Getting Myself Out of the Ex-Gay Mess

I write A LOT about ex-gay stuff and my own ex-gay experiences–why I did it, how I did it,  and the results (mostly damage but not exclusively). I talk about being an ex-gay survivor, but that doesn’t mean I am a VICTIM.

Yes, I have been victimized by a society and a church structure that consistently Myrtle Beach 2009insisted that there was something wrong, flawed, evil about me because I happened to have a gay orientation. I also suffered at the hands of Christian ministers, gay reparative therapists and ex-gay leaders who mostly proved to be woefully ignorant and who operated without accountability or openness. They rarely considered that their methods and theories might be misguided or harmful.

Those people who insist that gays are less than straights, those who promote and provide ex-gay treatment are definitely at fault (even when they are well meaning) and they need to face up to the destruction their unsound practices have wrought on others (and even perhaps on themselves).

Myrtle Beach ShellsI began to emerge from my dungeon-like closet in December of 1998. For the past 10 years I have worked aggressively to undo the damage inflicted upon my mind, body and spirit. One of the most liberating moments was when I had the following revelation about my ex-gay experience–a revelation that may seem obvious to many watching from the sidelines, but something that I needed to see clearly for myself.

In the nearly 20 years of ex-gay/anti-gay/de-gay treatment I endured, no one ever  forced me to do any of it. I chose to submit myself to the unsound and potentially damaging practices designed to demonize and annihilate my sexuality (and much of my personality and gender differences along with it). I elected to go into these programs. I paid for them with my own money (except for when I turned to my parents or others to help with the expenses). I put myself into the ex-gay/anti-gay mess and I KEPT myself in that mess for nearly two decades.

Yes, I felt coerced by a society that I believed made life easier for straight people. I felt bullied by people who used the Bible and God and the promise of  heaven (and the threat of hell) to persuade me to wreck my insides.  I don’t wish to underestimate the power of these feelings, the pressure behind them, and the responsibility people have for creating such a destructive climate of fear and shame.

blossoms in CharlestonBut I got myself into that mess and fought hard to stay in that mess. I allowed others to harm me, and I used the tools and weapons they gave me to harm myself. I don’t say this to let anyone off the hook.. I believe that those who promote and provide any form of ex-gay therapy need to be held responsible for their practices and theories. I believe the faults need to be exposed.

Also, I don’t say this to shame myself or beat myself. I instead take a dispassionate view of the experience and take responsibility for my part in it.

The revelation that helped initiate liberation was this:

If I got myself into this mess, I can get myself out.

With the revelation came an understanding that moaning and groaning about the mistreatment I received will not help me to develop a healthy sexuality and sense of self. In fact, to only moan and groan and cast blame would have simply turned me into a helpless victim. In that state I would have just grown bitter and stuck.

Instead I had to accept the truth that no one was going to rescue me, (although I have found support along the way). I got myself into the mess–I was not a child forced into these programs–and I must take the responsibility to fully extract myself from the mess and reach for a better life–to detox from the lies and oppression, to develop a liberated mind, to live at ease in my body, to embrace a well-informed, sane life.

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This post has 20 Comments

  1. Tim&/or Earl on March 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm Reply

    What a healthy response to the world-family disease of heterosexism!

    Same disease as any “ism,” simply a different “ism.’

    Like you, we too are awake to the reality that our recovering from the spiritual bankruptcy created by heterosexism is our resonsibility – recovery has our name on it, not theirs.

    This is great, because if it’s our responsibility, it also is our solution to be sought and found, not theirs.

    We thank our Amazing Gracie that we are not alone when we let go of trying to “fix” the heterosexists’ crazymaking messes they create for us simply everywhere on Earth.

    When we two husbands apply this our awareness each Today of our 33 years together in Love, the spiritual disease of heterosexism retreats miraculously from within ourselves and others!

    We survive our past – that even God cannot change – we then actually thrive when we let the healing begin with us!

    Tim &/or Earl

  2. Mike G on March 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm Reply

    Thanks for your posts on the ex-gay “stuff” (I can’t think of a better word at the moment). I struggle with all this still. I have been out for about 6 years. Often, I find that I do more harm to myself than the therapy and programs I participated in did. Undoing a life time (I will be 47 on Wednesday) of a certain way of thinking takes time, and it can be painful. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Whittier on March 9, 2009 at 1:59 am Reply

    Thank you. This gives me much to think on.

  4. Oliver Danni on March 9, 2009 at 3:40 am Reply

    There aren’t really words…just “I love you”. But I’m sending the rest of the message via rainbow love beams, are you getting them?

  5. p2son on March 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm Reply

    Oliver Danni, ow, it hurts, wait, it feels better, ah, that is nice–nice rainbow love beams. thanks!

  6. Brittanicals on March 9, 2009 at 6:56 pm Reply

    Very empowering words,Peterson, that I believe could be applied to many other situations.

    Just to clarify, though, do you still believe that there are some other situations where someone could indeed be a victim?

    Just wondering.

  7. p2son on March 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm Reply

    Brittanicals, I totally see where people have been victims of the ex-gay machines. We see this most clearly in what happened in Memphis in 2005 when young people were forced to attend the Love in Action Refuge program against their will. Yes, there are lots of situations where people are victims and NOT to blame for the terrible actions taken against them (physical and sexual assault for instance.)

    What makes the ex-gay experience unique is that it often can be self-perpetrated. In addition to falling prey to ex-gay therapists and ministries and their false promises and faulty practices, we inflicted this damage on ourselves. Part of the recovery for many of us is to acknowledge this, forgive ourselves, and to take responsibility for undoing the damage.

  8. Dan in Toronto on March 9, 2009 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Very wise words of encouragement.
    I left the ex gay ministry (Living Waters) after 13 years of being involved (participant and leader) about 3 years ago now.
    And I look at things similar to you do. I have stopped blaming everyone else for what I went through in my journey to change my orientation. But now that I have come to some conclusions I have a much greater appreciation of myself and what I have to offer God and the world. Not that I am not realistic, or supportive of Ex Gay ministries (in the whole) but that I see my own responsibility as an adult who sought change from for the sake of those close to me rather than for myself.
    I tell you though, the last thing to go it seems is, those voices that for so long controlled me… They are subsiding, at times just whispers.. but I stil need to combat those whispers… with “God loves me, I am fine… sigh…”

  9. Brittanicals on March 9, 2009 at 10:58 pm Reply

    Thanks Peterson,

    I was just pondering empowerment from taking responsibility, vs shame from misdirected self-blame, and how to separate the two. Your clarification is helpful. Thanks.

    I can see parallels to our (my husband and I) fundamentalist church experience and the ex-gay machine. Not to say its completely the same, but I do see some similarities. Systems of fear and damnation hurt everything and everyone they touch.

  10. Sheriah on March 9, 2009 at 11:22 pm Reply

    Peterson, sometimes I cant help but hear the anger in the tone of your comments, yes I hear you…But I can assure you, these churches, these reparative groups mean well, even it may not seem so at face value..Trust me, they love you, and are well intended. Their goal is to “help” you…Now here is where a person like you comes in; you must make it a duty to educate society about how harmful some of their methods rather approach to “cure” gay kids are..Often, I used to wonder why there was so much suicide amongst gay people, and its only after reading most of your blogs that I now understand why…I realise there isn’t much much love shown to people who are are affected by these issues..” Even in condemnation, we should be able to find footprints of love; Jesus was a classic example!…So, make it your task brother! And, nice photos by the way. Could you please write something to go along with your photos? I am seeing poetry there; a lot of words maybe?? As they say, a picture says a thousand words…

  11. Sheriah-SA on March 10, 2009 at 12:12 am Reply

    Yes, like I have mentioned in my comment above, society must show love to any kind of people even when we don’t approve of certain issues..A lof times I reflect on the “Jesus character” and what a nice guy He really was. Yes, He wouldn’t care if you called him guy; He knows who He is anyway..If you lived in those times Peterson, He would probably joke about you with the pharisees that, “where is the “queer” who lives around the corner?” They would tell him that they saw you go to the synagogue..(yes, Jesus had no trouble accepting anyone and so should we). I think you two would have been friends, because you would have so many questions for him about you being queer and wanting to serve God.. He would have answered you the best way He knows how..My point is, even when we disapprove of something, we must show LOVE and COMPASSION..Love and compassion are great tools for healing..Ah, that Jesus, I want to be like him more…

  12. p2son on March 10, 2009 at 12:25 pm Reply

    Sheriah, one of the positive, proactive steps some of us have made is to create and maintain the web site http://www.beyondexgay.com. I am the first to acknowledge that many of these ministers and counselors meant to do good. They offered a cure that turned out to be a curse. Even though their intentions may have been noble (albeit misguided and uninformed) the results were often disastrous, and if they genuinely care about people more than politics, they will listen deeply to the stories we share about our experiences.

    Poetry with my pics? Hmmm, no time right now…I’m off to Houston, Texas! 🙂

    I reflect on that Jesus guy a lot myself. As a Christian I think it’s best to start with Jesus and the words we have from Jesus and then take it from there.

    Peterson

  13. Sheriah on March 10, 2009 at 2:31 pm Reply

    I totally agree with everthing you have said..Way to Peterson…

  14. Jarred on March 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm Reply

    Brittanicals:

    I talked about this elsewhere, but wanted to comment here as well It seems to me that there’s a huge difference between blaming (figuring out who’s at fault) and responsibility (deciding what to do now in a given situation). It seems to me that ultimately, Peterson is focused on the latter rather than the former. This is evidenced as his realization that he got himself into the ex-gay mess (and let’s face it, he didn’t do that alone) as an immediate gateway into taking responsibility for getting himself out of it. Had he instead sat down and started kicking himself for getting himself into that mess, I’d argue he’d be blaming rather than taking responsibility. And let’s face it, kicking yourself for past mistakes is just unhelpful regardless of whether that self-blame is justified.

  15. Sheriah in SA on March 10, 2009 at 8:13 pm Reply

    I actually have a whole different take on Peterson blaming himself; he shouldn’t, if you ask me! First, he was only a teenager desperately seeking answers, grasping at anything to cure hiim..If I was gay myself and desperate to escape the gay world, I would have probably gone ex gay. I would do anything, I mean anything to eradicate that part of my life. No need to blame himself, he had to do what he had to do, even if it meant trailing on the ex gay route..Am not in a place to comment further on what Peter should do now, I’ve done that already as you can see from my comments; all I can say is, my prayers are with him..

  16. Vincent Cervantes on March 10, 2009 at 8:44 pm Reply

    AMEN! We are not victims!

    This relates to the Myth of Black Victimology that we recently discussed in my Evangelical Religion and Culture class.

    Just because someone points attention to victimization does not mean they are making themselves victims.

    This myth teaches us that it is not okay to discuss victimizations, because it would mean that we’re not moving forward and being progressive and not acknowledging the change that’s already happened–which is unfair. It should be spoken of.

  17. Sheriah in SA on March 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm Reply

    Amen! Well said Vincent..Great minds think alike..

  18. Bill T. on March 11, 2009 at 3:22 pm Reply

    Something that helped me understand stages of consciousness came from Paolo Freire and later feminist writings in the ’70’s. That’s the three stages of concsiousness when dealing with oppressive situations;
    1. Conforming. Accepting the abuse without major protest, feeling helpless.
    2. Reforming: Deciding that the oppressor is evil, totally responsible for the abuse.
    3. Transforming: realizing that many oppressors are as locked into their frames as we are in ours. That both oppressor and oppressed need to realize their common humanity.
    One of Freire’s books, as I recall, is titled, “Education for Critical Consiousness.” There will be others on Amazon and elsewhere.
    Warm regards, Peterson,
    Bill T.

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