Bryce and Zach–Two different Ex-Gay Stories

Many people reading my blog may already be aware of the story of Bryce Faulkner, a young man who as far as we know has been coerced to leave his boyfriend and attend an ex-gay program somewhere in the US. I wrote about Bryce’s situation here.

Many people have expressed their outrage and concern through blog comments and by joining a Facebook group in support of Bryce. The story is tragic and outrageous and should not happen in this day and age when it is clear that one can be gay and happy and healthy. Fear and ignorance cloud the minds of ministers and parents turning them into tyrants of LGBT youth.

In several blog entries and comments I see references to the story of Zach Stark, who when he was 16 back in 2005 had been forced to attend the Love in Action Refuge program for minors.  While parts Zach’s and Bryce’s stories overlap (they both come from the Mid-South with religious parents and seemingly were not conflicted about their sexuality before it became an issue for their parents), there is one key difference.

Zach was a minor, while as far as I can tell from the information we have, Bryce is not.

When Zach Stark at age 16 was forced against his will to attend the LIA program, he had little choice. As a minor, he was a victim of a church culture that his parents bought into and which encouraged them to do harm to their son.  From their own words they believed they were saving their son from what they felt certain would be a dreadful life, and LIA only reinforced that misinformation.  Zach had no easy legal recourse to resist his parents. (see video  This is What Love in Action Looks Like)

In these cases of ex-gay coercion once someone is no longer a minor, they no longer become pure victims. Although it is difficult and terrifying to resist, if someone is over 18, they can legally say “NO! you cannot make me do this!” and as an adult, they can then  live with the consequences. I understand that the financial impact of this can be huge, but not impossible to overcome, especially with the assistance of a boyfriend’s affirming parents and a community committed to taking care of each other (which I know doesn’t always happen.)

Many of us who as adults agreed, even begrudgingly, to take part in the ex-gay process need to take responsibility for our part in it, even if it was a small part. This is essential for overcoming the harm we experienced. Although we lived in a world that stood against us, and it seemed far easier to go ex-gay, as adults we could have stood against that tide. It is painful to admit, but also freeing when we acknowledge, “I let them do this to me.” In my case I even paid for it with my own money as well as with my parents’.

The problem we face in framing the parents as the bad guys and the young person sent to the program as the helpless victim is that we can misrepresent the situation. By foisting all the blame on the parents, we absolve the adult gay person from all responsibility. We reinforce that we had no other choice but to succumb to the anti-gay pressure against us.

I feel for Byrce and the intense pressure he must have felt (and still feels) from his family and most likely from his church insisting he must go into ex-gay treatment, but it sounds like he ultimately complied and agreed to do so. Once he is free to tell his own story in his own words, we will better understand the circumstances.

Bryce faces an awful unfair choice–the real consequence of losing family and financial security or the painful consequence of leaving his boyfriend while he must repress  and fight his gay orientation.  Many of us did similar things in our own lives–not only in ex-gay programs–but as we chose to stay stuck in the closet, as we tamped down our gender differences and orientation, and as we lived inauthentic lives in order to please others.

As a minority population, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can pass as something that we are not. We can bow to the wishes of others, hide parts of ourselves, keep secrets from others, and even live out a whole other life that is not ours to live. As we do so, we can feel seduced to play the victim. We can see a story like Bryce’s and cry foul painting an adult gay man as a helpless victim thus justifying the many years we obliged others and lived in shame instead of taking responsibility for our lives and our sexuality.

As I have been reading the stories and the comments about Bryce, I’ve been asking myself several questions.

  • Why Bryce? Why this handsome young white man? What does he represent to those of us moved by his story? How do we relate to him and possibly morph his story into something that it is not?
  • What other stories do we not hear where people may have stood against the tide and now suffer the consequences, need a job, a place to stay, money for school?
  • How can we channel our outrage towards the homophobia and turn it into action whenever we see members of our community–lesbians, trans people, queer people of color, gay men–disenfranchised because they choose to be authentic and resist the compulsion to change or fit in?
  • Who can we assist today who suffers because they have chosen to be open and authentic?
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This post has 10 Comments

  1. Mary Ellen on July 11, 2009 at 10:48 pm Reply

    Very thoughtful and helpful. Similar questions for me: how can I as an emerging ally recognize and reinforce the courage that it takes for glbtq F/friends to live openly? How can I create space in the classroom where religion and homophobia can be talked about respectfully?

  2. p2son on July 12, 2009 at 1:41 am Reply

    Mary Ellen, excellent questions. I would love to hear what you discover for yourself and your students.

  3. Liadan on July 12, 2009 at 2:20 am Reply

    Precisely how much of a choice is it when one is raised in such a way that disobedience is unthinkable, in the full sense of the word?

    Like a lot of kids raised as evangelical Christians, I had obedience entrained in me to such an extent that it would often not even occur to me that I could stand up for myself– and I am a born contrarian with a reputation as a spitfire feminist, so this is saying a lot. I remember being honestly dumbfounded to discover that I could put my foot down and the ground didn’t immediately open up to suck me into hell. I also think that the primary reason ex-gay training wasn’t made a condition of continuing to receive college tuition (regular therapy with a “Christian” counselor and remaining closeted to the rest of the family was) was because I threatened suicide (and not lightly) if I were made to go.

    Bryce may be a legal adult, but that doesn’t mean his family doesn’t have other forms of power over him, and faulting him for not being strong enough to shrug off all his childhood indoctrination and choose poverty and familial rejection “because technically, he could if he really wanted to” isn’t helpful. We don’t recognize emotionally coerced or psychologically manipulated sex as anything other than rape because the victim had the right to say no and leave but didn’t, and we don’t recognize battered wives as culpable for their abuse because they have the legal right to leave. Why is this different?

    • p2son on July 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm Reply

      If I am not to blame (even in part) for remaining in an ex-gay program as an adult, when I ultimately end the treatments and accept my sexuality, will I also be denied the credit for leaving that abusive world behind?

      I cannot speak to situations of sexual assault and spousal abuse, but from my own experience as an adult in the ex-gay world who felt very much compelled to change my orientation because of the flood of homophobia and religion-based abuse and oppression I face, I have found it necessary for my own recovery to acknowledge my willingness to be oppressed. One thought gave me hope and affirmed me–If I got myself into this mess, I can get myself out.

      We cannot deny that people have the agency necessary to get the help they need. Yes, be sensitive to the challenges they face. Be gracious towards ourselves and others when we fold under the pressure to conform. Do not shame people when they live for decades in the closet in deference to other people’s wishes. But also do not paint adults as helpless victims. This is dishonest and unhelpful.

      • Yvonne Aburrow (@vogelbeere) on May 14, 2012 at 9:38 am Reply

        There is a similar debate about the victims of sati (widow-burning) in early-19th-century India. Ironically, the opponents of sati often painted the widows as helpless victims; whereas the pro-sati camp painted them as heroic women who chose to be immolated on the pyre beside their husbands. But sati is still wrong, obviously.

  4. Rev. Brett A. Harris on July 13, 2009 at 3:01 am Reply

    You are quite right in your analogy. In the most simplistic of worlds, Bryce Faulkner is not totally blameless in this situation. Indeed, he is an intelligent, bright student who just happens to love the wrong person his parents want him to love. Indeed, he can at any moment simply step up and demand to be let go. I mean really, has he no guts?
    However to presume he has this power sounds like the rhetoric of an individual who has never been emotionally powerless. I beleive you have been, as most adults in this world have at one time or another. Mere physical force is not always necessary to rip away power from an individual. Indeed, brute strength is not always necessary. What happen to Bryce isn’t a new thing. It is a time honored rite. There are instruction manuals how to brake the abominable. Emotional intimidation can be just as hurtful if not more so. Broken bones heal. A broken heart does not always.
    Bryce was not just being told to deny his love for Travis, but if not, his love for family, something very dear to him. The economics were just the extra punch necessary to put the emotional manipulation over the top. This of course does not take into account the fact that these his folks and any interventionists in contact with him are telling him they were doing this because they love him. Therefore one must examine the difference between probability and possibility. Was it possible as an free American over 21 to deny his family, leave everything he has every known, leave with the shirt on his back and hitched to a unknown town where he might be able to find help. Sure. Is it probable, not if you take all the psycho-social elements f reality into account.
    I created the website and Facebook page for Travis because I lost my best friend through murder at the hands of a fundamentalist that went free. Islamic fringe fundamentalists are not big on the freedoms of anyone but their own. We have seen that as early as 9/11. Christian fundamentalists don’t take the word “no” to easily either. Knowing this, I err on the side of the belief Bryce is the victim and hadn’t the resources to refute his aggressors.
    What is done to those like Bryce and yourself is against human rights. It is inhumane to isolate an individual and repeatedly tell him how worthless he is to God and treat them as if they are a drug addict or mentally ill. It is institutionalized malpractice and needs to be stopped. There is no scientific credence to any assertion that homosexuality is nothing but an natural occurrence in the world. As was in the days of Galileo, the ruth must be told. Hopefully, with the global support we have found, this may bee the time to brake this atrocious behavior against humanity. Rev. Brett A. Harris, “Friends of Bryce Network”

  5. Jane on July 14, 2009 at 6:21 pm Reply

    I too know the appearance of the “choiceless choice.” It is how perpetrators of harm keep their victims from stopping the abuse. However, the oppressed person, or group, can also internalizes this “choiceless choice” thus keeping power in the hands of the abuser.

    There is a way of life wherein there is always a choice, the consequences may be difficult, heartbreaking or life changing. At times like this I am reminded of the first and final quatrains of Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul. . . .

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    Bryce has some tough decisions. I’ve been there, and others who read and post here frequently has been there. What many of us have learned is to live inside our unconquerable soul. I will not give that up or hide it away any longer, no matter the cost. I also will not mar that soul with the oppression from outside. No one colors my soul by me.

    I understand what it is to make the choice to stay where it is known and safe. I also know that I am never without a choice. God would not leave me as such. The question becomes “Am I willing to face the consequences, whatever they may be (positive or negative)?”

    May we all live daily more and more into being the captains of our souls.

  6. Rev. Brett A. Harris on July 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm Reply

    I must agree with you, However you and I (as well as others here I’m sure) are speaking from the depths of wisdom that stems from life experience. Without that experience, making decisions isn’t nearly as easy. Hindsight is always 20/20. It is for this reason that those of us who have come before must reach out to protect those who know not their options in order to save them from those experiences of which we know all to well. The consequences of life itself are changing and heartbreaking without any choice. For that is the world of duality in which we exist.
    I know what is is to stay where it is known yet not so safe, simply due to circumstances (at that time) I had no knowledge I could have any control over. It is a romantic notion to beleive we all always have a choice. However reality is choices are not always as available as we would wish them to be. If this were the reality, who would chose suffering other then the masochist? No, the reality is in many cases there is no choice because our destiny has been plotted out before we know it and therefore have no choice to make. For example, Bryce did not necessarily “choose” this, but perhaps God chose it for him in order to give him the wisdom that you now possess.
    As for me, I gave up the helm of my soul ship many years ago. God holds my rudder. I am humble enough to know that while I may have knowledge of navigation, I haven’t all the wisdom of the seas. If I were indeed the master of my fate, I would not be the minister I have become. Secular, unique, gay and outspoken.

  7. Rev. Brett A. Harris on July 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm Reply

    I must agree with you, However you and I (as well as others here I’m sure) are speaking from the depths of wisdom that stems from life experience. Without that experience, making decisions isn’t nearly as easy. Hindsight is always 20/20. It is for this reason that those of us who have come before must reach out to protect those who know not their options in order to save them from those experiences of which we know all to well. The consequences of life itself are changing and heartbreaking without any choice. For that is the world of duality in which we exist.
    I know what is is to stay where it is known yet not so safe, simply due to circumstances (at that time) I had no knowledge I could have any control over. It is a romantic notion to beleive we all always have a choice. However reality is choices are not always as available as we would wish them to be. If this were the reality, who would chose suffering other then the masochist? No, the reality is in many cases there is no choice because our destiny has been plotted out before we know it and therefore have no choice to make. For example, Bryce did not necessarily “choose” this, but perhaps God chose it for him in order to give him the wisdom that you now possess.
    As for me, I gave up the helm of my soul ship many years ago. God holds my rudder. I am humble enough to know that while I may have knowledge of navigation, I haven’t all the wisdom of the seas. If I were indeed the master of my fate, I would not be the minister I have become. Secular, unique, gay and outspoken.

  8. e2c on July 16, 2009 at 4:57 am Reply

    Agreed completely with those who’ve commented on emotional abuse, manipulation, et. al. – for one thing, it can be *so* difficult for those caught in such situations to even truly be aware that they are caught… let alone that they really have a choice.

    I can’t speak for spousal abuse, but I have been through the route of emotional abuse… and it took years for me to recognize it for what it really was – in my own life, that is. Getting the courage to stand up and say “No more!” was a whole other undertaking – none of it was easily accomplished.

    So, do I think someone who’s legally an adult could be manipulated into such a situation? You betcha.

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