruiting youth” quite tiring. I think it’s annoying when conservative Christians resort to that way of talking about gay issues in schools. I think it’s equally annoying when gays resort to that way of talking about ex-gay youth outreach. Both groups should acknowledge that the other is simply seeking to help young people according to their beliefs.

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On Alan Chambers, Ex-ex-gays, and the Golden Rule

February 22, 2006

From the Salon article on CPAC:

A 1:30 p.m. session on “Marriage in the States,” which was supposed to include Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, featured instead a self-described former homosexual named Alan Chambers. He said sodomy was like fast food: “It will kill you.” He was an expert because he had lived through the torment of gay lust, enduring “a never ending cycle of cravings and nourishment … an endless treadmill of faceless encounters, broken hearts and unmet dreams.” His research on the gay lifestyle had also taught him that gay people do not really want gay marriage (it was the liberal media) and that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible.” Then he declared, in the struggling voice of a recovering alcoholic, “Today I stand before you as a heterosexual man … who now lives an unparalleled life of happiness and satisfaction.” He said there were hundreds of thousands like him.

(More extensive quotes can be found here at CNSnews.)

I don’t doubt that Chambers’ personal experience with homosexuality was as desperate a thing as he describes. I don’t doubt that he never knew a lifelong homosexual relationship. But I’m not sure what his justification is for claiming that the same is true for all gay people.

Chambers later sent a clarification to XGW. Apparently he didn’t say that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible;” rather, he said that “lifelong, loving, committed homosexual relationships are not possible.” This suggests that Chambers accepts the existence of lifelong gay relationships, but denies that they are loving or committed. (This raises the question of exactly what is keeping those loveless uncommitted gay couples together anyway, but I’ll set that aside for now.)

Here’s the ironic bit, and the heart of what I want to get to in this post:

I am sure as an ex-gay person that Chambers is very familiar with the experience of others refusing to accept his testimony about his own life. I’ve experienced it myself, and I find it rather frustrating. It irritates me when exexgays assume I’m lying or I’ve been brainwashed, just because my experience is different from theirs. (Not all exexgays do this–some are accepting, and some are warily skeptical but respectful. God bless ’em.) But where does someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t lived my life, get off telling me that my life is a lie, without any evidence to back that claim up? I’ve never met an exex who actually has evidence that change never happens, although I’ve found often them very quick to insist that that’s the case.

But then why is Chambers doing the same thing?

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