Ex-Gay in the UK–Doin’ Time in the Times

This week the Times of London’s Lucy Bannerman (along with Ruth Gledhill) contributed to a two-page spread that looks segments of the Ex-Gay Movement in the US and the UK. Bannerman traveled to North Carolina earlier this year for the Exodus (ex-gay) Conference, and in a piece, entitled The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuals, writes at length about what she experienced both at the daily sessions and through a relationship with her roommate.

She also interviewed Jeremy Marks, a former Exodus leader in the UK, who has since apologized for promoting and providing ex-gay treatment.

This month, Save Me, a small-budget fictional film about an ex-gay ministry, opens at cinemas in America. “I tried not to portray its leaders as two-dimensional monsters,” explains the director, Robert Cary. “Many genuinely believe that they are helping people to live good lives. But they believe that you’re born with your religion and choose your sexuality, when that is the opposite of the truth.”

One ex-gay leader who has come to the same conclusion is Jeremy Marks. A mild-mannered 56-year-old from Surrey, he pioneered one of the first ex-gay networks in the UK. But after ten years, the attempted suicide of a former resident led him to question the value of SSA therapy. He found that, rather than helping people, it led to depression and dysfunctional behaviour. “They stopped going to church, stopped going to work,” he recalls. “The only ones who appeared to be doing well were those who accepted that they were gay and got on with their lives.” Marks is now openly gay and runs Courage, a support group for gay Christians.

Jeremy helps put things into prospective and helps explain why the Ex-Gay Movement has gotten so much traction in a decidedly anti-gay conservative church,

“Really, what the ex-gay movement is all about is salving the conscience of the Christian leaders who don’t like to be accused of homophobia,” he says. “That way they can say ‘we don’t hate gays – look how we are welcoming them’.”

Bannerman contacted me earlier this summer since some of the ex-gay treatment I received happened in the UK. I described how in the UK ex-gay theories and treatment often get spread off the radar through Evangelical/Charismatic churches and Christian therapists.

“It is a far more subtle seduction over here,” he says. Toscano claims that therapists in Britain – who he says tried to exorcise his gay demons in Kidderminster, in the West Midlands – nearly drove him to suicide. “There is no question about that. I became severely depressed and contemplated suicide on several occasions,” he says.

Toscano, who now runs the Beyond Ex-Gay support group, believes that, far from being living proof of being a changed man, Alan Chambers is simply promoting celibacy by stealth.

“You walk out on this cloud of ex-gay glory,” says Toscano, “but you end up intimate with no one, becoming more and more isolated until it’s just you alone on this little ex-gay island … so many people are hurting and living this half-life.”

Ah, yes, how long I lived a half-life. I know there are a handful of men currently in the ex-gay movement who proclaim how content they feel in the no-longer-gay life they strive to maintain. The loudest spokesmen appear at Exodus and Focus on the Family events and show up at some church events. Perhaps they have genuinely found a healthy way to live that for them brings them happiness; the burden of proof remains to be seen in the long haul. For 17 years I also desperately tried to walk a straight and narrow path.  I believed I would see the fruits of the Spirit.

Sadly, like most of the other folks I have met during my ex-gay and now post ex-gay journey, we recognize that those ex-gay years produced a bitter harvest for us yielding doubt, shame and depression along with ruined relationships, and calamitous strains on our finances, career advancement, personal development and spirituality. We have since worked hard to undo the damage and have begun to live thriving lives as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Not only have I found that it is okay to be gay, I have moved far beyond “okay” to discover deep joy and peace in living as a gay man. For me it’s GREAT to be gay.  I live in the light without secrets, without striving to fit into man’s plan for my life (gussied up to look like God’s plan.) I experience the fruit of the Spirit in a way I always desired. (And Jesus did declare that you will know them by their fruits.)

This week I received an e-mail from a fellow ex-gay survivor, an Englishman I really respect. We initially met through the Gay Christian Network, and then hung out together at the wonderful Greenbelt Festival in England in 2006 and 2007. In conversations we discovered how our paths crossed on the ex-gay highway. He recently watched the DVD of my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! and wanted to share some of his thoughts about how he sees things have improved for LGB folks in the UK.

I’d seen you do big chunks of the play before, but it was good to see it all again in one sitting, and it still packed a punch. Well done, and thanks again for putting it out there.

I feel that society here in the UK has moved on so much the last few years in acceptance of gay people, and I think that is only partly coloured by my own growth in confidence – coming out over the past four years or so. But then I’m no longer in a conservative church. A number of churches seem to be more accepting of gay folk, and Greenbelt this year was accepting in an even more matter of fact way than when you first visited – the new LGBT group (OuterSpace) had around 150 at their communion service, and bigger rooms this time

He continues by sharing some of what led him to change and suppress his gay orientation.

I guess seeing Homonomo made me wonder again just why you/I/we put ourselves through it all. For me a big part of it was living inside a church community with such a narrow worldview, but one that I wanted to feel accepted and approved by. That coupled with my limited choice of ‘correct’ reading matter that took such a negative view of homosexuality, and that bore false witness to the scriptures and distorted and filtered science to make it fit its own viewpoint. The shame it induced was crippling to my emotional development, and I think you portrayed that well in your Homonomo piece.

After his sincere effort to sort out the gay thing in his life, he realized how coming out gay opened the door to a richer, fuller life. He no longer adheres to a Christian faith, a fact that some gay Christians might term a tragic consequence of his odyssey, but I can envision this as a healthy outcome after years of church-sanctioned oppression. He acknowledges some of the challenges he still faces,

I feel so much the better since I came out – comfortable in my own skin for a change – I’m not sure how much, if any of that, is linked to my loss of faith. Unfortunately I still have a fair bit of anger reserved for the church, though I felt that the positive atmosphere at Greenbelt went some way to diffusing it, and I know I need to let it go to move on.

You can read the Times article here. Feel free to leave comments and especially to share your own experience at the newspaper’s site. Lots of people have already weighed. People get caught up in their opinions and arguments, but our stories carry their own weight and authority.


This post has 2 Comments

  1. Lynn David on October 10, 2008 at 4:00 am

    I managed to catch the article the night (day in the UK) it came out. It was well done and yet I got the feeling that the author could not in fact relate to why these people chose their ex-gay lifestyle because she was not gay herself. I get the feeling she missed something a gay person would catch, or is it that my lack of belief in a Christian god leads me not to understand the Christian import that she presented. ‘Cause all it seemed they had at Ridgecrest was that belief to carve out a ‘change.’ And belief when I did have it, never did a thing for me.