Category: ex-gay survivor

Heading Out to England

I leave tomorrow night for London and will not have time to blog until sometime next week. Some updates:

  • I performed Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s at a high school outside of Boston today. The first session had about 350 students and the second session had at least 500. They listened deeply and asked excellent questions. Tomorrow morning I perform the same play at Manchester Community College.
  • Beyond Ex-Gay will co-host two conferences in Barcelona at the end of May. I have some info up at our site, but it is in Catalan. I hope to have info in English soon. I will give a keynote address (in Castilian). I mean I can do dinner and directional Spanish, but this is going to be a stretch. I love a challenge.
  • On May 5 Beyond Ex-Gay will be featured in LOGO TV’s Be Real Program. (Tom D left me a snarkily sweet text message saying he saw me in the trailer for the program) They interviewed Christine and me as well as my dad, and ex-gay survivors John Holm and Scott Tucker. I think the program runs in rotation throughout the week. (We are also featured in a gay national magazine towards the end of May. I will give you details when I know them.
  • I received 100 DVDs of Homo No Mo to take with me to Europe. Don’t forget if you got one of last year’s dodgey version, hit me up for a free upgrade. US copies will be ready by mid-June if not sooner.
  • I will be in the UK and Europe the next five weeks with stops in St. Albans, London, Cardiff (Wales), Oxford, Leeds, Belfast (Northern Ireland), Barcelona and Madrid. Check out the performance schedule for details.

Why Ex-Gay Survivors?

Over at the Gay Christian Network I received a thoughtful private message with a series of questions that I have heard before (but not quite so eloquently presented.

Why are so many former ex-gay participants still so very focused on the ex-gay movement? What is it, specifically, regarding this program that causes this retro-focus? Is the “brainwashing” so thorough that it is difficult to counteract? Forgive me, but is this focus motivated by some sort of anger or indignation (which, just for the record, would be completely legitimate feelings based on what little I know regarding the ex-gay movement)?

How is it truly possible to move on from the ex-gay movement if, as a former participant, the ex-gay movement is still such a clear focus? Is it possible to be focused on the ex-gay movement and fully move past the negative influences of that program?

If someone has participated in the ex-gay movement and has decided that it doesn’t work, why is it necessary to focus on the movement once it has been left behind? Is the focus directed at keeping other gay people from joining the movement? Is the focus on exposing the ex-gay movement in general? What are the direct/desired results of former ex-gays focusing on the problems of the ex-gay movement?

I don’t intend offense with these questions; I’m just trying to develop a deeper understanding of the ex-gay movement and it’s effects.

Since I am on the road, my answer is shorter than my normal rambling (and perhaps at times confusing) responses when I am at home with a pot of sweet brown rice cooking away.

As we state over at bXg, Some of us received positive help through our ex-gay experiences. We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems.

But for most of us, these experiences brought us inner turmoil, confusion, and shame. We are still in a process of recovery from the damage. Through sharing our stories with each other, we find wholeness and healing.

Part of the reason we blog and write and talk about our experiences is so that we can unpack them to understand what we did to ourselves (and let others do to us), and so that we can undo the damage as we reclaim our lives. Some folks who have gone through ex-gay experiences, once they come out, they shove their ex-gay pasts in the closets and never process what happened to them. Many of these can get stuck and stay stuck in their personal development.

We also tell our stories as a witness and a warning to others so that they will reconsider doing the same to themselves or a loved-one.

Most of us once we tell our stories and process them, we are ready to move beyond our ex-gay experiences. Others stay a little longer to help others in their own process.

What about other folks with ex-gay experiences? What do you think? How might you answer some of the questions above?

Special Orders

Anyone remember Burger King’s big ad campaign a few years back?

Hold the pickle.
Hold the lettuce.
Special orders don’t upset us.

In their attempts to position themselves in the fast food market, BK encouraged customers to “have it your way.”

Being a vegan, I am the queen of special orders. Restaurants in the US, Canada, Europe and the UK have accommodated me with my non-animal product-based diet, sometimes begrudgingly and with attitude.

When I attended the Love in Action residential ex-gay program in Memphis, TN, I needed to suspend my vegetarian lifestyle. Each participant took turns cooking the evening meal. With a budget of sometimes less than $20 for 14 people, participants served lots of casseroles filled with greasy ground beef. Although no one ever challenged the inappropriateness of it, at least twice a month someone served up corn dogs (which looked strangely like a dick on a stick).

I stayed away from the beef and hot dog products, and for my turn most always prepared a vegetarian dish (my baked ziti was a house favorite). If someone wanted a special diet, they had to finance it themselves. With monthly fees of $950 per month (which was A LOT of money in Memphis 10 years ago) no one had extra cash on hand. And if we did somehow make it happen, no doubt someone in the house would challenge us and the special diets for being, well, special.

The unwillingness to accommodate participants extended to other issues beyond the kitchen. One young man came to the program from a Christian faith tradition that worshiped on Saturdays (technically the Sabbath). He felt morally and spiritually convicted to find a similar church in Memphis. The staff forbade it. One could not go to a church of one’s own choosing until at least the fourth phase of the program (which back then could take up to two years to attain).

The staff demanded all participants to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with its own fitness center and congressman. No matter if you were Catholic, Adventist or Methodist, the program required each participant to assimilate into the white Evangelical Church semi-Charismatic tradition. We dressed in business casual attire to blend in with the gender norms of the church. We joined the righteous band of Promise Keepers with our straight male mentors in tow to show us the way.

Not that the church was necessarily a safe place for an ex-gay. One Sunday morning a Love in Action participant got cruised by a teen (of legal age but just barely) in one of the many restrooms in the big church. Over the next few weeks he routinely met up with the young man for sexual trysts. (Subsequently the participant, weighed down by the guilt and shame of failing in his program, attempted suicide and barely survived. The young cruiser’s parents eventually shipped their son off for ex-gay treatment at Love in Action. Um, after how they witnessed the program in action, did they really think that was the best place for their kid???)

Conform. Assimilate. No special orders. No regard or respect for a participant’s convictions. In order to get freed, they placed us in straight jackets. In order to get saved, we had to lose much of ourselves.

The closet holds much more than just our orientation. Whole parts of our personalities, preferences and expression get stuffed in there next to our dreams and desires. That we emerge and reclaim our lives is nothing short of miraculous. That I choose to be part of a faith community today after having one imposed on me so aggressively, I find hard to believe. But I have emerged and integrated my life after years of living a fractured existence. You see, change is possible. And special orders are welcome.

Transforming Faith Update

I have spent the weekend in Portland, OR at the Transforming Faith, Divining Gender Conference where in addition to performing and co-presenting with Allyson Robinson, I sat in on the most amazing and mind expanding talks.

In particular I sat in awe as I heard Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott speak about Transgender Behavior and Imagery in the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott does not only provide brilliant, thoughtful and moving content, she speaks like a poet. She never wastes a word. I am not one to sit and listen to a talk much, but I could have sat there all day soaking in her words and the ways she expressed them. Scholarly performance art at its finest.

She outlined seven points that she then explored in detail.

  1. The Scriptures are trans friendly
  2. Transgender individuals and issues help to transcend stereotypes.
  3. The presence of transgender people in the Bible (and faith communities) are reminders of diversity.
  4. Transgender people have historically built the bridges between the seen and the unseen world.
  5. Transgender people become specialists in gender, sexuality and spirituality.
  6. Transgender issues and people help bring people to the often forgotten middle ground. In doing so they help to challenge the religious addiction to certainty.
  7. Transgender people demonstrate that all genders and sexualities are sacred revealing a holy, divine continuum.

Another talk that opened my eyes and gave me new information was one by Faisal Alam, the founder of Al-Fatiha, a US-based organizaton dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTIQ Muslims. He led us in tradition Muslim prayer and then gave a talk entitled, Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims.

Did you know that the second highest percentage of Gender Reassignment Surgery in the world is in Iran (the first being in Thailand)? Faisal shared the history behind that and how by looking at science and listening to stories clerics came to the place where they said it was acceptable for someone to have such surgeries. As one cleric put it, it sia way to align one’s organs with one’s soul in order to reveal what is hidden.

Faisal also spoke about the Islamic Reformation that took place before the Crusades and how progressive Islam was back then. Sadly many of the writings of that time were destroyed by Crusaders or are housed in the Vatican with very limited access. As a result, the faith in many places has been co-opted by extreme views that oppress women and stifle discussion.

My show was well received. One trans woman gave me the highest possible praise when she said that by the end of the show as she wondered about me as I morphed into various genders. She suddenly grew confused and didn’t know if I was a bio gay male or a female to male trans person or if I was pre-op male to female trans. Music to a gender-shifting actors ears.

Today Christine Bakke and I will meet with a group of mental health professionals and trauma experts to discuss the harm of gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in hopes to develop some treatment plans. I have to say though that during the conference and my presentations, I felt relieved that I did not have to discuss ex-gay issues. Most people there knew nothing of my Ex-Gay Survivor work or my Homo No Mo play. Talking about that stuff drains me in a way that I do not realize until I do something different.

Gotta fly to West Hills Friends Church to hang out with some of my Quaker folks.

Zapped by NARTH Vader

Last night after my show at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, a student approached me to tell me that for his 20th birthday his parents gave him a very special gift–one session with an ex-gay therapist from NARTH (the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality). Thanks Mom and Dad!

Surprisingly the NARTH sexpert informed his young patient that the therapy is not sanctioned by the APA or any other legitimate medical or mental health association–a rare admission. Needless to say the therapy did not take and sadly relations with folks remain strained.

Below Christine Bakke has created a scene including Homo No Mo’s Chad getting ministered to by NARTH head Joseph Nicolosi

If the father drops the kid and the kid gets brain damage, at least he’ll be straight. Small price to pay, ” laughs Nicolosi. The audience chuckles at the thought of a straight baby with brain damage.

source Ex-Gay Watch

Refried Freud

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, Christine Bakke wrote an excellent article (accompanied with original artwork) about how ex-gay programs take Freudian theories then mix them up with often bizarre and even dangerous practices.

I knew one women whose therapist gave her assignments to flirt with men. An ex-gay guy who went on several dates to try to learn how to be with a woman (without disclosing that he identified as ex-gay), on the recommendation of his therapist. A woman who was counseled by the leader of the ex-gay group that women should wear makeup (“need to put some paint on the side of the barn”). A man who changed his last name because his ex-gay therapy led him to believe that his parents were to blame for him being gay. A woman who insinuated that she had been abused because she felt like her story didn’t “fit” the ex-gay model without some kind of a root cause. A young man who said that after he got out of the ex-gay movement and was finished with reparative therapy, that’s when the real repairing began. He had to repair the relationships with his family after buying into the belief that they were distant from him and made him gay.

Writing about her own experiences, Christine shares,

I spent hours having deliverance work done, and I still can’t talk a whole lot about it to this day, some of it was so confusing, upsetting and at times, traumatic. I was counseled by at least four different pastors and wives over the years. I was also prayed for and discipled by numerous people in various churches, to whom I confessed so much and let them into so many areas of my life (which also unfortunately meant that they could do greater harm to me emotionally and mentally). I attended conferences and had so much healing prayer that if anyone should have been healed, one would think I would have at least been a good candidate.

Read all of Refried Freud.

Premiere of New Film about Ex-Gay Movement

Someone has to make the mockumentary, Not Another Ex-Gay Movie! The film festival circuit is about to be glutted with a rush of ex-gay docs and films. Although I have yet to see it, I hear wonderful things about Jessica Yu’s film Protagonist, which features four very different men who each follow a similar journey. One of the subjects is Mark Pierpoint, a former ex-gay and ex-gay minister.

The newest ex-gay doc to hit the screens is Bill Hussung and Mishara Canino’s Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement which premieres March 29th at the Birmingham SHOUT Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

CHASING THE DEVIL: INSIDE THE EX-GAY MOVEMENT is a feature documentary film presenting an unflinching look at the personal journeys of four people who claim to have changed their sexual orientation from gay to straight. Their stories mark the first time documentary filmmakers have been allowed inside the “ex-gay” movement and provide an empathetic and, at times, devastating portrait of those who claim homosexuality is an illness that can be healed

You will see lots of familiar (overexposed?) faces in the film–Richard Cohen, Joanne Highley, Me. You will also see some new folks who speak about their experiences for the very first time including my father, Pete Toscano. He agreed to sit down with Bill and Mishara to tell his story as the father of someone who was once ex-gay. I was in the other room when they did the interview so as to give him privacy, but he told me afterwards that he shared about the painful and surreal experience of attending Love in Action’s Family and Friends Weekend.

I interviewed my dad once about the experience. He said,

We went to the meeting and had no idea of what we were going into. We met a lot of parents in the same category. Lots of kids had no parents there.

Everything seemed to be on the up and up at first. Yeah, but we found out these things aren’t so. I said to them, “You can’t change a zebra’s stripes.” They didn’t go along with me, and they were very aggravated with me for saying so. Some people go through two colleges and they don’t have common sense. I hate when people keep things locked up.

They made me feel that I failed you. That’s how I felt after they got through with me. That’s how they made all the parents feel.

More and more diverse voices have begun to emerge from the many people who have been negatively affected by ex-gay programs like Love in Action. Former and current spouses of ex-gays or ex-gay survivors, former ex-gay leaders and now parents are speaking out. When each person comes forward and tells their story, we get a fuller picture of the many ways that ex-gay experiences cause more harm than good.

You can read an interview with the film’s producer Bill Hussung here and watch the trailer below.

Ex-Gay Journey: What Made You Do It? What Did it Cost You?

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we have posted several narratives of ex-gay survivors. Many of these include lots of details about the struggle over faith and sexuality which compelled the struggler to pursue change and to receive help from reparative therapists and ex-gay ministers.

I think about how I used to tell my story assuming that the primary motivation to aspire to a non-gay life was my faith struggle. After years of unpacking the story, answering many many questions about my experiences, I have grown to understand that the faith issue stood among several key factors that influenced my 17-year quest to be ex-gay.

A friend recently submitted his ex-gay survivor narrative to me. He writes well about his experience as a missionary and in the church as well as in various ex-gay ministries. I will gladly post it as is, but I also know that the writing process gives us an opportunity to unearth more about our histories. The primary goal I see is that by telling our stories, we will understand them more. Secondly they can serve as a witness and a warning to others.

Below is my response to my friend with some key questions that many ex-gay survivors with a faith background might find helpful to ponder.

Hi there. Your article looks good in many ways. I do have a few questions for you to consider.

You attempted to change your sexuality. How did that affect you? Help you? Harm you? I have an article that looks at various types of harm you can check out to get some ideas.

You write your story well. My only reservation is that it is very faith-based, which I know is a big part of your journey and many people’s journeys. The issue is that I get more and more e-mails from people who feel alienated by all the faith-based stories at bXg. It makes me wonder if some of us have to dig deeper. I mean why was the gay thing such a big deal for many of us? What other pressures, perhaps more subtle and hidden, influenced us to pursue change.

For instance, I cannot separate the sense of shame that led me to pursue change with the reality that I had been sexually abused as a child. Perhaps as an outgrowth of that abuse I had grown sexually compulsive in my teens. Sure the conservative churches I attended hammered in me that it was wrong to be gay, but also my life was out of control. I felt like filthy dirty sinner all the time and felt I needed to be fixed. I had genuine problems–unresolved sexual abuse, deep shame, and sexual addiction issues. Add to that the constant barrage of messages I received from society about admirable and normal heterosexuality. In my case religion served as a cover for the other pressing issues that weighed heavy on me.

I put that out there for you to consider any way you might rework your piece so that someone who never was Christian can relate to the struggle you faced. Also, it may help you to better understand why the quest to change had such a hold on you.

The War Within

Many lesbian, gay and bisexual folks live with internalized homophobia. We grow up in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the approved norm, and anything other than it is not only “less than” but actually a perversion. Even when we did not hear bad things said about gays, lesbians and bisexuals, we have almost exclusively heard good things about heterosexuals while virtually nothing positive about people not heterosexual. We experienced heterosexual lives, loves, and desires prominently celebrated in pop songs, romantic comedies, religious services and billions of images. We got the message that non-heterosexuals were not fully human.

I do not understand why the weight of heterosexism and homophobia affects some people more than others. Some of us actually have taken an aggressive stance to rid ourselves of our same-sex attractions and gender differences. We went to war with a part of ourselves. We called that part of ourselves Our Enemy. We demeaned it, hated it and resolved to destroy it.

For me I turned to the ex-gay movement as well as the conservative Church for the arsenal I needed to wage this war against my gay orientation and my less than masculine presentation. I reveled in the warfare analogies found in Paul’s epistles. I allowed myself to believe that I wrestled not against flesh and blood but actual spiritual principalities and powers who fought over my very soul. Seeing myself in the midst of a colossal cosmic struggle for my salvation and sanctification filled me with holy purpose and an inflated sense of self.

In reality I did wrestle against flesh and blood, my very own. I bullied God and demanded that God drive his sword into my being to sever me from my own flesh and blood, to execute a violent surgery on my personality.

Not too long ago I spoke with an ex-gay survivor who grapples to understand the difficulties in his life and why it remains so hard for him to move beyond his ex-gay experiences. He wonders why it cannot be a simple recovery without all the pain and difficulty he suffers.

After we go to war against ourselves, we find ourselves in the midst of the carnage. We sliced up our hearts. We slandered ourselves daily and did all manner of cruelty to ourselves. Aided and abetted by an anti-gay Church and world, we can now find our souls sliced and diced and in bleeding tatters.

I went to war against myself. Actually I joined someone else’s war, recruited to drive out a part of myself even though that part of me did nothing wrong. After I stopped the battle, I assessed the ruin. I remember the first few years before I began to process my ex-gay experiences and the damage they brought to my life. I felt angry and bitter, cheated and deceived while still battered by daily onslaughts of guilt and doubt and fear. No wonder it took me nearly 10 years to begin to feel good about myself again.

Bob Loos, an out gay man and licensed therapist, attended some of our ex-gay survivor activities we recently held in Memphis. After being among some survivors Bob wrote,

My immediate impression of the survivors I met was that they are at once happy and injured, vigorous and in pain, empathic and seeking strength, and perhaps most of all, capable of loving and deserving utmost love.

He touches on the complexity that many of feel as we face the reality of our pasts and begin to undo the damage. I feel hope that we find clarity and recovery, but I do not doubt that the work can be a chore. It would be easier to stuff our ex-gay pasts in our now abandoned closets. Easier but not helpful long term.

I spent nearly 20 years in pursuit of a fantasy. I coveted my straight neighbor’s life. I have long forgiven myself for the missteps I took and completely understand why I did what I did growing up in the US when I did. I have begun to forgive those people who promoted and provided a false and faulty product.

I do not desire revenge, rather, I long to see ex-gay providers take a fearless and thorough look at their practices and the lives negatively affected by them. It is not enough that they meant well, which I know some of them believe to be true and may cling to as an amulet to ward off reality.

Society provided gay, lesbian and bisexual people (and transgender folks as well) with negative messages about ourselves, messages that some of us ingested and turned inward. The Ex-Gay Movement then provided us with the tools and weapons to go to war against ourselves.

The vast majority of people who have tried the ex-gay way discovered that it was not possible or healthy. Now in our post-ex-gay lives, post-war, we do the hard work to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Fortunately we do not have to do it alone.

Ex-Gay Survivor Jacob Wilson Shares More

Jacob Wilson attended Love in Action the summer of 2005. He recently came public with his story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and at a press conference during Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art. You can see Jacob here with his boyfriend Ryan, who is holding the Christian & Gay sign.

While in Memphis for the weekend, in addition to leading a round table discussion about youth issues at Love in Action, Jacob also agreed to be interviewed by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin. In the following video Jacob shares about his ex-gay past and his parents’ role in encouraging change. Then he discusses the changes he actually experienced and that feeling of dying inside.

Jacob doesn’t need to come forward to tell his story. His generosity helps so many people. His story shows the anguish someone goes through when they feel the conflict over their sexuality as well as the trials they endure when they attend programs like Love in Action. In hearing his story, I can see the value of the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine in helping folks like Jacob to begin to unpack and understand their ex-gay experiences.

Thank you Jacob!
(and thanks to Daniel Gonzales for posting the video)