Recently over at Beyond Ex-Gay Christine and I posted three narratives of ex-gay survivors from around the world. One is from the US, another from South Africa, and the third is someone I met here in Malta. Each person has had different experiences, which reveals some of the diversity of ex-gay experiences. Also each one reacted and responded differently.
Each narrative deserves attention from ex-gay leaders and those who promote ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy as well as from those of us concerned about the impact of these initiatives to alter someone’s sexuality, especially when it is done in the name of religion.
Many of those who partake in these ex-gay efforts suffer silently for years. In the promotional material and the testimonies offered by groups like NARTH, Exodus and others, we only hear part of the story. The reality is that the vast majority of people who attempt to go ex-gay find it is not realistic or necessary. In coming to those conclusions many realize they not only expended a lot of time and money, they also incurred damage to themselves and others.
Today I will highlight one of these stories, and later this week I will present the others. You can see a full listing of ex-gay survivor narratives here. (We currently have 25 posted, and have received at least that many that we have not yet posted. Writing these narratives takes time and can be traumatic, so we like people to work on them at their own pace and wait a bit before we publish them to make sure they are ready.)
Paul, in the USA bravely shares about his own struggles with anonymous sexual encounters as well as his marriage and his attempts to turn away from his gay desires. In his narrative Paul writes,
At 21 I married a Christian girl who I had known since high school. She was a member of the same church I attended, and had been present at the time when I had “confessed” my attraction to guys a few years earlier. A couple of weeks after we were married, I told my new wife that I continued to struggle with attraction to men. I quickly assured her that God was certainly going to fix me, not to worry. Naively, I figured she would become my ally in the struggle. Instead, she was only devastated. We were kids in a world that didn’t talk of such things, so we didn’t talk of it again after that. I realized again that I was still alone.
The struggles continued and for a time Paul and his wife separated but then they decided to try once again with the marriage, but the troubles remained and then worsened. Paul also internalized the struggle and blamed himself for the failures.
Within a short period of our reuniting, I realized that I wasn’t “over” anything. My attraction to men was right where I had left it, with all it’s former strength. I was angry and ashamed of my failing God and my wife. I could not understand why I couldn’t win this fight and control my attraction to men. I did not understand why God would not help me resist this but I figured I must be doing something wrong, I just hadn’t figured out what that something was yet. I had to retain my faith. I believed God was going to give me the key to freedom, I just had to fight as best I could in the meantime and wait for God to answer my daily prayers (okay, by this time prayer had turned to pleading) and help.
Meanwhile, I forged a chain. I discovered places where I could get anonymous sex and began to frequent those places. I continued to fight my desires, begging God to help me resist my feelings, I even ‘succeeded’ much more than I failed. For every time I failed, I resisted my desires several times first. But honestly, my “success” was just a delaying of the inevitable. I never got past my feelings, they never lessened. Still, I believed in a God who was going to help me, I had to maintain my ‘faith’ in one “called alongside to help.” At best I would resist my desires for a couple of months, and normally I didn’t do that well.
The act of suppressing his gay desires and defining them as wrong and sinful had a negative effect in Paul’s life.
I found I could not control myself, and thought of myself as addicted. This was hard to admit to myself because it violated my faith. I believed “if God be for you, who can be against you?” Not even my self could win against me if God was for me. My “fixes” would quiet my craving for awhile. Just like a drug “fix,” this behavior was slowly killing me. Guilt, shame and self loathing were my constant companions. I could not shake them because I could not stop the behavior that caused them. I believe the lies I told to cover my behavior did even more destruction than the cheap, quick, physical acts. I craved a relationship with a guy that included a romantic emotional bond, not just sex. But, I didn’t believe such a thing could be, because that was “sin.” On top of that, I was married and didn’t want to hurt my wife.
Paul eventually turned to an Exodus ex-gay ministry for help and continued on in his struggle for years. The only one in his area was run by a Mormon and although Paul’s Christian faith branded Mormonism as outside of Christianity as he understood it, the ministry was approved by Exodus. After a time Paul got into legal trouble because of anonymous sexual activities.
In 1998 I got arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex, I was charged with a felony and rode hand cuffed in a police car. They finger printed me and took mug shots. I felt utterly alone and gutted. I went running back to Exodus. I felt surely that getting arrested was that “bottom” I had to hit, how low could I go? Now I was a criminal. I had gone below hitting bottom. I had been instructed by Exodus ministries that being gay is just like alcoholism or drug addiction. So I hoped this must be my “bottom,” though “God” and I both knew how low I had felt most of my life. I could not understand how I could feel so shameful for so long, how I could hate myself and still do these things.
How could I want to change for so long and not be able to do so if what I am is wrong? No one else could answer these questions for me either. I was simply told I needed to keep at it. This “ministry” affirmed me as a failure.I went through another Exodus program, and also went to another Christian counselor who practiced “reparative” therapy. None of this changed me or helped me cope or resist my desire to be with a man. I considered suicide often, but wasn’t brave enough to do it. I considered castration, but knew that wouldn’t change me
His story reveals the complexity of some ex-gay experiences and how “coming out” is not a simple solution or an easy step. It also shows how dangerous it can be for someone to ingest negative and erroneous messages about their sexuality. Paul sought for a cure but instead received the tools to hate himself.
I had spent my life trying to kill a part of myself, but my instinct was to live. Once I stopped trying to kill my attraction to the same sex, that part of me became content to just be. Not that my attraction to the same sex is gone, it is not. But since I have accepted who I am, my compulsion for sex is gone. Turns out that homosexual is two words, it’s not all about sex any more than heterosexuality is. I am reeling, even after being free from compulsion since 2006. I discovered what I needed all along was simple acceptance. I am no longer alone. I am no longer living a lie or acting in a way that damages me or others.
My story isn’t over, in many ways, it’s just begun. People speak of “gay pride.” I understand that, but I don’t really relate to it. I do now understand the need for dignity and realize the damage that having that taken away can cause.
I respect Paul so much for sharing his story. It takes courage to be this honest about oneself. Also I know it is not easy to write these narratives. It brings up so many strong feelings, but hopefully in the act of sharing and being heard, one can gain some clarity, comfort and even healing. You can read all of Paul’s narrative here.