Putting the past to bed
Back in 2008 I retired my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and handed off my responsibilities for Beyond Ex-Gay to other survivors like Dr. Jallen Rix, and Gail Dickert, who were telling their stories as witnesses. I moved onto LGBTQ Bible scholarship and most recently creative responses to climate change.
And now? We have a new president with vice president who promotes gay conversion therapy and a Republican party platform that endorsed it. So what is an ex-gay survivor to do?
Perhaps I anticipated this. Back in May when creating my newest show, Everything is Connected–An Evening of Stories, most weird, many true, I decided to have a section about the ex-gay movement. I wanted to look at the lure of white male power and privilege that fed into the desire to de-gay myself for Jesus. I wanted to highlight the sexism and anti-fem attitudes in the churches where I tried to fit in. There were lots of other factors, but this idea of being “normal” was potent at the time.
I wrote about it this week in the Huffington Post. I reflected on the early 80’s, a period in history that reminds me a lot of where we are at politically right now. There were strong forces pressuring me to conform and to resist anything that wasn’t masculine and straight.
Beyond the methods, what I find more curious though arethe motivations that held me to this futile and ultimately damaging ex-gay path.
Fear had a lot to do with it. I felt so much fear about the consequences of coming out gay. I felt terrified I would lose things that were precious to me: my parents’ love and support, society’s approval, physical safety, job opportunities, the possibility of having children, respect, membership in the church I loved, the love of God, and eternal salvation. I also feared for my life. HIV/AIDS had a 100% fatality rate, and at first people were unsure how it was transmitted. I lived in terror that I would get AIDS, die a horrible death rejected by my family, then spend an eternity of punishment in hell. That was a lot for a teenager to bear. So I caved under the pressure of it all.
Along with all those fears was another. In a world where rich, white, Anglo-Saxon straight, heterosexual masculine Protestant males ran everything, I was a gay, Roman-Catholic, Italian-American sissy boy from a working class family. I felt the fear of being powerless in a world that was so unlike me. In reaction to these fears I attempted to assimilate. I became a born-again Christian, enrolled in a conservative Christian college, and determined to decimate my gayness. Having felt the cabin pressure of power and privilege drop, I scrambled to win back as much as I could.