Ex-Gay Harm–Let Me Count the Ways

In the past 4.5 years I have been in contact with over 1000 ex-gay survivors. These are people who pursued ex-gay experiences, either on their own, or more often, assisted by others like a therapist, minister, ex-gay program. They attempted to change or suppress their sexual orientation and may have referred to themselves as ex-gays or simply strugglers or by some other name.

Through hearing their stories (some of which are posted on Beyond Ex-Gay–bXg) and in unpacking my own ex-gay journey, I have begun to understand the many ways people can be harmed by their ex-gay experiences. Many of us also received certain benefits from our ex-gay experiences, but in most cases the harm outweighs the good.

I realize that the ex-gay experience is not the only culprit in bringing harm. The anti-gay church and a homophobic society and in many cases one’s own family contribute to the damage. But what the ex-gay experience does is deepen that harm by offering hope for some sort of change or freedom. Led by sincere and caring people, our ex-gay programs, therapists and ministers encouraged us and because of their kindness and sincerity, we often pressed on long after we realized the it was not working. Only afterwards did we began to understand the trauma we introduced into our lives as a result of submitting to ex-gay experiences.

Below is a list of categories outlining areas of harm along with brief descriptions for each. I invite ex-gay survivors to leave comments with specific examples and further explanations for any of the categories that resonate for them. They can even add new categories.

(warning: this can be heavy stuff to look at, so before you do, make sure you feel somewhat prepared and aware that this might bring up stuff for you)

Ex-gay experiences can harm us in several ways.

  • Emotional Harm–evidenced in feelings of shame, fear, stress, disappointment, exhaustion and rejection (especially when one is shunned)
  • Psychological Harm–manifested in the forms of depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress and in some cases the triggering of a psychotic break
  • Spiritual Harm
    • in the form of chronic discouragement, fear of God, and loss of faith communities and even of faith
    • distrust of spiritual leaders
    • a spiritual crisis of integrity and incongruence through the constant message that You cannot be gay and Christian
  • Relationship Harm–through the loss of vital relationships or damage to relationships with
    • parents
      • who, believing change is possible and necessary, reject children who will not choose to be ex-gay
      • who through ex-gay teachings get blamed for their child’s sexual orientation thus creating tension between the child and parent (and also causing deep pain and shame for parents)
    • spouses/partners
      • partners of the opposite sex that we dated and married because we believed such a life was possible but found it led to divorce and pain and loss for our spouse, ourselves and others, including children.
      • relationship with a current same-sex partner that gets hindered because of the shame and fear drilled into us by our ex-gay experiences
    • friends
      • who we kept/keep at a distance because we were trained to distrust intimacy for fear that we will develop an emotionally dependent/enmeshed relationship or romantic/sexual relationship
      • who we rejected once we became ex-gay and they represented a risk to the ex-gay lives we pursued
      • who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship
  • Financial Harm–
    • Some spent hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars on ex-gay treatment, at seminars and conferences and on books and tapes
    • Some parents refused to pay for college or even basic living expenses when a child would not attend an ex-gay program.
  • Career Harm–
    • Some left careers considered “unsafe” for a struggler
    • Some interrupted school and careers to take a diversion into ex-gay treatment
  • Physical Harm—in the form of health issues triggered by stress and depression leading to back problems, skin conditions, etc.
  • Sexual Harm–in the form of damaging sex eduction
    • Sexually naive people (many who never even had sex) learned about “gay sex” from sex addicts who expressed their sexuality through risky and even illegal behaviors often because of the shame and self-loathing they felt.
    • Program leaders, therapists and “testimonies” transmitted negative messages about sexual expression between people of the same-sex which can hinder people from enjoying a healthy, satisfying sexuality even after leaving ex-gay treatment.
  • Developmental Harm–because of stunted growth in key areas while we focused our efforts on our ex-gay experiences. Many of us stopped living our lives and diverted our limited energies into the ex-gay process thus hindering personal growth at vital developmental moments

Those of us who have suffered and still stuffer harm from ex-gay experiences need not be victims. The process required to face the pain and loss and unpack our ex-gay experience takes time and support. It requires grieving and forgiveness–especially we need to forgive ourselves for the times we subjected ourselves to harmful ex-gay conversion therapies and ministries.

We need not be stuck though. Many have moved beyond their ex-gay experiences and the damage to embrace life afresh and forge new paths. They even have been able to salvage the good they gained from the ex-gay experiences as they recover from the harm. For some of us, part of the process means looking at the list above in order to acknowledge and validate the damage we suffered.

When I feel discouraged about the many losses from my nearly two decades of ex-gay living, I remind myself that I allowed myself to go through much of that mess. If I could get myself into all that trouble, I have the power and resources to get myself out.

Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section or e-mail me at peterson@petersontoscano.com or visit bXg and fill out a contact form. Thank you and may you continue to find courage and support in your journey.

(special thanks to all the survivors who contributed their thoughts this week as I began writing this post.)

Now that you have considered some of the harm, What Does it Mean for You?

This post has 20 Comments

  1. Anonymous on October 16, 2007 at 5:14 pm Reply

    wow this really hits me. yeah, that’s me and what happened to me.

    Sexual Harm–Although I had sex before I entered the ex-gay program, I was naive about all the public places where people found sex. After a few months in the program, I learned far too much about cruising.

    Relationship Harm–I married a woman and really believed God that it would work. I mean there were so many examples of ex-gay leaders in photos with wives and children. Ugh, it was a disaster and I deeply wounded my wife and sidetracked her life.

    -Jim in Seattle

  2. Jimbo on October 16, 2007 at 6:15 pm Reply

    Thankyou for posting so lucidly Peterson. It has re-awakened memories of a large chunk of my life.

    Like many, I underwent the angst of wondering if I was gay, and denying the evidence for years.

    When I first contacted Christian therapists/groups offering hope, it initially felt like a great release. At least now there were people who I could talk to about what I’d been bottling up for so long.

    But that well of hope ran dry. Looking back on the 15 years or so that I spent in my ex-gay ‘struggles’ I see so many of the ways of harm that you mention.

    There was a sense of immense shame, frustration and failure when I didn’t live up to the heterosexual ideal.

    There was emotional isolation. I couldn’t be close to women for fear that they might get feelings for me that I knew I couldn’t reciprocate. And I couldn’t get close to men for fear that my feelings for them might grow too much, OR that they might perceive that I was gay. I was in asexual limbo.

    There was fear of being thought of as gay, inside an institutionally homophobic church.

    There was loneliness – building much of my social life inside a church where there were few remaining singles of my own age; a sense of being an outsider amongst couples (despite those who showed warmth); a sense that I was a bit weird for not being married. It almost felt like I’d only be a full part of the social side of church again when I was old enough to join the widow and widowers group.

    In the four years since I came out to myself, I’ve been processing why I held on for so long in the ex-gay/celibacy groups. It’s been partly my own procrastinating nature.

    However, looking back, I’m angry at the ex-gay proponents for their misuse of scripture; their clinging to discredited pseudo-psychology; their blindness to the obvious failure of their “therapy”; and their demonisation of gay peoples’ “lifestyle”.

    I’m angry at the church that would rather sweep the issues (and the people) under the carpet, and wish it all away.

    I’m trying to put that behind me, and I think I’m getting there slowly. I realise that I need to let go of all this to help me move on.

    In the process I’ve lost my faith, for a mix of reasons, only partly linked to my coming out. For those in the church, that has been seen as a tragedy, and the anti-gay ones might even use that to bolster their demonised views of homosexuality.

    I look back on the lost years. Years when I could have been giving and receiving love. Hopefully there is still time for my life to bear some of that fruit.

  3. SteveSchalchlin on October 16, 2007 at 7:22 pm Reply

    It’s not simply the ministries that cause this harm, but the entire religious error that underpins the movement. Those of us who grew up in conservative anti-gay religions bear the scars and the wounds inflicted upon us for our entire lives. It’s the rotten core theology must be challenged and defeated through healthy applications of love and understanding.

    The culture war is our enemy, not the human beings. The untruths are what hurt us. The people who propogate them are deceived, not evil. There is no war if we do not participate in the violence being waged against us. But relentless non-violent “push-back” is mandatory. And we push back with our stories and our truths.

  4. Eric on October 16, 2007 at 7:39 pm Reply

    “Friends who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship…”

    I know you gave us a warning to be somewhat prepared but this one really hit me.

    I’ve had a friend for just about 9 years. He’s always been supportive of my struggle and “journey” but once I began to reconcile my faith and my sexuality it became uncomfortable for him. I didn’t fit in his box of what he thought about gay Christians and those “open and affirming” churches. He got to a point to where he articulated that I short-circuited his belief system and needed some time away.

    This still has hurt me tremendously. I thought I had a friend who was walking with me but that wasn’t true. Rather than continuing to walk with me despite how it challenged his paradigm, he chose to distance himself to repair his original theology. Knowing me screwed him up. And it hurts accepting the fact that he really wasn’t walking with me. His compassion for me was limited by his conditional acceptance.

    Man that hurts.

    After speaking with you, Peterson, on the phone last night, I was on my way to a meeting where he was at. Alot of the pain resurfaced.

    I had always referenced him as someone who walked with me. But I think i just liked the idea of saying he walked with me. The truth is, he hoped my journey would lead me back to an ex-gay belief system. When it didn’t, he abandoned me.

    Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. Christ really has been the only one who never bolted. He had been walking with me the whole time.

  5. Auntie Doris on October 16, 2007 at 8:23 pm Reply

    I am someone who has stood alongside my friends who have walked the journey out of the ex-gay ministry and into freedom. I just want to say that it is equally hard to stand by and watch someone who is in pain. It is hard to know what to say for the best and how to cope with someone elses immense emotional pain. It is hard when your beliefs are being challenged by someone elses behaviours and values, and it is really difficult when you thought you had shared some of that journey together, but then they have gone off on a different track.

    For me the choice was to rethink my own value system and make changes or to resolutely stick to what I believed. For a while I did the latter but it made me so unhappy and it meant that I could not be the friend I believed I was called to be. So, I had to change. That has been a long and painful journey of self-discovery. My aim was to pursue truth and honesty, whilst somehow maintaining my integrity as a Christian.

    I am not saying it is harder for me than it has been for my friends. I am just saying that my journey has also been rocky and the consequences of standing by my gay friends has been that I have fallen out with many of my so-called friends. The isolation which is experienced through these traumas is not limited to the person going through it, but also to those to choose to ally themselves with those who are on that painful journey.

  6. Anonymous on October 16, 2007 at 9:14 pm Reply

    Hey there
    The spiritual Harm- even still now I think God is evil and wants to sent me to hell even though I have reconcilled my faith and sexuality and have been with the same-sex partner for almost three years. the roots go deep. At times I was sucidel but waht kept me from killing my self was I do not want to go to hell. Why do I think i am going to hell so much? How do i get those voices out of my head?

    The relationship harm
    I have lost friends who have found out that I am gay. And then some I have distanced my self from because I know they will reject me. Lost family, church, and christian university

    developmental harm
    Spent many years trying to change my sexuality in secrete and learned to put on a show to others. I am so use to that show taht it is difficult for me to be authentic with others, so much so that I distance others from me. Because well… they will reject me anyways

  7. just me - titration on October 17, 2007 at 1:23 am Reply

    good post! The thing that hit me hardest here was remembering that I ended at least one relationship because the people at a ex-gay type of conference said I should if I was “too close” to them. And I threw away stuff of people who I loved and who loved me (who I wasn’t intimate with) because they said that would help me be less “attached”.

  8. Anonymous on October 17, 2007 at 2:42 am Reply

    I’m a male named Ryan from Philadelphia area. I’m fortunate in that I’m only 22 and only experienced only dabbling in some ex-gay stuff for about 2 years while trying to come out and get OK with myself. Although I agree…I still sometimes feel that I’m going to hell for simply being this way. I’m also afraid of any sort of physical intimacy because I was told to avoid this at all costs. I just hate how these “ministries” trick people in to thinking they can have the life they have always wanted-wife, kids , etc. They must all follow a format since the ex-gay counselor I was going to see was excited when I was trying to date a girl, yet objected to me having a friendship with another gay guy because of “emotional dependence” Fortunately I didn’t listen, and am very thankful for that friendship, and several others with Christian GLBT people that I have developed over the past several months.

  9. Ohio Cowboy on October 17, 2007 at 4:32 am Reply

    I’m 63 years old and still deep in the closet for many of the reasons mentioned in other postings. I only had a couple years of dabbling in an ex-gay ministry because I thought it was “the right thing to do”. I’m not sure how it contributed to harm me but it probably slowed me down in accepting myself for who I really am.
    How many years I’ve wasted living in fear, shame and disgrace–all the while feeling like others that you cannot be gay and Christian. Many times yet I am still so unsure of myself–isn’t it a shame that I cannot get a hold on it all and live free and happy as God has desired for all His children? I get so tired of living a lie–when will I accept that God made me and give thanks for that, rather than worry about what others think?

  10. Barry on October 17, 2007 at 11:54 am Reply

    I attended a church ex-gay group for one year and was required to see a psychologist. I was kicked out of the ex-gay group when I fell in love with another younger guy in the group. I continued with the psychologist for another year or more.

    Emotional Harm–I was so hurt by the psychologist and loss of friends, that I do not feel I can trust anyone, making it very difficult to find any level of relationship.

    Psychological Harm–When I was kicked out of the group I was suicidal and later was put on medical leave y a psychiatrist with a diagnosis of “hopelessness”.

    Spiritual Harm–When I found that there was no resolution to “being” gay, I began to wonder if there is a God. If He didn’t care enough to “heal” me of my gayness, then either He didn’t really love me or He didn’t exist. I later found a place where I thought I was accepted, but after other men tried to control me, I have withdrawn from church altogether. Ten years later and my faith in God is restored, but I don’t trust any preacher (gay or straight) to preach truth.

    Relationship Harm–Without going into specifics, I was told that my family of origin was to blame for my gayness. There was hurt in general with societal and religious discrimination that the added weight of that thought caused so much more pain that I broke off all remaining relationship, and even to tear up all of their pictures.

    My marriage was already fragile due to my coming out, but when I was kicked out of the group with no hope of change, that my wife and I separated for “time apart”. My inability to get it together caused the separation to last until she moved away 5 years later and we divorced. Three of my four children still speak with me, but as it is with any divorce it is somewhat strained. There is much pain that my oldest will not speak with me.

    I lost all of my church friends. They did not know what to do with me. I am cautious about finding new friends.

    Financial Harm–There was no fee to be in the church ex-gay group, but with one Exodus conference, books and tapes, etc. and the psychologist I spent close to $8,000.

    Career Harm–My depression and the medical leave affected my employer’s trust of me. At first they denied me return to work, then did not give me meaningful work, and later fired me using an excuse of “lack of work”.

    Sexual Harm–While in the church ex-gay group, especially the small group sessions, I learned more about how to fulfill my gay desires than how to overcome them. I learned more about specific acts of gay encounters, where to hook-up with other guys, where to get “toys” and about gay bars and good gay sections in regular bookstores.

    Developmental Harm–Because of the harm I have also lost many years. I was like a zombie. I stopped living, focusing my energy into “surviving” and the “recovery” process limiting growth in other areas.

    I still am trying to overcome all of the loss. I have no real friends. I avoid church. I’m afraid of Christians. I’m afraid of gay men who I fear don’t want me for me, but just want sex. I have no support and don’t think anyone cares. My faith is supremely important to me, and I have been unable to find “committed” Christians (gay or straight) who will love me “just as I am”.

    Yes, in order to try to save my family, I did allow myself to be subjected to the ex-gay process, but knowing that it was me who allowed it does not translate into accepting the loss, nor recovery from it.

  11. Peterson Toscano on October 17, 2007 at 4:01 pm Reply

    Yesterday right after I posted this piece, I checked the bXg contacts and had received the following message. It fits in how ex-gay experience affect relationships with parents and finances (basic living needs):

    “…My mother found one of my journals – found out that I am gay, and kicked me out of the house: In short, I’m alone.

    The only way I can return to my home with my mother is if I “stop living in this destructive lifestyle and consider ex-gay therapy or remain celibate for the rest of my life…”

  12. mgoll on October 18, 2007 at 6:11 am Reply

    Reparitive Therapy… what a time. In the course of four years I wasted my life trying to be something I wasn’t. After realizing I was attracted to men I told my parents I was depressed so I could speak with a counselor. The man I sought to counsel me seemed to be a great Christian guy. It turned out that he too had “struggled” with his sexuality at a younger age. Our sessions seemed to be very honest and encouraging. He told me I should pursue a relationship with a gal friend of mine. Then he began to be blunt with me, often telling me how he wished he could do certain things with me.

    My counselor molested me when I was 19. It wasn’t until then that I even thought guys would be attracted to me. So from there my view of sexuality was skewed. Something that God had made to be a beautiful thing in my life became a shameful indulgence. I still couldn’t reconcile my sexuality with my faith. In my view at the time giving up on my therapy would be the worst sin I could commit. I believed I would lose everything.

    Attraction never went away and even in the midst of my sessions with a new mentor I was miserable. There were times when I’d abstain long enough, days or months and feel victorious. But even in those moments I was asexual at best. My relationship with Christ was one of fear, not love. I tried to save myself, ex gay therapy taught me that God’s grace wasn’t enough, I’d have to work for the rest of my life to have freedom.

    Now I am comfortably out of the closet. My life is not over, I’m moving forward in life. I realize that God made me special for a reason. And knowing that I could meet a great guy somday and fall in love is something very dear to my heart. I realize that sex is a BEAUTIFUL thing, but I still struggle with old tendencies of settling meaningless “action”. Conservatism, not Christianity, I feel has hurt me the most in my progress. I would love to share my heart with a good man that loves Christ like I do, but so many men have been wounded by harmful words coming from well meaning Christians.

  13. Peterson Toscano on October 18, 2007 at 2:55 pm Reply

    These comments are all very moving. Thank you and I hope that more people will share what the harm looks like.

    This particular post is for ex-gay survivors to share about the harm they experienced. If you have a contrary view, this post is not the place for it. I am totally open to seeing other views, but there is a time and a place. People are sharing some very personal and painful parts of their lives, and I will honor that by maintaining this comment section for survivors.

    If you want to offer something different, feel free to e-mail me or comment on another post. Thanks.

    And again thank you for all the ex-gay survivors who are sharing their stories through e-mails, at bXg and here in these comments.

    We are building an important on-line document.

  14. Brian on October 18, 2007 at 5:10 pm Reply

    I’m finishing up work on the video documenting the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and thus have been pouring over and over so many of the stories that were shared there. Reading through these comments continues to move me. I am saddened by all the hurt that I see but so encouraged by the way ex-gay survivors are standing up, speaking out, and reclaiming their lives.

    As someone who shot down a pastor’s brief attempt at ex-gay counseling, I feel blessed to be a part of this journey with you all.

    It is truly inspiring.

  15. john on October 19, 2007 at 9:29 pm Reply

    Peterson, thanks for opening up so many spaces for people to discuss the harm they endured. bXg, the Survivor’s Conference, now this… I think it’s all critical for informing others of the damage done. And I think it’s simultaneously encouraging because we can see how people have “moved on” and are working to heal their wounds.

    I would add the following experiences of mine to those already mentioned:

    Psychological Harm – after 3 years in Exodus, I became clinically depressed. After 4 years, I became suicidal. I went on medication. I secured a gun license in my state. I attempted suicide. Thank God for a dear friend who stopped me before I carried out my plan.

    Physical Harm – during the last six months of my 5 years with Exodus, I began to cut my body with razors, steak knives, and meat scissors. I etched defaming phrases into the flesh of my arms and chest (phrases that remain visible to this day in the form of scar tissue). Additionally, I gained a significant amount of weight while on antidepressants.

    Relational Harm – With great regret, I remember giving my dad a copy of A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Joseph Nicolosi. Sometime later, I received a phone call from my father. During an insomnia-ridden night, Dad had picked up the book… and couldn’t put it down. He called me at 9am the following morning–sobbing deeply and apologizing profusely for “making me gay.” To this day he believes he is responsible for my “abomination.” 🙁

    Sexual Harm – Thanks, Peterson, for bringing this up. I might not have thought of this otherwise. I do recall learning about “quality” pornographic websites in the context of other ex-gays sharing their “struggles.” I also recall a guy in my ministry talking about his encounters at a particular interstate rest stop in Texas. Although I never did visit the rest stop, I did visit the websites…

    Professional Harm – My graduate work was sidetracked during my depression and ultimately derailed when I attempted suicide. I remember breaking down in my research advisor’s office two days after my attempt and resigning from my program.

    To the list above, I think I would add another category of harm–one that was particularly significant to my ex-gay experience: Intellectual Harm. A significant part of my coming-out process involved going into university libraries and personally reading the studies of gay relationships and sexuality, and material on the history of the 1973 APA decision to delete homosexuality from the DSM. After months of reading dusty old academic journals, I found myself angry. I felt that I had been deceived. Lied to. The leadership of Exodus has taken so many statistics out of context as twisted them to conform to their horror picture of the “gay lifestyle.” I discovered that medical science, social science, and history has been misreported (should the ex-gay perspective on the 1973 APA decision be classified as “revisionist history?”).

    In this regard, Jim Burroway over at the Boxturtle Bulletin has become a hero to me. His careful work has helped me debunk some of the statistics that were claimed by the leadership of Exodus. I think a great triumph of the work of folks like Jim Burroway occurred this spring when Exodus finally removed from their website the Paul Cameron “statistic” that the average gay male dies at 40 and the average lesbian dies at 42. Complete balderdash! But I specifically remember being told that number at my very first Exodus counseling session.

    But there are many more “statistics” like it. The claim that the average gay relationship lasts 1.5 years and includes 8 sexual partners outside the relationship. The claim that the 1973 APA decision was based purely on political correctness and not research. Shoot, even Exodus’ slogan “change is possible” is at best misleading and at worst a statistical falsehood.

    In my mind, the biggest harm I believe the ex-gay ministries inflict is that of bearing false witness.

    And all in the name of Christ.

  16. Christine Bakke on October 20, 2007 at 6:01 am Reply

    I have avoided reading this post and the comments here for a few days, because I was afraid of getting close to some still-fragile places.

    While I have worked through a lot of the grief of what I lost, and the damaging messages I received and believed, it still hits like a ton of bricks to read this post and these comments.

    I have finally starting creating art again, after eight years of creative slumber, a casualty of shutting off so much of myself. My art right now is still very much about my ex-gay time and the hopes, dreams, desires, and great loss.

    The biggest problem I still face is fear of close relationships with others – especially women. Fear of “emotional dependency” or “enmeshment.” Fear of needing someone. Fear of…I don’t know. Just fear, and now just a consistent inability to wholly participate in friendships with others.

    I know that it’s not true – that while some relationships can be unhealthy, most are not. And closeness and yes, even at times emotional dependency should not be demonized. There are times when we all need others, and to be shamed for relationships that we had while ex-gay, those that others deemed unhealthy; relationships that may have been getting us through some of the tougher moments in our ex-gay process…it is a great harm and a great disservice to us at a time when we were the most vulnerable, and the most laid bare, needing others around us.

    I am 36 years old and beginning a new life. I am still trying to put some pieces together, and still trying to figure out relationships. Still trying to untie myself when it comes to closeness with others; needing others; being able to receive from others.

    I have lost much, and I could talk about how much I have now gained, and all these things (many real) that we do to convince ourselves that “all things work together for good.” I know that I now live with great authenticity, and that I have the strength to use my story to help others. But tonight, in the aftermath, it hurts, and I’m feeling it.

    I appreciate everyone’s contributions here. Thank you all for being vulnerable, to showing us your soft underbelly. For trusting those of us who are in this journey with you; trusting us with your stories. I only hope I can continue to do the same.

  17. scott on October 21, 2007 at 9:34 pm Reply

    Thanks for this post, Peterson. Reading this post takes me back many years to the early 90’s before I left for LIA. I remember having a break down in a voice lesson at University about three months before I left to go to California. I was feeling the weight of so much shame, but the thought of LIA and all it had to offer was so close, I knew I could go on…

    When I left the safety of the gay ghetto, shame found me again. I felt shame because I knew when I left LIA that I was still gay. How could I go back to my family, church, and everyone who had supported me and tell them I was still gay. I couldn’t, so I found myself back in the closet, again.

    Finally, 13 years later, I am beginning to love myself just the way God made me. I’m living my life shame free. I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m pushing myself towards freedom. You know the Bible is correct…I will know the truth, and the truth will set me free!

    Scott

  18. Ally on October 22, 2007 at 12:18 pm Reply

    Reading through this post and these comments, again and again, has been poignant and stirring for me. I realized I’ve not yet given my own experiences the attention yet that they deserve, and that I need to give them to fold them into my personhood in the manner in which God intends.

    That said, one mode of harm/damage is very near to me right now. My wife, who loves me deeply and who, as the partner of a transgendered person, is making her own ex-gay journey of sorts, and is on the eve of telling her parents my story–the story she has embraced as her own over this tumultuous year. We have long feared this moment because her mother and father are very conservative Christian people, and we feel quite certain this revelation will be incredibly challenging for them to accept, perhaps beyond their abilities or desire.

    My heart breaks as I watch my wife finally arrive at this point, the point of having to choose between a comfortable relationship with her own birth family and her commitment to me and to our future together. It seems so unfair for this to happen to her, and I feel the heavy burden of the responsibility of marriage as I never have before. My years of denial and self-hatred, and the lies they generated in the form of the false persona I presented to the world, make me feel like the cause of the pain she’s suffering right now.

    Perhaps my in-laws will surprise us; that has happened more than once as I’ve shared the truth with those close to me. But it seems much more likely that we will soon experience deep relational harm. The effects of that harm will extend beyond me to my wife and my children, and will actually impact them far more deeply than me.

    The generational nature of this damage shouldn’t be overlooked in this discussion. How many partners have been robbed of their parents, brothers, and sisters by ex-gay teachings? How many children have been robbed of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? That those who hold these anti-gay, anti-trans ideas consider them (and themselves) to be “pro-family” is one of the saddest ironies of all.

  19. Peterson Toscano on October 30, 2007 at 9:14 am Reply

    I just removed a comment, not because it was disrespectful. I agreed with much of what the commenter had to say, but it did not fit in this particularly post which is set aside specifically for ex-gay survivors and their stories. As I stated above,

    “This particular post is for ex-gay survivors to share about the harm they experienced. If you have a contrary view, this post is not the place for it. I am totally open to seeing other views, but there is a time and a place. People are sharing some very personal and painful parts of their lives, and I will honor that by maintaining this comment section for survivors.

    If you want to offer something different, feel free to e-mail me or comment on another post. Thanks.”

    Thank you.

  20. A. Shelton on November 1, 2007 at 7:13 am Reply

    I almost fell into this hole recently. I have never been especially self-confident, and when I was younger, I kept much of myself from even my best friends. Then, I joined the Navy, and, while dating a guy I’d met in boot camp, I developed a crush on one of my friends in A-School. A female friend.

    I’d “experimented” when I was younger, once, and had had an introduction by a young friend of mine when I was eleven, but I suppressed that. I felt ashamed of the first experience, ambivalent about the second. I generally didn’t think about them. I was, I think, pushing myself into my own personal version of ex-gay therapy even as I was asking my mom and my friends “If I was gay or bisexual, would you be upset with me?” every chance I got. The answers I got were invariably supportive, but my lack of self-confidence held me back.

    It did so in the Navy, too. I continued dating my boyfriend while looking forward to spending time with my female friend. I envied one of my roommates with her all-but-open relationship with someone another girl in our dorm. I admired their courage, was jealous of their relationship, and harbored a crush on them both. I considered my female friend unavailable because she had interest in someone else and was especially flattered when she bought me a dolphin ring. But, even then, I was too scared, and I suppressed many of my feelings, because I believed I had to end up with a guy; it’s what was expected of me, I thought.

    After being discharged from the Navy, I experienced a severe mental breakdown. I lost much of myself because of it, and I made some new friends, Christians (Mormons all of them at first), who helped me get mental health help.

    One of my friends then began to drift back to the Catholic Church, where she felt she better belonged. Now, the first thought on seeing a character enter a confessional in a movie, I thought, “That looks like fun.” From that moment on, I wanted to be a Catholic. And here was a friend, returning to that very church, whose coattails I could ride in on.

    I became Catholic. I became rather zealotous in addition to that, and, in my desire to learn everything I could about my new faith, I started reading every book I could get my hands on.

    In the process, I learned the church’s view of gays. I felt a moment of hesitation–I didn’t know why, except that, coming completely from a secular world, I knew I supported LGBT rights. I thought I could keep my opinions and continue to support those issues that I coulnd’t recall why I cared so much about.

    I was wrong. My zealotry began to change me. I restarted a novel so none of the formerly gay characters were gay. I ignored women to the point of not really seeing them at all. My meds induced asexuality, so i wasn’t noticing any attractions–to men or women. I became afraid to touch women, to even look at them, and I’m an inveterate people-watcher. I went this way until I made friends with someone who pointed out to me what I was becoming.

    I recoiled and did the complete opposite and became Pagan.

    I still denied myself; I still was a zealot. When I realized this, I returned to the Catholic church, where, once again, I began denying all t he possiblities I had once embraced.

    The catholic church is its own little seedbed of sexual correctness. I once read an article in the Commonweal, online, where two people advocated different views, and it was what really woke me up to what the Catholic church was doing to people. In the article, a man, presumably straight, adovcated openness and the welcoming of the LGBT community into the church as a necessary development for the maturity of the church. The second half of the article was by a lesbian. She had, because of becoming a member of the church, decided to abstain from sex.

    I was appalled. Utterly speechless. And I thought, “I couldn’t be myself if I couldn’t be honest to people about my sexuality.” That is when I began to remember my youth, my introduction to lesbian sex, my conciously-decided experimentation, and that one question that haunted me throughout my teen years. “If I was gay or bisexual, would you be upset with me?”

    It was, then, I realized, less an unconfident person seeking reassurance than someone lacking the confidence to come out and admit, even to herself, that she was at the very least bisexual.

    At the time I remade this discovery, I realized how true what I’d thought had been. I couldn’t deny such a fundamental part of myself and still be a true person. I had a roommate, a friend quite like a close sister.

    I told her.

    She spent four days avoiding me and not saying anything, then left and didn’t return again.

    I distanced myself from the Catholic church, knowing I wouldn’t find acceptance there from my research. I would find only “God loves you, but you have to marry a man,” as if God’s love can be limited in any way.

    I found the Metropolitan Community Churches (http://www.mccchurch.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home) online. I looked for my local branch. I began going there.

    It was hard tearing away from the Catholic church, especially after losing a friend and being left in an $800.00 apartment I couldn’t afford on my own, but I knew I couldn’t stay in a church that would deny me the freedom to be myself, as I truly am.

    I’ve told one of my friends I’m bisexual since, but she balks at the idea of me dating a woman. My Catholic friend, whose coattails I rode into the church on?

    I dread her response.

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