Part Three: Living on the Outside
After I exited LIA, I lived for a short time as an ex-gay apart from being in the program. I kept accountable, denying myself daily, being careful where I went and what I thought. I took up the struggle as my daily cross to bear, believing that God would give me the strength to bear it each day, one day at a time. It was pretty much everything I did for the past 17 years, but this time with more therapy and tools at my disposal.
During his talk at the recent Love Won Out Conference in Phoenix (hat tip to Jim Burroway) Alan Chambers spoke about denial.
I think you can expect a life of obedience. Matthew 16:24 talks about those who take up their cross and follow the Lord. They have to live a life of denial. And in the early days of when I started speaking and debating and doing all sorts of things related to the issue of homosexuality, and took my position with Exodus, people used to say, “Oh Alan, you’re just in denial.” I used to get so mad when they’d say, “You’re just in denial. You’re just denying who you’re really are.” And I’d say, “No I’m not. I’m not in denial. I’m not in denial.” And then I came to the place where I realized, you know what? God calls us as Christians to a life of denial.
I love that today, I realize that I do live a life of denial. Not denial of who I used to be, not denial of who I could be today, but I deny what comes naturally to me.
I too denied what came natural to me. My same-sex desires existed in me from the earliest time. I tried casting them out, handing them over to God, therapizing them away, containing them and ultimately denying them and nailing them to the cross. I crucified myself with Christ and died daily. The problem was I was not dying to “sin”. No what I thought was sinful in my life, my same-sex desires, only grew stronger with a natural energy that I could not destroy. No but I did died daily, by inches, my personality and my well being suffered.
Then one day I woke up and surveyed my life. I took stock of the depression, the stress, the feelings of self-loathing, and the exhaustion. I considered Jesus’ promise when he declared
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
I stayed in bed feeling the weight of the burdens piled on top of me. That yoke was not easy and the burden was not light. It crushed the life out of me. The letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life. No matter how much I trusted in the Spirit’s power, I had insisted that the Spirit enable me to follow the law of man and not the word of God, and the law was killing me.
Then I said to myself, “What are you doing? This is insane!” And at that moment I woke up as if out of a coma and for the first time in nearly two decades I understood that my pursuit to change and suppress my sexuality was unnecessary and unhealthy. Sure I experienced change, but not what I had hoped for. The ex-gay process transformed me into a joyless, uptight, frustrated drone of a man, growing more and more distant from God despite the many hours of daily prayer and Bible study.
In my journey I began to realize that I needed help with specific issues. I objectified people and their bodies as sexual objects. I had the tendency to be compulsive and addictive in my sexual life and not see sex as a means of loving and building a relationship but as a means to quench an unmet need. I also realized how much I wished to fit in and please the straight men around me and live in such a way as to gain their approval and acceptance. But none of these issues had to do with my natural orientation towards men. In fact, mine was a very human struggle that many more straight men face than do gay men.
But in demonizing all same-sex desire, branding it evil, demonic, unhealthy and abnormal, I sought to destroy it. First I tried to magically alter it into heterosexuality and when I understood the implausibility of such a miracle, I then tried to silence and suppress my desires looking to God to enable me to destroy myself.
I sought the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the simple message of Jesus—love your neighbor as yourself—I coveted my straight neighbor and tried to become just like him. In the end I hated myself. I felt ashamed of myself and as a result I acted shamefully.
I accepted that I could not rid myself of my same-sex desires. I grew to understand that my desires were not abnormal or wrong. I accepted and affirmed myself. I then began to see real change in my life—the ability to address the sexual compulsion, the moral will to stop objectifying people as mere sexual objects.
I also found a new honesty with God and others, a transparency that eluded me for years. Friends and family noticed the difference over the past eight years and remark how I am much more alive, solid and emotionally available than ever before.
Some suggest that since we never can actually change our sexuality that we should still strive to cage it in, silence it and nail it to the cross. For me I realize that such a life does come not from a following God but from following man.
Change from being gay to straight was NOT possible for me, neither was it necessary. Trying to NOT be gay didn’t work either, even when I viewed it as my sacrifice to God. Pursuing to change and suppress my sexuality came at a great cost. Sure I learned some good lessons, but ultimately the process caused me more harm than good.